The 8 Ball 2.11.14: The Top 8 Movie Cyborgs
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 02.11.2014
From Darth Vader and the Terminator to Spider-Man 2's Doctor Octopus, Jason Voorhees from Jason X and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 movie cyborgs of all-time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Movie Cyborgs
Welcome back to another edition of the 8 Ball, ladies and gentlemen! This week the long-gestating Robocop reboot finally hits theaters, to the anticipation of some and the dread of others. The film is just the latest in a long line of movies that explore the relationship between humanity and technology, and also the newest entry in a storied history of cyborgs given life by filmmakers. There is no small amount of history that Hollywood has with "man and machine" stories; the concept has been around since well before movies existed and finds a spiritual successor in stories like American folk hero John Henry, who in a tall tale competed against a steam-powered hammer to build a railroad faster and better. This week we're going to take a look at the film industry's exploration of half-man, half-machines as we count down the best cyborgs in cinematic history.
Caveat: Let's start here by defining what exactly a cyborg is. There is an often fuzzy line between the definition of cyborgs, androids and other artificially-created or enhanced individuals. For the purposes of this column I am using the commonly-accepted definition, which is as follows: "A cyborg is an organism consisting of both biological and artificial parts, with the mechanical or electronic components usually (but not always) enhancing the original biological entity." This distinguishes them from androids, which are essentially robots created in a way to simulate real life. There was a lot of debate regarding the replicants from Blade Runner and how they qualify; I chose to disqualify them because while they are artificial and enhanced, there is no evidence to suggest they have anything other than biological parts. (Consider that the only way to detect them is the interview, and thus not detectable via any sort of scan for artificial components.)
Just Missing The Cut
Casella "Cash" Reese (Cyborg 2)
John Silver (Treasure Planet)
The Colossus (The Colossus of New York)
Pearl Prophet (Cyborg)
Gigan (Godzilla vs. Gigan)
#8: Jason Voorhees (Jason X)
First up on our list is what may be the perfect fusion of machine and psychopathic killer. Jason Voorhees is one of the most well-known slashers in cinematic history, with the Friday the 13th franchise slicing its way through a record number of victims over ten films (twelve if you count the reboot and Freddy vs. Jason). For his tenth outing, New Line decided it was time to send Jason into the future and space so that they wouldn't destroy any potential continuity for the planned battle movie with Freddy Krueger. To some this was the low point of the franchise, but I very much appreciate the film's embracing of its silliness and the effects are surprisingly good, all things considered. Jason became his most bad-ass when, after being blown to pieces by an upgraded Kay-Em android, he is repaired by the ship's medical bay and given mechanical pieces to fill in for the missing biological matter. The result was "Uber Jason," a cybernetically-enhanced zombie serial killer with death on his mind. His look is cheesy to some but I always felt that it completely fit what they were aiming for and he is able to perform even more impressive feats once he has robotic strength. It takes riding him through Earth 2's atmosphere to finally destroy him this time around and even then, it's Jason so you know he's coming back. Silly or not, Cyber-Jason kicked some serious ass.
#7: Luc Deveraux/GR44 (Universal Soldier)
Jean-Claude Van Damme had worked with cyborg stories before on film, specifically in--well, the film Cyborg. This was the first film in which he actually played one though. There is an argument out there (and an understandable one) that Luc Deveraux and the rest of the UniSols are not in fact cyborgs, and are simply reanimated dead along the lines of Frankenstein's monster. However, it is heavily implied that the UniSols are in fact enhanced with technology in some way, and this is reinforced by the fact that the film obviously borrows from the Marvel Comics character of Deathlok. Even the eyepiece suggests Deathlok's image. Deveraux is of course the protagonist and most heroic of the UniSols and he even manages to get his personality back where most of the subjects remain autonomous. Van Damme would return to reprise the role for the disastrous Universal Soldier: The Return, which is no longer considered canon in the franchise. Universal Soldier: Regeneration and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, while not particularly great films, helped redeem the franchise a bit and also Deveraux as a character. He is an excellent example of the human spirit fighting against machine control and while he may not be the obvious cyborg that others are, the themes alone would earn him entry even if the mechanical components are fairly subtle.
#6: Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2)
Doc Ock was a difficult choice in terms of whether he qualified for the list or not. On one hand he appears to be more of a man with a prosthetic of sorts along the lines of Dr. No, Luke Skywalker or Del Spooner from I, Robot. However, I did decide to include him because his cybernetic arms connect directly into his nervous system and become a definite part of his being as opposed to something that could be removed. Otto Octavius is one of Spider-Man's greatest villains (even more so in the era of the Superior Spider-Man comic run) and he deserved a classic portrayal on the big screen. Sony scored a coup when they cast the great Alfred Molina in the role. Molina makes the character of Otto a more sympathetic one than it otherwise might have been and he nails the role perfectly. The AI of the cybernetic arms trying to assert dominance over Otto's personality is a classic cyborg theme, enhancing the story above that of "just another comic-book movie." He is arguably the best portrayal of a Spider-Man villain in a live action film to date, depending on your opinion of Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn, and the tragedy of Otto is portrayed incredibly well in the movie. Sam Raimi's digital effects team does fantastic work with arms and his look is definitely more impressive than what we get in the comics without completely invalidating it, adding the finishing touches to one hell of a cyborg supervillain.
#5: The Borg Queen (Star Trek: First Contact)
I find it interesting that my list is split 50/50 between protagonists and antagonists on this list (with two that definitely straddle the line); it wasn't intentional at all but just happened. Here's the highest-ranked pure villain in the Borg Queen. The Borg are perhaps the greatest addition of a race that was made to the Star Trek universe during the Next Generation era. There were several races added during this time frame of course: Ferengi, Betazoids, Cardassians, the Q, Bajorans and more. But the Borg are certainly the most formidable villains from the era. They were dangerous during the Next Generation series but when Star Trek: First Contact came about they hit a new level of threat. No small part of that was due to the introduction of the Borg Queen, as exquisitely played by Alice Krige. The Queen was the previously-unknown leader of the collective, one of the few who could distinguish themselves as an individual and Krige was wonderfully creepy in the role. She is Data's tempter in the movie and very nearly succeeds. She proves quite formidable as a mental and physical adversary and returned to play the role in the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager. She certainly earns her spot on this list.
#4: Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell)
While cyborg existence sometimes seems to be more of a boys' club (especially for heroic cyborgs), there are a solid number of man-machine hybrids of the female variety. For my money, none of them quite match up to Major Motoko Kusanagi. Motoko is the protagonist of the many Ghost in the Shell properties--the manga, the anime series and the film. While her characterization and appearance varies from one to the other, she is pretty much amazing in all of them. The film version of Motoko is a more androgynous, brooding character who struggles with the notion of how much humanity she has left due to her cybernetic body. She even questions if she is entirely synthetic and just programmed to believe she was once a human. She eventually finds what she's looking for in the hacker she's hunting, the mysterious Puppet Master. Motoko is a more cerebral take on the cyborg and directly addresses most of the questions we ask about the nature of humanity and technology. It's a supremely good story and a very strong character. A live-action version of this film is reportedly in the works and I'm skeptical of Hollywood trying to adapt this one, but we'll see how it goes.
#3: Robocop (Robocop)
C'mon, Robocop inspired this list. There's no way he wasn't ending up on it. Paul Verhoeven has a reputation for bad films and make no mistake: he's made some bad ones. Showgirls nearly killed his career and stigmatized him forever. But he has also made some amazing science fiction films including Total Recall, Starship Troopers and this 1987 classic. RoboCop is often viewed as a cult classic today and considered "charming," both views of which belie the fact that it is a damned good movie which was well-received and a legitimate hit. It tackles a lot of serious themes amidst the ultra-violence, including a hard look at the corruption of media, class war and corporations. Peter Weller was a perfect fit for the role of Alex Murphy and Robocop is a symbol that stands in the face of people who claim that sci-fi wasn't socially relevant in the 1980s. Weller plays the role with a perfect tenor, capturing both the robot and the man. It must also be noted that Weller conveys all of the emotion in his character (and there is emotion there, let's be clear about that) with just the lower half of his face. That's a deceptively difficult thing to do. And if you're not interested in him as a person, let's just note that he kicks some serious ass as well. Later films would try to drag him down and they largely contribute to views that marginalize the character, but he's a major part of sci-fi lore and--well, let's just say that Joel Kinnaman has a lot to live up to with the reboot.
#2: Terminator 850 Series Model 101 (The Terminator)
There are certain cyborgs that are just simply iconic. Among them are Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-850. (You can argue it's the T-800 or T-101 or whatever if you like, by the way. The movies all change what they call him.) The Terminator is such a simple concept given complex execution when you think about it: a war between man and machine brought to the present day, thanks to a bit of time travel. And in that little tweak we entered a whole new world of science fiction in which we add the themes of fate and destiny to what is already a meaty topic about free will in the man/machine debate. Schwarzenegger would play the T-850 in a transition from film to film of assassin to protector to ally and through these films, we saw not only the progression of the machine; we saw the Terminator grow a soul. Now of course, that's a bit confusing when you consider that they're all different models who never would have met each other. But this is time travel, a genre that is notable for impressive plot holing. Let's not sweat the small stuff there. Whether as an unstoppable killer who shrugged off everything thrown at him or a protector who refused to die until John Connor was safe, the Terminator was always a force to be reckoned with and quite possibly the coolest cyborg of all time.
#1: Darth Vader (Star Wars films)
Bow down to the dark lord of cyborgs, ladies and gentlemen. Darth Vader isn't the original cyborg by any remote stretch but he's certainly the most well-known. The Sith Lord began as the Jedi Anakin Skywalker and was tempted over to the Dark Side by the skilled manipulation of Darth Sidious. Vader represents so much on a thematic level that it is almost difficult to quantify. He is viewed as a symbol of technology vs. religion or spirituality, as a struggle between man and machine. He has become a symbol of evil in pop culture, but also one of redemption thanks to his acts at the end of Return of the Jedi. He's the oppressive government regime and his origin story has been compared to that of African American racial identity. His characterization is even taught as an example of classic borderline personality disorder. And throughout it all he remains one of the most well-known science fiction figures of all time. It has been said that his image is one of the most universally-recognized on the planet and for good reason. James Earl Jones' deep, booming voice and that gas mask breathing can still bring a chill down my spine. There are no ifs, and or buts about it to me: Darth Vader is the easy #1 choice for best film cyborgs.
Disguise of the Episode
Current Series/Season:Season One (2001 - 2002) Episodes Watched: 13 Last Serial Completed:The Box (Part 2) - Sydney and Jack find themselves in the ironic position of having to save SD-6 as former agent McKenas Cole tortures Sloane in order to obtain a mysterious item stored inside the SD-6 vault, while Will finds new leads into his story about the organization. Episodes Remaining: 92
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.