film

Review: Blade Runner 2049

Written by Michael Green and Hampton Fancher and directed by Denis Villeneuve “Blade Runner: 2049” has finally released thirty-five years after the original “Blade Runner” hit cinemas in 1982. Ridley Scott’s film may not have done all that well in its box office run but has since become a titan of science fiction influence grasping through the decades to expand its drudgy, wet, and dismal reach. A sequel to “Bladerunner” could have been a cash-grab from a greedy, blockbuster-foaming studio-but much to the relief of fans of the original, and newcomers to the franchise, “2049” stands apart from the original in scope and sensibility but feels entirely part of the world that Ridley Scott brought to life decades ago. In short- this sequel is as good as anyone could have hoped for and a brilliant film in its own right.

This is a film that deserves a second viewing, almost near demanding the audience of it in order to digest everything that we’re presented with. Luckily, the film is gorgeous and a beautiful spectacle to behold. The sights and sounds of this film are why I go to the movie theater. This is an absorbing film experience. Roger Deakins, the cinematographer of the film, has earned the accolades that the critics have been heaping on him. In this version of the future Los Angeles, it snows. The mountainous monoliths of architecture feel familiar, yet dwarf the landscape of the original in this labyrinth of buildings crammed and squeezed together. The encroaching tendrils of mother nature are kept at bay with gigantic walls to bend the ocean to our will, overbearing and frequent snowplows meander the street pushing heavy wet snow out of the way, and when it rains; it pours a near never ending deluge of water. The score is another gigantic factor in this film as Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch insert enough auditory callbacks to the bellowing synth of the original while also playing with some powerful tones that reminded me of a sort of Mongolian throat singing crafted to foster a sense of inescapable doom. I really loved that the film was perfectly happy to let a quiet scene play out in contrast to the overwhelming score in other scenes. Pairing sight and sound like this created something of a vacuum seal of immersion for me, it was enrapturing. The way Deakins frames each scene is a treat every time a scene cuts to a new location or new character. It’s every DP’s wet dream of colors and movement. Not to mention the exquisite use of lighting, shadows, and silhouettes- film professors and students will likely use this as an example for years to come. So, the film is beautiful-but does the story serve this visual feast?

Yes. I will leave all spoilers to be discovered upon viewing as that’s how I saw the film the initial time and my viewing was that much richer of an experience because of it. I will say though that as far as the performances go, every actor and actress pulled off believable, charming, brooding, and menacing roles that fit the world and the story perfectly. Some have criticized Jared Leto’s performance as “just another weird role from him” and while his character is definitely egotistical and over the top-that’s part of the character’s personality and it makes sense given the context of the film. I see no major faults in any of the performances, they fit the mold, and more importantly, the feel of “Bladerunner”. Particularly surprising and equally delightful were Ana de Armas as Joi the artificial love interest of Ryan Gosling’s officer K, and Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, the fierce and terminator-like personal replicant servant of Jared Leto’s Niander Wallace. Both women showed off strong and powerful performances that helped to tie everything together in a painful and lonely punch to the gut. Speaking of which, Ryan Gosling’s performance as Officer K is the linchpin of this whole film, if he couldn’t sell his character’s story as efficiently as he did, the film would have fallen apart. He also gets his fair share of being on the wrong end of many fists throughout the story. After “The Nice Guys”, and now “2049”, Gosling might just be the character actor casting agents seek out when they need a protagonist that can take a few punches to the face while keeping his cool. Of course Harrison Ford cannot be forgotten, he may have given the best performance so far in this recent character revival of his. He wasn’t overused and he was absolutely integral to the plot in a way that was far bigger than I had expected out of this story. Lastly, it must be said- who doesn’t love Dave Bautista and how he has grown as an actor in these recent years? His role here as Sapper Morton was touching while retaining the fact that he’s a force to be reckoned with.

There is a large effort here to posit many philosophical questions about the nature of life and humanity, and while the film doesn’t always answer what it asks- it ponders them with considerable thought. There is, of course, the premise from the first film that still holds a place in the story questioning what is it to be human? “2049” expands on a deeper analysis of similar topics. What is the cost of slavery, and subsequently what does it mean to be free? What is a soul, and how do we decide who has one and if that means that humanity is better than the machines that experience life almost as equally as we do? What is an identity? What is real, and does it even matter? This is post modernism at its peak. The film also cleverly hides a litany of literary references and classic literature buffs will likely delight in the joy of recognizing the prose of Nabokov’s “Pale Fire” in a $150 million dollar blockbuster sci-fi film. From “Treasure Island” to “Peter and the Wolf” and Charles Dickens, the film steeps itself in remnants of our past to better situate itself as an awful outcome of our own history.

 

“Blade Runner: 2049” is a feat of science fiction filmmaking and I personally got a lot out of the film and will be seeing it in theaters at least once more. It’s worth mentioning that this is a very long film and it is a slow paced one at that. While there is a lot more happening in this story than the original it takes its time to tell us. This film will not be everyone’s favorite film of the fall, some might even outright hate it-but if you enjoyed the original film and you have a love of film, especially genre films, you will probably find something to love in “2049”, I certainly did.

Final Score: Nine off-world planets

 

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film

Review: Suicide Squad or “DC’s Modern day B-movie”

At the time of writing this article everyone that wants to see Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer, either has or has made up their mind not to based on word-of-mouth and critical review. Because of this I will be spoiling several key points, you’ve been warned.

This latest movie marks another incredibly divisive entry into the DCEU after this year’s punchy slogfest that was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Darkness. My main issue with that film was that it seemed that the people behind-the-scenes didn’t really get the true nature of their two main characters. There was no hope in Superman whatsoever and Batman murdered everyone (I suspect a hidden skull shirt underneath that fresh new batsuit). This next iteration of page to screen comic movie in Suicide Squad actually does improve on that issue, but proves to muddy the waters on almost everything else. There is fun to be had in it though and I’d say it’s a more enjoyable experience than Batman V Superman, but it really, truly is a mess of a movie with clear studio intervention.

In the DCEU the wake of Superman’s presence is felt throughout all of its corners, most especially in paranoid shadowy agents like Amanda Waller. She urges the government to consider a drastic plan that involves utilizing captured villains to form a team to take on the greater threats that face humanity in this new world of Superheroes, because what if the next Superman decides to rip off the roof of the White House? (I assure you this squad couldn’t stop him if he wanted to do just that though) Thus begins the story, or rather the first half of the movie, which is purely flashbacks and introductions to the squad set to cheeky top ten pop songs or hits in lieu of a soundtrack to match the emotion of the movie, which drastically fluctuates across the runtime.

Deadshot

Will Smith’s presence in this movie is what makes it watchable. His skill in emoting, and making the deadly assassin worth rooting for, is the emotional hook of the story and really the only good motivation across the board for the team, besides not wanting to die. Deadshot’s through line comes in the form of him attempting to provide for his daughter. Plus he’s one of the few characters to get a scene with Batman involved. Truthfully this is one of the best performances from Smith in years, personally I just wish it had been in a better movie.

Harley Quinn

Margot Robbie is the other standout among the squad. Not only is her performance spot on with the nature of the character she injects moments of humanity into this classic case of stockholm syndrome that makes you believe there is more to the queen of crime without you just waiting around for Mista J to appear.

Captain Boomerang

Jai Courtney, and I really thought I wouldn’t be able to say this after “A Good Day to Die Hard”, is actually pretty damn entertaining here. Granted Captain Boomerang doesn’t do much in the film but his greaseball criminal antics make him worth watching, and yes, he even throws his boomerang once.

Diablo

Billed as the conscience of the squad, portrayed by Jay Hernandez, Diablo is one of the characters that was weakened by the size of the cast and the choppy mess of editing and direction. His backstory, once revealed, is dark and ripe for character work but its almost cast aside as soon as it is mentioned almost as if the producers read it and said “Oooo.. that’s too dark, we just had Batman V Superman shrouded in darkness we can’t have that again, cut that up and put some pop songs in there, lighten it up a bit Geez.” His death in the third act is set up for an emotional pull but the film hasn’t gotten us aquainted with Diablo all that much for the moment to mean anything and it isn’t lingered on or even acknowledged afterward.

Killer Croc

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Croc was also fairly underused in the film. He’s almost mute the entire runtime save for several attempts at humor and for one specifically underwater portion of the mission near the end which was clearly tailor written for Killer Croc to have a reason to swim. It too is quickly passed by, only briefly mentioned “Oh yeah, Killer Croc, he can swim, lets have him swim.” Now if he had been as monstrous as he has been depicted in comics and animated Batman cartoons before he could have been a real powerhouse monster, but that must not have been in the budget. He has essentially no backstory either.

Slipknot

Guess who’s only in the movie for about twenty seconds and dumped at the viewers feet near the beginning of their mission? His only reason to exist in the movie is to confirm that Amanda Waller’s explosive threat is legitimate.

Katana

At about halfway through the movie Katana, Karen Fukuhara, is introduced as an associate of Rick Flagg, the defacto leader of the group. She, apparently, uses a sword that encapsulates the souls of those killed by it. The soul of her dead husband is also in that sword. Honestly throw the rest of this garbage out the window and give me that movie, that has a hook I’m actually interested in. We get nothing else from her except cool sword action when the inevitable faceless army comes into play.

Rick Flagg

Joel Kinnaman’s Army grunt Flagg is serviceable as the character that has to wrangle this rag tag team. He’s only truly there because of his love interest, June Moon. This is a manipulation by Waller as she plays her chess pieces to try and make this erratic group work. He has some shoddy lines here and there, but some actual emotional work in the third act.

The Enchantress/June Moon

Here’s one of the biggest problems with this movie. The Enchantress, Cara Delevingne, is one of the weakest villains in years. Her motivation is.. world domination? Almost everything about this character is a joke. She’s over sexualized. She basically just belly dances for the last half of her performance. She also ruins Amanda Waller’s plans easily right from the beginning thus setting up the squad’s very existence as the threat that has to be abolished. Her plan was to revive her brother kept by Waller, I suppose they were some sort of magical gods from an ancient Mayan-like society? After she frees him they have a small back and forth where she explains to him that Humans worship machines now, and that she will build a powerful machine to… rule with? Thus giving her the opportunity to have a giant beam of light reach up into the sky like we’ve seen a thousand times before, and to create a massive faceless army for Deadhot to shoot at and Harley Quinn to bash their noggins in with her baseball bat. What is the purpose of such a machine that has no moving parts, is powered by belly dance inspiring magic, and takes an incredibly long time to create with no visualization of progress being made on said “Machine”. Magic, I guess…

Amanda Waller

The real villain of the movie is portrayed quite well here by Viola Davis. I say real villain because while that might not have been the intention of the screenwriters, or the director, Amanda Waller plagues the villains..err heroes(?) far more than anything the Enchantress accomplishes. Amanda Waller is a cold and calculating agent of A.R.G.U.S., they’re like S.H.I.E.L.D. but with less cool spy stuff and more shady goverment dealings.

The Joker

You might be wondering why I mentioned the clown prince of crime last. That’s because he’s barely even in this movie at all. Jared Leto handily gives us a Joker with traits cherry picked from the late Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, and Cesar Romero respectively, something new that feels familiar. Not bad, but certainly not the best Joker to grace the screen yet. Of course there was (supposedly) a large portion of Jared Leto’s performance that was cut from the film, and until we get more of him it’s really unfair to judge him until we see how he squares off against Ben Affleck’s Batman.

In the end we have a movie with some middling success, a few visually interesting action sequences, but nothing to make you really feel anything for any of these characters. It’s a classic example of throwing everything at a wall just to see what sticks. There is a battle waging across the film’s runtime for what tonal shift the filmmakers want the audience to feel, but they never decide between the two being both bright, and dark. There is a constant feeling that there is a good movie, maybe even two, hidden somewhere in this version we got. I highly suspect we will see another ‘ultimate edition’ of Suicide Squad to spring forth just as one did for Bats and Supes. But whereas that movie was already too long and initially a mess as well I’d actually be interested in an ultimate edition of this film, if only to sate my curiosities on Jared Leto’s Joker if his performance truly was that limited here.

Oh and as mentioned there were several Batman cameos that were fairly entertaining, seeing Batman punch Harley Quinn in the face underwater was truly pleasing. The Flash also showed up for the first well executed Superhero quip in the DCEU, so that’s saying something. At the risk of any kind of comments section retorts, I have to say, at least we have Marvel Studios, those guys know how to tell superhero stories, DC might yet make the best version of what they can do and surprise us all, but until then they are the definitive second fiddle to the house of ideas.

Final Score: 2/5