Cyborg (1989)

*. A few years back a French scholar named Pierre Bayard achieved a certain level of notoriety for writing a How to book called How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. While jokey, he actually had a point, which is that most of us can’t remember anything at all about most of the books we’ve read so there’s not much difference between talking about them (the books we’ve forgotten) and other books we’ve never read any part of.
*. There’s some truth to this, and I think the same thing goes for movies. I don’t think I’d seen Cyborg since it came out thirty years ago and I couldn’t remember much about it. If you’d asked me I would have said that Jean-Claude Van Damme was the cyborg, which would make him sort of like a low-budget Terminator (albeit one of the good guys). I’d forgotten that the cyborg is actually a woman with some data implanted in her skull that may be used to cure a post-apocalyptic plague.
*. But then, why would I have remembered that? It doesn’t make much, or really any, difference to the story. Van Damme’s character has his own reasons for going after the bad guy. He doesn’t need to save the world too.
*. Anyway, I did remember this as being a cheesy Golan-Globus production with Van Damme taking his shirt off and doing lots of spinning back kicks. But I didn’t remember it being this cheesy.
*. Being a Cannon film you’d know it was going to be cheap, and look cheap. It’s also a project that came with an interesting geneaology. It was originally ntended as a sequel to the He-Man movie Masters of the Universe (1987), going by the name of Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg. But when the first Masters of the Universe failed (not because of me, because I paid to see it) they decided to do something (kind of) different.
*. Instead of Dolph Lundgren the property was offered to Van Damme, who had just had a hit with Bloodsport. To be precise, Van Damme was offered the lead in Delta Force 2, American Ninja 3 or Cyborg. Decisions, decisions.
*. Even stranger was to come, as Cyborg went on to spawn not just one but two trilogies. It stands as the first film in director Albert Pyun’s Cyborg Trilogy (followed by Knights and Omega Doom). And then it had its own sequels in Cyborg 2 and Cyborg 3: The Recycler. I haven’t see any of these other movies (at least that I can remember), and my understanding is that they have next to nothing to do with this one so I won’t say anything more about them here.
*. I don’t think anything is done well here, though the sheer awfulness has contributed to making it a fan favourite. Ebert joked about “a future world in which all civilization has been reduced to a few phony movie sets.” He might have added a couple of phony matte paintings. Most of it just looks like it was shot in a dump. The costumes have that funny ’80s gangbanger vibe. The fight scenes are full of the terrible choreography you get in all of Van Damme’s movies. People just stand there waiting for punches or kicks to hit them in the head. From the editing I couldn’t tell if anyone else in the cast knew any martial arts at all, or could even throw a punch or a kick. And yet this is widely classified as a martial arts movie.
*. Three things do stand out. (1) Fender’s opening voiceover is justifiably famous. Nothing in the rest of the script even comes close. (2) There was an obvious decision to use crosses and crucifixes as a motif throughout, hanging on walls or from Fender’s ear and culminating in Gibson’s calvary. I suppose this is to make us think of him as a Christ figure, especially given the line at the end where it’s suggested that he may be the “real cure” that this world needs. Whatever that means. It’s not like he’s Neville at the end of The Omega Man. He’s just an asskicker. (3) Gibson’s flashbacks to the origin of his hatred of Fender must have been an intentional nod to Once Upon a Time of the West. Which is an odd thing to find in a movie like this.
*. So like I say, it’s cheesy. Which means that it really is so bad it’s kind of good. I actually did get a kick out of seeing it again. Maybe I’ll even see it once or twice more, down the road. I just need to give it a few years so that I can forget it again.

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