Action Heroes – Van Damme: Cyborg


Van Damme goes post-apocalyptic Sci-fi on us with Albert Pyun’s Cyborg. I remember my first encounter with this was either just before or just after I got into Van Damme. It was a short TV ad for upcoming video releases, and Cyborg was one of them. There were some quick shots from the film – Including a shot of Van Damme swinging down from one level of an old concrete structured building to the next on a pole. It was an action shot of a dude with short hair, literally swinging into action. Looked exciting! And I think having seen it – I enjoyed it overall – despite seeing that it could have been so much more. Even at the tender age of 13 or so.

So the skinny is that part human/part machine Pearl prophet needs to get from A to B (passing through a vast wasteland in order to get a cure for humanity to the right people. Along the way, her escort, Marshall Strat, is bumped off by a gang of pirates lead by the pale blue eyes Fender.

Instead she has to reply on mercenary warrior Gibson Rickenbacker (Van Damme). Gibson has a bit of a score to settle with Fender as he is responsible for the murder of his family. So battle commences as both parties travel and occasionally slog it out with the Pirates numbers slowly dwindling until our main leads fight it out to the death.

Now apparently the costumes and some of the props were initially going to be used for a sequel for Masters of the universe. But Dolph Lundgren’s first big leading role didn’t lead him towards a reprisal – so instead the company through all those commodities at this film instead.

It is cheap, Pyun has worked for most of his career in low budget sci-fi horror, and sadly it doesn’t date well.

Viewers may know the lead baddie actor Vincent Klyn as the “We’re just gonna fuck you up” leader of the Neo-Nazi’s from Point Break. Here he proves you don’t have to look far to find an actor worse than Van Damme.  Even his battle cries are so fake they sound off tune? That’s right – the world’s first tone deaf fighter. Which is ironic considering the names of characters in this film are taken from different brands of guitar as well as other musical instruments.

You will also recognise Ralf Moeller (as Rolf Muller) (also appearing in Universal Soldier) as the Pirate Gibson takes out in the sewer system. And it is truly a very cool kill. Muller’s blood thirsty character wades through the water and through a large doorway for the camera to reveal Gibson held aloft over the doorway by doing the splits. Calmly and almost Zen-like he raises his weapon and strikes down at the man who realises only too late where his intended prey is hiding.

And there are other cool moments of action in this film. Sure there is a bit of slo-mo used for effect. But Van Damme knows his action and it is fun to watch him take these guys out one at a time.

Another decent sequence, and one perhaps more visually arresting is the crucifixion of Gibson. Left in the heat to die by the Pirates he is tied to the mast of a grounded boat. With only his anger and flashbacks for company, he breaks free by beating the mast with his feet (Clearly beating up a tree in Kickboxer has paid off).

I am also fairly partial to some of the synthesised score in this film. While it may not seem like much today, for this type of film it works well to help sell the whole post-apocalyptic scenario. Maybe even working best in the quieter moments of the film – whether it is Gibson’s flashbacks or long dolly shots of the Pirates on their travels.

The film’s climax is a bit of a letdown.  You can see they wanted to go for epic with all the debris and water everywhere. But this is perhaps one fight where the choreography doesn’t quite work as well as you’d hope. And with a villain so laughable in his menace you are just waiting for him to be shut up once and for all. Sadly it takes a couple of attempts to finally do him in on a meat hook.

So I probably rate Cyborg low down for the results of a Van Damme film. This is mainly because it could have been altogether better. I think the people that worked on it with a small budget tried their best to at least make it look not too shabby, but the drama and acting is what lets it down largely. Perhaps a bit of sharper and paced editing would have made this lark worth the giggle. But as it was already under 90 minutes they probably shaved it down as best they could to still have it as a feature film.

Pyun would himself go on to direct the Nemesis series, Kickboxer sequels and the odd breakout film starring the likes of Christopher Lambert.

Still the film made about 20 times the money it cost and has a cult status. it also had two sequels. The first of which starred Angelina Jolie! (along with Elias Koteas and Jack Palance) and the third Malcolm McDowell. Says much when those are the names attached the the sequels of a Jean-Claude Van Damme Movie.

Steven Hurst

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