Blade Runner 2049: Movie Man Jackson

Things were simpler in 2019. In 2049, Los Angeles is even more of a dystopia than before. Once under the all-watching eye of the Tyrell Corporation, scientist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has bought the company and put money towards new NEXUS replicants. The NEXUS-9’s are more obedient, and phase out the NEXUS-8’s. The few remaining 8’s are hunted once again by the Blade Runners; one known as “K” (Ryan Gosling) is quite adept at his job.

On a mission not out of the ordinary, K literally unearths a revelation that has wide-reaching ramifications for each party on alternates sides of a teetering proverbial “wall.” K’s investigation leads him to the legendary Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who may possess the clues to piecing together this mystery.

Ahh…Blade Runner. The aftermath of that movie released in 1982 is arguably more noteworthy than the actual movie itself, which is in no way a slight to Ridley Scott’s original. But, the aftermath and the second, third, and fourth lives of Blade Runner are why Blade Runner 2049 exists today. A 35 year release gap between productions would seem to be problematic, but not when there’s there’s this high level of talent assembled and involved. Blade Runner 2049 is an extremely impressive piece of work that mostly lives up to its substantial hype.

The pressure and expectations of delving deeper into the dystopian setting of 2019 LA thirty years later would crush many a working director in Hollywood. But Denis Villeneuve isn’t an average director. He’s a dynamic director, one of the best—if not the best—working today. Great sci-fi features depend a lot on visual storytelling, perhaps more so than any other genre. It’s impossible not to be sucked into the extravagant world of Blade Runner 2049 and not believe it doesn’t exist, or rather, won’t exist.

Clearly being inspired by Scott’s vision, Villeneuve keeps that neo-noir style but improves upon it in lighting, ambiance, CGI, and all of the above.The dynamic duo he forms with cinematographer Roger Deakins makes for the best looking film of 2017, bar none. Oh, and the composer collaboration of Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch makes for a great atmospheric accompaniment to everything on-screen.

And then there’s the story. Co-written by Blade Runner‘s original writer Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (Alien: Covenant, Logan), the focus remains on what it means to be human. Is “feeling” still feeling if those feelings are technically artificial? The specific theme that ties into those bigger ones is purpose.To not spoil anything (hopefully), I’ll just say that the film answers this question through the fascinating main character arc. At two hours and forty-three minutes, Blade Runner 2049 tackles a lot and deals with the volume pretty efficiently with a slow burn pace.

However, Villeneuve and company do unfortunately leave a few characters and intriguing narrative threads with little to no resolution, especially in the final act. Chalk it up to an unclear direction—not in the literal sense, but a figurative one. There’s enough here to suggest that Blade Runner 2049 could spawn at least another installment, maybe more (a lower than projected opening box office weekend may put an end to that, though). But at the same time, one gets the feeling that there were multiple people working on this that would like this to close the book on Phillip K. Dick’s story for good. As such, Blade Runner 2049 ends well enough but without that complete level of satisfaction.

What is undeniably satisfying is the cast, starting with lead Ryan Gosling. His character of K is compelling, and seeing how Gosling reacts as the story unfolds around and within him is spectacular. He’s flanked by a rising Ana de Armas, a consistent Robin Wright, and an opening scene-stealing Dave Bautista. The build to Harrison Ford is worth it, the veteran chewing up real estate once he appears. All make for great characters; the only ones who feel a little underwritten on first watch appear to be Jared Leto’s and Sylvia Hoeks. No fault of their own, both deliver great performances; but their motivations seem a little hazy. Still, this cast is spectacular, night and day better than the thespian work in Ridley’s original.

More standalone film than pure sequel, Blade Runner 2049 does nothing to dull the memories of 1982. But it takes those memories as inspiration and makes something that can stand alone well enough, leaving one of the 2010’s best science-fiction films behind.

A-

Photo credits go to liveforfilm.com, cnet.com, and rollingstone.com

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Blade Runner (The Final Cut): Movie Man Jackson

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Man’s creations will eventually rebel against their creators. Los Angeles, 2019. The City of Angels is a place that has seen many of the world’s greatest technological advances. One of these advances is the creation of “Replicants,” androids who look and feel like everyday humans. Proven to be dangerous after an uprising, the remaining replicants are banished outside of Earth and relegated to slave labor.

A few escape, and land back on Earth in search of their creator, whom they believe can help extend their life expectancy. They need to be “retired,” no ifs, ands, or buts. Taken from the shadows is Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an individual who specifically tracks and eliminates replicate threats. Upon the course of his investigation/manhunt, he gets romantically involved with an experimental model replicant, Rachael (Sean Young), who believes herself to be human. Deckard’s involvement with Rachael forces him to confront his humanity, as well as those of whom he is hunting.

Almost 35 years after its release (as of this writing), it’s impossible to talk about Blade Runner without acknowledging the impact it has had on the science fiction genre, mainly on the technical side. Almost 35 years later, it’s still one of the better-looking science fictions movies in history.

The dystopian future is a lynchpin of many a feature in the genre, but few, if any, have topped the fully realized vision that director Ridley Scott employs here. Los Angeles circa 2019 world feels authentic and lived-in, and draws one into the film immediately starting with the first interrogation utilizing the Voight-Kampff machine. Production is absolutely stellar, from the way Scott sets up shots, to the impressive score and sound design. Clearly, a sci-fi, however, it doubles as a film-noir (earlier versions feature Deckard narration, thankfully removed) in its use of lighting and plot elements.

Even as a visual tour-de-force, Scott’s Blade Runner is a slow moving film, mainly for the first half. Not until the second half do the themes start coalescing and things become more balanced with action and narrative. Scott tackles issues of oppression and corporate control, but being mainly concerned with what makes someone human. With the protagonist narration removed, Ridley leaves this question open to interpretation for the viewer. 

With all of that said, Blade Runner doesn’t resonate like envisioned, even after two viewings. I look to Scott’s characters as to a reason why, and mainly, his protagonist. Rick Deckard, even as more of his backstory is hinted at, is rather bland and nowhere near as compelling as he should be. As such, Harrison Ford ends up sort of being forgettable. Compare his character to that of Peter Weller’s in RoboCop (a movie that has similarities to Blade Runner but better pacing and memorable central characters to carry out its themes through), and Deckard feels…there. No real reason to get behind him and care about his journey. Why is he a blade runner? Why is he pulled out of retirement to hunt these replicants down, as opposed to someone else?

The replicants actually steal the show, in particular Rutger Hauer as the central leader Roy Batty of the escaped crew inhabiting Earth. Looking the part of an unstoppable killing machine, Hauer and Scott peel back the onion to show that there’s more to his character than that, and ends up being arguably the best character of the entire movie. Another argument can be made for Rachael, played by Sean Young who gives the character multiple layers as well. Rounding out the replicants are Joanna Cassidy, Daryl Hannah, and Brion James—each getting adequate screentime to further sell this created world—but amounting to little in actual people generating feelings from the audience. 

More impressive from the production and vision aspect than a storytelling and character one, Blade Runner is a little disappointing from the latter front. But is it still quite the sci-fi-experience in totality? Absolutely, and for that alone, it’s a mandatory watch for anyone. 

B

Photo credits go to qz.com, rogerebert.com, and dkillerpondworld.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com. 

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

The Expendables 3: Movie Man Jackson

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“It’s hard to beat an enemy when he’s inside your own head.”

As long as there are untouchable missions, you can rest assured the Expendables will always have work. Once again, Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is the leader in The Expendables 3, the gang of gung-ho mercenaries. The location where the stuff hits the fan this time is Somalia, where Barney and his team are attempting to stop the transfer of explosives to a dangerous warlord. Average day in the life of an expendable.

The mission gets a monkey wrench thrown at it when a old ally and now foe Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) reveals himself to be the supplier of the explosives. Assumed to be dead, the once co-founder of The Expendables now makes his living on the black market. This enrages Barney, but his men are overmatched and outgunned. Not wanting to put his original crew in harm’s way and expressing a desire to shake things up, Barney seeks out younger, progressive talent to employ in efforts to go to war against his old friend.

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When it comes to movie franchises, there is a fine line in knowing when it is time to reinvent the franchise or stick with what got the franchise a sizable following. It is tough to know what direction to take, and when to pull the trigger, and usually both are often no-win situations. Stick with the status quo too long and people say you’re getting lazy, or go more radical and people state that things change too much. Once of the best recent examples of a solid redesign is The Fast and The Furious franchise, effectively shifting its tone effortlessly sort of midway in its life cycle to the point that the latter three movies are accepted by most as the best in the series. Back to the feature at hand though. Sadly, The Expendables 3 tries to do new things, but gets away from its roots too much.

With these films, the draw or more fittingly the gimmick of past-their-prime action stars performing ultra-violent bloody acts make The Expendables what it is: Unadulterated entertainment. When these aspects are removed, what is left is a nondescript action film. If you don’t know by now, this installment introduces more characters to the crew, and for a minute it looks like new blood is going to mesh with the old guard. While that happens eventually, a sizable chunk of the runtime is solely devoted to introducing us to these new characters and seeing them do what the old guys used to do.

There is just no awe seeing these newbies in this film, because they have little to no prior history in the genre. The previous two films didn’t have and didn’t need character development, but the stars playing the characters were essentially themselves, which sort of gave some “depth” to them in an odd way. With the new blood, this simply doesn’t exist, and the characters are either bland but acceptable (Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell) or grating and stereotypical (Kellan Lutz). Additionally there are some newer older guys like Wesley Snipes making a return to acting, and Antonio Banderas (in a highly annoying role), but their inclusion feels like nothing more than to add more big names to appear in the trailer and film. It is a little of a downer for Snipes, because if he had more to do in here, the role could have conceivably gave his post-tax career some momentum.

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One of the biggest talking points prior to the release of The Expendables 3 was the fact that Sly and the studio were going to go with a PG-13 rating with this one. Sometimes too much is made about what a movie is rated, often pertaining to action movies, looking past the fact that effective action can still be created and utilized with a softer rating. Again however, these movies were built around occasionally graphic and over the top action, which the PG-13 rating cannot capture. When that is taken away, much of the soul of The Expendables 3 is as well. The move to a PG-13 is actually a puzzling one. The softer rating potentially expands the viewing audience, but it really doesn’t upon further analysis. It can even be argued that it pushes its core fan base away, and the new targeted demographic doesn’t move the money needle like anticipated.

Since the film was originally shot as a R, many cuts had to be made to get it to the desired mark, and it is here that the dulling of the action is most clearly seen. That isn’t to say all is a disappointment; there are a few impressive looking sequences here and there. More often than not though, so much shaky cam and janky cuts are used to minimize the violence, to the point that much is happening but little of it is actually seen. Even some that is seen is just plain boring and devoid of excitement. Aside from the action, there are more than a few occasions where some set pieces, be it driving or escaping from burning rubble, never appear to leave the green room, adding a layer of unintentional humor.

In totality, most involved for one reason or another appear to be going through the motions, whether this is their first go around or third. Unfortunate matter, because this movie actually has the most intriguing villain out of the three. Mel Gibson isn’t reason alone to see this, but he does steal the show as much as one could in a movie like this. His character is a bad guy, but is cerebral enough to get you to see some of his side. The plot is benefited from a beefed up foe and seems to have slightly more direction than its predecessors, but it does have some pacing issues. Honestly, it is longer than it needs to be, and there are a few stretches where nothing truly occurs but recruiting members or getting to know them. This was most likely done to give some weight to the new people in an effort to get us to care, but the characters themselves are ones to be forgotten.

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Whether a victim of franchise fatigue or doing too much to a relatively tried and true template, The Expendables 3 isn’t good any way you slice it. But the bigger issue is that it just isn’t that memorable or fun.

Grade: D

Photo credits go to movpins.com, whoatv.com, and cinemablend.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.