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The original Nemesis (1992) was a good example of how to make a dystopian science-fiction action romp. It transcended its budgetary limitations thanks to an intelligent screenplay that left plenty to explore in potential sequels. It also proved quite lucrative in the home video market. Nemesis (1992) had style to spare and its action was explosive and elegant enough that it had some minor Hong Kong aspirations. Olivier Gruner couldn’t act if his life depended on it but he was surrounded by an ensemble of players that (for the most part) have gone to have respectable careers in Hollywood. What sold Nemesis (1992) is that it combined John Woo bullet ballet action sequences (complete with trenchcoats, sunglasses and short-skirted babes branding big guns) with faux-philosophical wanderings about the human condition and what it means to be human. It was equal parts Blade Runner (1982), RoboCop (1987) with a nigh on indestructable enemy modeled liberally after The Terminator (1984). In short, it was everything (and more) you’d want out of a science-fiction/action romp. There was tons of promise and potential for a franchise after its initial manifesting. Unfortunately nothing is ever as straightforward and Nemesis 2: Nebula is a first such exhibit.

Before long Hawaiian director Albert Pyun found himself back at the drawingboard to start pre-production on a possible follow-up. One of the primary aspects that was responsible for lifting Nemesis (1992) out of the dregs of the low-budget action morass was an articulate screenplay written by Rebecca Charles and an uncredited David S. Goyer. Neither had any interest in returning for the sequel and neither had Parisian kickboxer Olivier Gruner that matter. In fact nobody from the original returned. Those hoping to see Tim Thomerson, Thom Mathews, or Brion James as primary antagonists will be sorely disappointed and equally absent are Borovnisa Blervaque, Marjorie Monaghan, and Merle Kennedy. This where things get murky and it’s not clear what led to the materializing of the feature that would eventually become Nemesis 2: Nebula. What is clear is that in 1995 Pyun helmed a feature starring Sue Price and Chad Stahelski in the barren deserts of Globe, Arizona. The shooting was fertile and the finished feature was over three hours long. It’s unclear whether it was Pyun or his producers who vetoed that the excess footage of the shoot was to be used to edit together a third feature along with newly shot footage from additional production days. Whereas Nemesis (1992) was a budget-efficient derivative of James Cameron’s infinitely superior The Terminator (1984), Nemesis 2: Nebula blatantly apes John McTiernan’s Predator (1987) and George P. Cosmatos’ Rambo (1985) instead.

Replacing the absent Olivier Gruner is award-winning bodybuilder Sue Price who landed the part Kristie Phillips and Kathy Long auditioned for. Stuntman Chad Stahelski is the titular Nebula, a cybernetic infiltration unit decked out with light-bending camouflage, a mounted shoulder-cannon, and various surveillance options (radar, infra-red, audio, voice analytics, et al) in its HUD. Nebula also happens to look like a cross between Predator (1987), David Cronenberg’s iteration of The Fly (1986) and one of the rubber-suited monsters from Infra Man (1975). The other well-known face in the cast is Tina Cote who went from an extra in Francis Ford Coppola’s opulent Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) to the wacky world of Albert Pyun in just a few years. For reasons largely unexplained director Pyun has decided to abandon the dystopian cyberpunk setting of the original Nemesis and along with it much its over-the-top Hong Kong heroic bloodshed inspired cinematography, gunplay, and stuntwork. Depending on the scene Nemesis 2: Nebula either tends to look like as a gender-swapped Rambo (1985) or a post-apocalyptic desert flick from Cirio H. Santiago. In fact this would have worked better as a feminine variant on Rambo than anything else. Nemesis 2: Nebula looks as if it was it was a stand-alone production with the Nemesis mythology forcibly shoehorned in to make the most of what little budget was around. Suffice to say, Nemesis 2: Nebula barely has any connection to the 1992 original. It marked the start of a strange journey that would continue with the futile Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) (or Prey Harder, depending on the territory) and take a turn for the bizarre with the staggeringly incompetent Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996).

2077. Humanity has been enslaved by the cyborgs. 73 years have passed since Alex Rain valiantly tried to topple the cyborg uprising… and failed. Scientists have developed a new strain of DNA, injected it into a baby girl (Zachary Studer) and a volunteer surrogate mother Zana (Karen Studer) has agreed to carry her to term. When the cyborgs find out about Zana and the DNA baby they send out platinum blonde twin mercenaries Lock (Sharon Bruneau) and Ditko (Debbie Muggli) to ensure that mother and daughter are both destroyed. Zana is able to transport the baby back to 1980 East Africa before being killed. A local tribe accepts the orphaned baby as one of their own and in the year 2000, some twenty years, later Alex Raine (Sue Price) has become a formidable, musclebound warrior. Having at long last found Alex’ present whereabouts the cyborgs dispatch a highly-advanced bounty hunter called Nebula (Chad Stahelski) to dispose of the genetically-engineered Raine who’s prophesied to bring down the cyborg regime. Amidst the chaos of her various confrontations with Nebula in the desert Alex runs into shady treasure hunters Emily (Tina Cote) and Sam (Tracy Davis) who have chartered a small plane and hide mysterious golden coins. Will Raine be strong enough to defeat Nebula with only these primitive weapons at her disposal?

What Nemesis 2: Nebula makes painfully clear is that Albert Pyun is a terrible screenwriter. Had this remained the stand-alone feature it was probably intended as things would be a whole lot different. As far as Predator (1987) and Rambo (1985) derivatives go, this one is at least halfway entertaining. However as a Nemesis (1992) follow-up there’s no reason to be quite so charitable and forgiving. Even as a in-name only sequel Nemesis 2: Nebula only has the flimsiest of connections to the original and it makes the cardinal mistake of inventing an entire new mythology that at no point resembles or echoes the spirit or aesthetic of its superior forebear. Pyun has the new Alex Raine engaged in a decisive confrontation with a highly-advanced adversary that never was so much as mentioned in the original. It also places Raine a good 4 years ahead of the timeline of Nemesis (1992) which raises all sorts of questions: if, theoretically speaking, Alex Raine defeated the cyborg threat in 2000 doesn’t that render her efforts futile as her genetic forefather Alex Rain was fighting the uprising in 2004 still? If Nebula and time-travel devices existed in the original timeline why then did the cyborgs not send Nebula after the original Alex Rain instead of an isolated, solitary infiltration unit (Farnsworth)? Pyun’s screenplay creates a whole set of new problems that Nemesis (1992) was free of because Rebecca Charles and David S. Goyer actually knew what they were doing. Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) and Nemesis 4: Cry Of Angels (1996) in no shape or form ever helped forwarding the narrative. No. Only Dustin Ferguson’s belated sequel Nemesi5: the New Model (2018) would attempt that, but it did so by drawing all the wrong conclusions from the three Sue Price episodes.

Under the circumstances Sue Price is the least of the production’s rather fundamental problems. Price acquits herself admirably in what in charitably can be described as a 90-minute chase scene. Pyun was wise enough to limit Price’s dialogues to be absolute required minimum to maintain a simulacrum of humanity. Price throws herself into the character in the way you’d expect of a professional athlete and fate has been somewhat retroactively cruel to her as her appearance in Nemesis 2: Nebula and Nemesis 3: Time Lapse (1996) at least should have made her a reliable supporting actress in low-budget action and science-fiction. Was Sue Price ever good enough an actress to headline her own feature? That’s debatable but Albert Pyun also worked with Robert Patrick shortly after his tenure in Filipino exploitation with Cirio H. Santiago. Patrick cut his teeth under Santiago and only became an action hopeful with a small supporting part in Die Hard 2 (1990) (where he had but a single line of dialogue) which led to him being cast in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Price, on the other hand, never was given such an opportunity. Also upgraded in the company of stock players is Pyun muse Tina Cote who would become the director’s de facto leading lady from this point forward. As these things tend to go Cote never got her due either and she’s criminally underused in a plot that’s barely threadbare to begin with. Had this followed the dystopian cyberpunk setting of the original Tina Cote had made a decent replacement for Marjorie Monaghan. Why Borovnisa Blervaque never was cast in a Pyun production again is a question for the ages too as she was the best thing about Nemesis (1992) by far.

That Nemesis 2: Nebula looks and feels completely different from Nemesis (1992) gives credence to the notion that it was originally conceived as a different stand-alone feature. The differences are staggering and everything that made Pyun’s surprise minor cyberpunk/action hit so brazen and inventive is sorely absent in the sequel. Nemesis 2: Nebula would probably have been a lot better had it been kept in its intended form. As a brute science fiction/action hybrid it’s worthwhile enough and can compete with many a post-nuke action flick from either Italy or the Philippines. However it’s beholden to a whole set of different expectations since it comes bearing the Nemesis (1992) name. Nemesis 2: Nebula has only the most threadbare of connections to the movie from whence it came and does nothing to forward the mythology. Sue Price shouldn’t bear the brunt of the blame for the fiasco this turned into. No. The blame should squarely be cast at the feet of writer/director Albert Pyun and his moneymen. At some point during production someone, either in the director’s chair or on the production end, should have realized that Nemesis 2: Nebula bore about zero connection with Nemesis (1992). Had this been turned into a stand-alone mini-franchise then Price could’ve probably built a modest career out of it. Nemesis 2: Nebula (and its ill-begotten sequels) damaged the careers of everybody involved. Somehow you’d expect more from a franchise name after the ancient Greek goddess of retribution.


Plot: disgraced bounty hunter ponders the human condition while killing people

Nemesis was the only of the original quadrilogy to have any discernable talent in front of, and behind, the camera. Albert Pyun wasn't always the schlockmeister he eventually turned into. In 1992 he was a halfway promising action movie director. Above all else Nemesis is stylized in its adrenaline-pumping mix of martial arts, dystopian science fiction, and Hong Kong heroic bloodshed. Elevated beyond mere pulp thanks to a tight script that intelligently borrows from James Cameron, John Woo, and Paul Verhoeven Nemesis attempts, no matter how daftly shot and generic, to say something, anything, about the human condition. While there might not be much flesh to its metallic bones, the machine beneath it is rock-solid.

The screenplay, written by Rebecca Charles and an uncredited David S. Goyer, paints a dystopian future vision reminiscent of a William Gibson novel. In the distant future of 2027 Japan and America have merged, economically and politically,  and man and machine have become intertwined. Cybergenetics and human augmentation have become everyday commodities. Information terrorism is the order of the day. LAPD officer Alex Rain (Olivier Gruner) is tasked with intercepting data chip smuggler Morico (Borovnisa Blervaque), resulting in massive collateral damage and the woman’s head being blown off. Rain is chased, and eventually killed, by chief gunwoman Rosaria (Jennifer Gatti). In a scene mirroring the resurrection of Alex Murphy in RoboCop (1987) Rain (or what remains of him at any rate) is taken to the Marshall Islands where he's re-assembled through bio-engineering and synthetic reconstruction. The then-partial cybernetic Rain is sent to apprehend Morico in Baja, New Mexico. Rain is debriefed by his android handler Jared (Marjorie Monaghan, a less square-jawed Megan Boone) and her blonde partner (Marjean Holden). His old mentor LAPD Commissioner Sam Farnsworth (Tim Thomerson) deems Rain fit for new field operations. Instead he decides to retire to New Rio De Janeiro as a black market mercenary.

Rain's rest is short-lived as his explosive reputation and predilection towards violence puts Farnsworth, now at a genexus between man and machine, and his henchman Maritz (Brion James) on his tail. Both men have other plans and coerce him into accepting a mission to track down his former handler Jared, who has since gone rogue. To get Rain to do their bidding they install a small explosive charge in his heart. Now forced to cooperate against his will Rain tracks Jared down to Shang Loo, Java where he comes to the realization that in a society where humanity has been rendered obsolete, a war between the last bastions of mankind and the industrialist machines is looming. Jared, who has shed her android skin and exists in a permanent state of digimortality, has fallen in with the Red Army Hammerheads, the last faction of assorted humanity that refuses to bow to their cyborg oppressor. The established order has been strategically mechanized by the cyborgs. They seek to subjugate, and eventually demanufacture, all of humanity. Now a peon in a much larger conflict Rain is forced to choose an allegiance. Helping him with that are Hammerhead leader Angie-Liv (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), Jared's sometime-accomplice Julian (Deborah Shelton) and Max Impact (Merle Kennedy), a slender female who either practices capoeira or parkour and looks something of a 90s counterpart to Analía Ivars, albeit with a far less pronounced bosom. Rain ponders the soul of a new machine and thus becomes their Nemesis.

The star of Nemesis was Parisian kick boxer Olivier Gruner, who had worked as a consultant on the Jean-Claude Van Damme action romp Lionheart (1990). Pyun had conceived Nemesis at the end of a three-picture deal with Cannon. The project originally went under the name Alex Rain with both Kelly Lynch and Megan Ward being attached to it as lead stars. The project was put on hold as Pyun tended to other obligations and several years and rewrites later it resurfaced in its current form. Imperial Entertainment, duly impressed by Pyun's ability to helm marketable product within the allotted time and budget, was given the green light. The caveat was that Nemesis had to be a vehicle for their new discovery: Olivier Gruner. Unfortunately Nemesis didn't launch Gruner into stardom, instead he found himself working in low-budget action and science-fiction ever since. Which is all perfectly understandable since Gruner is probably a worse actor than Van Damme, Steven Seagall and Michael Dudikoff combined. 

Nemesis was Albert Pyun's first feature of note after his initial success with the sword-and-sorcery flick The Sword and the Sorcerer (1982) and the Jean-Claude Van Damme post-apocalyptic action yarn Cyborg (1989). It also is one of Pyun's best looking productions by a wide margin. It seamlessly weaves together Hong Kong action, some martial arts, and American action movie clichés into an admittedly slick, hyper-stylized whole. Nemesis has an impressive cast including future Pyun stock talent Tim Thomerson and Yuji Okumoto as well as character actors Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brion James, Jackie Earle Healey, Branscombe Richmond and a very young Thomas Jane. There's no shortage of bodacious, gun-toting, short-skirted women with the likes of Borovnisa Blervaque, Jennifer Gatti, Marjorie Monaghan, Marjean Holden, Deborah Shelton, and Merle Kennedy. Like any good pulp title Nemesis is simultaneously stylish and completely derivative of better properties - but it's also prescient of the Hong Kong action and cyberpunk trend of the 90s predating The Matrix (1999) by over half a decade. It isn't for nothing that some of its scenes were replicated in big-budget Hollywood productions years later.

Rain's escape from a goon-infested hotel in Shang Loo was copied verbatim in the daft Len Wiseman actioner Underworld (2003). In Wiseman's movie a leatherclad Kate Beckinsale shoots her way through several floors to her escape. The look of the agents, and the wardrobe of the female assassins during the opening shootout, would be copied by Wachowski siblings in their 1999 science-fiction hit The Matrix. Nemesis isn't without its share of humor either. In a surgery scene aped from The Terminator (1984), Julian is forced to do ocular inspection on Alex, "Now this is gonna," she starts, "sting a little?" Alex matter-of-factly asks. "No," Julian remarks prior to starting the procedure, "it's gonna hurt a motherfucker!Nemesis then shifts gears and foreshadows its first sequel with a jungle segment redolent of Predator (1987). Farnsworth, replaced in the interim by a cybernetic infiltration unit programmed to execute Rain, gives chase. After a protacted chase sequence that forms much of Nemesis’ second half the metallic endoskeleton of Commissioner Farnsworth grapples onto the airborne plane in a scene that simultaneously rips off Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and James Cameron’s The Terminator. Rain drops Farnsworth in a volcano because no B-movie is complete without a live volcano.

Beyond mere gun pyrotechnics and lifting from better movies Nemesis has a thought or two in its head. Much like Rick Deckard from Blade Runner (1982) and the hardboiled detectives from Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe novels Alex Rain waxes faux-philosophically about the nature of his rapidly eroding humanity and the state of his eternal soul. These bouts of existential fear are somewhat offset and ineffectual as they often happen when Raine is in process of gunning people down en masse. As Jared puts it at one point, “It took them 6 months to put him back together. Synthetic flesh, bio-engineered organs. It always scared him that they might take out his soul, and replace it with some matrix chip.” In the second half of the movie everybody, on either side of the divide, keeps telling Alex that he’s, “more machine than human”. While Pyun would remain prolific through out much of his career seldom, if not ever again, would the screenplays (written either by himself or his associates) aspire to these kinds of ambitious conceptual heights. Nemesis is completely and entirely derivative, but in that rare good and intelligent fashion.

Nemesis is, to put it mildly, sparkly. Director of photography George Mooradian and Pyun love to shoot everything beautifully lit and in soft focus. Everything has the cinematography of a sex scene even when it is anything but. Sparkly is very much Pyun's calling card. There's an outspoken adoration for Hong Kong action cinema with the completely over-the-top gunplay, inexplicable explosions, and reducing enemies to a splatter of sparks, wires and exposed circuitry. Pyun often gets carried away with his depictions of trench-coated, bespectacled people shooting at each other in slow-motion and in soft focus. Pyun realizes he is no John Woo and probably never will be, but he tries. Albert Pyun was always prone to stealing from the best and never hid his adoration for his superiors. Nemesis transcends its derivative nature by the sheer amount of starpower involved.

The women are universally and uniformly beautiful. Jennifer Gatti and Borovnisa Blervaque completely steal the opening gambit set piece that has them systematically obliterating an already blasted out industrial wasteland to bits. Certainly a scene that inspired many a video game in terms of multiplayer arena matches. Blervaque was a French model who appeared in music videos from Richard Marx and Eddie Money with Nemesis being her only cinematic credit of note. She was born Myrtille Blervaque in Paris, France but changed her name to Blueberry and later to just Blue when she started modeling. Marjorie Monaghan looks the part, but her acting certainly isn't worth the price of admission. Marjean Holden is barely a character worthy of the mention but her pairing with Monaghan is at least effective, no matter how minuscule its overall importance. Pyun treats the viewer to a leering look of Deborah Shelton’s well-formed, sweaty posterior, but makes sure to give the ladies something as well by showing Olivier Gruner and Thomas Jane in various stages of undress. Much like Cat Sassoon in Angelfist (1993), Julian’s globes remain sturdily in place no matter how she moves.

Nemesis is a highly stylized, action-packed and breakneck paced genre exercise that pays homage to many, often better realized, productions – but remains strangely watchable despite hardly ever being coherent as far as the storyline and characters are concerned. It manages to avoid most trappings of low-budget action cinema and lends itself to repeated viewings. Nemesis has all the gunfire and explosions than one could reasonably ask for. It was followed by three, largely unrelated, in-name only sequels with Sue Price taking over from Gruner, all of which were unfortunately penned by Albert Pyun. Alas, Nemesis is a lone high-water mark in a franchise that never lived up to its promise and potential.

As of 2017 a fifth installment is in production (with no involvement from Gruner) called Nemesi5: the New Model from director Dustin Ferguson. In Nemesi5: the New Model Price returns as the aged mentor to the titular new model Ari Frost (Schuylar Craig). For this fifth episode Pyun served as executive producer. As a stand-alone piece Nemesis is derivative and the franchise would never reach the level of competence on display here again. That the franchise took a turn for the worse after its two original screenwriters bade their farewell speaks volumes of just how strong and efficient the first Nemesis was. The continuing and continued existence of the Nemesis franchise is puzzling enough by itself, especially in the light of Ferguson taking over the dystopian cyberpunk action mantle from Pyun...