I'll try to keep the spoilers minor. "Cyber Wars" a.k.a. "Avatar" a.k.a. "Matrix Hunter" is sort of William Gibson meets Roman Polanski. It's a cyberpunk suspense film that reminded me over and over of "Chinatown." Not that it's derivative, it just has things in common, like atmosphere, a focus on the dark underbelly of a nice beautiful city, and a pessimistic view of human beings.
It's set in a major city of the future, the location of which is never specified (although it's the site of a former rain forest). Everyone there is from somewhere else. This point is driven home by having almost everyone in the cast speak English like it isn't their first language, which can get grating. A future evolution of the Internet is a cornerstone of life, and cybernetics, electronics, holograms, antigravity, biotechnology, and other high technology abound.
Our heroine, Dash MacKenzie, is a bounty hunter who tracks down people who assume new identities using cutting edge technology. Her latest quarry is Edward Chan, who walked away from a seemingly perfect life to become someone else. Who? It's her job to find out. And everybody and their dog is looking for him. That's the setup, and it turns out to be a case of bait-and-switch. The Edward Chan plot is resolved before the halfway mark, and it takes us into a nearly unrelated plot, opening up a web of intrigue that sends our hero to an important convolution of the World Wide Web.
The future depicted here certainly looks futuristic. It's a striking, unique view of the future, and seems disturbingly believable in some ways but over-the-top in other ways. The effects are good, except for the dragonfly robots, which are low-end C.G.I. The virtual reality of the Cyberlink (read: Internet) is probably the part of the movie that will stick with me the most. I don't know if it's all that creative or original, but it's visually striking, and seems almost like a logical extrapolation. But the movie's futurism is a double-edged sword. Much time that could be used for storytelling is instead devoted to showing off every little thing the writer can imagine and the special effects department can show. Also, because future concepts, words, and eye candy were flying at me left, right, and center, it took me a while to get a grasp on what was actually happening. I guess the idea is that, since these people live in this world, nobody's going to take time to explain everything. That works in "THX 1138." Not so much here. There are a few moments that still have me scratching my head. I can't help but feel that, if a better director had handled this, this future world could be more understandable and even more enthralling.
Speaking of which, the direction is only a couple rungs above pedestrian. An unfortunate side effect of the similarities to "Chinatown" is that they make me notice how much better directed that film is. I wish "Cyber Wars" could have been directed by someone like Roman Polanski, or at least Rob Bowman.
But the biggest weakness is the lead actress. Genevieve O'Reilly, best known for her cameo in "Revenge of the Sith," plays Dash, and botches it rather badly. She's wooden, and never seems quite urban enough for someone of her background and profession (part of this isn't the actress' fault: the makeup department makes her look immaculate in every scene). I suspect she was cast solely because she looks good naked (and the viewer is made aware of this to a gratuitous extent). The rest of the cast fares much better, thankfully. Luoyong Wang does a good job of carrying the film (although he's not exactly Laurence Olivier). But the ones who really shine are the tycoons (and some of their cronies), particularly Joan Chen (of "Last Emperor" fame) and David Warner. The other great character is the pathetic washed-up bounty hunter Riley, played by Larry from "Newhart" (I could look up the actor's name, but is that really necessary?). There are a few other neat, colorful characters, who I won't list. Honestly, the main character is very far down the list of interesting people in this movie.
"Cyber Wars" is a cut above your usual post-"Matrix" cyberthriller. It could have been something truly fantastic if there weren't various flaws chipping away at it, but it's still easy to enjoy. And there's just enough left unexplored to justify a sequel. Maybe Dash can change her identity into a better actress.
Review by Lee Sherman from the Internet Movie Database.