Part Human, Part Machine, All Broken

Well all RIGHT, boppers!  We are back with another blast from the Cannon.  Today we're joined by film fan Shannon Dale as we take a look at one of Cannon's last theatrical releases (possibly THE last); Cyborg, starring the Hustler from Brusslers; Jean-Claude Van Damme.


Cyborg - 1989
Written by Kitty Chalmers (evidently Albert Pyun's cat -- no I'm not kidding)
Directed by Albert Pyun
With Jean-Claude Van Damme

Tim:  Kick it, Shannon...

Shannon:  When I sit down to watch a movie, I don’t expect it to be based in reality. I watch a movie to transport me from my current situation…let me live a different life for a while. And unless I am watching a documentary, I am mostly just looking to be entertained. But occasionally a movie comes along that is so nonsensical and makes me roll my eyes to the point that it’s just not enjoyable. Such was the case with Cannon Films movie Cyborg.

Tim:  I had extraordinarily low expectations for this movie, and it still let me down.  While it was certainly less offensive than Kinjite, it was still so nonsensical that I had a hard time caring or even paying attention for five consecutive minutes, so I hope you caught more of the story, Shannon.

Shannon:  Warning: In this review I am going to spoil the movie for you. But let’s be honest. If you haven’t seen it yet, you aren’t ever going to see it. Unless you have a friend who wants you to watch terrible movies and help him review them.

Tim:  It is the policy of this blogazine to keep spoilage to a minimum, unless it will serve to protect the public.  So I'm backing your play there.

Shannon:  The premise of the movie is that the world has been ravaged by war and then plague. Basic Post Apocalyptic stuff...

Tim:  Basic to the point of presumption.  It starts out with a black screen and the narration, "First there was the collapse of civilization," because hey, these things happen.  Armageddon?  It's a given!

The first thing we actually see is an apocalyptic street scene that features a gratuitous shot of dead, naked woman hung on a cross (they're not just murderers; they're sinners!).  You know how I know it was a gratuitous shot despite having all the sexual allure of roadkill?  Because if it wasn't meant to titillate, why does the crucified woman clearly have breast implants?

Shannon:  There is a cyborg who has the key to curing the plague in her mechanical brain...

Tim:  You know, for 24 years I had presumed that Van Damme was the Cyborg and at the very least we'd get some serious kick-punching in this movie.  I was wrong.

Shannon: ...On her way to deliver the information to Atlanta her bodyguard is killed. She runs into Gibson, who she begs to get her to Atlanta.

Tim:  I noticed with some amusement (in the context of recent events) that along the way he declares "THIS is a wasteland," as they pass a road sign for Charleston, SC.

Shannon:  To be fair, he never says that he will, so when she is almost immediately kidnapped by Pirates, the evil leaders of this new world, he really doesn’t care so much about her as much as he does about the fact that the pirate who has her, Fender, killed his true love.

Tim:  Yes, most of the characters are named for guitars, which should give you a clue about how bored Albert Pyun was with his own movie.  The terribleness is also a pretty big hint.

Yeah, it's THAT kind of movie.
Shannon: ...The pirates want the Cyborg so that they can control the cure for the virus and truly rule the world. So Gibson heads after them to seek revenge. Along the way he meets Natty, who survived a raid on her village by hiding. She finds out that this woman, the cyborg, can cure the plague and decides that she is going to rescue her. Never mind that her survival method is hiding. Wait…I’m getting ahead of myself. Natty and Gibson head after Fender, one with revenge in mind the other with rescue. There’s fighting. Natty somehow becomes a bad-ass. More fighting. Fender gets killed. Natty dies. The Cyborg is safely delivered to Atlanta and ends the movie by proclaiming that perhaps the real way that mankind will be saved is by Gibson, because he has a kind soul or whatever. Very dramatic.

Tim:  Ohh, is that what happened?  I admit, my attention kind of drifted off and missed some of the (I hesitate to call it exposition or plot, but the) random stuff that happened so when the Cyborg disappeared and Natty (possibly Nady) showed up, I was just confused why the Cyborg didn't have a mechanical hand anymore.  The casting director clearly had a preference for pouty brunettes, and they kind of blurred together for me; as did any of the macho poseurs aside of JCVD and the bad guy in the mail shirt.

Shannon:  I wanted to like this movie. There were actually parts of this movie that I enjoyed, against my better judgment. But there was just too much that happened in this movie that didn’t make sense for me to really commit myself to it.

Tim:  I had no expectation of liking it, but I thought that the action might at least redeem the sillier aspects.  I was mistaken.

Shannon:  Let’s start with the Cyborg. First of all, she actually plays a very minor role in the movie, despite it being named after her. They never tell you what KIND of information she has that will save the world. Just that it MIGHT cure the plague, but she could only gather the information by being amongst the people.

Tim:  Yeah, the Cyborg is pretty irrelevant.  It was sci-fi window dressing to appeal to audiences, but completely unnecessary.  Realistically speaking, the Macguffin could have been anything -- the last remaining scientist who knows the cure, or the child of a scientist with the information coded into them, or even just a formula itself.  I suspect they were just shooting for some Terminator appeal.

Maybe it made more sense when this was supposed to be a Master of the Universe sequel, but I sincerely doubt it.

Shannon:  Second, she looks human. Until she takes her wig off fairly early in the movie. And with her wig off, all of a sudden she looks like a robot. But the second the wig is back on, she’s human again. That’s a very fancy wig.

Tim:  I want a fancy wig that gives me JCVD's torso.

That's an hilarious scene, and not on purpose (the movie is utterly humorless).  There's the "romantic" sound of a trilling harp when she "takes it off; takes it all off."  Only in this case "it" is the back of her head.  It's an oddly sexual exposure in a scene that, once again, is not remotely sexy.

Shannon:  Third, and my biggest issue, is that there is no technology in this society. Other than a few guns (I’ll discuss that again in a minute) everything has reverted back to the middle ages. There is no electricity. No cars. And yet…somehow in Atlanta they were able to create a cyborg out of a human. Oh yeah…she used to be human and volunteered to save the world.

Tim:  In a scene where the bad guy takes a hostage to get her to acquiesce, I kind of wondered what the point was of having a cyborg that was vulnerable to emotional blackmail, but I guess that must have been kept in the front part of her brain.

It seemed to me that they were intending to rely on the viewers assumptions, based on other, better sci-fi, to fill in the rest of their post-apocalyptic world.  Terminator influences notwithstanding, it seemed like it most wanted to evoke the world of Mad Max, which frankly strains credulity with its conceits.  Cyborg just plain shanks credulity in the yard.  The world-building begins with the costumes and ends with the settings.  In between, it's only filled with the needs of a "story" that really only wants another drink.

Shannon:  My second issue is with Natty. I admire her gumption, but her character is flawed. She survives a raid by hiding but then has the courage to go after the raiders in order to save the Cyborg. She doesn’t do much at first, but there is a scene where after swimming in a river with Gibson, she tries to seduce him by exposing her breasts to him…which he declines. This was so poorly written! I have tried to seduce many men in my life, but never by just pulling down my shirt. Hmm…maybe I should try it. No wait! It doesn’t work...

Tim:  It doesn't not work...

Shannon:  Gibson turns her down because he is still grieving the loss of his love.

I would tell the story but this is already too long and so…moving on.

Natty does find her courage and my favorite scene in the movie is when she cuts off the hand of one of the female pirates. But she does this without any training. From coward to seductress bad-ass seemingly overnight.

Tim:  She was forged in the fires of battle!  Her idyllic post-apocalyptic village life was destroyed by Pirates (the crucible) so she emerged hardened for more than battle.  At least that's what it would mean in the better bad movies from which Cyborg is cribbing.  It's the closest Cyborg ever gets to character development.  Actually it's the closest Cyborg gets to a character.

Shannon:  The battle scenes are a major part of the movie and again, an area that I had issue with. There is one scene that made me laugh. Gibson is facing a pirate and he has a gun in hand. The pirate pulls out a knife and whips it around. So Gibson puts the gun away and pulls out a knife. Wait. What? Shoot him, you idiot! Granted, it would have made for a shorter scene but it would have been more logical!

Tim:  It's a penis thing.  You wouldn't understand. 

Frankly I don't understand either.

Shannon:  Gibson somehow manages to fight his way through 6 or 7 pirates, I lost count, and finds himself face to face against Fender. And after all of that murdering destruction behind him, he can’t seem to land a punch on Fender. It is as though Fender is made of rubber…everything just bounces off of him. He captures Gibson, beats the crap out of him, then hangs him up crucifixion style and leaves him there to die. Gibson wakes up, manages to knock the cross over and loosen himself from it. Natty finds him and after a night of recovery, the next day he only has a few new scars but is full of energy and ready to head after Fender again. Who he then kills…after quite a battle. After almost dying the day before.

Tim:  As I mentioned earlier, I had low, low expectations from Cyborg, but I thought the action should be good.  Isn't Van Damme supposed to be some kind of martial artist?  You'd never know from the movie though.  The action, like much of the rest of the movie is shot pornographically close, presumably to keep the budget down to a lean half-million.  Rather than fights, we get pose-fu; quick cuts of fists drifting past faces and flying kicks edited in.  It's pretty bland, but I did admire the way that JCVD makes his entrance kick-first.

The action may not be good, but at least it's violent verging on perverse.  In a later scene, the bad guy attacks a wedding party (what part of "BAD guy" did you not understand?).  He literally stuffs his pole down the groom's throat as the cake topper melts into white goo.

Shannon:  There are a few other side stories that I didn’t cover because they aren’t important for my basic thesis: this story had so many holes in it that it was downright uncomfortable to watch.

Tim:  As far as I can tell, Cannon Films films are put together a little something like a variety show.  They often started with a poster, then decided what kind of violence they wanted (usually a variation on a scene from a better movie) and strung it all together like a necklace of human ears.  The story only has to work enough to get us from this moment to the next flying kick.

If Golan & Globus ever decided to make video games, they could quite possibly own the world.

Shannon:  Today I was telling a friend about it and we discovered a Cyborg 2. I’m going to skip it.

Tim:  Oh, there's even a Cyborg 3!  Cyborg 2 actually has an impressive cast -- Jack Palance, Angelina Jolie, Elias Koteas (what? He's a character actor from everything), and creepy-ass Billy "Frank Nitti" Drago -- but no, I don't need to watch them humiliating themselves.  The third has Malcolm McDowell (wait, what?), William "Greatest American Hero" Katt and former Playmate Rebecca Feratti (ohh, yeah, that period in his career...).

Shannon:  If you want to watch a good early Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, watch Lionheart. Let Cyborg collect its well deserved dust.

Tim:  See, I've never really cared to watch JCVD movies, but I was hoping that the cyborg stuff might make more of it.  Nope.  It's bad, but it's the bad kind of bad, and that ain't good.

About her film influences and habits, Shannon says, "I've never been one who knows the best movies to watch or even what's coming out. The way that I pick movies is through the recommendations of my friends. One of my greatest joys is saying to someone, "I loved that movie you suggested." I know that may seem like a cheater way to go about it, but I rarely turn on my tv. When I do, I want to know that I'll enjoy what I'm about to see."

In response, Tim says, "I'm sorry I put you through this, Shannon.  Check out The Babadook and Housebound on Netflix.  That should make up for this a little."