Monday, 4 June 2018

June-Claude Van Damme: Cyborg (1989)

I always try to offer up my reviews of movies based simply on my own feelings, where I am whenever I watch (or previously watched) the film, and perhaps some context about the world at large, especially if the film is making a point about a certain time and place. These things may not seem obvious in any review, and are often unnecessary, but my approach remains the same. I try not to mention box office results or critical receptions, unless they feel relevant in terms of how others may already be feeling biased for or against the movie. Cyborg is no exception. I don't even know how it did when it was released, but I know how I reacted to it.

I was disappointed. Having previously seen Jean-Claude Van Damme in more standard "underdog does good" storylines (because I didn't see his films in order, I saw the crowd-pleasers before the rest of his work), I wasn't ready for Cyborg. I wanted more fights, I wanted a lighter tone, and I wanted Van Damme to more easily look like the hero I already knew him to be.

Thankfully, I have revisited this film a few times over the past few decades, and my opinion of it has only grown. Writer-director Albert Pyun may prefer that you watch his alternate cut, AKA Slinger, but I have only ever seen this version, and this version works for me.

It's the future. The world has been transformed by a deadly plague. Most people would hope for a cure, and one woman (Pearl, played by Dayle Haddon) may have it, but a marauding madman named Fender Tremolo (Vincent Klyn) likes things just as they are. He has his acolytes, gets to indulge in plenty of violence, and gets to wander around with a loyal band of like-minded followers. When Pearl ends up in, ummmm, peril, Van Damme becomes a reluctant hero. He cannot stop her from ultimately being snatched up by the gang of villains but he sets out to rescue her, and also the planet, accompanied by a young woman named Nady (Deborah Richter).

Although clearly a messy and flawed film, Cyborg remains one of the most interesting outings in the early years of  Van Damme's career. It's tonally dark, it's choppy, and a number of scenes are poorly lit, but there's an unpleasantness to the violence that lends this an edge when compared to other movies starring The Muscles From Brussels. In fact, a few scenes feel more like horror movie moments than sci-fi action.

The acting isn't too bad. Van Damme isn't asked to do too much, Klyn is impressively menacing and cruel as the main villain, and Richter and Haddon are both okay. Haley Peterson does well, and deserves a mention here. She plays a character last seen by Rickenbacker when she was a child, and gives a silent performance that reveals her character in flashbacks contrasting with how she is in the present.

Pyun at least tries to give viewers something a bit different, while pleasing both JCVD fans and people who enjoy post-apocalyptic action adventures, and he largely succeeds (if you dismiss the initial opinions of demanding younger teens like me). I would, of course, have much preferred to see Pyun's take on He-Man and Spider-Man, which were the Cannon projects on the slate before deals fell through and this film was hurried into creation as a replacement, but I am now happy enough to have this as a dark and interesting sci-fi action movie.


Albert Pyun would prefer you to buy this disc.
And you can support/contact Albert Pyun directly here.

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