Love, Death, & Robots is a series of animated shorts, an anthology all loosely related to love, death, and robots. Which means that many of which are also cyberpunk related. Volume I released in 2019, and we here at Cyberpunk Matrix covered the cyberpunk-related episodes here. Well, it took a couple years, but I’m happy to report that Volume II is finally here. So fasten you seatbelts, punks, because we’re about to dive into a new wild series of surreal, curious, cyberpunk worlds.
4 Cyberpunk Episodes, 8 Episodes Total
The first thing one notices about Volume II is how short it is compared to Volume I. While Volume I was a generous 18 episodes in length, Volume II contains only 8 episodes. Volume II’s longest episode clocks in at 18 minutes in length, although a considerable part of all episodes contain credits and thus shorten the actual run time, and the shortest runs at 7 minutes in length.
It’s hard to tell with these episodes which ones would truly be considered cyberpunk and which ones wouldn’t, since they are all so short, but since here at Cyberpunk Matrix we’re used to considered if something is Cyberpunk, I’m fairly confident with the episodes we selected. So here it is, folks, all the episodes related to Cyberpunk from Volume II of Love, Death, and Robots, complete with my own thoughts and review of each episode. Ironically, these four episodes are also the four that are first in the 8-episode anthology series
Cyberpunk episodes from Vol. 2:
Automated Customer Service
Snow in the Desert
Cyberpunk Episode 1: Automated Customer Service
This episode reminded me a lot of the episode called blackhead from Black Mirror: a small, automated robot which threatens a nearby human with its cold, relentless hunt of the human it’s searching for. Unlike Blackhead, however, this episode is delivered with a side of dark humor, a parody of automated customer service answering machines that is as much critical and social commentary as it is ridiculous. It features a future society in an elderly community where all electrical devices have been made automated, so as to give the elderly people who live there as assisted an experience as possible. All seems well and good, a prime utopian experience, until of course one of the automated robots malfunctions and starts threatening every living being inside the home it’s supposed to be cleaning.
I personally didn’t care for the animation itself, with its sharp angles it felt much too similar to a badly rendered videogame. Nonetheless, it ended up being very funny in the end, and as always I’m a sucker for a film, whether it be short or otherwise, that takes something that exists in present day and shows the negative sides of it by speculating what would happen if we took that same system to the extreme.
Basically, if you like dystopian futures with robots, and you like dark humor, then you’ll love this episode.
Cyberpunk Episode 2: Ice
Ice is a coming of age story about a teenager who is struggling to fit in with the other kids at school. A classic tale, of course, except the twist for this one is that the town they live in seems to be in the middle of a frozen tundra, with only oil wells of some sort and the residences of the workers who maintain them. Oh and the majority of the kids in town are genetically augmented, which makes the only un-augmented younger brother feel out of place and thus compelled to prove himself that much more.
At first I wasn’t going to classify this entry as a cyberpunk short, until I considered the genetic augmentations, the drugs, the punk-like artwork, and the rebellious nature of the teens sneaking out of their homes to take part in dangerous games to demonstrate their fearlessness and ability.
If you like stylistic artwork, high contrast, and a coming of age story with a dramatic thrilling end, then you’ll like Ice.
Cyberpunk Episode 3: Pop Squad
Pop Squad was my personal favorite of all eight episodes. Closely resembling a film-noir style set in the future (which is just like what Blade Runner did to pioneer the cyberpunk style), Pop Squad features a government operative, a detective of sorts whose mission is to find and process unregistered, or illegal children. Illegal children in this world doesn’t mean immigrants, however. Rather, it’s a type of population control police force to ensure that humanity isn’t having too many children, or any children at all for that matter, which seems to be a luxury reserved for the rich and powerful. This society also seems to have solved the problem of ageing, allowing many of its citizens to live hundreds of years. So what happens when one such population-control detective develops a conscience? Well, you get pop squad. The voice acting, visuals, and acting are all incredible. The episode also asks the question of what makes life worth living, where we as a society place our values, and why seeing the world through a child’s eyes is important.
Cyberpunk Episode 4: Snow in the Desert
Perhaps the most fun, interesting, and well-animated episode of all (it seems to be a favorite for many), Snow in the Desert is about an albino bounty hunter with an unusual physiological special ability that everyone wants to kill him for. Set on what looks like a desert planet similar to Tatooine from Star Wars, it features some calm moments and some exciting moments, with a surprise ending that really drives home the Cyberpunk elements. The animation for this episode was incredible–it really felt like live action even though it was digitally animated. I was also left wanting more, and Snow himself reminded me a lot of an old, grizzly Han Solo.
If you like desert planets, high-quality digital animation, action/mystery and great visuals, then you’ll like Snow in the Desert.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
For the quality of the visuals, the great voice acting, the action and compelling stories delivered in these short segments, I give Volume 2 a high rating of 8.5. I only wish we got more episodes, 8 is a woefully low number considering how short each episode is, but otherwise I felt the quality of all the episodes were really good. If I had to pick I would say Volume 1 was better, simply because there was more there so they had some better episodes and some worse episodes overall.
But what were your thoughts? Which episodes were your favorite? Make sure to let us know in the comments below.
On February 22nd, the seminal band Daft Punk announced the sobering news that they would officially be no more. Consisting of Parisian-born musicians Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, they announced their breakup with a 8-minute epilogue excerpted from their 2006 film Electroma, a science fiction film directed by the pair featuring a quest for two robots to become human.
But who were Daft Punk really? And how do they relate to the genre of Cyberpunk, if at all? Today we’re taking a look at the influential legend that is Daft Punk.
The Origins of Daft Punk
Daft Punk formed in Paris in 1993 by two friends who met in High School. They achieved a level of timelessness by combining styles from the past with imagery of the future.
They originally experimented with Guitar-Based rock before changing their name to Daft Punk in response to a reviewer who called them a “Daft Punky Thrash”.
They then started experimenting with drum machines and synthesizers, and later secured a record deal with Virgin Records. Their very first performance was in the US at a techno festival in Wisconsin in 1996. Back then they performed with either Halloween masks or no masks at all.
Daft Punk’s 1st album: Homework
Their first album Homework released in 1997, and was described by the UK magazine Muzik as “One of the Most Hyped Debut Albums in a long all Time”. The record charted in 14 countries, mostly in Europe, and then Daft Punk went on tour for 12 months that year.
The album was mostly made up with simple beats and was basically a record for a club. However, it created a massive wave in the european music scene at its time.
Daft Punk’s 2nd Album: Discovery
They next album, Discovery, was a massive evolution from Homework. They were inspired by Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker and 70s funk and disco, combined it with pop and house music, and the end result sounded both retro and new. The presence of heavy sampling with Homework and Discovery would ultimately end up being the defining sound of Daft Punk.
Interstella 5555: A Visual Companion to Discovery
Daft Punk would later release an animated film in 2003 that would serve as a visual companion to Discovery. The film bridged anime, musical, and science fiction genres, and was called Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem.
Daft Punk’s Unique Cyberpunk Look
Daft Punk came up with their signature look around the time of Discovery’s release. Going beyond their Halloween masks from before, they wanted to double down on anonymity, and since their audiences found their masks exciting, they continued wearing them. Daft Punk also valued their privacy–they didn’t want to be photographed or noticed on the street. They wanted to keep their personal lives personal. To this day they have conducted almost no interviews, allowing their anonymity and music to speak for itself.
Thomas Bangalter told Face Magazine in the year 2000 that he and Guy-Manuel had become robots on the 9th of September, 1999. Their sampler crashed and exploded on them when they were making a song, apparently, and when they woke up they had become Androids. After they turned into Androids they lost all their previous music, which explains why their music sounds so different afterwards. The inspiration of the style of their helmets comes in part from an unusual rock opera movie called Phantom of the Paradise.
Daft Punk’s 3rd Album: Human After All
Daft Punk’s third album, Human After All, dropped in 2005. This album was the least well received, abandoning its previous disco and house influences for more minimalistic tones. It was also recorded in only 6 weeks.
Daft Punk’s 1st live-recorded album: Alive 2007
Their next album, Alive 2007, was a live album recorded in an arena in Paris with an assortment of Daft Punk’s best songs. Some considered their live versions even better than the original studio recordings.
Daft Punk’s 1st Original Soundtrack: Tron Legacy
This album was basically the complete opposite of Alive 2007, and would be their first (and only) movie soundtrack–the Original Soundtrack for Disney’s Tron Legacy. This album was carefully created using a combination of an 85-piece orchestra and Daft Punk’s own original Synthwave style. They also took a lot of inspiration from Wendy Carlos, who composed the original Tron film soundtrack. Although they had only seen the original Tron a couple times, it had influenced the duo enough to significantly factor into the visual identity they chose for themselves.
Daft Punk’s Final Album: Random Access Memories
Their latest and final album, Random Access Memories, is one of my personal favorite albums of any artist of all time, an opinion I’m not alone in sharing I’m sure. This album just feels like a masterpiece, and in it Daft Punk was able to use the technology at their disposal to its fullest. “Touch,” for instance, uses 250 tracks at the same time, something that was impossible to do with the technology they started out with in the late 1990s. One music reviewer, Volksgeist, had this to say about the album: “RAM is the most human album yet by everyone’s favorite android duo. They finally perfected their formula of presenting styles of the past through a futuristic lens, and for that I consider RAM a modern classic.”
Daft Punk: True Cyberpunk Musical Artists.
There are many reasons why Daft Punk is the most Cyberpunk band out there, more than just the most obvious fact that they have the word Punk in their name and they present themselves as Gold and Silver Robots. Daft Punk scored the big-budget Cyberpunk masterpiece Tron:Legacy (where they also had a cameo), and they have always been using high tech instruments to combine with the low-life practice of sampling, mixing, and remixing their music to create futuristic sounds that feel oddly nostalgic. Daft Punk’s visuals have always futuristic, as if the duo would feel right at home in a cyber dystopian future. A lot of the themes in their songs relate to the relationship between humans and robots, a motif that is one of the most prevalent issues in classic Cyberpunk stories like Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, or Alita: Battle Angel. The lyrics in their music, the song names, hell even the album names themselves often relate to the human-android connection. Human After All has Robot Rock and Human After All, Discovery has Digital Love, and the name of the album Random Access Memories, or RAM, is the name of digital memory stored on a computer. With an emphasis on anonymity to keep mega-corporations at bay and stay truly rebellious to the traditional trends of the churning, remorseless music industry, Daft Punk will stand the test of time and will forever remain in our minds visually and auditorily as the Cyberpunk sounds of the past, present, and future.
Outside the wire is one of the newest futuristic action flicks from Netflix of 2021. Released a mere two weeks into the new year, this sci-fi action thriller stars Damson Idris (Black Mirror) as Lt. Thomas Harp, a drone pilot who makes a difficult call resulting in a reassignment as punishment. There he meets Captain Leo, played by Anthony Mackie (Altered Carbon, Avengers: Age of Ultron) who also was one of the producers for the film. Directed by Mikael Hafstrom, Outside the Wire also stars Pilou Asbaek (Ghost in the Shell, Game of Thrones) as one of its villains . At first glance, this film doesn’t seem to be Cyberpunk at all. But is it? Or is there more to this action movie than meets the eye?
A Military-Focused Plot
When I started watching this movie I had no idea it was actually science fiction, and indeed, it doesn’t really market itself as such. I was gearing up for another gritty hard-as-nails military action film, a bit like Expendables lite. It definitely started off as such, with a firefight resulting in some difficult decisions and consequences that leads our main character, Lt. Thomas Harp, to be reassigned as punishment to Camp Nathaniel, a US base of operations set in the Ukraine, and must report to Mackie’s character, Captain Leo.
All of the story in Outside the Wire takes place with its main characters exclusively military, civilians, refugees, rebels, or humanitarians who deal with the military. However, about 30 minutes in, we suddenly discover that Captain Leo is an incredibly realistic android, a prototype made by the military to resemble humans as closely as possible. We are also casually shown human militia denigrating military robots with gimbals as heads and humanoid forms that allow them for ruthless stone-cold combat.
Science Fiction or Purely Action?
Other than Leo and the military robots, however, there is no other science fiction present in the film at all. A Russian nuclear powerplant that becomes important later in the movie uses old soviet-era tech, and the drones the military use are present-day technology (with their very human operators working much like present-day drone pilots would).
The Ukraine setting feels very Eastern Europe. No neon streets, no dark rain, none of the stereotypical cyberpunk elements. No punk elements at all, really.
Can Androids Be Trusted?
The one thing that doesn’t rule it out of the cyberpunk moniker completely is Mackie’s character, Leo. When Harp meets Leo at Camp Nathaniel, he is quickly apprehensive of Leo’s non-human nature. This leads to some interesting banter between action scenes, as Harp grabbles with what it means that his superior officer is also property of the American Military who should be serving his human creators. The question of whether Harp can trust Leo quickly becomes paramount, and lingers ever present as an unanswered question as the two work together to carry out their mission. The audience is also left wondering if Leo can be trusted, a question which is later answered very bluntly near the end of the film.
Overall Thoughts: A Missed Opportunity
Outside the Wire had a lot of the right ingredients that could have made for an excellent movie. Unfortunately, it seems like these elements are only half-baked, leaving the final product to end up being just another action movie with many of its potentially interesting questions unanswered and its characters undeveloped. While Harp’s character is likeable enough and Leo’s character keeps us guessing his true intentions, we don’t see Harp’s character develop much throughout the film, and Leo’s character ultimately underwhelms. Once his final motives are revealed, they feel uninspired and disappointing, when we look at all the things they could have focused on instead, such as whether robots or androids deserve the same treatment as humans do, which serves as a metaphor for prejudice and racism in so many other science fiction films of its kind. Outside the Wire decides instead to lean on well-choreographed fight scenes and special effects, but without the big budget that most other science fiction films have, the effect is simply underwhelming. Where is the world-building? Why don’t we feel more for Leo’s character than we do? Anthony Mackie definitely could have delivered a more moving performance, if he had been given the script to do so. They should have at least told us if Leo Dreams of Electric Sheep.
Final Verdict: Decidedly Not Cyberpunk
With what at first glance would be the possible makings of a cyberpunk film–a humanlike android, military robots, and a human main character questioning his android partner’s motives, Outside the Wire is definitely not Cyberpunk. There are no real punk or low life elements to speak of, nor are there any megacorporations or oppresive dystopias to speak of in this film. Instead we have a very near to present US military outfit acting in Ukraine and carrying out what amounts to another cold war action film with a subtle whiff of science fiction. However, it was entertaining enough to be worth watching, with decent performances and good action sequences. I would give this film a 6/10.
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 2019, described the many things that we got to enjoy in the year, along with looking ahead to the future of what 2020 was meant to have in store for us (boy, were we in for a BIG SURPRISE with that one!) While different from 2019 in many ways, 2020 has been a great year for the genre of Cyberpunk in general. On the first few days of 2020 I wrote the following:
“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:
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.”
Well, Altered Carbon: Season 2 was good, but it didn’t live up to the first season sadly, and then the series itself was cancelled.
Cyberpunk 2077 wasn’t released in April, or September, or November, but finally in December, and while it did well on the PC and next-gen consoles, it had so many game-breaking bugs in the old-gen consoles many gamers demanded refunds and others considered the release a monumental failure.
Matrix 4 is still set for 2021, but instead of a May release date, or an April 2022 release date due to covid, its newest release date is for December 22nd, 2021.
As for Dune, its release was pushed back from December 18th, 2020 to October 1st, 2021. We were able to get a glimpse of the trailer, which looks amazing, but it’s still a long way away.
Meanwhile, we got a lot of other Cyberpunk media in 2020. So come join me, won’t you, as we take a walk down memory lane and look at all the Cyberpunk media that came out in 2020.
February 27th: Altered Carbon Season 2
Cyberpunk in 2020 started off the year with Altered Carbon Season 2, releasing February 27th on Netflix. Compared to Season 1, I noted how the second season felt very toned down, with less torture, violence, and gore. Unlike the source material (Broken angels and Woken Furies, books 2 and 3 in the Takeshi Kovacs Trilogy, respectively) the Netflix series decided to pursue a love story between Takeshi and Quell, for better or for worse. There’s also a lot less gratuitous sex than in the books, a stronger focus on family ties, and generally a lot of missed opportunities with the changes they chose compared to the books. The result is a more wholesome, safe season that probably had a smaller budget but also didn’t wow the audience in any way, and as a result led to the unfortunate cancelling of the series (partly also because of how darn expensive the series was).
February and March: Matrix 4 begins shooting, and the lockdowns begin
Project Ice Cream, AKA Matrix 4, began shooting in February and we were treated to some incredible stunt scenes over skyscrapers and explosions along the city streets in Alameda and San Francisco, California, which I reported in my Matrix 4: 2020 updates post in March. Fortunately, Matrix 4 was able to wrap up all of its primary US shooting before March rolled around. The team were later able to continue shooting in Babelsberg, Germany, although under significantly different conditions
The end of February was the final normal month as we knew it. We had no idea at the time, but we were about to be hit by the world-changing pandemic known as COVID-19, which would affect media releases, travel, result in thousands of deaths and billions of people affected and forced to rethink their daily habits. The entire world, almost every country, had to learn how to confine, lockdown, or quarantine, an event I discussed in my April post on how dystopian it felt in real time.
March: Altered Carbon: Resleeved and Bloodshot
After Altered Carbon Season 2 came out, we were treated to a Netflix animated film called Altered Carbon: Resleeved. Released on March 19th, the story had fairly good voice actors and story, if you could get past the unusual animation style. It was only 1 hour 14 minutes in duration, so it was pretty short, but had some awesome ninja action scenes. More on our review of Altered Carbon: Resleeved can be found here.
Meanwhile, Bloodshot was meant to be released in theaters, (and maybe it was in some places) but due to the pandemic it was mostly moved to pay on demand. I just recently posted my review and thoughts of this recent quasi-cyberpunk film with Vin Diesel here.
April: The first podcast and the beginning of our Is This Cyberpunk? Series
In April we had our first podcast of the year, an exciting hour-long talk with friend to the blog Lazarus over at NeoMatrixology. In it we discuss the Cyberpunk genre, our first impressions viewing the Matrix for the first time, and many other things.
We also had the first of what would be many different posts in a series called Is This Cyberpunk? where I look at media that could be considered Cyberpunk and offer my thoughts of why or why not they would be considered in the genre. This year we looked at the following movies: The Wolverine, Big Hero 6, Batman Beyond, and Tomorrowland.
April: Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045
Also coming out in April was the next animated Cyberpunk work on Netflix, Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045. Released April 23rd, it comprised 12 20-minute episodes to create a fast-paced, interesting series that decidedly does not finish at the end of its run, suggesting a season 2 was always in the works. Although great parts action and cyber-sleuthing, I noted that it might take a minute to get past the unusual 3D CG animation. Check out my full review of the series here.
June: The beginning of Night City Wire episodes
Night City Wire was a series of what would become 5 promotional short videos to advertise the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077, This provided a great opportunity for fans of Cyberpunk to get excited together about what would be available to do in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 title. When we got it in June it was supposed to come out in September, before it eventually got delayed to November and then finally to December 10th. I personally had a lot of fun tuning into my favorite Cyberpunk content creator on YouTube and seeing their reactions and joining in the chat as thousands of similar fans all watched the wires drop simultaneously. You can check out my breakdown of wire 1, wire 2, wire 3 and wires 4-5 plus the special on the blog.
October: World Cyberpunk Day
October 10th, 2020 (or 10.10.2020) was World Cyberpunk Day. Designed to be a free fun #hashtag celebration of all things cyberpunk, it was also meant to promote lesser known Cyberpunk content creators. For my own post of World Cyberpunk Day, I took the opportunity to celebrate all my favorite Cyberpunk media, including both well-known and lesser known content. You can check out all my favorite Cyberpunk picks in all the different categories here.
November: Ready Player Two
On November 24th, Ready Player Two, the sequel to the acclaimed Ready Player Novel, was published By Ernest Cline. After loving the first novel and going to see the film adaptation by Steven Spielberg last year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. It was a fast-paced page-turner and I finished it in about a week or two, and I highly recommend it. You can check out my full review for the book here.
December: Cyberpunk 2077 finally releases
On December 10th, the fateful day finally arrived. I remember waiting until 2am to download the game, waiting an hour using my slow internet to download the game, and then finally being able to create my character and playing the first 20 minutes of the game (the introduction) before crashing. Unfortunately, despite having downloaded the game previously when I pre-ordered the game, I like thousands of others around the world like me took a really long time in downloading the final pieces in order to make the game playable.
Once I finally was able to play the game…I wish I could say it went swimmingly. Unfortunately, I had a couple bugs that really bothered me during the introduction (like bushes appearing in frames when they were supposed to be outside far away but otherwise, I didn’t have any problems playing the game (although I played on the lowest graphics settings due to the old nature of my gaming laptop). Others, however, weren’t so forgiving with the game, and had much worse bugs. So bad, in fact, that Sony pulled it from their online store, and CD Projekt Red lost millions when they had to offer refunds for the game, sparking disgruntled developers pushing back on management claiming their timelines to get the game out were unrealistic, and even resulting in lawsuits from investors. Nonetheless, I had a great time playing Cyberpunk 2077. I have since finished one of the game’s main storylines, but I still have much more to play. I published an initial review of the game with my first impressions as one of my last posts of 2020 here.
Interviewing the Cyberpunk Community at Cyberpunk Matrix:
Finally, throughout the year, I was able to interview all kinds of great Cyberpunk content creators and see how they got into the genre, as well as what they love about Cyberpunk. Starting with Bradley B, founder of the incredible Cyberpunk website http://www.cyberpunks.com, I later was able to interview all four most popular YouTube Cyberpunk content creators: Madqueen, The Neon Arcade, Last Known Meal, and Triple S League. They also have a mutual community podcast which I often joined on occasion every other Sunday during 2020 as we all mutually waited for Cyberpunk 2077 to release and shared the latest info and hopes for the game.
Obviously what we are most excited for here at Cyberpunk Matrix, and indeed a lot of the inspiration why I created this website in the first place, is the return to the world of The Matrix with Matrix 4. Now that Lana Wachowski and the production team was able to wrap in Germany, it seems like the biggest work in producing Matrix 4 is done. Now comes the step of adding the music, edits, and all the other post production work, before marketing and getting Matrix 4 ready for their release date of December 22nd, 2021. Hopefully that release date won’t be pushed back yet again.
While all we know about this standalone series from Netflix set in Night City is that it will come out in 2022, hopefully there may be some news about its production to come out in 2021. Similarly, I am looking forward to any and all Cyberpunk 2077 DLC that comes out in 2021 that adds to the already very rich world that CD Projekt Red has created.
Thoughts and Expectations for Cyberpunk in 2021
2020 has been a difficult year for most of humanity. Fortunately I never contracted the virus this year, but I know many friends and family members that did, and it certainly wasn’t easy. We changed out habits, lifestyles, values, perspective on life, because of the virus–it really was a pandemic that will change human history as we know it, developing in front of our eyes in real time. But with all these vaccines rolling out for 2021, the year looks very promising. And with the vaccines will hopefully come a new stability, a new normal that will allow travel and production on all our favorite media to resume again. After 8 long years, Cyberpunk 2077 finally was released, and although its release definitely wasn’t perfect, the stories in Cyberpunk 2077 will now be in the forefront of our modern culture’s mind, with society knowing exactly what a cyberpunk world looks like and what kind of cyberpunks they might encounter in such a world if they played the videogame. Ready Player Two will probably be coming out with Steven Spielberg producing at least, and I wouldn’t be surprised if CD Projekt Red learns from their mistakes and creates another Cyberpunk title, or at the very least more DLC to add to the night city, if what they’ve done with The Witcher 3 is any indication. So goodbye 2020, for all its challenges and change, and welcome 2021. As Panam says, cheers — here’s to what’s yet to come.
A Superhero Almost-Cyberpunk Film You Probably Missed Earlier this Year
Bloodshot is the latest quasi-Cyberpunk film based on the comic book superhero from the comic book series of the same name from Valiant Comics. Directed by David S. F. Wilson in his directorial debut, it was produced by Neal Moritz and Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious). Bloodshot was meant to be the first installment in a series of films set in a Valiant Comics shared cinematic universe, but after the pandemic put everyone’s plans on hold it’s anybody’s guess whether this will be the first part of a series of films.
This is a slick action-focused flick starring Vin Diesel as Marine Raymond “Ray” Garrison who is reborn by a team of scientists with nanotechnology after he almost dies trying to prevent his wife from being murdered. The nanites allow him to become somewhat of a superhuman, with enhanced strength, senses, and healing factor. Originally amnesiac after the operation, his memories start to come back to him as he trains with fellow super-soldiers, until he breaks out of the R&D facility to find the man that killed his wife. Yet nothing is as it seems as he begins a journey to regain his memory and rediscover an unclear past.
Dr. Harting explaining to Ray about how Nanites are, like, the best thing ever.
In addition to Vin Diesel in the titular role, we have Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) playing lead scientist Dr. Emil Harting in charge of bringing Ray back to life. As he did in Iron Man 3, Pearce delivers another excellent performance of being serious, intelligent, ambitious, and dangerous all at the same time. Apparently Jared Leto had been considered for the role, which would have been another Cyberpunk film for him to star in (Blade Runner 2049), but ultimately the role went to Diesel as I guess they wanted the film to be more action-focused.
KT and Ray bonding over some shots.
Also cast are Sam Heughan (Outlander) as a fellow enhanced soldier and rival, Eida Gonzalez as KT, another fellow enhanced soldier sympathetic to Ray, Talulah Riley (Pride & Prejudice, Inception) as Ray’s wife, Lamorne Morris (New Girl) as computer programmer Wilfred Wigans, and Toby Kebbell (Fantasic 4, Black Mirror) as one of the villains.
Of all the members of the cast, the only other cast member that stood out for me in his performance was Morris’ character Wigans. We only meet him halfway through the film but he provides such a fun refreshing dose of comedic relief that it really lightens up an otherwise incredibly somber movie that, up until that point, felt like it took itself too seriously.
A Slow Beginning
The beginning is pretty lacklust at first–we have the soldier hero with his stunning wife (Gina, played by Talulah Riley, providing pretty clear exposition for what’s to come). This eventually leads to a emotionally intense torture scene that really sets into motion the entire film.
This film has a smattering of high-tech elements. Noteworthy are Guy Pearce’s Cybernetic hand, along with the other slightly augmented super-soldiers. One has bionic legs, which is pretty common to see, but another has a bionic chestplate that serves as his eyes and yet another has a bionic breathing apparatus that that was a novel idea for me to see. Dr. Harting calls it laryngotrachyal reconstruction with a clavical-mounted respirator (which means she can breathe through her chest). Other later tech includes bionical arms and portable drones with cameras that create live 3D video feed delivered straight inside a soldier’s helmet to create a bird’s eye view on the go.
The tech that gives Bloodshot his superpower is the nanites that course through his bloodstream, giving him super strength and health regeneration. What I wasn’t expecting is that as an additional bonus they gave him the ability to both access the internet and be accessed by the internet at the same time. This allowed him to download skills and schematics much like Neo did to learn Kung Fu or Trinity did to learn how to fly a helicopter. It also allowed him to access information on the internet much like RoboCop might do to access outstanding warrants for arrest or where people are located.
Reality Construction Using Altered Memories
At 46 minutes in we are given the twist that was perhaps somewhat ruined in the trailer, which, if you haven’t seen yet, I won’t spoil for you. What I will mention about this is I really liked the virtual spaces that feature briefly in the film, as well as the questioning-reality moments from questioning if memories or real or not that was so well covered in movies like Total Recall elsewhere in the Cyberpunk genre. “It’s like what you think is real sometimes ain’t” explains a very colloquial Wigans.
Slow-Motion Over-The-Top Action scenes
One of the first action sequences we are offered is a scene in a tunnel with a flour truck that has spilled all its flour on the ground, and a convoy with military henchmen are using flares to defend themselves against an oncoming Bloodshot. Later action sequences involve more augmented soldiers in a Parkour-style chase scene including drones, a facility breakout scene, and later an epic battle near the end of the film (which is pretty much always to be expected for any major action film).
Heavy-Handed CGI use
There are moments when the use of CGI felt a big heavy-handed, almost like the movie had suddenly turned into a video game cut scene. I’m not sure if it was their intention to do this or they just really wanted super-cool action scenes, but for me it took me out of the moment in the movie a bit.
Bloodshot takes old familiar concepts and repackages them with some nice updated special effects, making for a good action film, but the lack of compelling characters, lackluster plot, and absence of any deep new ideas work against this film. Although I enjoyed the film, if I had to pinpoint where exactly this film miss-stepped, it would be lack of connection between the audience and the main character Ray. The entire film is based on the premise that we, the audience, should connect with him on a certain level and certainly care if he dies or not. It’s almost an assumption that we should based on how everyone else acts around Ray, but it simply didn’t deliver. Vin Diesel is a great action actor, but his strengths aren’t in conveying emotion, and unfortunately that was the missing element in this film.
Final Verdict: 7/10
If you’re looking for characters to connect with or a really interesting story, this movie might not fit the bill. But if you’re looking for an action film with a bit of a Cyberpunk twist, then this is a pretty good film. So if you want to spend a few hours with some fun action sequences and a high-production value, then Bloodshot is a film not to be missed!