Well, for the penultimate review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at a cyberpunk action movie from 1992 called “Nemesis”. This was a film that I bought on DVD several months earlier whilst going through a cyberpunk phase (well, more of a cyberpunk phase than usual), but never actually got round to watching at the time.
So, let’s take a look at “Nemesis”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS. And the film itself contains some FLICKERING/FLASHING LIGHTS (although I don’t know if they’re fast/intense enough to be an issue).
“Nemesis” is set in the year 2027 and follows a LAPD detective called Alex who is hunting down a group of terrorists called the Red Army Hammerheads. After being seduced by, and fighting, one of their cyborg data carriers – he finds himself pursued by a group of heavily-armed terrorists. Needless to say, there is a spectacularly epic gunfight between Alex and the terrorists.
Alex survives, but is seriously injured. So, in classic “Robocop” fashion, he is rebuilt with many cybernetic body parts. He is then sent to Mexico to recuperate, where he also ends up tracking down and killing one of the terrorists who escaped after the gunfight earlier in the film. But, when two cyborgs from the police department arrive to congratulate him, the meeting doesn’t go well and one of them ends up shooting Alex’s pet dog.
Disillusioned, Alex soon quits the police and ends up working as a smuggler in New Rio De Janeiro for a while until he is betrayed by one of his contacts and handed back to the LAPD. Alex’s boss, Farnsworth, tells him that there is a bomb implanted next to his heart and, if he wants to survive, then he’ll do one last job for the LAPD.
The itinerary for a meeting between the US and Japanese presidents has been stolen by a rogue police cyborg (called Jared) and Farnsworth needs Alex to travel to a “low-tech” town in Java called Shang Loo to recover the plans and assassinate Jared. However, when he arrives, it soon becomes clear that things aren’t quite what they seem…
One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it is something of a “so bad that it’s good” film. In other words, if you’re expecting deep characterisation, complex nuanced storytelling and/or intelligent science fiction, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. It’s a cheesy, low-mid budget late-night B-movie of the type that they really don’t make anymore.
Yet, this is also part of the film’s charm. Everything from the “Neuromancer fan fiction” -style voice-overs in some parts of the film, to the stilted exposition-heavy dialogue, to the riduculous quantities of firearms, to the gratuitous nudity (which, refreshingly, also includes male nudity too), to the fact that almost everyone is wearing “cool” sunglasses, to the fact that one character is literally named “Max Impact”, to the fact that this film will often substitute spectacular gunfights for storytelling means that this film is gloriously cheesy fun.
Well, it’s a fun film most of the time. Although the film’s beginning and ending are thrillingly fun low-budget cyberpunk cinema, the film sags somewhat in the middle.
Yes, there’s still a lot of action but – aside from a few brilliantly thrilling scenes set in a hotel and the surrounding town – some of the scenes set in Shang Loo just consist of chase scenes that take place within various forests. These can get a bit tedious and monotonous after a while, especially when compared to the other parts of the film. Seriously, even though this film is a lean 92 minutes in length, it can occasionally feel a bit longer than that (and not in a good way!).
The film’s action scenes are reasonably good, with the stand-out moments being the extended gunfight near the beginning of the film and a vaguely “Underworld“-like scene where Alex escapes from a hotel room by quite literally shooting a hole in the floor. Likewise, some of the characters carry “Aliens”-like smart guns, complete with augmented reality glasses too.
Still, the film will sometimes substitute action for storytelling. Which is probably a good thing in this case, given how silly and/or clichéd some parts of the story can be (eg: the police turn out to be the real villains, Alex needs to reach the top of a volcano etc..). But, this is all part of the cheesy charm of the film.
Likewise, the special effects in this film are reasonably good practical effects – with the stand-out moments being some fairly interesting “Terminator”-style cyborg scenes – involving things like extendable eyeballs, robots hiding cannons in their brains etc…
However, the effects during a scene where Alex has to fight a “Terminator”-style robot skeleton near the end of the film are a little bit on the clunky side of things. Still, one cool thing about the film containing cyborg characters is that it’s an excuse for the SFX team to add lots of dramatic sparks during gunfights.
Although the film’s dialogue is often fairly stilted, clichéd and exposition-heavy, the film thankfully manages to include a lot of “action movie”-style humour. Whilst most of this consists of deadpan “1980s action movie”-style dialogue- there are some other amusing scenes too, such as when one of the villain’s henchmen foolishly tries to bully an old lady:
The film’s characters aren’t that great. However, the best characters are a somewhat morally-ambiguous and thoroughly badass cyborg called Julian, Jared’s AI persona, the hotel receptionist in Shang Loo and possibly Max Impact too.
On the other hand, Alex is something of a two-dimensional character who is a mixture of a grizzled film noir cop and an action hero. A fair amount of his characterisation seems to consist of him moodily wondering whether he’s still human (which gets tiring after a while). Plus, the film’s villains are just clichéd villain characters too.
In terms of the set design and lighting, it’s ok. Although it is surprising to see something in the cyberpunk genre that doesn’t go for the traditional “neon-drenched mega city” approach to set design, this film’s set design is a bit hit-and-miss.
The more understated, industrial and “realistic” style settings work fairly well. However, the decision to set a significant chunk of the film in a lush tropical forest just kind of goes against everything the cyberpunk genre stands for.
Still, the film occasionally contains some really interesting lighting. In addition to some wonderfully gloomy 1990s-style lighting in several scenes, this film also occasionally makes clever used of sunsets and blue and/or orange filters in order to add some visual interest to the film.
Musically, this film is surprisingly good. The film’s instrumental soundtrack goes really well with the atmosphere and style of the film and it contains a good mixture of more understated music and more dramatic music.
All in all, this film is pretty much “so bad that it’s good”. Yes, a few scenes are a bit tedious but, this aside, all of the other flaws just add to the film’s charm. You can really tell that the people who made this film have tried to make a thrilling, futuristic cyberpunk film. Yes, it’s a fairly unoriginal low-mid budget sci-fi action movie with a few cyberpunk clichés, two-dimensional characters and some hilariously stilted dialogue. But, this is all part of the fun.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might get about a three.