As part of an ongoing but irregular series of retro reviews that I have hilariously dubbed The Chronicles Of Ridic, a group of us decided it might be fun to get together virtually and watch a movie simultaneously. Our selections have to be drawn from the genre’s of Fantasy, Sci-Fi (or Horror containing either of those two elements) ultimately something relatable to the direction of this here blog. I prepared a shortlist of the first films that popped into my head which happened to be Johnny Mnemonic, At The Mouth Of Madness, Lord Of Illusions and Cyborg which turned out to be the peoples choice. I was surprised to learn that despite the demographic of the group (men in their 30’s) most of them had not seen Cyborg before. Anyway thanks to Duggan, Pete, Clarke, Sketch, Dieter and Kev for agreeing to join me as I revisited this maligned genre treat and a shout out to Brinton for being the only other guy to pipe up in defence of Cyborg . What has all this got to do with Corehammer’s mission I hear you cry? Well, everything really…
See back in 1989 the mutual currency of our playground was video tapes, in particular action movies. And even though my family were late to the video game (and with a top loading Betamax to boot, always the hardway) It was the common ground upon which the disperate factions of the schoolyard would unify and debate. Didn’t matter if you were a football lad, a scruffbag or a comic book tit like me, we ALL had an opinion on the likes of Robot Jox, They Live and Robocop.
Jean Claude Van Damme was emerging as the fresh face of action movies and at the time seemed way cooler to us than craggy old farts like Chuck Norris and Stallone. His acting chops didn’t factor into our adolescent discussions of Bloodsport or No Retreat No Surrender, just the fact that he had smart hair and could do wicked good spin kicks in slow motion. I had always had an appreciation for martial arts movies ever since watching Enter the Dragon with my dad one Christmas, but, and at risk of sounding a little culturally prejudice, white people ( with the exception of Benny the Jet Urquidez in Wheels On Meals) always seemed proper shit in those films. In hardcore terms It’s a bit like comparing some gash European youth crew band like Building to Youth Of Today. Good effort lads but no dice. So when JCVD showed up with his broken english and sweet moves it was a bit of an event.
Cyborg directed by Albert Pyun was the third Van Damme movie after Bloodsport and Kickboxer that I was exposed to. I saw the poster in the window of the local video shop on my way home from school one day and almost exploded. A new JCVD film was big news you see, but the title of the flick and the image on the poster suggested that this was a Bladerunner’esque thriller set in some kind of dystopian cyberpunk future rather than the seedy back streets of Bangkok or the blood splattered Kumite arena. Something of a double whammy then for a young man of my developing Neu-Romantic tastes (see what I did there?)
Anyhow turned out I was the first person in our year to see Cyborg, a claim that gave me a valuable cache of cool points at school for a couple of days. At the time I enjoyed the movie, I mean what wasn’t to like? It had androids,gunslingers cyberpunks and desolate city-scapes. It was basically a post apocalyptic Western and in 1989 that’s ALL I wanted. I wanted movies that shared aesthetic and atmospheric sensibilities with the books and comics I was reading and the games I was playing. I was absorbing stuff like Dark Future, Neuromancer, Freeway Fighter, Strontium Dog, Helltrekkers etc. And even though Van Damme’s whispy hair was ludicrous in the flashback sequences, I still thought he rocked some cool scorched earth style in his role as ‘Slinger’ Gibson Rickenbacker (lol).
Returning to view Cyborg 25 years later it’s hard not to feel nostalgic towards it despite the movies many faults. The opening dialogue (sampled by Method Man and a ton of shitty tough guy Hardcore bands since) is laughable in both content and ham delivery. The story in which titular cyborg Pearl Prophet (‘Wait, Van Damme’s not even the Cyborg? This film is so fucking shit’ – Peter Davies) is racing through a plague ravaged cityscape to get some vague information from a computer system in New York back to the CDC in Atlanta so a team of scientists can make a cure. She hires a Slinger (a mercenary and also the films original title) played by JCVD to protect her on her travels but *spoiler alert* Prophet get’s kidnaped by cursed earth tyrant Fender Tremolo (no shit) and his gang of Necromunda rejects who desire the cure and the power it represents for himself. Needless to say Rickenbacker and Fender have an old beef to settle and are set upon a collision course as the story builds to the inevitable and slightly homoerotic ‘shirtless in a rainstorm’ fight to the death.
Given the constraints of the dialogue and Van Dammes own limitations as an actor, Rickenbacker still comes off as a very sympathetic character, just a guy trying to escape his destiny in a world full of horror that just won’t let him be.
Watching the movie a quarter of a century later through adult eyes and in the company of some of the most acidic and cynical people I know a few things became apparent: Yes the dialogue is bloody awful. Yes the characters are woefully underdeveloped and Yes the editing is a real hack and slash job. BUT the bleak tone of the movie, the march to the gallows pace and the underlying sense of dystopian hopelessness that I found so unsettling as a kid is still there. Kinda. At no point in the movie do you think ‘this will probably turn out alright for everyone’. It is unremittingly violent. There’s a scene where Gibson is crucified to a ships mast in the middle of a desert that is unflinchingly grim and vicseral.
The structure and choreography of some of the fight sequences is so brutal. Not flamboyant or balletic like some Hong Kong cinema, just dead eyed, raw, bare knuckle violence. The sets and costumes (recommissioned materials originally constructed for an abandoned Masters Of the Universe sequel and a Spiderman movie) are functional and share the same rusted and dirty but functional quality that appeals to me about the old Rogue Trader era 40K stuff. And despite the prevalent machismo and ultra violence there are some really well constructed almost arty scenes that lend a dream like quality to the picture in places. I feel like with a different edit this movie could have been so much better. Cyborg actually forms the first part of a trilogy of movies (along with Knights and Omega Doom) that Pyun directed that are loosely connected. I’ll be reviewing those too this year.
Albert Pyun has always been a director that divides opinion and I have seen him (not unfairly) compared to a modern day Ed Wood on more than one occasion. I guess a lot of it comes down to context and had I not viewed Cyborg as a nerdy 2000AD/Dark Future obsessed kid in 1989 it’s very likely I would share my compatriots negative opinions. But ultimately that’s the point I am trying to make, that one mans shit is another mans champagne and that all these youthful influences blend and combine into our own personal mythologies and delightfully skewed perspectives. Here’s The Bangles. Bite me.