The modern world does have a great appetite for information, with current estimates equating the total amount to 44 zettabytes of world knowledge (or about 44 trillion gigabytes) and is expected to grow daily. The need to get this information across has evolved and been refined, with many predictions on the future of data transference pondered. In 1995, the cyberpunk prophecies of Gibson were given a Hollywood treatment, and while not living up to the dreams of its creators, did unwittingly lay the framework for a sci-fi revolution in Johnny Mnemonic.
On January 17th 2021, Johnny Smith is a Mnemonic Courier, suffice to say he’s got over 80 gigabytes of brain storage and has to head to Beijing to have some shadowy secrets encoded in a chip in his brain. In Beijing things feel off, the clients seem inexperienced and as the retrieval key transmission is interrupted by dudes with guns, he has no way of retrieving said data that could dangerously leak into his brain. Now Johnny has got a brain full of secrets and a target on his back, as he rushes to get the data out and stay alive in the process.
Plot comprehension isn’t exclusively required to enjoy this fun action Sci-fi film. Most of the elements of the film do not stand up to the extended scrutiny, but the way Johnny Mnemonic revels in the technobabble and the world-building gathered from the books makes the whole experience fun nonetheless. Having only read part of Neuromancer back in Uni, I do not know how much is the invention of the film nor the brilliant mind of the author. Gibson is credited as a screenwriter, although he since has voiced his disapproval at the script’s dramatic alteration at the hand of executives. Although on balance, Mnemonic does strike the right chord in being an entertaining action, and an interesting prophecy of the future.
The star here is Keanu Reeves, and there are similarities between this film and the subsequent The Matrix that do rear their head, on a retroactive rewatch, this does feel like a great prototype for The Matrix. Yet he’s not alone, alongside Dina Meyer, Ice-T, and Dolph Lundgren, who help bring some version of Gibson’s vision to the big screen. A hefty dose of high-octane action in hotel rooms, does a lot to boost the fun factor. The technical terminology does also feel wonderfully quaint, in a Download-R.A.M.-off-the-Internet way. Being made in 1995, some effects used to depict The Free City of Newark and the internet are fun, and seeing citizens with masks in a film set in 2021 feels eerily prophetic.
A stone’s throw away from setting the sci-fi cinematic world alight with The Matrix, Reeves demonstrates he can certainly meld technobabble and action into a block-busting mix. With a couple of quips as Johnny makes his way around the Free City of Newark, There is joy in picking apart the anachronisms, and delighting in the cyberpunk aesthetic. Doubly so in seeing what the film prophesied came to light. Even if you had grander intentions for the book adaption, you can appreciate what it’s attempting to do. After all is said and done, Johnny Mnemonic will be a film that you will want to remember for quite some time.
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