Recently I watched the still great Robocop. And the not so Great Robocop 2. I avoided Robocop 3 because, even more so than the second film I remembered it as being terrible.
Yet it was suggested to me that the third film isn’t as bad as I remembered so I went back. Much like, Escape from LA, watching a film with the knowledge that it isn’t good can improve the experience. This allows you to focus on what is good about it. Even with this foresight Robocop 3, turned into a family friendly film to sell toys, is average, at best.
Re-watching the films did remind me of something: Frank Miller wrote the early drafts of both sequels. The story goes that his scripts were butchered. This resulted in what could have been great sequels based on Miller’s work never seeing the light of day.
But hey, thanks to comics we get to see what could have been! Adapted into two series the sequels that never were can now be read.
The first thing that struck me about the comic series is that the stories are pretty similar too both film. The biggest change is that Robocop 3 is there is no kid sidekick. Robocop does rescue a little girl at one point but turns out she is a robot so he punches her head off…
Lewis is also absent from the third films script. Her death taking place before the story starts and is only shown in a single panel flashback. One has to assume that at the time Miller was writing this Nancy Allen wasn’t planning on coming back.
The big thing with these comics though, the thing people want from it is a better sequel. And are they better than the films?
No, not really.
Miller, as we know, has written some of the best super hero comics of the last 30 years. He has however written a lot of comics that aren’t quite so good. These scripts feel at times like first drafts. They feature plotting and structure issues that presumably were never fixed.
Well, I hope they are first drafts. Otherwise he handed in scripts that were a mess and there is no surprise that they didn’t get made.
The satire of the first film is also absent, or if its there but misses the mark. For the most part the story defaults to violence and under dressed women. Though the blame for some of this can possibly be lad at the feet of the artists, especially in Robocop 2. Robocop 3, in both story and art is the better book. It still lurches around too much, with time and location jumps causing confusion. Early in the story there are two prime examples that cause me to go back and make sure i hadn’t missed a page or ten.
In the first robocop meets a character who is a composite of the films Nikko and Dr Lazarus characters. Here he falls in love with her and they begin a relationship out of nowhere. Around the same point in the story Robocop breaks into OCP for some reason. He confronts his enemies only to do or say nothing allowing them to continue on with their evil schemes. I should also mention a last act plot twist. Here one character turn themselves into an literal Deus Ex Machina with zero foreshadowing or buildup.
The biggest issue I had was something I often find in Miller’s work. It’s a tendency too neglict the lead character . Instead secondery characters are the focus. Now, I want a well developed supporting cast in any story I read, but I’d rather it wasn’t at the expense of the lead. Now Miller could be trying to build a sense of mystique around Robocop, portray him as a stoic lead. For me though this doesn’t work after the ending of the original film. Gone is the Murphy/Robocop, replaced with a character with the depth of the terminator. A side effect of this is the one big character moment of the story suffers. When Robocop reveals he hates OCP for bringing him back to life and making him Robocop it falls flat. Like many plot point in these books, it seems to come from nowhere.
The Miller Robocop books are interesting to read. They show how the franchise could have gone. But they are not proof that somewhere out there a superior set of sequels almost existed.