Great Bad Movies: "Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow" (1993)
"Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow" (1993)
(aka: "Glass Shadow," "Cash Reese: Glass Shadow")
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Jack Palance, Elias Koteas, Billy Drago / Directed by: Michael Schroeder
Run Time: 99 Minutes
**WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
1989's Cyborg may be the unlikeliest B-Movie ever to inspire a franchise. In fact, the flick may never have existed at all if its distributor - the once-mighty Cannon Films, long time home of Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson - hadn't run into severe financial trouble in the late 1980s. Cyborg was thrown together on the fly and produced on the cheap so Cannon could get some use out of the sets and props they'd built for two cancelled productions - a doomed Spider-Man adaptation and a proposed sequel to Masters of the Universe. The resulting tale of a kick-boxer guiding a half-woman, half-machine across an apocalyptic wasteland filled with bad guys didn't make much sense, but Cyborg had the good fortune to cast Jean-Claude Van Damme in its lead role. Van Damme's career was on the rise at this point - guys liked to watch him kick ass, and girls liked to watch him, period - so the film was a surprise late-inning hit for Cannon. It was their swan-song theatrical release and Cannon closed its doors a few years later, but the film's success assured that a part "2" would come along...eventually.
Five years later, TriMark Pictures revived the dormant Cyborg brand for the direct to video market. Cyborg 2 bears little to no resemblance to its predecessor and features none of the original characters, but as it turns out, it's a pretty decent low-budget sci-fi action flick in its own right. Be that as it may, the film likely would have been quickly forgotten if it weren't for the fact that it stars a young, then-unknown Angelina Jolie in the title role! Yup, even Oscar winners gotta start someplace. Angelina was just 18 years old when she made Cyborg 2 but her action-heroine chops - later to be displayed in movies like Salt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and the Tomb Raider films - were already in place even at this early stage of her career.
It's the year 2074, and the future resembles the Los Angeles of Blade Runner, re-created on a cheese-and-crackers budget - lots of rusty browns and metallic grays, constant rain, and random cascades of sparks being thrown into the air. An opening voice over by the late, great Jack Palance informs us that cyborgs have "replaced humans in every respect, from the soldier in the field to the prostitute in the brothel." He goes on to say that the two biggest cyborg-manufacturing mega-corporations - Japan's Kobayashi Electronics and America's Pinwheel Corporation - are locked in ongoing corporate warfare with one another for control of the market.
We're soon treated to a meeting of the Pinwheel Corporation's executive board, where the villainous CEO (Allen Garfield) shows off the company's latest prototype - the most human-like cyborg model ever created, capable of independent thought and human emotions. He reveals that Pinwheel plans to pack one of these new 'borgs with a powerful liquid explosive called "Glass Shadow" and send it into the HQ of the Kobayashi Corporation, so they can wipe out the competition once and for all. A demonstration model blows itself up impressively enough that the board immediately green-lights the next prototype in line (Jolie) - who goes by the human name Casella Reese, or "Cash" for short - for the suicide mission. There's just one problem: Cash doesn't want to die, and her trainer Colton "Colt" Ricks (Elias Koteas, best known at the time for his role as butt kicking Casey Jones in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flicks) doesn't want her to either, as he has begun developing feelings for her.
Colt is soon contacted via video-screen by a mysterious rebel and pirate broadcaster known only as "Mercy" (Oscar winner and legendary bad-ass Jack Palance, who must have shot his entire part for this movie in a single day). He advises Colt to take Cash and run like hell to the "free zone" where he and his robotic love can live out the rest of their lives without interference from the Pinwheel authorities. That sounds good to them, so Colt and Cash mount an explosive escape from Pinwheel headquarters and hit the road. Naturally, the corporate big wigs are not pleased by this development, so they call sinister cyborg-hunter Danny Bench (B-Movie mainstay Billy Drago, as slimy as ever) out of retirement to pursue the pair.
Git the DVD!
You can pretty much write the rest of the movie yourself - Colt and Cash are chased across the futuristic landscape by the villainous Bench and other assorted bad guys, following instructions from Mercy, who pops up every so often on TV screens to offer them long winded advice. Naturally the pair finds themselves falling deeper in love as they go along, leading to the inevitable man-on-cyborg sex scene...which takes on a whole 'nother level of creepy when you realize that Koteas was fifteen years older than the nubile Jolie when this movie was made. Eventually there's a final showdown at the docks where Palance's "Mercy" makes his long-overdue appearance in the flesh to help Cash 'n' Colt take on the Pinwheel stormtroopers, and lotsa stuff blows up real good.
In a nutshell, Cyborg 2 was an entertaining slab of low budget sci-fi junk. I'd even say I preferred it over Van Damme's original. It's got a much better cast (most of whom can actually act,which is way more than I can say about Jean-Claude's film), and a more ambitious "look" and story. The previous Cyborg was basically a bunch of tough guys beating the crap out of each other in a variety of abandoned buildings and desert settings, but "2" gives us characters with some actual depth and fleshes out this bleak post-apocalyptic reality a little more. This future world is not a nice place to visit, and you definitely wouldn't want to live there.
The saga continues...
If memory serves, reviews for Cyborg 2 were tepid (at best) back in the day but it must've done respectable rental business, because Michael Schroeder was back in the director's chair for the next chapter in 1994. Unfortunately, Cyborg 3: The Recycler was an ultra-cheap piece of junk that squandered whatever promise it inherited from its predecessor. The flick starred Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame alongside such dependable B-Movie regulars as Malcolm (Clockwork Orange) McDowell and Richard (Invasion U.S.A.) Lynch, and though the "Cash" character returned in "3," Jolie didn't - she was replaced by Khrystyne Haje of the TV sitcom Head of the Class, who of course looks nothing like Angelina. Cyborg 3 was quickly, and rightfully, forgotten.
Cyborg 2 may have been Jolie's "big break" in feature films but it seems that she doesn't look back on it very fondly nowadays. She's rarely mentioned Cyborg 2 in interviews, though she has famously described making the film as a "happy" experience until she saw the final product, which "nauseated" her and made her "really sick." Ouch! No wonder she didn't want to reprise the "Cash" role in the 3rd film!
In this armchair critic's estimation, Cyborg 2 is not nearly as bad as the notoriously temperamental Ms. Jolie makes it out to be. If you're curious, the flick can be had on DVD fairly cheap, so I say give it a spin and decide for yourself.
© 2016 Keith Abt