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Film / Cyborg (1989)

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Cyborg is a 1989 post-apocalyptic action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as Gibson Rickenbacker. Rickenbacker battles a gang of marauding thugs led by Fender Tremolo, played by professional-surfer-turned-actor and co-star Vincent Klyn on his debut.

The film starts After the End, in a world that has been shattered by war, the collapse of civilization, and just for fun, a plague ravaging the survivors. The titular cyborg, Pearl, has been sent from Atlanta to New York City to retrieve information for a group of scientists and doctors looking to both cure the plague and start restoring society. Unfortunately, Fender and his deadly gang of marauders learns of the mission and moves to intercept Pearl and her bodyguard. The bodyguard is killed, letting Pearl escape just long enough to encounter Gibson for the first time. Gibson is a "slinger", a mercenary who normally fights bandits like Fender's gang only for the money, but Gibson is already hunting Fender for personal reasons.

Gibson and Pearl get separated by a couple of Fender's mooks, and Pearl is brought to Fender, who offers to escort her back to Atlanta, where he plans to steal the cure for the plague and kill the holdouts. Pearl agrees to travel together, hoping that the resources of her superiors will enable them to defeat Fender's group when they arrive, and in the meantime Gibson tracks Fender and is joined by Nady, a survivor of one of Fender's raids who has lost many loved ones to the plague, and whose primary goal is to help Pearl get the cure to the scientists.

Directed by Albert Pyun and produced by The Cannon Group, it is considered one of Pyun's most mainstream and commercially successful films. Had two sequels, but In Name Only. The first sequel marks Angelina Jolie's debut.

This film provides examples of:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: At one point Gibson tries to escape from Fender's gang in one. Amusingly, the opening to said sewer looks like it would probably be too narrow for Fender's crew of evil bodybuilders.
  • Action Girl: Cash is one in the sequel, nearly to the point where you wonder why she needs a bodyguard to begin with.
  • Action Survivor: Nady isn't a trained fighter at all, she's just a regular person who happened to survive one of Fender's attacks by hiding. She's often out of her depth when it comes to fighting, but she at least does well enough to help take out a few mooks.
  • After the End: "First there was the collapse of civilization... anarchy, genocide, starvation... then we got the plague."
  • And Then What?: Gibson's friend Mase poses this question, asking if somehow Gibson does take out Fender, what he'll do with the rest of his life. At the time, Gibson doesn't have an answer. At the end of the film it's implied that Gibson has more or less developed a case of Chronic Hero Syndrome, and will continue helping people against bands like Fender's.
  • Artistic License – Geography: While visiting a friend who runs a bar near Hoboken, New Jersey, Gibson talks about taking a short cut to Charleston, South Carolina. The two cities are about 760 miles (1225 km) apart. It's hard to imagine that there would be a reason for a "short cut" to exist between those two cities, or that there's any way to travel that distance on foot that would beat a boat which has enough people on it to be piloted 24 hours a day. (Pyun's director's cut does offer a small justification about the two of them making it to Charleston around the same time by saying that Fender has been making stops to recruit more pirates and extra muscle along the way due to the trouble he's expecting to encounter in Atlanta.)
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Gibson's gun, which seems to be a hybrid of a pistol, a shotgun, and a mini-gun. Looks cool and post-apocalyptic. Too bad the gun offers no other way of holding it besides grabbing it by the barrels of the mini-gun itself, and the gun requires that one turns them manually after each shot. The barrels would be scorching hot after firing just a round, making it pretty useless unless one waits an hour or two for the barrels to cool off between shots.
    • Gibson's gun seems to be some kind of compressed-air high-powered arrow-launcher, actually. Which still has some of the problems mentioned above, on top of very cumbersome loading method (by the barrel) and slow loading time (which is why Gibson shoots a few mooks and immediately switches to his knife once he's out).
  • Ax-Crazy: Fender. He's just a maniacal mass murderer who loves the death and pain of others. In the final fight he even acts in a bestial way, roaring like a lion while brandishing knives.
  • Badass Longcoat: Gibson wears one in the flashbacks.
  • Battle in the Rain: The final fight between Gibson and Fender.
  • The Berserker: Most of Fender's "pirates" act like this.
  • Big Bad: Fender is the main villain, the leader of an evil gang of post apocalyptic raiders who savagely butchers people without even a hint of morality.
  • Big Good: Mercy in Cyborg 2 is the leader of what little rebellion there is and the mentor of the two main characters.
  • Big Word Shout: FENDER!!!!
  • Blade Enthusiast: EVERYONE. Aside from Pearl and Gibson's family in the flashback, literally every character, male or female, carries at least one knife. Gibson stands out though, carrying a Kukri, a big Bowie knife, a boot knife that he likes to throw, and even a spring loaded knife in his shoe.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: The director's cut has Fender asking Gibson who the hell he is on several occasions, so obviously Fender has no recollection of the horrors he inflicted on Gibson. In both versions, he finally seems to remember during the final fight scene when Hayley's pleading for Fender to stop beating on Gibson appears to allow Fender to make the connection.
  • But Now I Must Go: Basically as soon as Gibson gets Pearl back to the base in Atlanta, he leaves again. Although he seems happier and less revenge driven, he seems set on continuing to fight bands of pirates like Fender's gang and protecting normal people.
  • Camera Abuse: The camera gets some sand, dirt, and blood sent its way.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Fender is a cruel sadist who loves misery, death, and destruction and doesn't mind admitting it either.
    Fender: We heard the rumors; that the last scientists were working on a cure that would end the plague and restore the world. Restore it? Why? I like the death! I like the misery! I like this world!
  • Cat Fight: At two different points Nady goes one on one with female pirates.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Utilizing concealed weapons, sneaking up on victims, and shooting knife wielding opponents are all specialties of Gibson.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Fender has these hidden behind his shades. He usually only reveals them shortly before killing his victims.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: After being chased down and defeated by a large group of Fender's pirates, an injured and exhausted Gibson is put into a hopeless fight against Fender himself, who proceeds to give Gibson a nasty beatdown. Afterwards Fender and company crucify Gibson on the mast of a wrecked ship and leave him there to die.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Just before his climactic fight with Fender, one of the last pirates left has a one on one with Gibson. He brandishes a large machete and boasts about killing slingers, (mercenaries like Gibson hired to fight off pirates) then launches an incredibly telegraphed and clumsy attack which Gibson easily counters before beating the absolute shit out of the guy.
  • Cyborg: Pearl Prophet.
  • Cyberpunk: The sequels tend to be more cyber punk and Just Before the End since civilization is still around but now controlled by an Evil, Inc. or two. The original is more apocalyptic.
  • Darker and Edgier: Quite possibly the darkest of Van Damme's earlier works.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: Cash manages to clear a hallway full of mooks in Cyborg 2 by throwing a knife at one them, who then proceeds to mow down everyone behind him in his death throes.
  • Death of a Child: Not even little kids are spared from Fender and the Pirates' onslaught.
  • Down the Drain: Gibson and Nady try to escape from a post-apocalyptic gang of marauders by traveling through a sewer. The water in the sewer comes up to the characters' thighs, and at one point an unconscious character has to be set down in a place where her head is just barely above water. It's probably best to not think too much about what might be floating around in that water.
  • The Dragon: The pirate Brick Bardo (the guy in red who is killed by Gibson in the sewers) seems to be the closest thing to a Number Two that Fender has, as he's seen giving instructions to other mooks and speaking to Fender with familiarity.
  • Dual Wield: One of Fender's pirates pulls two knives before going after Gibson.
  • Dystopia Justifies the Means: Fender lives in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, an Earth that has been so ravaged by plague that civilisation has collapsed and vicious gangs of marauders (like his own) Rape, Pillage, and Burn at their leisure...and in the opening narration, he makes it clear that he likes the way the world is, and is baffled that there are people who want to fix it.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: While Fender slaughters a local settlement to steal their boat, we get cuts of what looks like the cake topper of a wedding cake burning in the flames set by the pirates.
  • Empty Shell: Hayley's trauma of not being able to save her family, plus the years of unimaginable horrors she witnessed from The Pirates, have reduced her to this state.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Gibson gets his by expertly sneaking up on and effortlessly dispatching a couple of mooks, Fender through the opening narration and his encounter with Pearl's bodyguard, and Haley looks away and shuts her eyes as Fender kills the bodyguard, hinting that she's different from the other pirates...
  • Eternally Pearly-White Teeth: For the good guys. A few of the bad guys are shown with some pretty horrific looking yellow-green teeth.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Fender has a very deep voice. It's actually someone else's voice mechanically deepened since Vincent Klyn's normal voice is nowhere near that deep and Klyn speaks with a New Zealand accent.
  • Eye Scream: An actor lost an eye after being accidentally stabbed with a prop knife — and it is apparently in the film.
  • Faceless Mooks: Many of Fender's mooks have face concealing masks or wraps, at least partially because it allows the actors to do double or triple duty and play multiple roles.
  • Flash Back: A number of them are used to flesh out Gibson's back story and explain why Gibson pursues Fender.
  • For the Evulz: Most of Fender's actions, if not all, seem to be done solely for this reason.
  • Friend to All Children: For such a hardass who prefers speaking a syllable at a time, (if that) Gibson has a huge soft spot for kids.
  • Future Slang: The film is pretty light on it, but Hired Guns who fight against pirates are "slingers" (presumably taken from Gunslingers), and Fender casually refers to Pearl the cyborg as a "skin job."
  • Groin Attack: Nady, during one of the many occasions that she is captured, grabs one mook twice her size by the testicles (which the camera lovingly shows us in full detail). The end result of this is surprisingly realistic given how often this works flawlessly in Hollywood: he howls in pain momentarily and then clobbers her with a nasty blow to the head, now twice as angry as he was before. Nady has much better luck with a kick to the groin about a minute or two later, although the fact that he got a throwing knife lodged right between his shoulder blades just before the kick to the groin probably helped her.
  • Hollywood Healing: Gibson gets shot, chased until he's exhausted, beaten up by about half a dozen of Fender's pirates and then Fender beats and crucifies Gibson, puncturing Gibson's wrists all the way through. Apparently all it took was some bandages and a few days of traveling for those wounds to heal up perfectly with nothing but small scars on the wrists. Gibson shows no lingering pain or injuries from the previous fights or any loss in his range of motion, sensitivity, or ability to use his hands afterward either.
  • Honor Before Reason: Despite otherwise being a Combat Pragmatist, before the final fight Gibson announces his presence to Fender and the remaining pirates by firing an arrow just in front of Fender's feet, instead of, say, shooting him in the throat and taking advantage of the element of surprise to turn the movie into a complete anticlimax.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Gibson leaves Fender impaled on a large meat hook at the end of the movie's climatic fight
  • Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality:
    • Played straight in one scene where Gibson has a one on one fight against a pirate with a staff who gives him much more trouble than most of the other opponents he faces throughout the movie. Then the guy hits a button that makes a hidden blade come out, turning the staff into a spear, and Gibson immediately seizes control of the fight.
    • Averted in any scene involving guns. Gibson is almost killed by a random mook with a gun early in the movie, Fender wounds Gibson with one, and Gibson happily mows down several knife and spear wielding pirates with his gun.
  • Invincible Hero: Averted. Gibson is a skilled fighter and a first class Determinator, but suffers a number of defeats and setbacks, including being badly beaten in his first fight against Fender before being left to die nailed to a cross.
  • It's Personal: Fender in a flashback caused the death of Gibson's love interest along with her little brother and took away her sister Hayley with him to serve him as a slave. This explains why Gibson is so obsessed with killing Fender.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Fender shoots Gibson in the shoulder, but it is never even acknowledged after that scene ends.
  • Kukris Are Kool: Gibson carries a kukri among his many knives. The pirate "Brick Bardo" also carries a large kukri-like knife (it actually looks closer to a Thai e-nep, but since the e-nep is based on the kukri, it's close enough).
  • Large Ham: Fender. Vincent Klyn used to be a professional surfer and this was his film debut so he probably had some fun playing a threatening and imposing villain.
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: Flashbacks show that Gibson once intended to give up his life as a slinger, hung up his arsenal, and settled down with a family he helped escape from the hell of a post-apocalyptic city. As for how that turned out for him... well, lets just say there's a reason he's already hunting the villain when Pearl Prophet runs into him...
  • Left for Dead: Fender's crew leave Gibson for dead three times, once in a flashback, and twice in the present. The first time in the present was really gratuitous, as there was no reason not to verify that Gibson was really dead.
  • Leitmotif: Fender has one. You can hear it during the opening credits.
  • Local Hangout: A friend of Gibson's runs one somewhere around Hoboken. They talk for a bit when Gibson passes through heading south.
  • MacGuffin: The information Pearl was sent to get. Pearl herself becomes a Living MacGuffin after being captured by Fender.
  • Made of Explodium: Shortly before the movie's climatic battle, Gibson sets one of Fender's mooks on fire. The mook then limps and falls on the bonnet of an old, abandoned, and rusty car — and the whole car explodes.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: In Cyborg 2, Cash remains young-looking but Cole eventually dies of old age.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Nady is shown totally naked in one scene. In another she exposes her breast to Gibson. The latter example isn't as gratuitous as the first however as he immediately covered her back up again as opposed to taking advantage of her desperate need for his help, showing both us and her that beneath the rough exterior lay a decent man.
    • Cash in the sequels gets quite a bit of time devoted to her body as well. In Cyborg 2, she was played by Angelina Jolie, after all.
  • Musical Theme Naming: Most characters are named after guitars and manufacturers. Gibson Rickenbacker, Fender Tremolo, Marshall Strat, Les (Paul), Pearl Prophet...
  • Never Trust a Title: The first movie (1989). The titular cyborg Pearl is merely a MacGuffin whose capabilities are not at all the main focus of the movie. Without her, the cyberpunk theme wouldn't be applicable to this film at all - The entire movie is actually a revenge tale in an post-apocalyptic world, outside of modern-looking guns there's no other technology used.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • At one point Gibson goes for a jump kick against a badly wounded pirate. Because it's done in slow motion, you have just enough time to see the look of panic on the guy's face just before Gibson connects.
    • This combined with fury is the last expression for the guy that Gibson kills in the sewer as well.
    • One mook with a gun is carefully taking aim Gibson in Atlanta, then he turns because he hears a noise and sees Nady, knife in hand, and already in mid-swing.
  • Once More, with Clarity: There are several short flashbacks throughout the film, showing how Gibson met his love interest and briefly retired from his life as a mercenary who fights bandits and pirates. Each one of these flashbacks, however, ends on an ominous note, hinting at something awful Fender did to Gibson that caused him to go after Fender in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. When Gibson is in the middle of his Darkest Hour, the prior flashbacks get played again, all together this time to form a narrative instead of disjointed hints and implications, with some new scenes added on and we finally get to see exactly what Fender did.
  • Papa Wolf: Gibson
  • Precision F-Strike: "FUCKERRR !!!"
  • Raised by Orcs: When Gibson and his Love Interest lived together, she had two younger siblings, a boy and a girl named Haley. Then Fender and his gang came along, threw Gibson, the Love Interest and the boy into a well, and took Haley. Gibson encounters her in the present, grown up, and probably having served as Fender's slave/toy for all those years.
  • Rape as Backstory: While not outright mentioned it is however strongly implied in regards to Haley.
  • Red Right Hand: Fender's almost inhuman Icy Blue Eyes. Possibly an effect from the plague.
  • The Remake: Gangland, an extremely rare and ultra-low budget Direct to Video release from 2000. Starring Costas Mandylor, Sasha Mitchell, and Vincent Klyn in an identical role. Just imagine Cyborg without the titular cyborg.
  • Retired Badass: Gibson was this, until Fender and his goons trashed his life and forced him back out of retirement, looking for revenge.
  • The Reveal: Gibson's motivation. Both of them.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Gibson is on one throughout the film, but it gets turned up to the max during the final act when he hits true Unstoppable Rage and is literally screaming and cursing with Fender all throughout their final fight.
  • Rule of Cool: The movie runs exclusively on this and Testosterone Poisoning.
  • Same Language Dub: All of Vincent Klyn's dialogue was dubbed by an uncredited actor.
  • Scavenger World/Schizo Tech: On the one hand, working guns are rare objects, and only Fender, Gibson and one of Fender's random mooks are seen wielding them, on the other hand the last scientists are able to turn Pearl from a human being into a cyborg with a mechanical brain, no sweat. And unless we assume that Fender is a massive fan of Blade Runner, then he's apparently encountered other cyborgs and expects his crew to understand what he means when he refers to her as a skin job.
  • Scary Black Man: Fender. A savage dark-skinned marauder and Gibson's Arch-Enemy. In the final battle in particular he's VERY scary.
  • Screaming Warrior: Fender and Gibson turn it up to eleven in the movie's climatic battle, but it's there throughout. Screaming happens consistently in fight scenes, or with bad guys chasing the good guys, or vice versa, etc. Special note goes to the first female pirate that Nady fights one on one, who seems to communicate in nothing but screams.
  • Secondary Character Title: The title doesn't refer to Gibson, but to Pearl, who is the MacGuffin.
  • Shirtless Scene: Van Damme, several times throughout the film, especially towards the end, during the penultimate fight with Fender.
  • Shout-Out: Fender does one to Blade Runner by referring to Pearl as a "skin job".
  • Sinister Shades: Fender Tremolo is nearly all the time sporting his pair of 80's vintage black, dirty shades. And believe it or not, he's much better on with these however creepy he is. You really don't want to see what lies behind them.
  • Slasher Smile: Fender in Gibson's flashback, just before pulling that whole thing with the well.
  • The Sociopath: Fender. A merciless, murderous and psychopathic warlord who wants the plagues' cure so he can be a God and kills any innocent being who has the misfortume to cross his path. He never shows remorse for his crimes which on the contrary make him feel happy. He has no revulsion as we see in hurting and/or kill children either.
  • Tap on the Head: Nady is knocked out at least 3 separate times, (in a movie whose running time is slightly under an hour and a half) and suffers no ill effects. Gibson is knocked out twice himself.
  • Time Skip: The third film takes places decades after the ending of the second since Cole died of old age.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Gibson in the movie's climatic fight. The guy gets thrown through a CAR and that only makes him angrier.
  • Villainous Crush: Fender looks like he has one for the Pearl as he strokes her cheek in one scene.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: Gibson's top priority is killing Fender, while Nady is focused on Pearl and the cure for the plague. This leads to some distrust and conflict between the two, and several times Nady refuses to follow Gibson's commands out of fear that he'll let something happen to Pearl in his desire to get at Fender. At the end, however, Nady manages to get Pearl away from Fender but goes back to try to help Gibson when it seems like Fender is going to win their fight, and promptly gets introduced to the business end of Fender's knives.
  • Worf Had the Flu: At the end of the film's second act, Gibson and Fender fight and Fender beats Gibson completely senseless while Gibson can barely fight back. This came, however, shortly after Gibson has been shot, chased by Fender's pirate band until exhausted, and finally overwhelmed and pummeled by a whole group of them. (And he took down multiple pirates along the way at every step). Before the fight even began Fender has to instruct his followers to "Stand him up." because Gibson was barely capable of getting up on his own after all that. When they face in the climax Gibson is not hurt or tired from other fights (despite the fact that he should still be recovering from his wounds), so the fight goes differently. Although Gibson does still need Unstoppable Rage and a Heroic Second Wind to overcome Fender.
  • You Remind Me of X: Never spelled out, but in their first encounter Gibson claims he tried to help Pearl because for a second he thought she was someone else- his girlfriend, who was murdered by Fender.

Alternative Title(s): Cyborg 2, Cyborg