Manborg [thoughts + spoilers]

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Title: Manborg

Director: Steven Kostanski

Cast: Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Meredith Sweeney, Ludwig Lee, Adam Brooks

Production Company: Astron-6

Plot: A reanimated soldier wakes up in a nightmarish future world where a demon called Count Draculon won. All humans are either enslaved or dead, except two Australians, a treacherous scientist, an Asian martial arts fan and a dubbing artist. It’s up to Manborg to entertain them all for the next 60 minutes.

Subplot: The Baron is feeling things he’s never felt before in places Count Draculon never told him he had. But does the Australian girl feel the same way?

Subplot 2: An amateur martial artist breathes a sigh of relief as he discovers his limited skills are better than anything the bad guys have got and secretly pines for one of the only two women left in the world. Will she overcome typical Hollywood prejudice and accept that Asian men also have sex? Or will she overcome typical Hollywood prejudice and accept that female characters don’t have to fuck a guy by the end of every movie?

Subplot 3: An Australian lout feels positive about things until labels start appearing with words on them. Who put them there? Why are they all in Russian?

Subplot 4: Count Draculon conquers the world and shacks up with Mary Elizabeth Winstead to celebrate good times with buckets full of plum wine. But the party never seems to stop for Draculon, even when Winstead says she’s giving up the booze. Can he get past this or will he drag them both down into the abyss?

Notes:

Manborg is absolutely all over the place.

Seeing the opening five minutes is like seeing that little mermaid statue in Copenhagen and thinking, jesus, this cannot be it.

The dialogue, CGI, and plot is so basic and cheap and…actually, I looked at the running time straight away and if it hadn’t been an hour long I probably would’ve stopped the film right there and then.

But then the CGI kind of grows on you. I can’t explain why or what exactly they’re doing, but it seems to be some kind of method where each shot is of characters moving towards the camera in an action pose and then passing it before moving on to the next one. So, in one of the chase scenes, for example, you’ve got Manborg on a hoverbike zooming from one corner of the shot to the other, then a switch to the bad guys doing the same thing, but at a slightly different angle.

Man, it’s really hard to explain…I know there must be a technical term for this, but I don’t know what it is. Basically, if you picture manga movies then you’ll get a pretty good idea of what I mean.

Also, all the sets look like sci-fi paintings, but dipped in 16 bit fluid, so they look big and impressive, but not real in any way. And somehow it works. The characters move through the landscape like those players in ITV kids show ‘Nightmare’, which makes them even more cartoonish and…

The writers/director wanted it to be this way

Yup, it’s clearly intentional, and a piss-take. I’m not sure what it’s taking the piss out of…old Van Damme films like Cyborg maybe…

But the reason it works, whereas something like Bloodsucking Bastards doesn’t, is: it gets the balance and tone right.

By balance, I mean: the characters don’t do punchlines, they do the plot.

They each play a type…archetype maybe…I’m not sure…is the Australian sidekick an archetype? I suppose he could be the comic relief and the doubter rolled into one. Are they archetypes? Or just types in 80’s action sci fi?

Number One Man is the one note Asian tough guy who knows Kung Fu, is dubbed and isn’t allowed to act on his secret love towards Mina.

Actually, it’s kind of implied that they might become a couple at the end, which is a nice touch, as Hollywood usually tells us that Asian men don’t have sex. Remember Jackie Chan and his schoolboy kiss with the Latino agent in Rush Hour 2? Or Hiro in Heroes?

Mina is the tough girl, defined by her toughness, who’s ready to show that toughness by fighting a demon version of her mum.

Justice [Australian guy] is pure ocker…and plays the comic relief without making every single line a joke. He’s protective of his sister [Mina], critical of Manborg and Number One Man, and not at all worried when he becomes illiterate halfway through the film.

In fact, his best scenes are a] when he misreads ‘elevator’ as ‘danger’, and b] when he’s riding the bike into the wasteland outside the city and narrating what he sees:

“That guy’s house is made out of newspaper…that means he’s por…poor…there’s burger wrappers everywhere…I think that guy’s got garbage on his head…I may take that garbage off your head…aw, he can’t even hear a word I’m saying.’

And, Manborg, is the man-child hero who must find the strength inside himself to stab Count Draculon in the neck with a chopstick.

The comedy doesn’t need to come from the dialogue, though it sometimes does, because the plot is so weird/stupid/basic.

It also helps that the whole thing’s an hour long. If it tried to stretch it out to 90 minutes, 80 minutes even, it wouldn’t work cos there’s not enough in the character or the plot to make it work.

What else?

The exception to the character rule is the no. 1 henchman, Baron something, which is probably the only misstep as he falls into the Bloodsucking Bastards trap of making almost every one of his lines a quip.

It works once, when the scientist is talking to him about his relationship with Count Draculon.

Scientist: ‘I thought you two got along well.’

Baron: ‘When he’s sober…’

It’s mostly the actor’s delivery that makes this funny, but it’s also the surprise factor. I didn’t expect him to answer in that way. It’s so oddball and unpremeditated. Does Count Draculon have a drinking problem? There’s no reference to it before this scene, which is where the surprise comes from.

But then the Baron carries on and on, taking flowers to Mina in her cell and bumping into the laser bars and saying, ‘ah, where did they come from?’

Like Bloodsucking Bastards, it’s not unfunny what he’s saying, it’s just predictable after he does it for the seventeenth time.

It’s weird cos the balance of the dialogue in the rest of the film is pretty great. Each character is true to their type 80% of the time and then, sometimes, there’ll be a weird line or quip dropped in to show a bit of personality.

With the Baron, it becomes 80% his character, which makes it a problem when he has to fight Number One Man at the end as he hasn’t played the intimidating henchman part of his character since his first scene where he welcomes Manborg to the prison.

Maybe that was the point.

Maybe it’s saying that the characters of 80’s action sci-fi were also erratic and we were too young to notice.

Maybe it ties into the other tangents in the film.

The other tangents

I already said one of them above, which was:

i] the illiteracy of Justice [the Australian guy]

I’ve only watched the film once, but as far as I remember, Justice did not show any signs of illiteracy in the first 30 minutes. Did he?

But then it suddenly appears and for no reason too. It doesn’t serve any purpose for the plot…he doesn’t have to read something important or the whole group of them will die…it’s just used mostly as a way for him to make the elevator/danger joke at the end.

Oh, and this one:

Justice: [trying to read a label for ‘Grenades’] ‘Alright buddy, just sound it out: G…R…backwards 3?’

ii] There’s no heaven for Manborg

The greatest tangent of them all…not even really a tangent as it happens right at the end of the film, but it’s surprising.

Basically…

Mina’s been hit by something sharp and dies [kind of]. Justice moans and cries, Number One Man mumbles a eulogy for his sex life, while Manborg takes out his liquid core and pours it into Mina’s mouth, reviving her. Everyone’s happy until Manborg tells them that was the last of his liquid core and starts to die. The scientist appears, as does Manborg’s dead brother, and they say it’s okay, everyone dies. Manborg nods. Then the brother adds that there’s no afterlife, dead is dead. Manborg dies melancholy right before the undead troll him brilliantly by rising up to enslave the world again.

Yup, Manborg sacrificing himself to save Mina, that’s predictable to a degree, but his brother’s ghost turning up and randomly blurting out, ‘hey bro, there’s no heaven,’ is so pointless and leftfield that it becomes brilliant.

iii] Come dance with me

Why does Justice start dancing and shooting? No idea, but it’s unpredictable and it doesn’t go on so long that it makes your brain hurt, so it works.

As does his narrative on the bike, which somehow manages to let him comment on the bleakness of the world they’re in while also saying something ridiculous.

I think it’s all in his tone for that one…he says the ‘garbage on the guy’s head’ line like it’s the most tragic, inevitable thing in the world…

What about Manborg?

The actor playing him is quite good, and his arc goes from A to B to Draculon in the expected way, and…what else?

Actually, Manborg is not really a large part of what makes Manborg work. He just acts as a prop for the rest of the cast to hang on. I never really felt anything for him or his arc, not the same way I felt for Murphy in Robocop.

But Robocop was grade A cinema, not low grade 80’s action sci-fi so that’s probably where the difference lies.

His smile is quite awkward and funny though.

Anything else?

The theme playing over the end credits reminded me of one of the themes from an old NES game, possibly Mega Man.

Makes me think this whole thing was more a parody of a video game than any movie, but how could that be when the plot of Mega Man was just the intro text at the start and the ‘congratulations, you’ve murdered an elderly professor’ at the end.

Maybe the writers of Manborg imagined Mega Man as a movie, fixed it in their memory and made a parody out of that.

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