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You’ve Gotta See Johnny Mnemonic – Essential Cyberpunk Cinema

by Cory De La Guardia
Johnny Mnemonic

You’ve Gotta See Johnny Mnemonic

There aren’t a ton of actors who are so closely associated with science fiction films with such strong cyberpunk concepts as Keanu Reeves. Perhaps one of his least celebrated but equally as awesome works  is Johnny Mnemonic. It’s the story of a courier in the year 2021 who works to transport sensitive data from place to place via an implant in his head.

The movie is full of corporate Yakuza, augmented humans and even a code breaking dolphin. Johnny Mnemonic leans all the way into the cyberpunk subgenre. It goes all out in an action packed, fast paced ride that every nerd should have checked out.

Why haven’t you seen Johnny Mnemonic?

You've Gotta See Johnny Mnemonic - Essential Cyberpunk Cinema

Badass Supporting Cast — Henry Rollins, Ice-T & Dolph Lundgren

The film is oddly littered with several iconic and cult classic type actors including Henry Rollins, Dolph Lundgren but most interestingly, Ice T.  The hip-hop icon’s has the pivotal role of  J-Bone, leader of the Lo-Tek movement. He’s a man of mystery who takes an interest in all the activity buzzing around Johnny.  Reeve portrays Johnny as a rather dark main character reminiscent of his role Constantine.

Johnny has part of his brain cut out in order to take on the job of digital courier, which sacrificed his long term memories in order to fit the device that holds 80 GB of encrypted data. That’s how he makes his living. Henry Rollins plays the role of Spider, a first-class cyberpunk street doctor.

Then there’s Karl, AKA The Street Preacher (Dolph Lundgren), who has had most of his entire body replaced with cybernetic parts, making him more machine than man. We’re not convinced everything was installed properly, as Dolph’s next big-screen appearance was in 2010’s The Expendables.

The Coke Nail from Hell

Shinji, played by Denis Akiyama, has got a lightsaber piano wire that is connected to his left thumbnail. He’s able to pull it out and whip it around like a lasso. He chops off fingers, decapitates people and cuts the locks of doors. This thing is versatile and is unique amongst all of film. There hasn’t been a more iconic melee weapon in all of science fiction weapon-dom.

Editors Note: Ice-9 and Snow Crash aren't melee weapons.

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You've Gotta See Johnny Mnemonic - Essential Cyberpunk Cinema

You just Kind of Have to Accept The Hacker Dolphin

Overall, the movie has a quick runtime. It doesn’t waste too much time on world building and setting up concepts and characters for a long trilogy. Johnny Mnemonic just jumps into a world, sets it up with some text in the beginning and then goes on a big adventure. Characters are introduced with a simple sentence or two. If things need to be further explained, they can be. The world feels natural because so much is left unexplained. It’s a simpler but much more exciting movie to watch for this reason. It just starts sprinting. Very quickly in this film people are getting shot up, laser-whip-finger-nailed to death and cybernetic limbs are frozen and smashed off. There’s a lot going on in the movie but it all happens with very condensed storytelling. It’s a fun and fast watch.

Numerous things are just sort of moved past as quickly as they’re introduced. In the third act, the only thing that can potentially help hack Johnny’s implant and get the data out before the cerebral seepage kills him is a modified and augmented dolphin created by the Navy to help scout out enemy subs. The dolphin, not to be confused with Dolph Lundgren,  is now used by the Lo-Tek movement to hack television satellites to broadcast secret data. Yes, that sentence doesn’t make a ton of sense. In the movie, Reeve’s character reacts accordingly before saying, “well I’m kind of out of time and options, so hacker dolphin it is”. They power walk right past it.

You've Gotta See Johnny Mnemonic - Essential Cyberpunk Cinema

This Movie Sure is Timely

The film is set in a fictional 2021 where a mysterious virus has slowly ravaged the population of the world. Corporations now essentially control everything.  The biggest company has partnered with the villainous Yakuza, the powerful Asian street gang that controls the criminal underworld.

One would be remiss to point out how much that feels like the modern world we’re staring down these days. It’s a world awash in uncertainty, dealing with tensions and an angry public feeling like there are corporate powers at play holding down the average man. The film doesn’t feel absurdly futuristic. There are some things that are a step or two out there. Although, the idea that the internet and video calls being widely accessible is common these days.

If you haven’t seen it, you really need to. Johnny Mnemonic is a fantastic low end mid-90s movie that somehow clung to the back of the minds of nerds everywhere like an implant. It’s a fast movie with an eclectic cast of “oh I know that guy”. It uses a visually iconic arsenal of low-tech futuristic weapons to create a society not too far off from our present. That is impressive, considering this movie was made over two decades ago.  

We know cyberpunk movies, so let us tell you what you’re missing. What’s timeless? What didn’t age so well? Share this article, and we’ll make the case for Johnny Mnemonic.

Did we miss something here? Was there an unforgettable scene or classic one-liner that just shouldn’t be left out? What are your favorite parts of this movie? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll try to update the article with your suggestions!

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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