There are, generally speaking, two kinds of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.
The first kind being the ones that, while still not what one would consider a “quality film,” are still rightly entertaining and fun and have a certain flair to them. The second kind being those that are just flat-out bad, with almost nothing in the way of memorable, fun characters, no memorable one-liners and very little action.
Cyborg, sadly, fall into the latter camp.
I say “sadly” because there’s a lot of potential here to play with, mostly in terms of setting. The film (Van Damme’s third as a leading man), is set in the aftermath of a vaguely explained apocalypse, in which the planet’s populace seems to have been largely wiped out by a plague, leaving the survivors to wander the wastelands (a sign along the road quite literally points travelers in the direction of THE WASTELAND) and generally trying to avoid being rape-murdered by roving bands of pirates and marauders.
There supposedly exists a cure for the plague and it’s up to Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon) and her bodyguard, Marshall Strat, to escort her from Atlanta to New York City and back, so that sensitive data can be retrieved. For reasons never explained, this requires Pearl to be turned into a cyborg.
However, on their return trip, Marshall is beheaded and Pearl is captured by Fender (Vincent Klyn), but not before encountering Gibson Rickenbacker (Van Damme), a “slicer,” this film’s name for wandering mercenary bodyguards. (And yes, more than half the characters are named after musical instrument brands.) Gibson becomes determined to rescue Pearl, but mostly because he wants some good, old-fashioned revenge on the man who killed the family he tried to settle down with so many years ago.
It’s almost unfathomable how little money and effort went into this movie, and, boy, does it show. The shooting locations include a sewer, a marsh, an abandoned construction site (that was likely filmed from multiple angles so they could reuse it as the characters end up at abandoned construction sites with stunning regularity) and bombed out cityscapes (again, likely the same one just filmed from different angles). The film is plenty violent, and yet I can’t remember the last low-budget, R-rated action flick that didn’t at least have tens of dollars to spend on Karo syrup and red dye.
Turns out I was right when I mused that more money went into the chain-mail budget for Fender’s wardrobe than the squib department, as the budget for the entire film didn’t even come close to breaking six figures.
According to the five minutes I spent exhaustively researching this movie on Wikipedia, the film got the greenlight because the studio’s deal to make a Masters of the Universe sequel and a Spider-Man film fell through. They decided to make Cyborg on the cheap to try and recoup some of the $2 million already spent on sets and costumes on the other films, reportedly spending only $500,000 on Cyborg after writer/director Albert Pyun (yes, the same who eventually made that deliciously horrible Captain America movie in the ’90s) wrote the script in a single weekend.
I suppose this (lack of a) budget also explains why every marauder henchman looks like they ended up raiding the same dumpster behind a Dokken concert.
Point being, this is a terrible movie and Van Damme is pretty terrible in it. There’s no real story to speak of. Characters who you expect will be pivotal disappear for massive stretches of the run-time (for a film named Cyborg, the titular character has surprisingly little to do with what actually happens) and what action exists is almost shockingly basic. Oh, and the editing is among the worst I’ve ever seen in any movie ever. Ever. (Seriously, I’ve never edited a film in my life, and I could probably establish a more consistent sense of geography and flow than what’s done here.)
It’s a shame, too, because as I said earlier, there’s a lot of fun to be mined from a setting and concept like this. It’s obvious Pyun is riffing (er, ripping off) heavily from the Road Warrior formula and aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been some good stuff created along the way.
Alas, this was perhaps the earliest sign that Van Damme was (and would continue to be) only as good as the material he works with. The script gives him nothing to really play around with in terms of character, no real moments to dig into. The man isn’t a very good actor, but he’s always shown a proclivity to at least try and find an emotional center for what he wants to deliver. That much is obvious here given his character’s past, but it’s clear Pyun doesn’t care nearly enough to try and help pull that aspect together.
The biggest disappointment though is the lack of action. All of the fights are fairly basic affairs with some truly bland choreography. There are no split kicks to be found and only one instance of Van Damme performing his trademark splits, though at least that leads to the best kill in the film. Gibson and Nady (a girl who, for no apparent reason, insists on joining Gison on his quest despite being woefully ill-equipped to do so) are escaping from Fender’s goons and jump into a sewer. In order to (literally) get the drop on one of the Dokkengoons, Gibson does a split in between two pylons at the entrance of a waterway, dropping down and plunging a knife into the cranium of said goon upon approach.
Sadly, that’s about as creative as things get in Cyborg.
Oh wait, except for the part where Gibson is crucified. Yep, that’s right, crucified. Fender manages to capture Gibson, but instead of doing the smart thing and just killing him like he should, he has his goons spend time rigging up a cross to crucify him and then leave without watching him actually die. Which is good, though, because it means we get to watch Van Damme literally kick himself off the cross. JC Van Damme indeed. (Yes, I’m going to hell for that one, I’m sure. It will almost be worth it.)
That said, it ends on a surprisingly ambiguous note for a Van Damme movie, leaving Gibson to once again wander the wastelands after successfully returning Pearl to Atlanta. Maybe Cannon films was anticipating a sequel. Two of them did end up being made — one of which starred Angelina Jolie! — though each had increasingly less to do with its progenitor.
My point is that you really shouldn’t bother watching this. At all. But it’s all good, because next time I’ll be writing about Kickboxer, which offers much more of what we all know and love about JCVD movies.
Dammage Report statistics for Cyborg:
Number of splits: 1
Number of split kicks: 0
Reason for being European: None given, although “Rickenbacker” sounds at least vaguely European despite being an American company.
Best line: None by Van Damme, but Klyn takes special delight in his opening narration which ends with “I like the death! I like the misery! I like this world!”