It’s been a while since we’ve seen a really good cyberpunk movie.
Traces of the genre have run as undercurrents through some of our most exciting technologically-driven films in recent years; in the present-day disquietude of the A.I. experimentation in Ex Machina, or in the visual artistry of the world of Spike Jonze’s Her, where it belongs as much to the computers as the humans. Cyberpunk seeps into the veins of so many movies, but it’s so rare that we see it properly visualised on screen in its pure form.
Like many genres, cyberpunk found its roots in the 1980s. As artists began to examine what the cost of technological and social upheaval might look like on humanity, dystopias became the order of the day. Underground factions, class struggles, and economic apocalypses were dominated by the rapid onset of technological developments, and humans were faced with the challenges of their own dissolution against vast scientific achievement.
Some of the finest cyberpunk movies were produced in the first wave of the genre’s popularity – Blade Runner and RoboCop exemplified this, with their beaten down near-futures being infiltrated by the increasingly tight grips of the machines around them. Their stories functioned like neo-noirs, and dealt with the morality crisis of a world in which humanity becomes less and less important: David Ketterer classed it as ‘high-tech, low-life’. In the 90s, the Matrix trilogy took pride of place in the cultural mainstream, fusing classic cyberpunk with philosophy, and religion in a way that simultaneously grounded and elevated the original cyberpunk concepts. It was exciting, intellectually-driven, and crucially, a little bit trippy.
Since then, though, there’s not really been a film that hammered home the cyberpunk elements. We’ve had some good examples, in films like Tron: Legacy, Dredd, and Chappie, but nothing that’s captured the visual aesthetics which proved so crucial to the genre – electric neon against dingy backdrops, urban landscapes filled with synthetic lights. In classic cyberpunk styling, as little as possible is natural as the lines between human reality and cyberspace blur.
So where better to take us back to the fundamentals than with where it all began? Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the original, Blade Runner 2049, looks set to revive the genre with sufficient aplomb. From the two minutes of footage that the first trailer has given us, it looks like we’re getting everything. Synthetic humans birthed from womb-like plastic bags. Ryan Gosling, our lone renegade, walking through a foggy street, filled with neon street lights and futuristic floating cars. So much rain. Abandoned architectural wonders lit with nuclear orange. It’s got all the apocalypse of The Road, with the high-technology vibes of Total Recall and the artificial landscapes of the original Ghost in the Shell. In short, it looks perfect.
“The world is built on a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall: you bought a war.” Now, if that’s not the line that cyberpunk fans have been waiting years to here, I don’t know what is.
Get Volume #17 here.
Words by Jess Ennis