Saturday, December 12, 2015

Cyborg


  This post-apocalyptic action movie is a damn sight darker than your average world-in-ruins flick. The first few scenes show the devastation up close and with chilling visuals. One of the first things we see is the bloodied and naked corpse of a crucified woman just hanging there as things happen around it. All the characters are so jaded, nobody even notices. As the scene goes on, we see more bodies, dismembered, bloodied, et cetera. This scene would have way more effect if one of the bad guys in it wasn't a sweaty bodybuilding meathead with a perfectly cut 80's mullet. The movie is full of jarring contrasts like that, the least of which have anything to do with it's star- the then-rising star, Mr.Van Damme himself.

  The movie has production values that are occasionally really high, which is no surprise seeing as how it was kinda thrown together using remnants of the aborted sequel to Masters of the Universe (a movie I would much rather have had exist instead of this, but alas...) and some minor sets from the never-realized Spider-Man movie. So, this movie had interesting beginnings to say the least. Yet, despite it's kid friendly parents, this movie is dark and nasty. It's bleak and depressing in a way not even the Mad Max movies ever had the chance to be. The wastelands of Cyborg are decaying cityscapes with entire populations being ravaged by a 'plague' of some sort. It's misery and death- right up in our face.

  Yet, this movie also wants to be a karate-chopping piece of action fluff. The details of the story are largely inconsequential, but Van Damme plays a sort of wastelander-bodyguard who got too attached once and ended up trying to settle down with a widower and her kids. This backfired horribly once some 'pirates' found them and, well... use your imagination. At least, use it while you can. The movie shows us their terrible fate several times. Cyborg is really fond of flashbacks. Anyways, it just goes to show you how messed up and broken Van Damme's character is. He's not a cheery guy. Rather than the honorable and gung-ho justice seeker he usually plays (Bloodsport, Kickboxer) he's a really depressing character here who isn't convinced to even try and save the day, so to speak, until a good half of the movie is over.

   All of that is fine and dandy, but it goes against the kind of silly over-the-top action movie that's nestled somewhere in this post-apocalyptic slog, just fighting to break free. Unfortunately, it never does. I hear the director's original vision for the movie was much much darker and had more raw violence. I can't even imagine, because this movie is fairly brutal enough as is. It's really like someone took Kickboxer and The Road, and tried to make something out of them. It works about as well as can be expected. I love post-apoc flicks, and I love 80's beat-em-ups. You'd think this would be a match made in heaven for me, and at times... it really is, but more often than not... it's not.

  It's hard to call it a fun movie because it's so friggin bleak, but the action sequences hum along with a snappy energy that I've come to expect from Van Damme flicks- it's only a shame that the movie seems to just... take it's time to get to them every now and then. Between the bleakness and the flashbacks, and the thoughtful interludes, the movie loses my attention way more than it should. Yet, the surprisingly detailed backdrop of this bleak world is also interesting, it's just nothing one would expect to explore in such an otherwise simplistic and silly movie.

  The bad guy has cheesy lines, and wears stylin' sunglasses most of the time- yet he's kinda terrifying in his own way. The hero 'has a heart' because we need to cheer for him, which is fine. All of this boils down to an inevitable climax at night, in the rain, with lots of triple-take punches, high kicks and slo-mo shots. It's pretty epic, if you're into that sorta thing, but then I swear they were yelling stuff at each other which was about as intelligible as caveman mumbo jumbo translated into Yiddish, and then back again.  I'm being hard on Cyborg because it can't figure out what it wants to be, something that was purely a result of extensive editing.

   It was at one point, the much darker movie the director wanted- but test audiences hated. So Van Damme himself volunteered to re-edit the movie, for free. Two months later, the Cyborg we all know and... love (?) was born. Van Damme's edit improved the overall pacing and the intensity of the action scenes, so I've heard, and that's really something because the movie still has pacing issues and some lackluster fights. He does his damndest to sell it all, and when he's in the heat of the moment, chucking knives, shooting guns, and kicking- it works. It's fun. I can't take issue with Cyborg on that note. But, the overbearing darkness of the story and the world Cyborg showcases for us, brings the movie down.

  Which is also a shame, because I think I'd dig an uber-bleak, post-apocalyptic action movie. So long as it wasn't trying to be a silly beat-em-up at the same time. Cyborg is an interesting mixed bag, and despite it's core flaws, is actually one of the sleekest looking movies Cannon has produced. It's tone may be wildly inconsistent, but I still really like the movie. It's not Van Damme's best, but with his many DTV efforts bogging down his filmography, it's also far from his worst. It's interesting to look at, and has some really cool effects shots- as well as some fun action sequences. So if you're in the mood for some dark, but oddly silly 80's weirdness with lots of kicking- Cyborg is the flick for you.

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