FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological*
Though my re-viewing of Albert Pyun's 1992 cult favorite NEMESIS indicated to me that Pyun made a pretty bad dimestore Ridley Scott, a re-screening of the three NEMESIS sequels suggests that he did considerably better when he copied off the paper of James Cameron in his TERMINATOR phase.
Speculating on influence may be a mug's game. One Wiki source speculated that NEMESIS 2 might have started out as a project unrelated to the original movie, and that the second film was just shoehorned into the series. Yet another Wiki source, quoting Pyun, states that the director's original idea for NEMESIS was that the hero would be a 13-year-old girl who got involved in cyborg-fighting, and that Pyun was obliged to use Olivier Gruner by the studio. If translations of BATTLE ANGEL ALITA had been available back in the nineties, I might have speculated that the director was then contemplating some sort of "cyborg-gamin" idea along the lines of ALITA. Yet whatever sort of heroine Pyun entertained when he started NEMESIS, it seems pretty likely that the "buff heroine" of Cameron's 1991 TERMINATOR 2 displaced that concept, since Pyun took a chance on giving the sequel's starring role for the sequel to Sue Price, an American bodybuilding star with no previous cinematic experience.
Now, my comment about Pyun being indebted to Cameron's techniques is not mean to propose an invidious comparison between Scott and Cameron, both of whom have excellent story-sense, unlike Pyun. But Pyun does have a raw talent for choreographing bracing action-scenes, and it's on that level that NEMESIS 2 succeeds.
The prologue for 2 establishes that 70 years after the events of NEMESIS, the cyborgs did take over Earth, much as Skynet succeeded in eradicating humanity. However, a group of rebels manage to invent a unique form of DNA that will breed a new race of naturally enhanced humans, able to fight the cyborgs. The cyborgs pursue the rebels, so the rebels inject the DNA into the womb of a volunteer, and send the volunteer back in time, to hide in 1980s Africa. The mutant baby-- for some reason given the same first name as the hero from NEMESIS-- is born, but the mother is slain by insurgents. A kindly African tribesman adopts the infant and raises her in his tribe, and somehow she's raised with the name Alex (Price) even though the mother didn't convey it to anyone.
Pyun still doesn't want to deal with emotional matters too deeply, for all we get of Alex's life with the tribe is one scene where she's hunting with the male tribesmen. Some of them admire her fantastic muscularity-- apparently her DNA gives her instant muscles a la Captain America-- but one fellow challenges her to a fight. Alex beats him easily, after which she complains about not knowing her true nature to a more sympathetic tribesman. He unveils what he knows of her background, but before Alex can think what to do next, a cyborg from the future arrives and devastates Alex's tribe in search of her.
The cyborg, Nebula by name, shimmers a bit for no good reason. Maybe that was Pyun's attempt to suggest that the creature had metamorphic abilities like the T-1000 from TERMINATOR 2, but the hunter shows no such abilities here. (The android does morph once in the sequel.) NEMESIS 2 is just one long chase scene, with the ripped Amazon heroine fending off both the cyborg and various vicious insurgents. She also meets some outsiders and tries to help them escape, though when one of them gets the chance, she leaves Alex flat. In the end Alex defeats the powerful cyborg, but she's still stuck in Africa without a tribe to call her own.
Price is quite appealing as the put-upon heroine, and comes off as far more natural than most actors cast for their physiques. The next sequel, subtitled variously TIME LAPSE and PREY HARDER, keeps Alex confined to the deserts of Africa (actually Arizona), and this time she gets pursued by several cyborgs. A couple of them are just as buff as Alex, so that they seem like rough mirror-images, though they lack her emotional range. More notably, Cyborg-Farnsworth from the first NEMESIS, again played by Tim Thomerson, also takes a time-flip back to 1980. To make up for these greater numbers, Alex befriends a couple of European mercenaries who help her against the time-trippers.
NEMESIS 3 throws a new monkey-wrench into the works. It's established that there are other DNA "sisters" to Alex, though she's supposedly the only one who can breed superhumans-- and at least one sister, given the name "Raine," also after "Alex Rain"-- has traveled to the 1980s. But here we see Pyun mangling his logic as he did in the first film, for Farnsworth overtakes Alex, who's conveniently lost her memory since the previous opus. The heroine knows nothing about her "sisters," so Farnsworth, instead of just extinguishing the threat to his race, downloads memories into Alex's brain. Does he think this will help him find the other mutants? Alex incapacitates Farnsworth and escapes, but he rallies and the hunt is on again. There are some decent fight-scenes and even an occasional good touch of humor. However, Pyun seems to have no idea how to deliver on the idea that his character is going to birth a race of superhumans, so he opts to end the film by having Alex lose both her memory and her contact with her allies.
NEMESIS 4, while somewhat enjoyable in fits and spurts, shows Pyun-- once more working with Rebecca Charles-- mining the BLADERUNNER vein once more. Not only does Pyun shuttle his heroine "back to the future" of her namesake, he drops the idea that she's going to birth the saviors of the human race. Maybe she uses one of the cyborgs' time-vehicles to travel to the future she's supposed to redeem? But Pyun never says so, and 4's prologue merely claims that in 2280 cyborgs and humans exist in a state of uneasy detente, rather than one controlling the other.
Somehow, this Alex has become a professional assassin, icing victims as ordered by various syndicates, and accepting commissions from a contact man named Bernardo (Andrew Divoff). Alex doesn't really like her job, though she justifies herself by claiming she only kills bad people. And though like Alex Rain she likes to deem herself human, she too has had various cybernetic implants added to her muscular form. But Alex makes a mistake and aces the wrong target.
This sounds like it ought to yield a high-energy action-opus, full of futuristic gun-battles. However, this time out Pyun's pace is often slower and more meditative. In between knocking off gangsters-- one of whom, another hitman, complains that she's a disgrace to the profession-- Alex sometimes beholds an eerie woman in black. Much of her dialogue is peppered with talk about crying angels-- "Cry of Angels" is the film's subtitle-- so on some level Pyun must have been trying to claim that she was suffering from guilt at having extinguished lives. This may be Pyun's greatest effort to incorporate some subtlety into his repertoire, and I appreciate that, despite the muddled results.
Alex, sure that she's going to be knocked off soon, calls an old hitman/lover (not previously mentioned) and asks him to do the job. Inevitably, given Alex's sexiness, they have intercourse first-- at which point, for no damn reason, the dark "angel" shows up and tries to kill Alex. Alex kills the angel instead, and then she recognizes that it's a cyborg known as "the Mother," who works for Bernardo. It was Alex's contact man who set her up to fail so that he could profit from her getting hit by his agent, so Alex and her lover settle Bernardo's hash-- amid much talk about crying angels, of course. And that finishes up Alex's nineties career, and as the movie closes Pyun includes a montage of scenes from all three films, just to make clear that she's the same character in all of them despite all the narrative inconsistencies.
In this summation I've leaped over the thing that makes NEMESIS 4 stand out from the other two movies: Sue Price is nude through many scenes, and not only in scenes where she's having sex. I personally have no problem with this: in the first films the actress was putting her muscles on display for the delectation of viewers, and here she shows both breasts and muscles (and a quick look at you know what). NEMESIS 4 certainly isn't motivated by "art" in the arthouse sense. And yet there might be a loose correlation between Alex's guilt over killing and her somewhat masochistic impulse to display herself. It's probably also not coincidence that this version of Alex is supposed to be part-cyborg like her namesake. Did Pyun have the germ of an idea of a cyborg trying to assert her humanity via nudity, or did he just want the nudity no matter what? (I should note that despite inhabiting a major city, Alex during her peregrinations hardly ever encounters anyone who's not a hitman, so in a sense she exists in a bottle, where going around nude has few consequences.) I doubt that Pyun's thought ran very deep despite these arty motifs. Yet, compared to some of the no-talents in the action-movie business, Pyun does sometimes have the germ of good ideas, if not the ability to pull them off.