Blade Runner 2049 (First Viewing)

Blade Runner 2049 is a 2017 neo-noir science fiction film starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, and Jared Leto. A sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic Blade Runner, 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Hampton Francher and Michael Green. Francher is one of the two people who wrote the screenplay for the original film. 2049 takes place 30 years after the original film and follows K, a Blade Runner employed by the LAPD to hunt down rouge and dangerous Replicants, bio-engineered humans. K uncovers a vast conspiracy which leads him to retired Blade Runner Rick Deckard.

I left the theater an hour ago and am still processing what I just saw. I am struggling to come up with words. Villeneuve, director of one of my all-time favorite films, 2015’s Sicario, as well as 2013’s brilliant Prisoners, will be credited with creating a piece of film history. It will not be immediately apparent, as some, like Forbes, seem to be ripping into this movie unfairly. I don’t understand their criticisms. 2049 is a slow burn, but so was the original, and, as I recently discussed, that is not at all a bad thing. I won’t go so far as to label it or put it in league with the greatest films of all time, the authority to make that distinction belongs only to history itself. I will, however, say that it most certainly lives up to, and may even surpass, the original masterpiece.

I don’t even know where to begin. Villeneuve and his director of photography Roger Deakins, who is the best cinematographer working in the business today, have managed to create a futuristic world that is a perfect continuation of what the future would look like in 2049, through the lens of the original’s version of 2019. It feels very natural, and it has, as I expected, the best cinematography I’ve seen all year. I would expect nothing less from Deakins, who has been the man behind the camera for all of Villeneuve’s English-language directorial efforts. The world of 2049 is nothing short of beautiful.

2049 is a completely organic continuation of the original in terms of story and characters, as well. Every character, new or old, feels like a part of this world. Absolutely nothing about this sequel felt forced or unoriginal; quite the opposite, actually. The best sequels are ones that can stand on their own as being good movies, without having to be compared to or unnecessarily reference the original film. 2049 comes to us 35 years after the original hit theaters, but there’s no forced nostalgia here. 2049 stands on its own, and it stands very, very tall.

Ryan Gosling is brilliant here. The new characters introduced in this film have more emotional and psychological depth than anyone in the original, including Deckard himself, and this is coming from someone who loves the original. K, explicitly a Nexus Class 8 Replicant, is a deeply conflicted and confused character, and Gosling portrays that confusion and K’s anger and rage perfectly. With 2011’s Drive and last year’s La La Land, I have grown to respect Ryan Gosling as more than just a pretty boy with less range than a wet piece of plywood, which is what I used to think of him. With K, my growing respect has now solidified, and I can now stand by him as one of Hollywood’s major players. Everyone else gives a flawless performance, as well. I was especially impressed with Ana de Armas’ performance as Joi. Harrison Ford gives his best performance in recent years, maybe since the original Blade Runner.

Like the original film, 2049 is a very philosophical and existential tale. It is one of the most weighty and complex films I have ever seen, in terms of narrative and the many layers found when digging deeper in. K faces prejudice in his life from nearly everyone he meets, even his empathetic boss. He is looked at differently for his unnatural origins, even though, like Roy Batty, he is essentially human in every other way. He has his own emotions, feelings, and ideas, and yet, he is seen as less just because he was not born, but created. He seems to have internalized these feelings, expressing that, since he was not born, he lacks a soul, an idea which his boss callously reinforces. This question of what defines a human was explored in-depth in the original, and Francher uses this opportunity to keep going, right where he left off in 1982. I spent two full college class periods analyzing Blade Runner, and the only reason we stopped is because we, regrettably, had to move on to another film. You could fill an entire semester of an upper-level philosophy course with questions from 2049 alone.

The original film asked a lot of questions and provided few answers. A large portion, if not a majority of the film, is left entirely up to interpretation, which added to the film’s legacy and reputation over time. 2049 could have easily been ruined by answering any questions. Answering questions definitively in a narrative such as this will confuse and anger people, because that would invalidate their thoughts and beliefs as to what the open-ended stuff means. Thankfully, 2049 answers nothing, and leaves audiences a fresh new pile of questions to ponder. I left the theater with nothing but more ambiguity and questions, and it was awesome.

2049, like its predecessor, is not for everyone. Not everyone is going to like it. Not everyone liked the original. 2049, although a big-budget sequel to possibly the most influential science-fiction film ever, is not what I would consider a mainstream film. In fact, I would say that some sequences and elements of this film have a more art house/experimental feel to them. The original did, as well. They are both, as I have discussed, slow burns that focus more on theme than plot. 2049 is not a blockbuster action film. There are invigorating scenes of action in here on par with Sicario’s traffic jam scene, but they are few and far in-between. Seriously, if you haven’t seen Sicario, go watch it now.

2049 is a think piece. I think mainstream moviegoers might take a cursory look at Blade Runner’s legacy, completely misunderstand how and why it is so influential and why it has a legacy, and think it must have been a fast-paced, slick, awesome flick, because that’s what all good movies are, right? Wrong. It is not, and 2049 isn’t either. If you go into 2049 expecting anything like Baby Driver or John Wick, you will be woefully bored and disappointed. Both are low-concept, philosophical think pieces that use science-fiction as a vehicle; both are so uniquely their own I can’t think of appropriate comparisons.

With that caveat out of the way, 2049 is quite possibly the perfect sequel. I remember a lot of people were concerned that Scott was handing over the reigns to a different director, but French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve has succeeded at the task of creating a sequel that not only stands up to, but in many ways surpasses the original, and considering how firmly entrenched in film history the original is, that should have been a near-impossible feat. Villeneuve has succeeded in a way no one else could, creating not only the perfect sequel, but also a film that may also end up with its own personal legacy 30 years from now. With excellent set design, excellent cinematography, excellent acting, excellent effects, and an extraordinary script, Denis Villeneuve is the director of not one, but two of my Top 10 Favorite Films, which is a first. I get if you don’t like it. Honestly, you very well might not. I, however, most definitely did. The parenthetical means I might go more in-depth on this someday, by the way. I should probably learn how to say Denis Villeneuve out loud, right? I can barely spell it.

 

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Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a 2017 science-fiction action-adventure comedy film written and directed by James Gunn. It is the fifteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a sequel to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film features the return of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradly Cooper, Vin Disel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, and Sean Gunn, and introduces new characters played by The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Night Manager star Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell.

Picking up some time shortly after the end of the first film, our protagonists are now renowned across the galaxy for their actions. They are hired by Ayesha, leader of The Sovereign race to protect some valuable batteries from an interdimensional monster. After the crew defeat the monster, Rocket impulsively steals some of the batteries, leading to the “easily offended” Sovereign to want them dead. As a reward for protecting the batteries, the Guardians are given a captive Nebula, Gamora’s amoral and double-crossing sister. After a crash landing, The Guardians meet Star-Lord’s father, a celestial being known as Ego. Wishing to catch up with his son after 34 years, Quill, Gamora, and Drax are invited to his home planet. Meanwhile, The Sovereign hire the disgraced Yondu and his crew to track down the Guardians and deliver them.

Let me start out by saying I feel as though Vol. 2 fails as a sequel. That is not to say the film is bad, as I found it to be quite good. Sequels, though, are meant to be an improvement upon the original film, much like John Wick: Chapter 2 improved upon the original. Vol. 2, in my opinion, failed to meet that requirement. Instead of improving upon the original and presenting a plotline more expansive than the original film, much of Vol. 2 remains exactly the same in terms of scale, and I was hoping it would be more enterprising than it was. However, as I had stated previously, I did find Vol. 2 to be a satisfying and entertaining film.

Vol. 2 treats us with expanded roles for returning cast members Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, and Karen Gillian. Yondu and Nebula’s roles in the first film were as supporting characters who were rather one-dimensional, as supporting characters often are. Here, the underrated former The Walking Dead actor is able to stretch his acting muscles more and evolve into a three-dimensional character you end up caring about. Same goes for former Doctor Who star Karen Gillian as Nebula. Sean Gunn, brother of director James Gunn, had an extremely minor role as a Yondu’s right-hand man Kraglin. In Vol. 2, Kraglin is given an expanded role and acts as one of the film’s many comic reliefs while also being an empathetic character.

As is to be expected, the rest of the main cast gives great performances. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and Bradley Cooper all continue to be awesome, while Vin Disel’s Baby Groot is as cute as ever. The legendary Kurt Russell’s performance as Ego is very good, and one of the better performances from an MCU villain so far. The special effects are all very good, as to be expected in a Marvel Studios film. I must also tip my hat to whomever is in charge of the makeup department, because Karen Gillian and Elizabeth Debicki are unrecognizable in their roles, in a very good way.

As with the first film, the soundtrack fused with 1970’s pop and rock ballads is as catchy as ever, and captures the character of Star-Lord, as well as the feel of the characters and the film, rather perfectly.

To conclude, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, though it fails to improve upon the original film, is still a fun movie with hilarious moments, great acting, great effects, great characters, a brilliant soundtrack, and a decent plot.

The Guardians are to return in Avengers: Infinity War in 2018, fighting alongside The Avengers and Doctor Strange against Thanos, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 sometime in the future.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy is a 2014 science-fiction action comedy film directed and co-written by James Gunn. It is the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is based upon the comic book team of the same name as reintroduced in 2008 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.  The film stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Disel, Dave Bautista, and Lee Pace, and features Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, Jon C. Riley, and Benicio del Toro.

Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter Quill. In 1988, immediately following his mother’s death from cancer, Peter is abducted by a group of criminal space aliens known as the Ravagers, led by Yondu, and grows up to be a charismatic and talented thief going by the nickname Star-Lord. After stealing an orb containing one of the Infinity Stones, Thanos, the soon-to-be primary antagonist of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War who was first teased at the end of the first Avengers film, played here and in the future by Josh Brolin, commissions the fanatical Ronan the Accuser to retrieve the orb. Meanwhile, Yondu discovers Quill’s theft. Displeased, he issues a large bounty for Quill’s capture. Two bounty hunters, an anthropomorphic raccoon named Rocket and his partner, a giant walking, talking tree named Groot who can only say variations of “I am Groot,” attempt to capture him and, in doing so, run afoul of Gamora, one of Thanos’ “adopted daughters,” genetically modified to be the perfect killing machine, sent after the orb by Ronan. It is revealed she refuses to let Thanos use the orb and its power to destroy entire planets, and instead plans to sell the orb to the powerful and mysterious Collector.

The four end up in prison and meet Drax, who wishes to kill Gamora due to her association with the Ronan, who previously killed Drax’s entire family. After convincing the ultra-serious Drax to not do such a thing, the band of misfits begrudgingly agree that they are going to have to band together to escape the prison.

After escaping the prison, the group must evade minions of Ronan, Thanos, and Yondu and protect the orb and the stone, such as to prevent the annihilation of the entire galaxy.

First announced in Summer 2011, everyone knew Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be a massive gamble. This was a group of characters nobody outside of the hardcore comic book nerds had ever even heard of, and that includes me. Add on top of that a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree, which admittedly sound ridiculous out loud, and you have a recipe for uncertainty.

James Gunn first came onto the Hollywood scene as a screenwriter for both of the live-action Scooby-Doo films and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Since then he has written and directed the cult horror comedy Slither and the comedy web series James Gunn’s PG Porna spoof of pornographic films with the tagline “For people who love everything about porn… except the sex.” These very well-done comedic projects earned Gunn a cult following. Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be the perfect project for him, further solidifying his status as a fan-favorite director. The film is well-organized and never takes itself too seriously, with a consistently lighthearted tone, excellent special effects, and the one of the catchiest and most effective soundtracks in film, in my opinion.

Full disclosure, I have an unabashed and shameless man crush on Chris Pratt. The former Parks and Rec star (who might I mention is pretty freaking jacked now) oozes charm and charisma, especially here. Of course, his use of the Star-Lord costume to visit hospitals as the character without the express approval of Marvel Studios (meaning it isn’t just a publicity stunt; he also has a kid with CP) may have me a little biased, but still, the combination of the man’s comedic acting and improv abilities, along with James Gunn’s technical prowess, turn Guardians of the Galaxy from an uncertain gamble to a surefire hit. This wonderful melding of minds can be seen throughout the entire film, even in its opening few moments.

Of course, Pratt is not the only one given hilarious comedic moments. Almost the entire cast, with the exception of Thanos, cracks a joke every once in a while. From Gamora not understanding Footloose or music, to Drax taking everything super literally, to almost everything featuring Rocket and Groot, Guardians of the Galaxy may be the funniest, and also the funnest movie Marvel Studios has created so far. (I have yet to see the sequel.)

Guardians of the Galaxy, with the help of a talented director and writer, marvelous stylistic choices, and excellent acting from all involved, turned a weird, little-known franchise from the far reaches of comicbookdom, and turned it into one of their most profitable, well-known, and critically-acclaimed properties. Guardians remains my favorite MCU film behind Captain America: Civil War, and I can’t wait to see where the property goes next.