Johnny Mnemonic: Molly Millions, where did you go?

The news that the classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer is being made into a movie should make me happy. Neuromancer the book gave us Molly Millions, supercool professional bodyguard, assassin, and general troublemaker. She has a body full of cybernetic implants, including razor-sharp blades that come out from under her fingernails, and a sharp mind to go with it. Information Society even wrote a song about her, because they were big geeks, and geeks love Molly. They love her because she’s sexy, sure, but also because she’s so damn good at what she does. Be in awe, people. A movie with Molly should be a Heroine Content greatest hit.

Unfortunately, I have seen Johnny Mnemonic. Johnny Mnemonic the short story, written before Neuromancer, also features Molly Millions. Johnny Mnenomic the movie, though, gives us Jane instead.

Poor Jane.

I mean poor us! How did this happen? For this movie, Molly the ultimate warrior was reduced to Jane the twitchy adrenaline junkie, complete with a debilitating nerve disorder that makes her completely unreliable as muscle. She’s often more interested in beating up people and showing off than in getting the job done, which consummate professional Molly would never do (even though she loves her work). Also unlike Molly, Jane has no political skills, no worldwide network of connections to call on, and she wears a backless chain mail halter top.

Am I wrong here, or can a chain mail shirt on a woman without anything underneath possibly be comfortable?

To be fair, movie Johnny (played by Keanu Reeves) is also about 200% less cool than the character in the short story. However, he gets to do everything. He hacks the net for more information about the data he’s carrying while Jane stands lookout. He fights the Ultimate Bad Guy while Jane handles the second string or gets stomped by Dolph Lundgren – who gets a movie poster credit even though Ice-T and Henry Rollins each have just as much screen time. Heck, if it weren’t for Johnny, Jane would have been crushed under a flaming car that she doesn’t even notice is about to fall on her head.

When we first meet Jane in the film, one of the characters says to her “You’re damaged goods.” I couldn’t agree more.

Johnny Mnemonic gets No Stars. In the Heroine Content ratings scheme, this stands for Setting Us Back 20 Years. When we use this rating, we usually mean that a movie is a big step back for women and/or people of color in general. In this case, it’s more literal. This film is a big step backwards from its own source material. William Gibson gave us an amazing heroine, then took her away.

I wish that Neuromancer will be different, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

5 thoughts on “Johnny Mnemonic: Molly Millions, where did you go?

  1. BetaCandy

    Thanks for sharing this – I never read the original short story. And sadly, Jane was about as kickass as any movie women seemed to be around the time this movie came out. I like the perspective you’ve put on it.

  2. Anon, A Mouse

    I remember reading a comment from William Gibson stating the reason Molly wasn’t in Johnny Mnemonic was that Gibson liked the character too much, was using her in other stories, and wanted to make sure she didn’t get screwed up by the studio (as well as making it possible for Neuromancer to be made by a different studio – if Molly had been in JM, the studio would have had a “lock” on that character).

  3. moo

    well, it makes sense, this movie was made about 20 to 15 years ago, so its no surprise. but the I WANT ROOM service scene was still funny

  4. justjohnnyrules

    Honestly, I think your comments are skewed. Jane saves Johnny’s life for some unknown reason (basically to get a gig) She sees someone’s life is in trouble by the lead agent and decides to get back at the agent and get a gig at the same time. That’s pretty empowering. I think the fact that women are potrayed in a sci fi future as being the chosen elite of bodygaurds was a big step forward for the time and maybe even to todays standards (can name equivalent female heroines today? – other than maybe kill bill – and to be honest she isn’t a believable fighter). Does she lead Johnny around and baby him? No, that would be stupid as she isn’t the protagonist. In addition, when she saves johnny she takes out a room of like 3-4 people. She also fights Dolph Lungren, has a grenade key chain, hints at playing doctor with Henry Rollins character, and overall seems pretty able to protect Johnny (even though he is clearly trained in self defence).

    Just my two cents. Also the female who is the ‘ghost in the machine’ imprinted into the neural net was the CEO of pharmakom. That is also significant.

  5. Skye

    Molly Millions is who Jane is supposed to be, in my head. If you know Molly, there’s probably no way to respect what they did with Jane in this film.

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