Blade Runner 2049 – Spoiler free review

Blade Runner 2049 review

Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Certificate 15

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

How do you follow one of the biggest cult films of all time? When tackling a sequel to Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece about an android detector hunting near perfect replicants, the answer was leave well alone. The story had been told. The box office returns had been hugely disappointing, but over the years it made its money back via re-releases and assorted cuts.

Then, around five years ago, the rights were up for grabs, and it looked like Ridley would direct. But while he was busy with Alien Covenant, Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (maker of stunning trio Prisoners, Sicario and Arrival) was wisely hired to tell the next chapter in the saga of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

Ryan Gosling is superb as Officer K, a Blade Runner retiring (killing) more replicants while reporting to Robin Wright’s police chief Lieutenant Joshi. But it’s not long before he’s investigating a riddle wrapped in an enigma after an opening showdown with Dave Bautista’s formidable antagonist.

That’s the thing with this movie. It’s so full of spoilers that I daren’t reveal too much about anyone or anything for fear of giving the game away.

So as K embarks on his mission, blind replicant creator Wallace (Jared Leto) makes his moves like expert chess player Tyrell from film one (who he’s clearly modelled on).

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

The rest of the cast is excellent, from Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks, to Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James and Bautista. Nobody gives a bad performance and master lensman Roger Deakins creates some of the most beautiful images you’ll see this decade.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

Unlike The Dark Tower, which shed a bright spotlight on its nods to Stephen King’s other work, references to the original Blade Runner and author Philip K Dick are far more subtle. A pot boiling on a stove might be just that, as could a wasp on a hand, or they could be integral references to Deckard’s interrogation of Rachael in the original.

The audio references are also a treat for obsessives like me. A familiar electronic hum here, a nostalgic whir there. And then there’s the soundtrack. Topping Vangelis’s masterful original score was futile, but Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s booming chords and notes offer a flavour of its predecessor without them sounding like a tribute band.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

There are at least two great cameos, one created with CGI which slips into the realms of uncanny valley.

There are times when the whole thing reminds me of Tron Legacy, another relatively recent sequel to a cult eighties classic. The difference here is a great story which twists and turns brilliantly. An obvious development early on becomes more complex as things develop. Thankfully I feel one step behind the storytellers instead of 10 steps ahead.

And the finale when it arrives after two and a half hours is near perfect. Or it would have been if the cinemaoger on our row hadn’t ruined the moment with his lit up phone. To be fair he had popped down to tell the staff to turn the lights off after five minutes of a semi-ruined intro, and the couple behind me who decided to talk through the next 10 minutes were polite enough to shut up for the rest of the movie once I asked them.

Photo: Columbia/Alcon/Scott Free

This won’t be for all tastes. The movie really takes its time, the polar opposite of popcorn tentpole movies which aim for the lowest common denominator. Those vistas are superb, with huge electronic billboards (including references to a French car company and the long defunct Pan Am).

Like the original, the mood is also spot on. It has a smoky, late night jazz feel which sets up proposed sequels without feeling contrived. The second act could have been tighter, but that ending, like the original, is a terrific, poetic closing chapter to a bigger story. I just hope I don’t have to wait another 35 years to see it.

8/10

My vlog review

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – A spoiler free review

It’s too early to tell but The Force Awakens may be the best Star Wars film yet. Yes, better than The Empire Strikes Back, which is saying something.  However, as I saw the first IMAX 3D screening at Castleford, which crashed half way through, I’ll need to watch it again to form a better opinion. 

JJ Abrams’ movie is a fun packed roller coaster ride which takes elements from the best Star Wars movies and bolts them together like a well crafted metal quilt. 

There are thrilling set pieces, chilling villains, splendid twists and an excellent cast. 

  
The first screening of The Force Awakens – Midnight, December 17, 2015

John Boyega is a terrific young hero, while Daisy Ridley almost steals the film as the scavenger thrust into a dazzling adventure. That is when lovable droid BB8 lets her. It may look like the mechanised head of a one-eared Mickey Mouse but you will not see a more adorable droid all year. 

The effects are often stunning, with some wonderful flourishes, but most of all it boasts incredibly touching moments. 

Unlike all of the prequels, I actually cared about these protagonists, and when that sucker punch moment comes, like it does in many JJ movies, you know things are never going to be the same again. 

Harrison Ford gives one of the best turns of the past 20 years, slipping back into the character that made him a star like a foot finding a bespoke old shoe. 

  
His relationship with other familiar faces also feels completely natural. 

Carrie Fisher’s welcome return to that galaxy far far away is also something to treasure. 

Some of these characters we have grown up with and old with. It’s a joy to see them back on the big screen. 

John Williams’ score slots right in with the rest of the saga, and with a rich storyline featuring plenty of loose ends, Episode VIII cannot come soon enough. 

I laughed. I got a little teary. I want more. 

Ender’s Game. The review

May contain spoilers

I try not to play video games when my wife is in the room because she’s not a gamer and I know how bored she gets watching me building bases and zapping CG aliens.
And that’s the problem with Ender’s Game, the new sci-fi adventure based on the novel by controversial author Orson Scott Card.

For the most part it’s a slick, intelligent and mostly compelling yarn, a mash-up ofWargames, Tron, Starship Troopers and assorted other sci-fi adventures.

Asa Butterfield is superb as the eponymous young hero, and director Gavin Hoodsurrounds him with a worthy supporting cast, including Viola Davis and tattoo-faced Ben Kingsley.
(It’s a lot more rewarding than Hood’s previous fantasy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

Arguably the weakest link is Harrison Ford as gruff seasoned military man, Hyrum Graff. He sounds laboured as he reads the dialogue, like he has little faith in the material, or is wondering what time he can wrap up shooting so he can have his dinner. Yes, he probably had the same demeanour shooting Star Wars in the mid 1970s, but here he lacks the charisma of Han Solo.
The problem is for the most part you’re watching someone else playing a game. There’s a disconnect between the audience and the key protagonists, especially Ford, who is usually seen through windows or behind desks. There’s a barrier between him and us which rarely lowers.

In a previous blog I remarked that Ford hadn’t made a good film in 20 years, and whileEnder’s Game is far from a disaster, it’s also not the winning mix of Harry Potter and Star Wars that the ad campaign suggests.

I was impressed by the bulk of the movie. It was smart and treated the audience with a degree of intelligence; surreal moments involving a game were suitably dreamy and nightmarish, but as the film built to its finale I didn’t know if I was watching a simulated battle or the real thing.
And the finale is stunning to look at; a flurry of spaceships swarming like fish engage the eye as the young warriors build to an edge-of-the-seat, do-or-die climax.

But the last few minutes are disappointing. A personal bugbear, the hero’s name being repeated constantly by a character, set my teeth on edge, while the open-ended conclusion is clearly set up for a sequel that I fear may never happen.

I enjoyed this far more than most Potter films, but I doubt Ender will engage the audience enough to return to your local multiplex in a couple of years.

I hope I’m wrong as I’d love to see the hero actually physically tackle some alien bad guys instead of orchestrating their destruction from behind a computer screen.