A look back at another Cannon Studios classic.
American Ninja was a big success for the Cannon Studios in the 1980s. Not long before they closed shop, Cannon rediscovered their “American” prefix in 1993, but instead of ninjas, we got a cyborg. Just like all the other cyborg action flicks that were produced in the 1990s, American Cyborg: Steel Cyborg came after every relevant film about cyborgs ever made. But it had rising B-action star Joe Lara, and the feature that you could shuffle its title words around to create new awesome cyborg actioners such as American Warrior: Steel Cyborg or Cyborg Warrior: American Steel, so let’s have a look!
Humanity is at the brink of extinction after an AI started a nuclear war, and enslaved the survivors that were also rendered sterile. But human scientists clandestinely created a fetus, and Mary is tasked to bring the baby savior to the nearest harbor where a ship to Europe awaits (the only place where an incubator exists). A cyborg enforcer is sent to kill Mary and the embryo, but she is rescued by the mysterious loner Austin (Lara), and together they embark on the dangerous journey towards the coast.
This Baby is Going to Europe to Start a New Race of Genetically Healthy Humans
Europe is destined to be the birthplace for the savior of the human race, and as a resident of that continent I approve this message. The film does not reveal why the malevolent AI has decided to enslave humans instead of just killing them all but thankfully we can ask its precursor ChatGPT nowadays to provide the answer. The plot revolves around the simple geometrical task to get from point A (underground lab) to point B (harbor) as fast as possible. Along the way, the film happily plunders the repository of its better genre peers, and you can even create a quiz out of the whole thing as you’ll be asking yourself every two minutes “Where have I seen this before?”.
The shooting locations and their presentation are a major asset of the film. The crew had whole blocks of ruined industrial buildings at their disposal with rubble and rusty metal in every shot. The scenery is constantly illuminated with an overkill of blue back-lighting, which must be a result of the radioactive fallout, I presume. On the audio track we’re listening to a cheap but cool dark synth score, which perfectly supplements the vibe. And thanks to solid production values (apart from a slightly disturbing stop-motion animation of the fetus in a jar) the film succeeds in creating a good sense of immersion into this post-apocalyptic cityscape.
The Cyborg is Only One of Our Enemies, there are also the Radioactive Cannibals
The late TV-Tarzan actor Joe Lara got his first shot as leading man in an action flick. He definitely had the looks and the physical statue needed for the role. His Austin is also man of many talents, among them sewing a cyborg arm to his shoulder after his own arm got ripped off. And what a campfire philosopher he is: “I’m a realist, the only thing real is me” and “Without dreams, there’s just reality”. Nicole Hansen as Mary also delivers her lines without mistakes, and the two make a perfect duo of pretty people wandering through the wasteland. On the enemy side, John Saint Ryan gives his best Terminator impression with a mighty mustache, and a very AI-untypical appetite for sadism.
The Ultimate Hiking Trip Through a Post-Apocalyptic Cityscape
American Cyborg: Steel Warrior can be enjoyed purely as a travel documentary through post-apocalyptic industrial ruins. Fortunately, lots of action is also thrown into the mix, with Austin and Mary encountering many unfriendly inhabitants of the wasteland and crossing paths with the enforcer multiple times.
But the quality of the action sequences is modest at best. The fights and shootouts are delivered with a static cinematography and are not inventive. It’s all run of the mill stuff, but the many fights and shootouts at least keep coming almost non-stop. There is also a one-in-three chance that something hit by a bullet will explode. One remarkable aspect is that the movie embraces verticality in the action sequences with factory staircases, ladders and elevators often being the stage for mayhem.
American Cyborg: Steel Warrior may be not an eternal classic of Sci-Fi action, but if you can’t get enough from watching a hiking trip through industrial ruins with frantic shootouts and a big cheese factor, you’re in for a lot of fun!