Review: Babylon A.D.

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Babylon A.D. is Cyberpunk enough.

Babylon A.D. probably doesn’t pass the test of being “Cyberpunk” for some, due to its sparse high-tech elements, but its low-life quota more than makes up for it and along with its interesting dystopian world, it merits a mention here. So here goes.

This movie really isn’t that bad.

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That’s what I’m going to start with for this movie. I had seen it as an option to watch on Netflix, but a quick perusal of its reviews online scared me away. The cover photo was also B-movie bland and there were no scenes to get me excited about the film. Once I finally watched the trailer, I also felt lukewarm about trying out the movie.

But sometimes, there’s an itch to watch a new, high-quality cyberpunk movie that simply needs to be scratched.

I like Vin Diesel, but when I saw Michelle Yeoh was in it (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) I was convinced that I needed to see this movie.

Babylon AD Michelle Yeoh

Yeoh kicks plenty of ass with her fists in this film. But she’s still willing to pick up a trusty handgun from time to time.

With my expectations already set abysmally low, this movie was actually able to surprise me in a very good way. The movie jumps right in without needless exposition that plagues so many other movies (I’m looking at you, Ready Player One) and the viewer is able to see a dystopian world somewhere in eastern Europe where everything is run-down, food is extremely scarce, and guns are as commonplace as cigarette butts on the streets. There’s an early scene with a handgun that lights up, but other than that, we don’t see much high-tech until much later in the movie, and even then it’s still very sparse.

That doesn’t hurt the movie, though. Vin Diesel is great at being the emotionally-hardened killing machine that the likes of Bruce Willis and Jason Statham have similarly made successful in their straightforward action flicks.

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Pictured above: Vin Diesel completely out of fucks to give.

Babylon A.D. feels like an action flick set in a dystopian future. If seen in that light, it’s a lot of fun. There are shootouts, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, and even random military elements like combat gear and even a giant military helicopter that is retrofitted for transportation purposes. The pacing is solid except for some moments that dragged, and I was frequently surprised by sudden events happening throughout the film.

The Story

Vin Diesel plays mercenary Toorop who is hired by a Russian mobster, played by Gerard Depardieu (The Man in the Iron Mask) to bring a young woman named Aurora (Melanie Thierry) from Europe to New York City. Once given a UN passport, he must bring Aurora and her guardian Sister Rebeka (Yeoh) from their convent in Kyrgyztan to New York by traveling through Russia to Vladivostok and across the Pacific to Alaska.

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The trio fights, bribes, and smuggles their way toward their destination, as the viewers slowly learn more about Aurora’s mysterious past. Through the difficult journey they become somewhat of a family, until the movie comes to a head about an hour in once they arrive in New York.

Then something happens, which makes little sense to me, and which honestly lost me for the end of the movie. Up until that point, I had been enjoying the movie immensely. I guess you just have to bear with them until their conclusion, which unfortunately lost the emotional gravitas it was probably striving for.

However, there was one small consolation prize: this guy.

Lambert Wilson Babylon A.D.

“You see, there is only one constant. One Universal. And that is…that I LOVE French wine.”–What I imagined him saying in this moment.

That’s right, folks! Lambert Wilson is in this movie too! Unfortunately he has only a small role, but seeing him play yet another smug man of power with his sublime French accent made me not only like this movie even more, but realize just how much I loved his performance as The Merovingian in the Matrix franchise.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10

You should definitely see this movie, especially if you have a Netflix account. It would have been an 8 if the movie hadn’t gotten in the way of itself during the last 30 minutes (it was so close to being great!) but it also would have been worse if not for the performances of Yeoh, Wilson, and Diesel. It certainly doesn’t warrant the 6% on Rotten Tomatoes (seriously??). Nonetheless, with good acting from most of the actors, fun action, decent pacing, and an interesting idea (for the most part), this movie is worth a viewing for any proper fan of Cyberpunk and Dystopia in particular.

Ghostrunner: Mirror’s Edge Meets Dishonored, Turned Cyberpunk

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What am I?–What you as an android are probably thinking.

A Combination of Great Gameplay Mechanics

If you’re someone who liked Dishonored but wanted a faster pace in the action, and you liked Mirror’s Edge in its landscape-crossing Parkour action, then you may like Ghostrunner. It’s not due until August of 2020, but it apparently stole the show in its reveal in Cologne’s Gamescom last year.

Ghostrunner is a first person hack-and-slash using bullet-time and wall-running to cross (or ascend) levels.

Check out its release trailer below.

Recognizable Inspiration

It also wears its inspirations with pride.

“We obviously drew from several works of pop culture,” admits lead designer and producer Radoslaw Ratusznik. “For example, similarities in the life of a society living in a closed off area can be found in, among others, the movie Snowpiercer. The idea of a superstructure in which everyone lives was depicted really well in Dredd, while the notion of being a savior and the “bullet time” effect may remind you of The Matrix. There will definitely be more references and similarities to other works in the final product.”

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Release Timing

But what about its release date? Isn’t the team concerned about releasing a Cyberpunk video game the same year as Cyberpunk 2077? Apparently not. What’s more, they’re as excited about the blockbuster release as anyone else.

“We’re players ourselves and we can’t wait to get our hands on the game. We don’t really perceive Cyberpunk 2077 as competition, it’s a gigantic AAA production, while we’re targeting hardcore players.”

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The Game Itself

This game looks absolutely amazing, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on it. The classic Cyberpunk visuals, the music, the story…

The wall-running aspect reminds me a lot of the campaign in Titanfall 2, where you had to solve problems to figure out how to cross each platform. Combining that idea with a vertical high-rise superstructure like the one seen in Dredd seems brilliant. Besides, what’s cooler than katana swords glowing neon blue? Using it combined with bullet-time slow motion in order to take on the challenge of bringing a knife to a gun fight–all while performing split-second moves to the sound of killer synthwave and retrowave tracks.

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The Story

The story goes as follows: Set in the future after a global cataclysm, the remains of humanity live in a tower built by someone called The Architect, who died mysteriously some years ago. In this world, a person’s worth is only determined by the number of implants they have. However, these implants are given at birth, and also determine which social group they will belong to.

You play as a cyber-warrior who is capable of fighting both in the real and virtual worlds, something incredibly rare in this dystopian future. Your mission: to ascend the tower to take out the despotic ruler called The Keymaster while uncovering more about yourself and the tower itself.

The story itself is a classic story of revenge, redemption, and antiheroism, along with class conflict and transhumanism–all common tropes in Western Cyberpunk.

To get a taste of what’s in store, check out this incredible 5-minute gameplay trailer, and you’ll see what I mean.

So what do you think? Will this game compete with Cyberpunk 2077 or will it benefit from the publicity of its AAA-rated Cyberpunk sibling? And are you as excited about trying out this game as I am? Let me know in the comments below.

Interview: Simon Herzog and the Cyberpunk Protests in Hong Kong

The Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill

On April 3rd, 2019, Hong Kong lawmakers were given a pretty straightforward extradition bill called the Fugitive Offenders Amendment bill. In response to a legal issue, the bill would have allowed extradition of suspected offenders from Hong Kong to mainland China under very specific conditions, and on a case-by-case basis.

A “Special Administrative Region”

While Hong Kong technically belongs to China, it is considered a “special administrative region” of China with its own set of laws, currency, and government with a strong pro-democracy, pro-independence movement. While this status is set to end ominously in 2047, many residents of Hong Kong are afraid of mainland China trying to end it early. This extradition bill could have allowed that to happen, because if Hong Kong residents are extradited through dubious claims to mainland China, they could then be made to disappear, and then who knows what would happen to them.

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Cyberpunk Protests in Hong Kong

Thus, the uprising began, and although the bill was later rescinded, protests have been going strong since April with many of them feeling very cyberpunk in nature due to the use of gas masks, bows and arrows, umbrellas, face masks, flashlights and lasers to avoid CCTV detection.

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In order to experience this firsthand and get a better understanding of the massive Cyberpunk protests in Hong Kong, my friend Simon Herzog decided to go there himself, where he spoke with locals and snapped some photos of everything he witnessed. He agreed to an interview with Cyberpunk Matrix to share some of his thoughts below.

Simon Herzog in Shades

Hi Simon. Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

I translate between different disciplines and help bridge cultural and human differences through entrepreneurshipart, and design. I spend most of my time organizing or teaching workshops in innovation and problem-solving methodologies like design thinking and service design, helping organizations create more human-centric products and services. Other than that, I use photography and video for storytelling and have side projects like designing and making an ultralight backpacking tent from scratch.

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Art by Benjamin Last

Why do you like Cyberpunk? What does it mean to you?

Like a lot of science fiction, cyberpunk casts a light on the worlds we have already built. I appreciate its stories for the resourcefulness of its characters in the face of overwhelming forces such as corporations, governments, or technology itself. It allows me to vicariously experience an extreme version of the adaptability, preparedness, and pragmatism I take so much pleasure and pride in in my own life. On top of that, I love the aesthetic and the sense of anarchy and possibility, and the sense of meritocracy that comes from an unyielding environment where skill is everything.

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The aesthetic is definitely pretty cool. And what brought you to Hong Kong recently?

I had been following the protests since their beginnings in March, and it felt right away like something important was happening. It’s difficult from afar to form a balanced opinion and to understand what is really happening when there’s social upheaval like this and both sides have a vested interest in presenting their side favorably, and I wanted to be in a place where the news is happening and talk to people on the ground. Also, I saw some of the resourcefulness and anarchic creativity that marks the characters in cyberpunk stories in the protesters, and was curious to see it for myself. When I had some business in Kuala Lumpur in December I decided to extend my trip and stop by Hong Kong for a few days.

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Can you explain what is happening in Hong Kong?

The introduction of a controversial extradition law that would have allowed mainland China access to people arrested in Hong Kong and Taiwan triggered severe resistance from a large portion of Hong Kongers who see themselves as a quasi-sovereign nation and are eager to preserve their relative independence from China for as long as possible. The Chinese government is keen to begin assimilating Hong Kong into its authoritarian system even before the official end of the “one country, two systems” arrangement in 2047, and in a way the protesters are trying to delay or prevent this most likely inevitable outcome. From the initial rejection of the extradition law the protests have evolved as a largely leaderless movement to include five demands, ranging from an independent investigation into police brutality to universal suffrage in deciding the government of Hong Kong. The government has been relatively unyielding, other than withdrawing the extradition bill, and clashes have steadily escalated over the past several months.

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Interesting. And what happened when you went there?

I have some friends in Hong Kong and I had relied on one of them in particular to invite me to some protester Telegram groups in the weeks before my arrival. That’s how I found out about what was happening that weekend, and I went to a small rally on Saturday and a gigantic one with over 800,000 people on Sunday, December 8th. This march was one of the few that had received official approval from the government, which is likely why so many people attended and it did not result in significant clashes. Still, as the masses of people were churning through the streets and reached the official end of the marching route, the overwhelming momentum of the crowd pushed it past the finish line, unable or unwilling to disperse, and into a large riot police blockade. The police had lined up across an entire wide avenue in full riot gear, trucks with water cannons behind them, and they were holding up the yellow flag warning protesters to not approach any further. The police use a color-coded system of flags to announce their increasingly severe response – from a passive warning to a vague threat of force to tear gas to live fire. That day, things didn’t escalate to real violence, and I didn’t end up having to use the gas mask or any of the emergency gear I’d brought. At the front lines, some provocateurs had dismantled street barriers and were wielding steel bars they had pulled from those barriers as weapons, but most other front-liners, though visibly prepared to fight, repeatedly pushed the line back and away from the police in order to avoid a confrontation.

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What do you think will come next for the city?

I had a chance to speak to people with a range of opinions on the protests, from young people that had been actively a part of them since the beginning, were in the streets every weekend, and boycotted pro-Chinese businesses, to professionals who were concerned with or disapproved of the methods of some of the protesters and were discontent with the disruptions the movement had caused. At its core, the issue is about Hong Kong’s quasi-sovereignty and its relationship with China, and even many moderate Hong Kongers have gotten used to and value the special privileges of living in a state with some of the features of Western democracies such as freedom of expression. Virtually everyone under 30 in Hong Kong now identifies as Hong Kongers rather than Chinese, a record figure. There is also a class dimension to the protests; many wealthier professionals rely heavily on business with China for their income and therefore tend to be more pro-Chinese as a group. Still, the recent elections represented a strong vote of confidence from the general population in favor of the protests. I believe they will continue for some time, but I do not expect either major concessions from the government – since showing weakness would embolden other dissidents and separatists – nor, hopefully, a major escalation of force. Eventually, I anticipate that some minor concessions will be made and that the protests will eventually lose steam.

Last, but not least, why do you think Hong Kong is one of the most Cyberpunk cities in the world?

There are certain places in the world – Dubai, Hong Kong, Chongqing – where the reality is already stranger than fiction. Hong Kong has the look that defined a lot of the greatest cyberpunk aesthetics, such as Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner. Few other cities have both the verticality and the claustrophobia of Hong Kong, where millions are crammed into a finite space, and buildings grow as tall as they can while apartments are as small as humanly possible. Hong Kong was also until 1993 home to the Kowloon Walled City, easily the most cyberpunk place to have ever existed, and also the densest human settlement in history. For readers of this blog not familiar with it, it’s very worth researching.

Kowloon Walled City

The Kowloon Walled City

Thanks for answering our questions here at Cyberpunk Matrix, Simon!

To see or learn more from Simon Herzog, you can contact him via his website here or follow him on his instagram.

Photos courtesy of Simon Herzog

2019: A Year in Review for Cyberpunk

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A Time to Look Back

We are lucky that the end of the year brings us two weeks of holidays, for Christmas and New Year’s, where we can sit down and take a minute to reflect on what the year has brought us. My last Year in Review, for 2018, described how I learned about and became obsessed with the genre of Cyberpunk. While different from 2018 in that I now know what the term means, 2019 has been a year of incredible growth for me personally and for the genre of Cyberpunk in general. On the first few days of 2019 I wrote the following:

I wonder what 2019 will bring, but one thing I know for sure is that my love for everything Cyberpunk will continue. I will carry on consuming and writing about cyberpunk media, starting off with this new year with watching the newly released Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, and then hopefully from watching Replicas and then Battle Angel: Alita. I’m also excited to read the newest addition to my cyberpunk library, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, as well as learning more about Philip K Dick–his life, his writing, and his philosophy.

Bandersnatch ended up being a creative new way to watch a series, but the ideas that came with it proved insufficient to warrant writing a review yet.

Replicas ended up being good, but it took me a lot longer to watch it than I expected. Alita: Battle Angel was amazing, as expected, but Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was so boring in the first 30 pages or so that I couldn’t even finish it. So that was a little disappointing.

So Many Great Surprises!

Nonetheless, I was happily surprised by a myriad of interesting new Cyberpunk releases that 2019 brought, many of which were things I could have never in my wildest dreams predicted (like Keanu being in Cyberpunk 2077 or Matrix 4 being announced!)

So now, dear reader, let’s take a look at each month and what cyberpunk news or media production was released.

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January 2019: Replicas

The year started off lightly with the indie production of Replicas, released on January 11th in the US and featuring Cyberpunk legend Keanu Reeves, who plays a neuroscientist who tries to bring his family back to life via digitizing their consciousness into clone bodies. The movie was pretty good! More of a solving-a-series-of-problems thriller a la Da Vinci Code than action or horror film. I definitely recommend seeing it though, if you haven’t already. You can check out my more in-depth review of it here. The film got very little press coverage or mention, and I think was mostly ignored by the general public due to funding. The cyberpunk genre still hadn’t grown into its own at this point.

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February 2019: Alita: Battle Angel

February 2019 came with the long-awaited GUNNM anime adaptation called Alita: Battle Angel. This movie did pretty well at the box office, and put the Cyberpunk genre back in the spotlight for the general public with its high production value and marketing. Released on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, the movie did an amazing job displaying both Motorball and Parkour in its film, while giving an overall palatable romance between the cyborg Alita and human Hugo.

Love Death and Robots

March, 2019: Love, Death & Robots

As the picture above describes, this was a NSFW (Not Suitable For Work) animated Anthology series of short stories all related loosely to the themes of Love, Death, and Robots. While some stories showed just science-fiction, and others showed just fantasy (like vampires and werewolves), there were a total of six clearly Cyberpunk episodes in this Anthology. They were Sonnie’s Edge, The Witness, Suits, Beyond the Aquila Rift, Zima Blue, and Blind Spot. For my favorites and a more in-depth review of each episode, you can check it out here. This Anthology was very interesting because it made clear, in my mind at least, the different kinds of Cyberpunk sub-genres that exist: Action, Horror, and Mystery/Drama.

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April: Organ-Harvesting and the horrors of the Uyghurs

After seeing a report of this on CNN and then later on the news, I shared the horrors of what sound like basically concentration camps for ethnic Uyghurs who are being targeted by the Chinese government. Very dystopian indeed. This story, sadly, is still developing.

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May: Pokemon: Detective Pikachu

Despite probably not officially Cyberpunk, I shared my views on how Pokemon Detective Pikachu had some decidedly Cyberpunk themes in it. It was also an all-around fun movie to watch, especially with Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu.

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June: Cyberpunk 2077 Trailer with the legendary reveal of Keanu Reeves as Johnny Silverhand

This is the moment where internet fandom went into overdrive. At E3 fans first heard Keanu Reeve’s voice, then saw his digital likeness come on screen during Cyberpunk 2077’s newest official cinematic trailer for their video game due to be released in April of next year. Few will forget the moment when Keanu himself then comes onto the stage to announce the game’s release date, and that fateful fan who yelled “you’re breathtaking!” to which Keanu responds “no, YOU’re breathtaking! You’re ALL breathtaking!” This, along with John Wick 3, officially hailed the beginning of what some are calling the Keanussance. August’s big announcement didn’t help in this regard.

July: …I’ve got nothing.

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August: Matrix 4 announced

This was perhaps the one biggest announcement that I couldn’t have even ever imagined happening in my lifetime. Matrix 4 was officially announced, with many of the actors from the original trilogy returning, including Carrie Anne-Moss and Keanu Reeves himself. Since the original announcement I have been following any further updates as we have been getting them, such as concept artists, hopes and predictions, and October and December updates.

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September: New Gameplay Trailer for Cyberpunk 2077

September brought us a new video of the gameplay we could expect in Cyberpunk 2077, including a deep dive into the locations, classes, and factions we could expect from the videogame. Which class will you be?

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October: Terminator: Dark Fate

Retconning the sequels after T-2 and intended to be a reboot of the franchise, James Cameron returned to produce this sequel, creating a movie that was pretty good in my opinion but lacked any significant wow-factor. It performed alright in the box office, but not well enough to jumpstart the franchise again. Will this be the last Terminator film we will ever see? Time will tell.

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November: Tesla’s Cybertruck

The much-teased Cybertruck was finally introduced by Elon Musk, in a manner that was probably meant to be a big trending epic reveal but ended up being a bit of an embarrassment for Elon as the supposedly bulletproof and shatterproof windows of the Cybertruck broke (twice!) during the live demonstration in the unveiling. Oops! “We’ll fix it in post” Elon tried to nonchalantly say, but the damage was (literally) already done. Nonetheless, it still turned heads and didn’t stop multiple preorders from being submitted, promising that this truck will be the newest hot item to hit the roads. Whether the trend will last, no one knows, but it was worth noting how mainstream Cyberpunk has become considering how similar the visuals and fonts were for the Cybertruck and the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. Elon is clearly a fan.

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December: Expanding the community: Interviewing and collaborating with NeoSkies

The most recent development from the last couple of months is more of a personal development which has been discovering and interacting with other Cyberpunk fans who enjoy the genre and like creating content as much as I do. One such fan has been NeoSkies. It’s been great to follow NeoSkies’ content production online with Instagram, Twitter, etc. and to engage in her surveys and discussions with the Cyberpunk Community around the world. We’re not alone! It was also similarly great for me to have the opportunity to interview NeoSkies on her process and inspiration, as well.

Looking to the Future

So what does the future hold for Cyberpunk? Something very exciting indeed. Just look at all the great content, announcements and surprises we got from 2019! So while it’s impossible to say what surprise announcements or content we will get, what we can do is predict things that are already in the pipeline and have been announced.

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  1. Altered Carbon: Season 2 should arrive to Netflix in February 2020, which will start off our year right
  2. Cyberpunk 2077 will be released in April, which should really kick the Cyberpunk genre into front and center of pop culture, especially considering it’s in the name of the game itself.
  3. Matrix 4 isn’t expected until 2021, but 2020 will bring with it more and more production and casting updates, as well as hopefully story clues, so the production of Matrix 4 will be very fun to watch. Production should begin in February as well.
  4. While not exactly Cyberpunk, Denis Villeneuve did an excellent job with Cyberpunk 2049, so his adaption of the science-fiction classic DUNE will be very exciting to see. There may be some cyberpunk elements present, but it should be a mostly science fiction tale.

So what new Cyberpunk media are you looking forward to seeing/reading/playing in 2020? Let us know in the comments below!