Manborg is set in a world in which the demonic forces of Hell, led by Count Draculon, have invaded Earth. Humanity, broken and enslaved, is on the brink of destruction until Manborg (Matthew Kennedy) awakens in a box. After being captured and forced to participate in a violent arena of death, Manborg teams up with #1 Man, Justice and Mina to fight back against The Baron, Shadow Mega and the rest of the demonspawn infesting the Earth. Can the half-man half-borg Manborg possibly defeat the evil Count Draculon? As the film’s tagline says: Revenge is BACK!
Manborg is one of the finest examples of how film making can benefit from the lack of a bloviated budget. Having to scrounge every last scrap of rubbish for a set, having to consider the worth of filming every single scene, has made Manborg a well-paced and unexpectedly controlled piece of work. The power of the film lies in its humour, and this it does extremely well. The jokes are never forced or lingering, and the absurdity of the storyline is reined in by a remarkably coherent structure. Normally, a film intending to be god-awful crap ends up being tiresome rather than artistic, but every moment in Manborg feels snappy and purposeful. There is heart-warming nostalgia by the bucketful in Manborg, and it never wavers in its attempt to pay due homage to those crappy straight-to-video sci-fi flicks that we all inevitably tried to remove from our long-term memory banks.
If you are worried that the film’s success is reliant upon esoteric references to ancient TV shows and video games, do not fear – those references, although abundant, never demand foreknowledge by the viewer. Manborg never over-emphasises its Robocop or Mortal Kombat throwbacks – it assumes, correctly, that it doesn’t need to bang you repeatedly over the head with allusions to other films. A person who has no idea of what Manborg is referencing will not feel out of the loop – instead, they are invited to revel in the obscurity.
Manborg boasts surprisingly lovable characters. #1 Man is the honor-loving martial artist – all of his lines are dubbed to a hilariously dramatic degree by Kyle Hebert. Mina is the spunky knife-wielder who has the traditional hard exterior belying a tortured past. Her brother, the inexplicably Australian Justice, wields laser-revolvers and has literacy problems. Although he appears an abrasive chap at first, Justice ends up being the most likeable character of the bunch – but The Baron gives him a good run for his money. The eyeless demon with a melted candle for a face could have been just another despicable demon, but his repulsive appearance is completely subverted by an oddly sweet infatuation with Mina. This character plays off perfectly – in fact, you are rewarded for investing in all of these characters. The cast is topped off beautifully by Manborg himself, who, despite spending most of the film completely out of his element and delivering mostly one-word answers, is a charming lead. It is this odd blend of unstoppable cyborg-ness and constant ignorant confusion that lends to most of the film’s comedy.
For a film intending to have terrible production values, the graphics in Manborg win you over very early on. Characters appear in front of the most dodgy blue-screen backgrounds, stop-motion animation is made with a tremendous amount of love and care, low-resolution speeder bikes zoom along an unrealistic dystopia flashing with neon-lights, and Manborg manages to get you invested in every single second. Just like fois gras, Manborg is visually unappealing and rather bloody in execution, but the end result is something undeniably enjoyable.
The best thing about Manborg is that it absolutely drips with affection; for the wonderful characters, for the crappy henchmen and 80s techno music, and for the audience. It’s all very well making a film with a bunch of B-movie enthusiasts, but what the makers of Manborg have done is to have made a film that they want you to enjoy. This seemingly innocuous property is actually rather sparsely held in this genre of cinema. The difference with Manborg is that they want you to join in on the joke. It’s not that the film is simply funny, however. The idea that a micro-budget B-movie about Nazi demons could have artistic vision is surprising, but it is present in Manborg. Is it silly? Yes. Is it meaningless? Essentially. Is it one of the most enjoyably weird films ever made? It certainly is.