FREEJACK. Action driven cyberpunk
Alex Furlong had bad luck. In an instant, he lost his fiancée (Rene Russo), professional success, prosperity, and fame. He was transported into the future, to a completely transformed world. Nothing foreshadowed that he would encounter such a fate. He didn’t experiment with new technologies, didn’t doubt the surrounding “reality” like Neo, didn’t play with the relativity of time, and didn’t create a new method of experiencing life like the characters in eXistenZ. He seems to be a completely random character. It’s not known why it was him who was chosen—because he’s not truly exceptional in any way. Just moments before a fatal accident on the racing track, Furlong is kidnapped by a mysterious corporation and transported eighteen years into the future. His body disappears from the wrecked race car. The whole operation is orchestrated by the charismatic Victor Vacendak (Mick Jagger, who feels comfortable in his role).
From the very first minutes, the creators introduce two time planes in Freejack. On one, we watch a race, while on the other, preparations for a kidnapping unfold. The prologue of Freejack seems a bit overloaded, somewhat unclear. Even a brief exposition is missing, and we are immediately thrown into the midst of events. However, every stick has two ends. Through this somewhat chaotic narrative, the viewer momentarily feels as disoriented as the time-transferred Furlong. Together with him, we will try to understand the logic of this world, uncover the motives of the perpetrators, find his fiancée, and confront the opponent. Freejack is a typical action plot immersed in the aesthetics of dark sci-fi. The future world is inevitably heading towards collapse. Once again, we are immersed in an overpopulated, anonymous city-megalopolis dominated by industrial architecture. 90% of the inhabitants wake up in the mud every morning, dirty and devoid of any prospects, without any chances of changing anything or saving themselves.
Action driven plot
Not for the first time in the history of this film genre, it was capitalism that brought about the downfall of humanity in Freejack. The class division is not as stark as, for example, in Elysium, but in this case too, the creators arrive at similar conclusions. It’s not race or origin, but capital that has profoundly divided humanity into two unequal parts: those who have it and those who don’t. The glass skyscraper towering over the extensive slums symbolizes human arrogance, self-worship, and individual prosperity while the rest of society dies of hunger. Unfortunately, Freejack doesn’t delve too deeply into this aspect. This issue gets lost in the sea of rapid-action scenes. The dire state of society never becomes the film’s main theme. The narrative is highly subjective, and Furlong himself doesn’t seem too concerned about the massive changes that have occurred. It appears indifferent to him.
The protagonist quickly adapts to his new environment. He doesn’t give in so easily; he understands the rules governing this world. He’ll be desperate to regain everything that was taken from him. Subsequent sequences will be rich in chases, shootouts, and escapes. The aim of Freejack probably wasn’t to provoke deeper reflection. Here, action takes the lead, and the created universe is usually just an attractive backdrop. At the beginning of the film, a time-altering machine is introduced, but unfortunately, it isn’t further utilized. It could have not only diversified the action intrigue and cinematic narrative but also added dramatic weight to the film since Furlong easily bypasses all obstacles. We can’t say much about the film’s main couple—only that they were happy together. There’s no backstory to them; their relationship isn’t explored much by the screenwriters. It’s hard to identify with them and consequently root for them to be together. The characters in Freejack are rather indifferent to us. This feeling is intensified by the weak performances of Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo, who seem detached from their characters. Far greater emotions are evoked by Furlong’s confrontations with Vacendak. Unfortunately, there is a rather chilling distance between the lovers.
Freejack ain’t philosophical essay
Of course, it’s hard to expect every film to be a philosophical essay on the scale of 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, in the case of Freejack, too many topics were trivialized, and the film veers in an uninspiring direction, often relying on genre clichés. The creators don’t make much effort to explain the exact relationship between the two temporal zones; we only get to understand the operation of this mechanism through a single example. It’s as if the film’s authors didn’t realize the immense potential here. Thus, the existence of this time-altering machine seems entirely pretextual—it becomes just an attraction, a simple gadget—while it could have been a constitutive element of the entire plot.
For most of its runtime, it’s difficult to clearly associate Freejack with cyberpunk, as other aspects of the story take precedence. It’s only towards the end, when the main antagonist reveals their identity, that Murphy’s film takes on a slightly more serious tone (although this might be attributed to Hopkins’ distinguished performance). Up until that point, the respectable McCandless shows his true colors and discloses his plan to Furlong. He has transferred his entire consciousness into a computer’s memory and awaits the opportunity to inhabit Furlong’s body. McCandless’ sole motivation is jealousy over a woman. He aims to replace Alex by Julie’s side. McCandless is disillusioned with his life; his power and wealth do not guarantee him happiness. This is why he’s willing to give up his position, forsake his achievements, and descend from the top floors of his skyscraper to the streets. It’s a desperate and romantic endeavor.
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However, Anthony Hopkins’ performance in his role convinces me. The elaborate operation involving a group of people, soul transfer machines, and time travel is solely directed at fulfilling the caprice of a spoiled millionaire. Alongside this, the theme of the human-machine hybrid is introduced, and furthermore, the concept of transferring human subjectivity—self-awareness, intelligence, and emotions—into computer code is gently touched upon. Unfortunately, Freejack lacks scientific ambitions; the film’s creators don’t delve into this issue with the vigor of Philip K. Dick. The final act plays out on a completely different plane: the most significant aspect is the relationship triangle between Alex, Julie, and McCandless. The entire technological and scientific aspect is trivialized because the primary focus is on the conflict played out on a purely human level. No existential question of “Is McCandless still human?” is posed by anyone. Freejack takes place on entirely different levels.
Murphy is much more interested in the individual’s situation. The technological, economic, and social context loses significance. We must accept that in the future, such tools and machines will simply exist. During the film, we learn that Alex Furlong isn’t the first Freejack—a person transferred from the past. Of course, the filmmakers treat this topic in a cursory manner as well. Furlong will be given a weapon and will charge ahead to fight for his cause. Freejack relies too often on implications and plot shortcuts. Nonetheless, despite being over thirty years old, Freejack has not aged technically. Its visual aspects deserve appreciation: most of the set design was physically constructed, and the creators refrained from overusing computer effects. This approach lends credibility to the futuristic world, and there’s no sense of makeshift; everything has the weight it should. Only the design of modern cars might raise a smile.
I might be too selective, but Freejack is merely a skillfully executed action film. It keeps the viewer engaged, provoking some reflection without planting doubts that could be dispelled with a repeat viewing. It’s an enjoyable, lightweight, yet somewhat shallow entertainment. Freejack leaves the viewer with a sense of dissatisfaction, leading them to seek out other works in the same genre to alleviate that feeling. In general, it’s a shame that the potential of this story and its intriguing cast were underutilized, as it had the potential to be a much more significant work.