it seems heroine girl week won’t be complete without a movie with angelina jolie. without access to neither tomb raider movies, and not wanting to sit through two movies, cyborg 2 seems to fit the bill. i haven’t actually seen cyborg 1, the van damme/pyun vehicle but cyborg 2 is available on netflix instant and jolie is front and center on the cover so here we are.
though the poster on the left is kind of misleading. yes, jolie is indeed in the movie and this is more or less her first starring role. jack palance isn’t really a robot as the poster would have you believe and jolie, it turns out, doesn’t use guns that much. and yes, it’s oscar winner jack palance and oscar winner angelina jolie in a sequel to a pyun/van damme joint that went direct-to-video.
jolie plays casella “cash” reese, a robot created by pinwheel, an american corporation branching out from just making cookies. she is produced as a human-like robotic bomb (make your own tomb raider 2 joke here) called glass shadow to infiltrate and bring down kobayashi, pinwheel’s japanese rival.
i was kind of expecting a futuristic die hard-ish corporate warfare type movies at first but that’s not where the movie’s going though. under the guidance of palance’s mercy, cash escapes the pinwheel corp. before the mission to avoid being a suicide bomber. along for the ride is cash’s love interest (yes you read that right) played by canadian actor elias koteas (atom egoyan’s the adjuster and ararat, david fincher’s zodiac and curious case of benjamin button, andrew niccol’s s1m0ne and gattaca, teenage mutant’s ninja turtules episodes i and iii) looking like christopher meloni from law & order: svu and wet hot american summer, who’s also cash’s human martial arts instructor and unfortunately not named tango. instead, his name is colson “colt .45” ricks, which is in accordance of the law of having a character named colt or cole in 80s and 90s b action movies.
even though cyborg 2 isn’t what i expecting, it does travel in some interesting directions, especially in opening sequences. after the ALL CAPS opening crawl that’s too hard to read (don’t worry, someone reads along with it to us), we see the creation of the robots during the opening credits. the golden robot here have blinky red eyes, so i don’t think i’m borg-cist in saying that they are kind of c3po-ish or terminator-like. they do all look alike. though i can’t honestly say that some of my best friends are robots. there’s also the fact that “cash” shares the same last name as michael biehn in the terminator movies.
but cyborg 2 is not merely a rip-off though. cause right after the opening credits, we actually see a lab guy putting makeup on the jolie robot, and if that’s not enough, after the makeup’s done, they show in closeup of the guy paint-brushing a mole on her. i thought it’s a nice witty little touch. it worked even better when i thought they did that cause jolie has a mole on her the left side of her face. but further research shows that she does not indeed have a mole in real life.
this is followed by a scene in the boardroom where the c.e.o. is showing the board of directors how the robot/bomb technology works. except at first we only see a grainy sex video. i was wondering what the hell is going on and if the filmmakers were just throwing that in there for exploitation and marketing reasons but i laughed when the c.e.o. explains, “the sexual demonstration was chosen as the most entertaining way of showing the board the infinite possibilities of the glass shadow.” sounds like a pretty considerate corporate boss to me.
they never explain the guy in the sex video though. is he human or a robot? did he volunteer to be sex bombed? does he work at pinwheel?
the rest of the movie is less witty and follows a more formulaic action/scifi b-movie, but it never gets boring or atrocious despite its obvious low budget. it’s worth remembering that the movie was made in 1992 and released in 1993, give or take a couple of years, it is a whole decade before the female cyborg in terminator 3 and the matrix. palance doesn’t really show up until the end but he’s kind of the morpheus of the movie, we only get glimpses of him on monitors in extreme closeups, a la bono during the zoo tv era. palance also gets all the best lines in the movie. also like the matrixes, there’s also an eastern inspired palm reading scene that predates what we see nowadays in every other action movies.
it’s admirable that jolie the cyborg is more of the lead/protector to koteas’ human character instead of the partnership relationship in terminator 2. she’s more resourceful than koteas’ character, who keeps getting kidnapped and in situations where he needs to be rescued. there’s a pretty funny action sequence where koteas stays behind and jolie the cyborg do back flips and fights an army of henchmen. she also did so by hitting the first guy’s face with a gun, which leads to the guy falling over backward while firing his gun, resulting in him shooting the other henchmen behind him.
in addition to jolie, the japanese rival corporation also has a female operative (karen sheperd) whose motive is not quite clear, though there’s a pretty impressive and inventive action sequence involving a rope in the middle of the movie.
i’m not saying it’s some kind of feminist statement but it kind of surprised me and i think it deserves respect that even low budget d-t-v b movies once upon a time can have forward thinking ideas. i do wish they follow through with this at the climatic one-on-one fight. it would have made more sense and less at odd with the rest of the movie to have jolie in the one-on-one fight instead of the koteas character. sure, he’s the martial arts instructor but he’s nevertheless human. jolie’s cyborg would probably be able to fight longer and more endurable. but i guess this is a future where they can’t just download a program to her where she can immediately learn to fly a helicopter so she can’t just plug in and say “whoa i know kung fu.” and that would have made the koteas character unnecessary.
this final punch fighting scene, by the way, is against the robot bounty hunter (no relation to deckard from blade runner) hired by pinwheel, played by billy drago. the only other movie i’ve seen him in is de palma’s untouchables. while he was fine in that movie, here he tries to ham it up to the point of distracting. he’s no dennis hopper, gary oldman, john malkovich, al pacino in dick tracy, or even john travolta at their hammiest. and as if that’s not bad enough, he ends up looking more at home in a zombie horror movie than a scifi movie. though it’s a credit to the movie that his character inspires any reactions at all.
thankfully, jolie’s debut performance is more than passable in the tricky role of the very human robot, she gets more to do than arnold in the terminator movies. the only kind of shaky scene is when she freaks out. koteas also brings an extra level of cool to his human character. but ultimately it’s palance who gives resonance to the movie. character actor ric young (indiana jones 2, the corrupter, kiss of the dragon, the transporter 1) is also on hand as all punch fighting movies require an asian guy. though it’s a first for me that such a character has unexplained vampire fangs.
there’s not a whole lot of dramatic tension or a clear narrative in the movie but cyborg 2 kind of works as a chase movie and just a little bit more. it has more unique ideas than many d-t-v movies that came before and after. it manages to involve me emotionally (when jack palance finally shows up) and the ending scenes is unexpectedly poignant, not something you would expect in a d-t-v sequel from the early 90s. i don’t know about you, but grand ideas and creative efforts presented with limited means will always be more interesting to me than the other way around.
p.s. and for those who are curious, yes, jolie and koteas have a love scene where she gets naked. it is kind of disturbing after-the-fact that she was 17 at the time the film was made and it doesn’t look like a stunt double to me.
p.p.s. cyborg 2 was originally a script named the glass shadow. the producer raju patel decided to turn it into part of the cyborg franchise since he owned the right to cyborg 1. footage of jcvd appears in the movie only after the movie was made and if you ask me, she’s nicer to my eyes than a half naked jcvd. he didn’t actually turn down being in the “sequel.” though jolie did turn down cyborg 3: the recycler, with the same character played by a different actress, simone from head of the class, and instead of oscar winner jack palance, we get malcolm mcdowell, and the guy from the gremlins and waxwork movies. interestingly, cyborg 1 at one point was sold as master of the universe 2.
cyborg 2 is currently available on netflix instant and youtube.