You Must Watch Keanu Reeves’ Most Underrated Sci-Fi Movie On Netflix ASAP
Before The matrix wowed everyone with just one karate kick, sci-fi writers like William Gibson have envisioned equally bleak futures where technology and authoritarianism reign supreme.
It is important to note that Gibson was not the inventor of the cyberpunk subgenre – Gibson himself claims the influence of Samuel R. Delany – but he is unquestionably a giant in his field. In 1984 Gibson published his first novel, Neuromancer, in which a failed hacker is hired for a final job that unintentionally puts him in conflict with a powerful form of AI
But Gibson had a shared universe of work before Neuromancer. Posted in the pages of Omni magazine in 1981 was the short story “Johnny Mnemonic”, which introduced the Neuromancer Molly Millions character. In “Mnemonic”, data traffickers undergo cyber surgeries to implant data stores into their heads, essentially turning their brains into flash drives.
It was a high concept in 1981, but by the 90s computers had found their way into the everyday home. With the advent of the internet, even mainstream moviegoers could grab things like hard drive space and young people finding like-minded people to define themselves against a conservative ruling class. In 1999, The matrix, along with Keanu Reeves, would use the many subgenres of science fiction (including cyberpunk) to create a mosaic that pushed cinema forward for the next twenty years.
This is not an article on this film. Instead, this is the 1995 film Johnny Mnemonic, the other Keanu Reeves’ 90s sci-fi that too explored a metaversal internet, cybernetic body modification, and rebellion against capitalist oppression. (Spoilers: it’s not as good as The matrix, but with the right mindset, you might find it just as appealing.)
Directed by Robert Longo (in his only theatrical film to date), Johnny Mnemonic stars Reeves as “Johnny” (not to be confused with Reeve’s video game character Johnny Silverhand), a courier who carries valuable data across borders. The year is 2021, and mega-tech companies rule as a deadly virus known as “Nerve Attenuation Syndrome,” or NAS, continues to spread. (Did I mention it was science fiction?)
At the start of the film, Johnny takes on a dangerous job carrying more data than it can physically hold from Beijing to Newark. What Johnny doesn’t know is what the data contains, but it puts him in the sights of a powerful Yakuza gang hired by a company to recover the files. With the help of a novice “bodyguard”, Jane (Dina Meyer) – a character who takes Molly Millions’ place in the film due to bizarre copyright issues with Neuromancer back then – Johnny is racing against the clock to unload data before it overloads his own brain.
Comparisons with The matrix are only obvious at the beginning. Like Neo, Johnny seems aloof in a tech world that’s Gigeresque, with plenty of tubes connecting other tubes and all the flavors of headphones that look like discarded Sharper Image products. Also as The matrix, Reeves’ character is aided by a group of ragged underground rebels who operate assembled machines built from junk.
But the comparisons end there. While The matrix dared to push the film medium forward with innovative designs inspired by the masters of Hong Kong, Mnemonic is much more conventional than a Hollywood movie keen to get carried away by its cutting edge CGI, which has aged worse than a PlayStation 1 game.
Corn Johnny Mnemonic still delivers fun, even for audiences actually living in 2021. It’s fun to see what the film gets ârightâ about its future (aka, our present). The image of Reeves walking through masked protests on the Beijing mainland is strongly suggestive of pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong in recent years, while his portrayal of “video calls” isn’t too far off in this smartphone world. . It’s also great fun to see those video calls choppy and slow due to the movie’s sponsored service provider – AT&T.
Addition to MnemonicThe appeal of ‘s is its supporting cast of male male actors. Dolph Lundgren, Ice-T, Henry Rollins, and Japanese icon Takeshi Kitano all play alongside Reeves, effectively doing so Johnny Mnemonic perhaps the most “Dudes rock” science fiction film ever made.
Of particular note is Kitano, the film’s main villain who runs the mega-corporation that literally wants the head of Reeves. While the Japanese cut of Mnemonic Introduces the character of Kitano more to make him a likable character, the American version is ruthlessly efficient, gutting just enough to get the point across without letting it simmer.
It’s a shame because Takeshi Kitano has never enjoyed any real success outside of his native Japan despite his long career. (His last US photo was the maligned 2017 adaptation of Ghost in the shell, who made poor use of his talents.) At least Mnemonic glimpses what Kitano and Reeves might be able to do together if they both received a more worthy platform.
Johnny Mnemonic is an overlooked gem in Reeves’ filmography that deserves to sit in the shadow of The matrix. It lacks the careful and cerebral elegance of The matrix and recklessly double its construction of the video game world. (One of the most laughable lines in the movie is when the year â2006â is pronounced as âTwenty Oh-Six.â)
Not even the actual involvement with the William Gibson rescues Mnemonic. The author, who wrote the screenplay for his own adaptation, even admits that he had to make compromises to make the film.
In a 2010 interview with Wired, Gibson and Robert Longo said they both wanted a 1.5 million dollar “arty” movie. Ironically, no studio would fund a $ 1.5 million art film. But for $ 30 million? It’s a blockbuster that Hollywood costumes could understand.
âWe walked in and asked for a million and a half, and they laughed,â Gibson said. “It wasn’t until we started asking a lot more that they started to take it seriously.”
In a previous interview from 1998, Gibson recalled what happened to Johnny Mnemonic and its muted response at the box office. (He grossed $ 52 million worldwide against a budget of $ 26 million. Not bad, but not great.) He said, “and it’s gone from a very funny, very alternative job to something that had been cut unsuccessfully and cut into something more common. “
Frighteningly, it was the marketing of Johnny Mnemonic – and how the studio thought of it not as a movie, but as a product – that gives it a real legacy. Despite the defense of freedom from business, Mnemonic was a big deal for Sony’s vertical integration, as almost every branch of the Sony empire was armed, from Columbia Records to ImageWorks, which made a CD-ROM game after the movie. (Although not for Sony’s PlayStation, oddly.)
In a 1995 Los Angeles Times story, a Sony executive said, âWe see the internet as turbocharged word of mouth. Instead of one person telling another that something good is going on, they are one person telling millions!
In 1995, Johnny Mnemonic planned our present in a way that no one, not even himself, could imagine.
Johnny Mnemonic is now streaming on Netflix.