Greetings from the Edge!
We continue into the new year with more apocalyptic action in the 1989 Cannon Entertainment release, Cyborg. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Gibson Rickenbacker, a “Slinger” or bodyguard and escort in Cyborg’s dystopian future, Vincent Klyn as Fender Tremolo, brutal ( and fashion challenged ) leader of a group of pirates and the object of Gibson’s quest for revenge, Deborah Richter as Nady Simmons, sole survivor of a settlement razed by Fender, trying to save the cure for a deadly plague that is in the memory banks of Pearl Prophet, played by Dayle Haddon, our titular cyborg… who miraculously manages to have fewer lines than Arnold did in The Terminator.
Well at the very least, you can’t say that Cyborg wastes any time getting started. We open with a little exposition from our big bad Fender, leading directly into Pearl Prophet and her escort being pursued by Fender and his band of outlaws ( all in full Mad Max 80’s-esque post apocalyptic fashion regalia. )
Soon Pearl’s escort is killed and she stumbles across Van Damme’s character, Gibson, who we will later learn is pursuing Fender’s gang ( continuity and story pacing is pretty minimal in Cyborg. ) We learn that Pearl is carrying the information that the last doctors and scientists based in Atlanta need to cure “The Plague,” the extent and nature of which we never really learn.
Soon Van Damme’s Gibson is buried by rubble and Fender’s gang captures Pearl with the intention of taking her to Atlanta and extorting the cure from the scientists ( to sell? for power? So they’ll keep the plot headed in the right direction? ) Now the race is on for Gibson to catch up to Fender and extract his revenge before Fender can get the cure, joined by Nady Simmons, a naive young woman trying to save the cure. Can he put aside his own revenge to save the world?
The effects in Cyborg can be succinctly described as minimal effort for minimal return. We get a single stop-motion effect of Dayle Haddon’s cyborg and a brief scene of the surgery that transforms her, and that’s about it outside of some makeup effects and a pretty hilarious dummy drop scene.
Cyborg was made at the very tail end of Cannon Entertainment’s life using sets and costumes from two cancelled films: a canceled Spider-Man film and a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe sequel. In fact, our main baddy Fender is even wearing the character Blade’s outfit from the first Masters of the Universe film.
That they even bothered with the stop-motion shot is probably because it was either already contracted or may have even already been in the can for Masters of the Universe 2: The Cyborg.
Cyborg is also the marriage between two unused scripts, Alex Rain and Johnny Guitar, and it reallllly shows. Cyborg is trying to be both an post-apocalyptic western and a race for the cure film. The fact that it fails at both is pretty damning.
Sadly, I think I can see what they were trying to do. Van Damme’s character is supposed to go through an arc from seeking revenge to putting aside his vengeance and making sure that the cure for the plague is saved, but we never get enough character development of either the hero or the villains to make us care about Van Damme’s revenge and the incredibly vague plague ( which we see exactly one example of that lasts for about three seconds ) is never given any gravitas at all. When neither driving force of a story is developed, both are sure to suffer. Cyborg did make me feel for Van Damme. You can see him trying and the first showing of the film was so disastrous that out of a hundred viewers surveyed, only one had positive remarks to make. Van Damme himself went back and got permission to re-edit the film into the version that was released in theatres, emphasizing action and trying to make some kind of cohesive plot.
After watching the underwhelming theatrical release, I have to wonder what kind of train wreck the original cut was. Cyborg was the last gasp of a dying studio throwing everything on the shelf into the pot and hoping that whatever soup resulted would be palatable enough to serve and, with a budget of only $500,000, I feel like I should be more forgiving. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t make up for the fact that Cyborg is, at best, underwhelming and an extremely long sit for a movie well under an hour and a half.
I’m just going to say it: Cyborg is confusingly edited, poorly paced, and what little plot there is ends up spread so thin that, even for an action film, it feels flimsy. You’d think that, with Jean-Claude Van Damme starring, at least the fights would be good, but you’d be sadly mistaken. The villains are campy, the hero is monotone, the stakes are strangely nebulous for such a straightforward plot, and the only character you end up feeling anything for is Nady Simmons, and that is all up to Deborah Richter’s ability, not the script.
Unless you’re a Jean-Claude Van Damme completionist ( trust me, even his regular fans won’t appreciate Cyborg ) or you’re looking for a very riff-able martial farce movie, give Cyborg a wide berth. If you want a dystopian martial arts fest, give Equilibrium (2002) or Ultraviolet (2006) a try instead. They may not have the best plots in the world, but they are very stylistic and visually appealing, neither of which Cyborg manages.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
I always wonder why, in all these apocalyptic futures, no one ever has muzzle loading firearms. I can understand that the general tech level may have fallen below the average ability to roll brass for new cartridges and smokeless powder may be a distant memory. If that’s the case, then how do people keep making pressure chambers strong enough to power compressed air dart guns… and how do they keep the bottles recharged?
Is there one guy in the wasteland with a generator and an air compressor just cornering the market on gun analogs? It seems that making basic corned powder and iron tubes would be much easier, and way more effective. I think it’d even be pretty visually interesting and give a good reason why the characters still carry swords and such. Heck, even crossbows would be far more practical than dart guns, and require way less airtight seals and complicated valves.
Next week on the Edge, we’ll be veering from the technological to the botanical with a look at The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. With enough sequels to embarrass the most money hungry of producers and even a short lived animated series, let’s take a look at how these renegade Solanum lycopersicum started it all!