Blade Runner 2049 (****) chooses life

Blade-Runner-2049

Blade Runner 2049 – 2017

Director Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto

There is a very strong theme in Blade Runner 2049 that helps to make its predecessor a better film. Of course, just defining what version of the movie Blade Runner is the predecessor would be a boon for those who enjoyed the series. In this particular case, we’re going to go with The Final Cut, as discussed with my friend WeMissE earlier this month. In that version, the last thing we see is a decisive Deckard (Ford) picking up the girl and heading to the elevator.

Picking up 30 years later, we have a new Blade Runner, named K, who is hunting down the rest of the Nexus 8 model Replicants, who had escaped an attempted purge shortly after the events of the first film. What happened to the rest of the Model 6’s, or even Model 7’s for that matter remains unasked and unanswered.

In an effort to avoid giving anything away, it can be stated that one of the 8’s is found right off the bat. He presents a twist right away. This will likely be common knowledge soon, but it was nice for me not to know right away, so I will not ruin it. If the first thing we learn is not enough, a bigger secret is revealed shortly there after. The knowledge of the secret sets K off on a voyage of discovery which leads him to ask questions more overtly, but no less entertainingly than with Harrison Ford’s Deckard.

On the side of humanity, we have Robin Wright’s Lt. Joshi. Her motives are simple, whatever it takes to keep the bio-engineered humans in line. She is not a cruel person, but her methods are blunt and merciless. She feels knowledge of the secret is a powder keg necessary to extinguish before it explodes.

In their own category of interest, we have Niander Wallace (a wholly overcooked Leto) and his number 1, Luv (Hoeks). They follow K’s progress closely, interfering when they need to. It’s made very obvious who that bad guys are from the beginning, the other mystery is only a little harder to figure.

Mystery is not the main point of Blade Runner, though. It’s atmosphere, feeling and, to a lesser extent, philosophical questions on the nature of existence. What makes a human, human?  What makes a Replicant potentially more so?

As the evolving K, Gosling has never been more suited for a role. His look , a mixture of earnest curiosity and casual disconnect conveys the drive of someone looking to connect the dots. Whether you know what is coming up or not, it’s easy to follow and be drawn into his quest. While it’s never quite clear the connection he has with his virtual girlfriend, Joi (de Armas), it the sense of yearning is easy enough for us to connect. His reaction to others is interesting, too. His sense of vulnerability, even when there are things he’s clearly superior at, gives more to the plot than a million words could.

Hoeks is the most riveting presence of the rest of the cast. Her Luv has a clear sense of purpose that is a fresh contrast to the rest of the cast. She marches through the film like Famke Janssen in Goldeneye, only without the ridiculous puns.

Dave Bautista’s somber performance as Sapper Morton is frustrating, if for no other reason than for the potential he shows with the character. One can see how nice it would have been to see more of him by watching him in the short 2048 – Nowhere to Run.

Blade Runner 2049 is a beautiful film. It is ponderous and vastly close in its recreation of the world created by Ridley Scott. While the original is good, with elements of noir and questioning of the way we treat those we deem different than us, it doesn’t give us enough of its most interesting character, Roy Batty.

This time, we have the benefit of more interesting characters, and a plethora of wonderful scenes that allow for us to enjoy the vast landscapes of futuristic earth and Ryan Gosling’s expressions.

Harrison Ford is better, too. You can actually feel his affection for Rachel now, when before it seemed like she was just an outlet for his desire, then. His take on love is a unique avenue.

One can feel the continuity between the films, but moreover this film feels like an improvement on the original by fleshing out and reinvigorating the story, with the same screenwriter in Fancher. Villeneuve understands and appears to love the world he’s inherited and he treats the viewer intelligently by not treading over the same ground.

The journey of Gosling is offset by the action scenes, especially between Replicants. There are no real amazing feats, but enough things that seem like they’d be hard to do. It does present a curiosity that has not been answered in two films.

What does it take to kill a Replicant? Sometimes its a well placed shot. Sometimes a few hits in the right places. Sometimes, a knife being run up the side through the rib cage doesn’t even do it. Near as I can tell, the only thing that does end one is when the plot point requires them to be gone.

As for the freaky creator figure, Wallace is on par with Joe Turkel’s Tyrell. He is more annoying, for all of Leto’s need to make sure he’s completely method. He has so few scenes where he actually moves, it’s funny to hear he spent so much time actually blinding himself. In the end, he moved his head around weird and talked in a stupid tone. Not any of this added anything to the film. I am sure that he got something out of it, but the audience does not.

If there is something else to observe, it’s that there still seems to be no role for a fully functional woman. This time, we have a toothless authority figure (Wright) who is drawn to K. We have a completely doting and pliant Joi, who provides nothing but (literally) hollow platitudes and dedication to K. That leaves my favorite, Luv. She is straight badass. None of these characters develop in any way.

The simple argument is that they are peripheral characters. The first film has Deckard and Batty taking the journey, and 2049 has K and Deckard again. If we follow simple logic, it is just he economy of characters. We can’t care about Rachel, Zhora or Pris or their counterparts because the story is not really about them. Until one of them has died…

Like I said, it’s not so much a criticism as an observation.

The film is longer by 3/4 of an hour, but this is augmented by the gorgeous camera work of Roger Deakins. The soundtrack works better for me and seems less dated. One finds it very easily drawn into the investigation with K. We know where he’s intending to go, but we never quite know where he’ll end up.

There’s a lot here for people who loved the first film. For those who just liked it, like yours truly, this bridges some gaps. Not sure where they can go with the next film, if there is one with the same writer, it is sure to be interesting.

(**** out of *****)

 

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Logan (*****): Take a moment. Feel it.

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Logan – 2017

Director James Mangold
Screenplay Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq LaSalle, Elise Neal, Doris Morgado, David Kallaway, Han Soto, Jayson Genao and Krzysztof Soszynski

After grinding down so much earth into dust, they finally found a single diamond. Logan is the Wolverine our hearts always thought was there, even if we wasted many years wading through several mediocre movies to get to it. The X-Men universe was brought to a silly dead end last summer with Apocalypse. It was truly a movie that exemplified all that has been wrong with the film version of the hero troupe.

What should have been a crescendo of a decent second trilogy turned into another version of the Last Stand. Filled with colorful weirdos showing powers for no particular reason, we see parts of the planet destroyed and quickly repaired. No consequence and zero impression left.

To say that this movie was intended to counter that film would be cutting it short. Jackman has his own trilogy in the midst of the X-Men films, and in his own series, each film was better than the previous entry. It’s a sad truth, though, that many will find the entire series disposable prior to this opus.

The film starts in 2029 near El Paso, Texas. Logan is living on the wrong side of the border, mainly because he wants to stay hidden. He’s taking care of an aging and ever more erratic Charles Xavier (Stewart). Why? That’s for you to discover.

Adamantium is taking a toll on Logan’s healing powers. To the point that he carries around a bullet made of the stuff to just end it all sooner than later. He can’t end it though. One reason is Charles, who insists he’s been talking to a mutant. This is important because mutants are almost all completely wiped out.

The mutant he is talking to comes into their lives, even though the erstwhile Wolverine would prefer to just take his old friend and go out to sea. That ain’t gonna happen because X-23, or Laura (Keen), as she’s called, comes with some baggage.

Mangold and Jackman score quite a few home runs in this movie that pretends to be playing station to station. Stewart is a Godsend, as he makes even the silliest dialogue seem at once literate and heartfelt. This is nothing compared to what happens when Stewart is given some truly eloquent and memorable words to express.

As antagonist, Boyd Holbrook is an above average placeholder. There is nothing special about him, and this is a wise choice. They have other things to do in this film than to pretend that the bad guy in the ad has a chance.

I won’t say much about the other antagonists in the film, other than to say that the writers hate expositional explanations as much as old man Logan does. This is comes to a welcome relief.

Keen has an excellent, ravaging energy. She is berserk when she needs to be and definitely doesn’t waste words or screen time. Many in the theater really enjoyed her performance, laughing much and snickering as she attacked with ferocity any who crossed her. I found the performance impactful and there definitely were a few funny moments.

The key to Keen’s performance, though, is seeing how she, Stewart and Jackman play off of one another. There is little joy in Logan. For our older heroes, the entire exercise is a drawn out torture that is exacerbated when they see how easily she is drawn into conflict.

When lucid, Xavier believes she is a light in the world, capable of improving on what mutant kind was before now. Logan refuses to invest too much emotion in the little girl who so desperately needs to cling to something solid. Life is hell for her now, he knows. Why should he pretend it ever won’t be?

Clint Eastwood made a remarkable 2nd career out of playing the guy hobbled by age, injury and heartache. Hugh Jackman has always channeled a bit of Eastwood in his portrayals of Logan. This film is different. Jackman owns this version of The Wolverine and he treats it with the utmost care. His emotional range is beyond anything even Eastwood has done. One has no choice but to feel every blow Logan receives in this film. Neither his flesh nor his spirit is willing this time around. When he fights, he fights scared. But not scared stupid.

Jackman has never been better. Stewart has rarely reached this level. Keen is remarkable for such a relatively inexperienced actress. Any or all of the three deserve nominations for their performances here. I won’t hold my breath, though. If they didn’t reward Stallone for his portrayal of Rocky, the Academy will likely assume the Oscars are too good for this astounding film.

The carnage is breathtaking in Logan. There is much mutilation and severed limbs and heads. As bad as it is, it is matched unnecessarily with an over reliance on profanity. Yes, I know that is the image of The Wolverine comics, but moderation might have made a more distinct impression. I will say it does work in relation to Charles. Something must be wrong if that refined and dignified person is throwing curses like punches.

If you’ve skipped all of the X Men films after the 2nd, this might be a good place to pick up again. Heck if you skipped all of the films, but want to see an incredibly well played drama, partake in this feature. Much care went into this film, and it feels like everything is balanced on the edge of a knife. And then the knife slips and goes right through.

It’s worth all of the pain, just to know how Logan feels in the moment.

(***** out of *****)