Top Ten Cyberpunk Movies (part four)

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The active members of The Pandora Society Facebook group have seen a lot of films and watched a lot of television, and here we continue the results of a recent poll in which they nominated and voted for their favorite Cyberpunk films and TV shows . . . today we present films four and three of our Top Ten countdown.

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4. Johnny Mnemonic

Johnny_mnemonic_ver1In 1995 the most promising Cyberpunk movie to date was released . . . Johnny Mnemonic. Staring Keanu Reeves, Ice-T, and Dolph Lundgren, and based on a short story by William Gibson, the film was the directorial debut of Robert Longo. Set in 2021, Johnny Mnemonic was filmed in Canada using Toronto and Montreal as the Newark and Beijing of the future.

Keanu Reeves plays the title character, a “mnemonic courier” with a cybernetic brain implant designed to store information; 20 years ago 80 gigabytes was impressive. The film portrays Gibson’s dystopian view of the future with the world dominated by megacorporations and with strong East Asian influences. 

While lucrative, the implant has cost Johnny his childhood memories, and he seeks to have the implant removed to regain these; his handler, Ralfi assigns him one more job that would cover the costs of the operation, sending Johnny to Beijing. At the designated place, he finds a group of frantic scientists who have the data he is to carry, but it far exceeds Johnny’s storage capacity, even with the use of compression. Johnny accepts the job anyway, well aware of psychological damage and potential death risks should he not be able to remove the data in time. After uploading their data, the group is massacred by Yakuza, but Johnny manages to escape with a portion of the encryption password, and thus the adventure begins . . .

Despite all its potential, Johnny Mnemonic fails to live up to what it could have been. Some of the performances are stilted, the pace and editing is off in places, and one is left feeling that the movie is holding back due to some lack of confidence in its own worth. Visually, the stylization and design are fantastic and are handled with a clear understanding of Cyberpunk tropes. It is, however, hard to get emotionally invested in the characters, and thus one is left with a sense of indifference to the plot. The film falls into one of those “guilty pleasure” kind of movies where one has approach it with a touch of forgiveness and empathy, BUT . . . it is still a great example of Cyberpunk!

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3. The Matrix

The_Matrix_PosterFour years later, in 1999, Keanu Reeves returned to Cyberpunk as Neo in The Matrix, an extremely confident film directed by The Wachowskis. Leading up to its release on March 31st, 1999, the marketing campaign for the film generated an air intrigue and mystery that left the public asking the question, “What is the Matrix?” Even www.whatisthematrix.com only served to deliver more layers of enigma, and for the first wave of theater audiences the moment that Neo awakes from the Matrix was an absolute surprise that challenged the viewers’ perceptions of reality.

Also starring Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix presents a dystopian future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality called “the Matrix.” This illusion is created by sentient machines to subdue the human population, while their bodies’ heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Computer programmer “Neo” learns this truth and is drawn into a rebellion against the machines, which involves other people who have been freed from the “dream world”.

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The secrets of “bullet time.”

The Matrix is known for popularizing a visual effect known as “bullet time,” in which the heightened perception of certain characters is represented by allowing the action within a shot to progress in slow-motion while the camera’s viewpoint appears to move through the scene at normal speed. In 1999, most people were awaiting the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace as the big movie event of the year, but that summer it became clear that this odd and dark Cyberpunk movie that arrived with little hype was best film of the year. It grossed over $460 million worldwide, was well received by critics, won four Academy Awards, BAFTA Awards, Saturn Awards, and other awards

The success of the film led to the release of two feature film sequels, both written and directed by the Wachowskis, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. The Matrix franchise was further expanded through the production of comic books, video games, and animated short films in which the Wachowskis were heavily involved.

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Can you even name these characters?

For many, however, the sequels do not live up to the quality of the initial movie, and by The Matrix Revolutions the film suffers a dramatic shift in style and characters as we leave the virtual world for the trilogy’s climax in the post-apocalyptic “real” world. The last hour of the trilogy is occupied by tertiary characters for whom the audience has little or no emotional investment and concludes the greatness of the first film with a horrible taste of disappointment. 

Returning to 1999, however, The Matrix borrows a lot from the Hong Kong kung fu movie tradition and delivers a cyberspace adventure that paved the way for many imitators. Regardless of being an excellent Cyberpunk movie, The Matrix is considered by many critics as a contemporary cinema classic.

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Click here to start at the beginning of the Top Ten Cyberpunk Movies countdown, or here for films two and one of the countdown.

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