‘Bionic’ Netflix Review: A Film About Cybernetic Implants, Crime, & Athletics Is Unfortunately Boring


Humans have wondered about the philosophical aspect of the relationship between mankind and technology via art, literature, and motion pictures since the advent of machines. This led to the rise of the cyberpunk genre with movies and shows such as Blade Runner, The Terminator, RoboCop, Inspector Gadget, Ghost in the Shell, I, Robot, Ex Machina, Alita: Battle Angel, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, Love, Death & Robots, and Upgrade, which asked us to wonder whether or not an android can be as human as humans are. Through characters like Cyborg (from the DC comics), cybernetic implants and prosthetics have been used to comment on the future of people with physical impairments, which is a change that is already happening in real life. Bionic goes a step further and imagines a future where para-athletes with cybernetic implants are going to make able-bodied athletes obsolete. While it’s certainly an interesting concept, is the execution any good? Let’s find out.

Afonso Poyart’s Bionic, which has been written by Josefina Trotta, tells the story of Maria, the eldest daughter of the deceased ace athlete, Helena Santos. Maria has a sister, Gabi, and a brother, Gus. And all three of them live with their father, Ricardo. Helena was a long jumper, and Maria followed in her footsteps to become a great long jumper as well. Gabi was an amputee, and while she was largely ignored by Helena and Maria because she didn’t fit into their dreams of athletic glory, Ricardo took care of Gabi. Eventually, when the bionic revolution happened, and amputees like Gabi were given cybernetic prosthetics, and para-athletic events gained popularity, Maria became irrelevant. Amidst all this, Gus became a sort of tech wizard. He got in touch with Heitor and his gang of revolutionaries who were in the business of stealing NIMs (the gadget that synced one’s brain with their cybernetic prosthetic limbs) and giving them to all those athletes who were living in the shadow of para-athletes. Seeing Maria’s desperation to be as famous as Gabi, Gus introduced her to Heitor, and thus, a sinister plan started to take shape.

Imagining a future where para-athletes have the advantage over able-bodied athletes because people want to see humans achieve unimaginable feats with the help of cybernetics is interesting. Toying with one’s empathy towards amputees because the sponsorship deals and luxury have made them too arrogant is a bold choice. And showing an underground group of athletes and criminals willing to become amputees to get access to cutting-edge technology is bleak. But once Trotta is done introducing these topics in Bionic, she takes the story in the most predictable direction ever. I mean, who is going to be surprised to know the truth behind Maria’s entry into para-athletics when she shows no resistance towards the NIMs after going on and on about how she feels left out despite being an able-bodied person? On top of that, Trotta paints the revolutionaries as heinous villains and reserves all the nuance and sympathy for the cogs in the wheel of capitalism, which is undoubtedly a red flag. When the protagonists start to show some real change, the movie is over. Do I have to wait for a sequel now to know if the protagonists became the change they wanted to see?

A lot of work has gone into building the world of Bionic. I can’t even begin to imagine what the VFX and CGI artists have gone through because there’s a futuristic cybernetic prosthetic in almost every other shot in the film. The lighting and coloring in the film are competent, and hence, they lend a sense of tangibility to this cyberpunk cityscape. But, beyond that, there’s nothing much to like about Afonso Poyart’s vision. The movie had 3–4 big moments where it had to deliver on the promise that the aforementioned cybernetics were enhancing the lives of its users while also forcing them to risk their lives (because if the implant malfunctioned, then the user could go into a coma). However, the cinematography and editing were so chaotic and amateurish that they failed to make any kind of impact. It seems like Poyart bit off more than he could chew, and he should’ve focused on the para-athletic aspect of cybernetics or the heist aspect of cybernetics. Mixing them into one plot was too much for him to handle. That said, since it’s an intriguing premise, I would like Poyart to take another swing at it, albeit with a better handle in the writing and direction departments.

The performances from the Bionic cast are fine. You can clearly see that Jessica Cores is an incredibly charismatic actor. Her arresting screen presence is undeniable. It’s a physically demanding performance, and you can feel the blood, sweat, and tears she has put into making Maria a relatable character. Bruno Gagliasso’s subtle shifts in tone to show the two sides of Heitor are commendable. Gabz, in the role of Gabi, does manage to annoy you with her attitude, while also making you wonder if it’s just an elaborate defense mechanism to avoid being ridiculed by people who hate her. Christian Malheiros makes sure that the frustration that Gus feels because he wasn’t loved by his mother and because he isn’t as talented as his sisters is palpable. However, beyond all the basic stuff, the writing and direction don’t allow them to shine properly. So, after a while, the whole exercise becomes pretty repetitive and lackluster. And the state of the supporting cast is worse. There’s an investigative subplot, which seems like an afterthought, and if I hadn’t made a note of their existence, I probably would’ve forgotten about the actors who were a part of that subplot.

If you are a fan of the cyberpunk genre, I think you should give Bionic a try. Maybe you’ll find something to like that I didn’t notice. At the very least, you’ll get to know how the Brazilian film industry tackles the relationship between humanity and technology and wonder whether it’s any different than how Hollywood (which seems to have a monopoly on the cyberpunk genre) does it. If the plot doesn’t sound interesting, I think you should give the movie a chance for its amazing VFX and CGI. I have a feeling that it didn’t have a huge budget, but what Afonso Poyart and his team have achieved is pretty amazing. I have seen a lot of films with a budget upwards of $200 million riddled with awful green-screen moments and iffy CGI and VFX. In comparison to them, Poyart’s film is excellent. If the storytelling was on par with the film’s technical elements, it would’ve steered clear of the sinkholes in the algorithm. Since that’s not the case, the odds don’t seem to be in Bionic’s favor.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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