Let’s cut to the chase: does the line “86.5% [cyborg] is still human” send the kind of shivers down your spine that you haven’t felt since you were a teenager, imagining how wicked-ninja-cool it would be to live in a world of corps, cyborgs and corruption? If not, then this bit of contrived more-cyberpunk-than-cyberpunk nonsense from 1992 will bore the pants off you. If, however, it gets you revved up like the first assault rifle you fell in love with whilst thumbing through a hand-me-down copy of Guns and Ammo, then it’s quite possibly the film for you, depending on how much derivative, corny content you can put up with.
Co-written and directed by Albert Pyun (he wrote and directed the frankly mental The Sword and the Sorcerer and the Van Damme-Tastic Cyborg, and can’t be fully blamed for how awful the 1990 Captain America movie was, as he only directed that), Nemesis started out as a serial killer movie called Alex Rain which, due to the magic of Hollywood, saw a change in setting, genre, plot, and age and gender of the main protagonist. But then they had Olivier Gruner, the up-and-coming French kickboxing movie star who features in over 30 films you haven’t heard of, available – quick, there’s money to be made!
The film has a plot. This needs to be pointed out, as it’s quite easy to miss it the first time you watch Nemesis. It’s actually quite a good plot, about important people in the world being replaced by fully cyborg replicants so that the evil cyborgs can take over, but that’s mostly handled in the four follow-up movies. For Nemesis, the plot is a convenient excuse/vehicle to drag the main protagonist Alex Raine (stop sniggering – hell, one of the bad guys is called Max Impact) through a lot of set pieces in a near random assortment of locations, where he gets to kick ass and go on about how much he doesn’t want to kick ass.
The actual story, such as it is, doesn’t start till 30 minutes in, but all the time before that is filled with explosions, violence, sets that are the height of post-industrial disrepair, everyone in trench coats with massive shoulder pads, enough big-hair to have the set declared a fire hazard, and… guns everywhere. Lots of guns, lots of very silly guns. Shotguns that make six-foot holes in chainlink fences at 30 feet, tiny little SMGs being used as sniper rifles, and shotguns with both telescopic and laser dot sights. It’s also got Alex’s rolling, brooding internal monologue/travel journal, and a rather delicate, haunting piano and flute motif that carries on all the way through the film. It’s also filled with ridiculous, overwrought, testosterone-infused one-liners, all delivered with absolute sincerity and a surprising level of talent. It’s like someone took the “How To Cyberpunk” guidebook and made a film out of it. The story is just the same, it’s just that it has a cohesive tale to tell and stays on-topic long enough for you to feel that something of worth is happening/ it’s not just a blatant excuse to have more people shot, kicked, and blown up.
Then there are the really stupid bits. The jaw-droppingly insane moments make you wonder quite what anyone involved was thinking. Like how even in the calmest and placid of moments, the camera seems to need it’s Ritalin or the moment that you realise the hero is quite possibly speaking his inner monologue out loud, or having Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s character identified as Japan-Italiano character by wearing a loud shirt, or having guns used to make doorways in walls and escape routes through floors. All this is topped off by the main characters being cyborgs; everyone needs multiple rounds to the body to kill them, so everyone can get shot and shot and shot some more!! It just doesn’t end, nor even really pauses long enough to catch your breath.
And this is the joy of Nemesis. It’s 95 minutes of breath-taking stupidity and brazen, huggable cliché. It’s a 15-year old’s idea of dark-cool, then given crayons to make it look good. It’s putting a red filter over a shot of LA because that says “The Future!” It’s having a granny carry a 50 cal because wouldn’t it be great if your granny did the same? It’s also 95 minutes of eye-rolling chuckles, toe curling inevitability, and rolling with the non-sequiturs. Watching this will not make you smarter, as it’s got nothing to say that hasn’t been said before and said better. But it that makes it kind of worth watching, especially if you are a fan of cyberpunk, because no one has ever had the gall to say it all in the same place, at once, and with the volume cranked up to 1011!