Cyberpunk emerged as a stylistic movement in the 70s and 80s, but only became more popular as technology advanced and mankind became more cynical. Of all the dark sci-fi subgenres, cyberpunk agrees the world is doomed, but it posits steel and data as a way to fight back.
The matrix is still the quintessential example of cyberpunk film, but there are fascinating entries that have come before and worlds of new ideas that have been built on it. Movies about low life and high tech have come in many shapes and sizes, but some interesting examples of the trope have been tragically overlooked.
After debuting a beloved sci-fi masterpiece District 9, anything Neil Blomkamp did would struggle to live up to expectations. Blomkamp’s 2013 follow-up to his incredible hit showcase isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but it’s still an incredible cyberpunk tale. The titular Elysium is a ringed society that exists above and around Earth, housing the rich and powerful in luxury. On the surface of the Earth, the overwhelming majority of the population lives in crowded slums and breathes polluted air. The wealthy have access to incredible health technology, and in desperation, a man named Max undergoes vicious cybernetic enhancement to fight his way to Elysium. Like its predecessor, Elysium is a political polemic told through conceptual science fiction and gratuitous violence. Although there are clearly missing elements, Elysium is a strong spiritual successor to District 9 and a great sci-fi movie in its own right.
The man from the depot
People didn’t like this movie, and it’s mostly the script’s fault. It’s well-acted and well-directed, the action is solid, and the premise is great, but the writing struggles to pull it all together. Set in the near future, The man from the depot offers a world in which organ failure is a problem solved with incredibly advanced prosthetics. Unfortunately, in a heartbreaking look at a realistic future, the technology that millions of people need to live costs huge sums of money. A private company provides these prostheses at criminal interest rates, leaving tons of people in default. When someone fails to pay for their vital organs, the company sends in a pension man to incapacitate the customer and violently extract their assets. When a skilled man is injured in an accident and forced to turn to a replacement heart to stay alive, he can see what life is like on the other side. It’s a gruesome, comically loose action piece with blood and gore, but there’s real heart in its central relationships. There are certainly huge gaps in Repo Menbut there is more value to be sought than people realize.
This bizarre 2015 film was almost entirely known for its unique gimmick, but its cyberpunk aspects shine through in its limited story. The eponymous Henry wakes up with no memory in a high-tech surgery center where many of his extremities are replaced with cybernetics. A great start, but Henry soon finds his kidnapped wife and an army of goons in his way. Hard Henry has the impact of a good first-person shooter and its narrative is comparable as well. Beyond traditional cybernetic enhancement, the film deals with issues of control and brainwashing, as well as cyborg soldiers. The film isn’t transformative, but it doesn’t try to be. It’s a powerful action blockbuster that rolls through set after set with a rolling guitar soundtrack. It’s a simple showcase of what an action filmmaker can do with a few robot limbs and a ton of firepower, and that’s all it needs.
Another brilliant premise, but this one has the creativity and flair to back it up. The son of body horror legend David Cronenberg, Brandon has his father’s eye for deeply unsettling violence and gripping sci-fi concepts. Possessor tells the story of Tasya Vos in an alternate timeline where technology enables new forms of cruelty. Through an implant surreptitiously inserted into a person’s brain, Vos is able to possess victims and use them as tools to assassinate his targets. This, however, distances Vos from his own identity. When she finds herself in a body she can’t quite control, she must fight to find a body before everything crumbles around her. It’s one of the most viscerally nasty movies of the modern era, and anyone with a stomach will love this film.
Released four years ago The matrix, this film exists like the Hydrox to its Oreos. This Keanu Reeves cyberpunk action flick came first and featured a ton of the same ideas and ingredients, but everyone agrees the other one did it better, so Johnny Mnemonic has been largely lost to history. The film is widely despised for its bizarre acting and inexplicable story. Adapted directly from a short story by William Gibson, humanity owes another chance to this tale of memory and anti-corporate angst. It’s undeniably weird and bad in many ways, but there’s a lot of heartfelt good in this early cyberpunk effort.
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