Blade Runner 2049 (Full Review)

Wine isn’t for everybody. While some find it to be a pleasant, and bold tasting elixir that soothes the soul, others find it bitter and unsatisfying. The original 1982 Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford and directed by Ridley Scott was a technical masterpiece and a pillar for neo-noir science fiction. It is also an acquired taste. While the film gave us striking imagery and thought provoking undertones, some just couldn’t get passed the melancholy pacing. But like a fine wine, to me the original gets better with age. And over three decades later, Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival), delivers a sequel that provokes the same sentiments.

Blade_Runner_2049_logoTo understand this sequel, it is inherently necessary to be somewhat familiar with the original film adapted from Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel. The world of Blade Runner is mostly a grim wasteland and artificial humans known as replicants are used as slave labor to keep society afloat. These replicants mostly serve their constructed purposes with obedience, but when they do go off the rails, they are hunted down and “retired” by cops nicknamed blade runners.

Blade Runner 2049 picks up 30 years after the events of the first film, when blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) was charged with retiring five replicants but ended up falling in love with one and disappearing with her. Replicants are now being made by Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to be much more subservient to the extent that replicants like Officer K (Ryan Gosling) are even being used as blade runners to hunt their own kind. When retiring a rogue replicant (Dave Bautista) leads to a shocking revelation, K is forced by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to carry out a secret mission that could alter the fabric of society if he fails.

Like in the first, this film often moves at a dreary, sluggish pace that could be mind numbingly boring for some. But that isn’t something that should deter anyone who has ever sat down and enjoyed classic noir film’s like Casablanca or Taxi Driver. What the film lacks in suspense and action it makes up for in spectacular visuals and suave and swift performances. In those regards, Blade Runner 2049 actually manages to be even better than its predecessor.

The complexity that comes with the primary protagonist being a replicant himself adds tremendous tension to the plot. His interactions with members of both parties, as well as his struggles to understand his own humanity are gorgeously illustrated by his romantic relationship to an artificial intelligence named Joi (Ana De Armas) as well as his banter with Harrison Ford’s grizzly old Deckard. And just because the pacing tends to lull doesn’t mean the film isn’t void of some gripping action sequences. A climactic battle between K and Niander Wallace’s intimidating henchwoman, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), is wonderfully executed and stunningly filmed.

Aside from maintaining the sound and visual elements that made the 1982 film such a cult classic, Blade Runner 2049 manages to improve on the franchise’s lore with a more invigorating story and enthralling new characters. It is sure to bore some, but anyone with appreciation for the first will be undeniably impressed with this more than worthy successor.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

No film in Disney/Marvel’s massive gallery was as much of a surprise success as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film about a ragtag group of space anti-heroes transcended its lesser known source material to become a fun summer blockbuster full of exhilarating action and humor. But it’s hard to follow up a breakout hit with something better or even just as good. Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron showed us, that while the Marvel Cinematic Universe always keeps things entertaining, sometimes their sequels can’t quite live up to the hype.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of a group of intergalactic heroes for hire. Returning are Drax (Dave Bautista), a slow witted mustle man who lacks subtlety; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rude and violent talking raccoon; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a naive tree monster reduced to baby form following the first film’s climax; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) skiled assassin and daughter to a space tyrant, and Peter “Star Lord” Quill, (Chris Pratt), an Earthling with a human mother and an alien father he’s never met. After the crew makes enemies out of a society of genetic purists (led by Elizabeth Debicki), the Guardians encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), an antient, powerful being claiming to be Quill’s father, and his socially awkward aprentice, named Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Michael Rooker also returns as Quill’s former mentor Yondu, and Karen Gillan reprises her role as Gamora’s sister/hated rival, Nebula.

As it turns out, Guardians Vol. 2 has many of the same problems as Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron in that it seems more concerned with making the audience laugh and giving them shiny new CGI to gawk at than with forming a coherent narrative. As such, the plot to this film is all over the place for the majority of its seemingly lengthy runtime. There are far too many threads that are overly emphasized such as a subplot about Yondu’s connection to a former mentor (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his dismissal from the bounty hunting Ravagers. It isn’t until the admittedly exciting climax that things seem to actually come together, but the means hardly justifies the ends.

There’s still a great bit of humor throughout. Dave Bautista (who has greatly improved since his acting debut) is hilarious in every scene and most of the banter between the team is fun. But even here, things don’t feel as consistently organic as they did the first go round. Too much of the jokes are awkwardly raunchy (get ready for penis jokes… yes, penis jokes), and the cartoony slapstick is so abundant that it often undermines scenes that should probably be taken more seriously.

The film manages to add some weighty emotional moments to make the story feel grounded and a bit more necessary. A few scenes between Saldana’s Gamora and Gillan’s Nebula do a fantastic job of adding depth to both characters. In fact, most of the cast deserves credit for injecting likability into each of their characters. But with the story, much of the humor, and even the soundtrack all feeling like a step down, its hard to make a case that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is memorable. Not every follow up is going to be The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, but I can’t help but feel like characters this fun deserve an adventure that isn’t predominantly a throw away.

FINAL GRADE: C

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money