Nemesis (1993) — A fun cyberpunk shoot ’em up

“You break the law, you go to hell.”

Justin’s rating: I know Kung… Pow Chicken

Justin’s review: There’s a particular film that we at Mutant Reviewers have referenced in about, oh, every third review since 1999. It’s not just us, either. The movie world at large has latched on to this one movie as the most groundbreaking and influential piece of filmmaking from the past decade. Influential, yes — from the technology to the look to the hyper-philosophical rambling, we’ve seen it pop up in dozens of movies and thousands of film articles since. But groundbreaking? Not quite as much as you’d think.

The Film That Must Not Be Named On This Particular Review Page didn’t usher in a completely new film genre; instead, it was merely the latest member in a long line of cyberpunk flicks going back to the ’80s (and even before, if you want to be generous to some ancient scifi flicks). Advanced human-cyborg technology coupled with gritty film noir settings and a love of all things guns comprise the foundation for this realm of scifi. It’s certainly been the most successful of all of the cyberpunk movies, but that doesn’t mean it owned all of the elements they used. That Film owes a heavy debt to some of the older and less well-known cyberpunks, including 1993’s Nemesis.

There are undeniable similarities. Black trench coats. Characters wearing sunglasses all the time, everywhere they go. Firefights that leave you incredulous as the world at large is shot up and exploded. Guns akimbo. Conspiracies and augmented humans. Nemesis had all these and more.

Really, I chide myself for neglecting Nemesis as long as I did. I’ve owned this on tape since the mid ’90s, and since I see it as part of Mutant Reviewers’ mission to champion the cause of the smaller-but-still-good films, we must give this movie its due. It’s hard to do good scifi on a low budget; unlike most other genres, scifi takes more money due to more special effects and the fantastic settings. If it’s not done right, you’re just better off not doing scifi at all, because people — mean, spiteful folk — won’t hesitate to point and laugh.

Set in 2027’s L.A., Nemesis does the best with grungy urban locations and some nifty SFX tricks. Your hero and mine is Alex (Olivier Gruner) a cyborg who hunts other ‘borgs (shades of Blade Runner) between struggling with the issue of his identity. Is he human? Machine? Or simply a monotonous actor? Hey, the Film That Must Not Be Named had a pretty robotic actor, so we know that sometimes everything surrounding him can overcome that glaring weakness. At least Alex looks cool running and shooting, which he does for most of the film. Yes, even when going to the grocery store: sliding and rolling through aisle four, shooting pickle jars in glorious slow motion, grimacing as if he was giving birth to each and every bullet emerging from his pistol.

A gunfight at its most basic level holds about the same excitement of a bare-fisted punch-fest. It’s just a couple people pointing things at each other and exchanging rounds of ammo (“Hey, I’ll give you ten 9mm’s for one of your 12-guage slugs!”). They become the filler of an action flick the same way an endless musical montage is to the romantic comedy. If a filmmaker doesn’t realize they need to add more to the mix, they might as well write off the film. You must give a gunfight variety, movement, and above all, something different. Two people shooting at each other, well, I can see that on the news. Two ROBOTS with guns in their heads and detachable limbs and portable tank cannons… that’s the spice in my meatball!

Nemesis tries to be dip into philosophical moments (a la Ghost in the Shell), but gloomy introspection as to what makes you human didn’t work for me in Blade Runner, and doesn’t here either. But a bad movie with good stylish violence is perfect when you need a Saturday afternoon diversion, or when you want to openly make fun of a film with friends while secretly enjoying it at the same time. Its speedy 90-minute running time means quicker scenes and a faster pace, which is another bonus.

Some people really love this movie, some denounce it as if it’s personally responsible for the two-headed mutation in their children, but I think two heads are better than one, and Nemesis is well worth your time.

Didja notice?

  • Film noir-style voice-overs
  • Alex has a spot-on Terminator vocal impression
  • Alex shoots a hole around himself in the floor to fall through — Underworld used this same technique a decade later
  • The end of a metal pole explodes when shot. Um, how?
  • Cute puppies are in every ruined building
  • Alex is 86.5% human
  • Alex’s Rambo look
  • Hehe… sinister German accents are fun to listen to

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