Blade Runner 2049 Review

As a lifelong follower of the science fiction genre, Blade Runner has always been revered as a classic. Pioneering many awe-inspiring visuals that films today look to for guidance. While I respect Blade Runner for its visual achievements, emotionally the film has done very little for me. I find it a bit mundane and heavy-handed, with little going for it other than the artistic style.

In many aspects, Blade Runner 2049 is very similar.

The film takes place about thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner. Since then, the world has fallen into somewhat of a dystopian mess. With a new era of blade runners (hitmen, essentially) hunting down replicants (a term for bioengineered humans) of the past.

Blade Runner 2049 follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a particularly skilled blade runner on a mission with enough significance to throw what’s left of the world into complete chaos.

Beautifully crafted sets, enticing visuals, and monumental sound design all blend together to make Blade Runner 2049 artistically stand out. Concepts and knowledge only briefly mentioned in the previous film are expanded here tenfold. Scenes are shot and crafted with such delicate precision that viewers like myself will be left completely spellbound. The level of imagination in its design is on par with the Star Wars trilogy, and the perfectionism in the lighting and set pieces is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, it is here where I’d argue the film does too much expanding, to the point where it exhausts itself. Dramatic scenes that, overall, carry very little weight last for ten to fifteen minutes, when they could be summed up with two simple lines of dialogue. Instead, the film goes for this melodramatic, philosophical dialogue so that it may beat its themes and messages into the viewers head.

And unfortunately, the themes are all recycled from the first Blade Runner. “What does it mean to be human?” Boiled down, that’s the question Blade Runner 2049 poses to the audience. Only it takes them three hours and way too many dialogue pauses to say it.

With so many needlessly lengthy scenes, the conclusion of Blade Runner 2049 felt all too rushed by comparison. Plot lines that needed more depth and discussion get no such thing, which leaves the audience with just as many questions as answers.

So, while most of Blade Runner 2049 was still entertaining to watch (mostly due to the visuals and Goslings straight-faced performance), I think the story and themes have very little to offer viewers.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

In the same vein as its predecessor, Kingsman: The Gloden Circle is an outlandish spy movie full of plot twists and zany gadgets.

Taking place about a year after the events of the first film, Kingsman follows the English Secret Service agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as he, once again, must save the world from complete destruction. This time around, Eggsy must team up with an American spy organization known as the Statesman, led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Jack Daniels (Pedro Pascal). Together, they must work to stop the new supervillain of the week Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a criminal mastermind that specializes in illicit drugs.

Kingsman is one of those movies that thinks it needs to be two and a half hours long. So, in a feeble attempt to buffer its runtime, the film overcompensates and tacks on too many subplots. The ensemble of characters, sets, and plot devices felt very long-winded, and a bit overwhelming. It would’ve served the audience much better if the filmmakers cut the fat away and focused on creating a more condensed movie.

Even the action scenes, which were used somewhat sparingly in the first Kingsman, felt unnecessarily bloated here. The opening scene cuts right into a ten-minute car chase sequence that I believe jumped the gun. The action was highly stylized, with very fluid camerawork and choreography that made the fight scenes mesmerizing to watch. It was only when they dragged these parts out that they became tedious and mundane.

The entire cast, old and new, had so much fun with this film that I couldn’t help but do the same. The energy and excitement in the performances elevated some possibly underwritten characters to new heights.

The humorous nature of Kingsman is still alive and well here in the sequel. With situations and moments that are so unusual that you wouldn’t expect them from other more reasonably grounded films. One of the more comical aspects of Kingsman was the inclusion of Elton John (a rather peculiar celebrity cameo) as a minor character, who takes part in the action-packed climatic showdown.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is most enjoyable when you cease to take the film seriously. It teeters between nonsensical and extravagantly excessive, in this little unique world of spies that it has built itself. Kingsman isn’t high art, nor is it trying to be. It knows its core audience, and will deliver plenty of enjoyment to those who liked Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

 

The Hitman’s Bodyguard Review

The idea of Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson acting in a buddy comedy together sounds like a match made in heaven. The type of roles they typically play are tremendously different, which would theoretically make for a highly interesting film. I say theoretically, because The Hitman’s Bodyguard perfectly displays the sad truth that, just because you have good actors, doesn’t mean you’ll have a good movie.

The film stars Reynolds as Michael Bryce, a protection agent who’s called upon to help protect a notorious hitman named Darius Kincaid (played by Sam Jackson). With a long, complicated history between them, Bryce must now escort Kincaid across Europe so that he may testify in court against a ruthless dictator (Gary Oldman).

Ryan Reynolds and Sam Jackson are pretty funny as individual characters, but don’t work well off each other’s comedic style. Most attempts at jokes dragged on for far too long, and nobody in the theater was even laughing to begin with.

This poor comedic outcome is due to the writers going for the double act style of humor, which is what you see in most buddy comedies of this caliber. Double act works in films like Tango & Cash and Men in Black because the characters are written with complete opposite personalities. Well, herein lies part of the problem with The Hitman’s Bodyguard, as neither of our protagonists have well-defined personalities

Jackson was more severe than Reynolds, but neither ever stuck with a singular set of characteristics. Jackson would often go from being a cold-hearted killer to a more sensitive and understanding person, almost at the flick of a switch. So when the actors don’t have defined personalities, it’s hard for the audience to relate to one of those characters, which entirely defeats the purpose of double act.

The villain of the film, played by Gary Oldman, is a bland Eastern European stereotype with absolutely no depth to his character. After having just watched The Hitman’s Bodyguard, I can’t remember anything about him. Now, Gary Oldman is one of my favorite Hollywood actors, and I think he can play a very diverse range of roles. So I’m incredibly confused as to why he was given so little to do the entire film. He never says or does anything of importance, making his character one of the more forgettable villains of past months.

Some of the action scenes were energetic, while others were fairly lackluster. Take the grand boat chase seen for example. It has a mix of clever and generic moments, however what really ruins the chase sequence is that it goes on for an eternity. The best chase scenes (and action scenes as well) are short and to the point, condensing what the viewer is shown into the most exhilarating moments. The Hitman’s Bodyguard unfortunately wasn’t all that exhilarating, or exciting.

When you boil it down, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is about as standard as a buddy comedy can possibly get. It attempts to go through the same motions of other films in its genre, but because of the lopsided writing it fails to leave any lasting impression on the viewer. It had some funny, even hilarious scenes. However, even the most enjoyable moments of The Hitman’s Bodygurad are overshadowed by sloppy writing and a sense of mediocrity.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Atomic Blonde Review

Based on the graphic novel titled The Coldest Winter, Atomic Blonde gives audiences a thrilling spy movie experience set in the Cold War Era.

The film stars Charlize Theron as an MI6 field agent named Lorraine Broughton, who’s on a mission to Berlin, Germany to retrieve a valuable piece of microfilm. The contents of this film, in the hands of the enemy, could extend the Cold War for many decades to come. While in Berlin, Lorraine teams up with an eccentric CIA station chief nicknamed Percival (James McAvoy), who helps her navigate an unsettled city full of secret spies and double-crossers.

Atomic Blonde exhibited a variety of long, uninterrupted action sequences that somehow felt both choreographed and improvised. There’s one particularly impressive scene where Lorraine takes part in hand-to-hand combat with a couple of KGB spies in a stairwell. All the actors involved slowly became bruised and battered over what felt like a ten-minute-long sequence. The KGB spies (who I assume were played by professional stuntmen) are repeatedly knocked down staircases, punched, and hit with random, indiscernible objects that Theron picks up off the ground. I found myself getting very invested in scenes like this, where the violence is so realistic that you wonder how the actors ever pulled it off. Or how physically painful falling down the stairs backwards was for the stuntmen, after doing it three consecutive times already.

Charlize Theron played the part of a sensual and fierce spy tremendously well, with no-nonsense body language and razor-sharp intelligence. Her character felt like a cross between John Wick and James Bond, and was by far one of the highlights of the film.

Just like most films based on a graphic novel, Atomic Blonde tries too hard to be artsy and stylistic in its filmmaking, and usually just came off as gimmicky. A fine example of this would be the neon spray painted title cards that introduced the audience to new locations. Unfortunately, small touches like this felt too forced and out of place, and I could almost hear the director screaming “I’m artistic, applaud me!” in my ear.

Another issue with the stylistic approach of Atomic Blonde was the incoherent way it told its story. The first half of the film jumped around to different characters and locations way too frequently, to the point where it became difficult to keep a firm understanding of what was happening.

By the time the film became more focused and coherent in the second half, the audience was already playing catch up in an attempt to comprehend the complex story. Character motives and alliances were so scrambled that, for this reason, I still don’t fully grasp the disjointed ending.

So, while it has its minor issues in storytelling and style, ultimately Atomic Blonde accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. That being, to create a female spy movie on par with the James Bond series. I don’t think that Atomic Blonde was as stylistic as it so desperately wanted to be, and the bizarre plot pacing actually hindered its storytelling capability.

Nonetheless the film was vastly entertaining, with great use of lighting and 80’s tracks to set the proper mood. With well-crafted action scenes and a fantastic lead actress, Atomic Blonde is an action film I’d recommend you give a watch, so long as you have the patience to sit through an overly complicated story.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Dark Tower Review

Based on the dark fantasy book series by Stephen King, The Dark Tower takes audiences on an all too brief journey into a very creative and unique universe.

The film stars Idris Elba as the Gunslinger, the last on an elite group of marksmen, who is constantly at war with an evil sorcerer known as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey). It’s the Gunslinger’s duty to prevent the Man in Black from destroying the Dark Tower, the key to holding the universe in balance. When the Gunslinger meets a young boy named Jake (Tom Taylor), he discovers Jake has the power to take him to the Man in Black. Because of this, the Gunslinger teams up with Jake to exact revenge on the Man in Black, and perhaps save the Dark Tower in the process.

For reasons beyond my understanding, The Dark Tower felt the need to cram all eight of Stephen King’s novels into a single, ninety-minute film. And for this reason, the film is unevenly paced and condenses too much complex material that needed more time to develop. Character arcs, logical plot progression, and even necessary background information is all completely ignored due to limited time constraints. What should have been at bare minimum a three-part trilogy is instead just a CliffsNotes guide to The Dark Tower, which is sure to upset most fans of the novels.

The only actor to give a serious, respectable performance in The Dark Tower happened to be Idris Elba. Elba’s role as the Gunslinger carried the film through its roughest and most emotionally void scenes, giving the audience one aspect of the film to take seriously.

Even more memorable then Elba, we have the wonderfully miscast performance of Matthew McConaughey, who was already hamming it up by the first scene in the movie. There were many moments where he’d get real close to another character and whisper his lines in this creepy, perverted way. It didn’t help that he was dressed like a 90’s boy band singer for the entire film, which made it impossible for me to take him seriously.  Everything from his facial expressions to the way he carried himself was comical, making McConaughey an absolute delight to watch.

Overall, I can easily see why so many fans of the book series have expressed anger and frustration at this adaptation. To take a series so dense with lore and boil it down to a single ninety-minute adventure film feels needlessly disrespectful.

I, never having read the books, was able to look past this issue and enjoy the flick for what it was, a typical action-adventure movie. The few action sequences that The Dark Tower did sport were very well shot and a lot of fun to watch. It also had some pretty amazing visuals, and managed to hold my attention for the entire runtime, which is more than I can say for many films of this genre.

So, if you’re a fan of the books this film was based on, then I’d stay far away from The Dark Tower, as this adaptation will probably just upset you due to how unfaithful it is. If you’re someone like me with little knowledge of the book series, than I’d go ahead and check out The Dark Tower. Its action scenes, creative set locations, and oftentimes comical demeanor will keep you entertained the whole way through.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is about as visually awe-inspiring as its title would have you believe. Full of creative ideas from director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Lucy), Valerian unfortunately struggled to get past its own mediocre characters and bizarre writing.

The film takes place in the 28th century, where special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) act as peacekeepers of the universe. They are tasked with a very important mission that sends them to the thriving, culturally diverse city of Alpha, also known as the City of a Thousand Planets. There, Valerian and Laureline discover a dark force that threatens the safety of everyone within the city, and must find a way to stop it before it’s too late.

In usual Luc Besson fashion, Valerian possesses engaging and appealing visuals, but incredibly bizarre writing and characterization. Take the opening scene of the film for example, where we are introduced to an alien race that are unfortunately killed off in a planetary explosion. The aesthetics of this scene are pretty breathtaking, as the audience is given a nice glimpse into the unfamiliar culture of this race. Yet, everything that happens is so strange and off-putting that I was genuinely confused as too its purpose. There were plenty of moments that were supposed to be charming that either had me laughing hysterically or completely shocked.

The acting in Valerian wasn’t much different, as the remarkably poor performances of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne had me giggling through most of the flick. Dane DeHaan was particularly bad, as it seemed like he was doing his best “Keanu Reeves on Nyquil” impression. Both of them seemed so disinterested in what was happening in the story that I couldn’t help but feel the same way.

By the third act of the film, scenes began to drag and get very heavy-handed, especially when we drew close to the disappointing climax. By this point it became obvious that the entire purpose of the flick was to force-feed the audience political and social commentary, all of which comes off as way too forced and gimmicky. The well-meaning politics overall do very little for the film, other than to make the obvious villain just a one-dimensional, boring character.

The few strengths of Valerian weren’t in its ability to give us interesting characters or tell a cohesive story, but in its capacity to immerse the viewer in a vast, all-encompassing universe. From the first moment I saw the City of a Thousand Planets, the location in which most of the film takes place, I was completely mesmerized by all the wonderful aesthetics. Many of the creatures we come across in the film are designed very creatively as well, and are brought to life with great use of practical effects and costumes.

However, rather than focusing on the immersive atmosphere and truly creative ideas, Valerian spends its time focusing on a jumbled plot and characters that are honestly pretty loathsome. I had no interest in the relationship between DeHaan and Delevingne, and the plot felt way too disorganized for what it was. I wish I could’ve enjoyed the film more than I did, but even the countless moments where Valerian got so bad it was humorous weren’t enough to save it from its own painful writing.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Dunkirk Review

In May of 1940, near the start of WWII in the European Theater, Nazi Germany broke through Allied lines in France, trapping all Allied soldiers on the French beaches of Dunkirk. In what became one of the largest military evacuations in history, hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers were methodically rescued from the beaches using any and all civilian and naval vessels possible.

And to pay tribute to this very important piece of history, we get the newly released film Dunkirk, a worthwhile flick that portrays Allied soldiers at their strongest and weakest points. Turning out many captivating performances, Dunkirk portrays the evacuation from many key points of view.

Director Christopher Nolan, a filmmaking purist who prefers to shoot on film over digital, displays remarkable talent in his ability to capture the chaos and grit of warfare. With Nolan’s films, especially Dunkirk, you get a sense of genuineness in what happens on-screen, that what you see is exactly what you get. You can tell the film hasn’t been filtered or altered a million times over in post-production, and that most of the stunts pulled off are completed using practical effects.

The camera work in Dunkirk reminded me a lot of Saving Private Ryan, in that the camera itself gets up-close and intimate with the actors. This gives the audience a firsthand view of the tragedy and disarray, which is much more compelling and rousing than seeing it happen from far-off angles. There is one scene in particular that exemplifies this well, and it’s when a British ship is hit by a German torpedo. In a typical war film, we might see the Germans actually launch the torpedo, then watch as it glides through the water and impacts the ship, causing a large explosion. In Dunkirk, we see an indiscernible object about twenty feet from the boat, somebody yells “Torpedo!”, and the boat is struck with an ear piercing sound. And instead of seeing the explosion from the outside, the audience is given a view from inside the ship, as the soldiers struggled to make it to the deck and avoid drowning. Again, this style of up-close and personal camera work gave a certain level of realism to the picture that few war movies successfully achieve.

Another thing I noticed in particular about Dunkirk was just how loud the film was. From the first bullet fired, everything sounded much louder than most movies you see. I feel that this may have been done intentionally, as too give a more realistic impression of warfare and just how loud the battles are. A nice little touch that many will find obnoxious, but I found necessary.

Dunkirk manages to flawlessly depict Allied soldiers at their most heroic (and feeble) moments during a crucial point in WWII history. While the film does take several liberties, neglecting several important aspects of the evacuation (like the heavy involvement of French soldiers), I still feel that Dunkirk does its best to be historically accurate. The film exhibits a powerful cast, a strong sense of realism, and displays the talents of a director who knows how to functionally make a movie work. Giving audiences an intense experience that all war movies should strive for.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint