Bro-Reviews: Escape Plan 2: Hades

No escape. No plan. Mostly hell.

Despite a brief resurgence at the start of this decade, by 2013 the teaming up of old action stars had lost its luster considerably. This did not stop Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger from making their long awaited team up in the underrated “Escape Plan”, and while many praised the two’s chemistry, the film underperformed considerably at the North American box office. The film did big business overseas, however, including a $40 million haul in China, the largest overseas market. With the tease of a sequel at the end of the first film, Stallone has taken it upon himself to cash in on a rising foreign movie market while still maintaining a presence in North America with the direct-to-video sequel “Escape Plan 2: Hades” and create his latest franchise in the process. 

“Escape Plan 2: Hades” sees Stallone returning as Ray Breslin, a prison escape artist expert who has found a way to monetize this unique skill with his company. After a hostage job gone bad, Breslin’s apprentice, Shu Ren (Xiaoming Huang) takes time away from the company to protect his cousin Yusheng (Chen Teng), a satellite tech millionaire with a target on his back. When the two go missing and wake up in an undetectable prison called Hades, it’s up to Breslin and his associates, consisting of up and comer Luke (Jesse Metcalfe), tech expert Hush (Curtis Jackson), and punishing weapons expert Trent DeRosa (Dave Bautista), to locate them and plan another escape from a seemingly inescapable prison.

Marketing for “Escape Plan 2: Hades” would leave you to believe Stallone and Bautista are the focus of the film. But if you had watched the trailer closely and paid attention to other direct-to-video films that boast A-list stars, you’d know this isn’t the case. This is Chinese star Xiaoming Huang’s movie, as he subs in for Stallone. While Huang isn’t much of a screen presence due to struggling with his English, he’s capable of delivering good action with his martial arts background, which suffices enough for the least demanding of action fans. 

That’s not to say Stallone isn’t in the movie much, he just takes more of a secondary role in the film. He gets his time with a few action sequences, and the film attempts to make up for his lack of screen time with Huang by having him be a voiceover that acts as Shu’s thought process of planning an escape. It’s Dave Bautista who feels underused most in the film, but he seems resigned to cash in this check while waiting for his next Marvel project as Drax.

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Sylvester Stallone in “Escape Plan 2: Hades”

Jesse Metcalfe barely resonates as a beefy rookie in the film as he attempts to recapture his “Desperate Houswives” fame. One can barely tell the difference between Metcalfe and Wes Chatham’s Jasper Kimbral, another member of Breslin’s team whose arch is beyond predictable. Jamis King doesn’t even reach eye candy level that’s how much of an afterthought she is, and it’s obvious rapper turned actor Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson needs to pay a few bills by reprising his role from the first film. The only one who gets anything out of his small role isTitus Welliver, who seems to be enjoying himself as the villainous “zookeeper” of Hades.

The film has all the trappings of a direct to video film: bad acting, laughable special effects, and choppy editing. While the action itself is somewhat competent, it’s the film’s underused premises and lack of explanation that truly made it destined for life on the direct to VOD market. A group of hackers called “Legion”, who appear to be pale rejects from “Mad Max: Fury Road” and speak only one phrase just because, and the prison’s system of selecting which days are fights days and why they are doing so has little rhyme or reason. There are numerous times you’ll have to stop the film and ask aloud “Wait, what?”, and at times you yourself will ask how it took one movie studio and five production companies to make this film.

Other than a nice way for Stallone to add to his grandchildren’s college funds, there’s a reason why “Escape Plan 2: Hades” wasn’t released in theaters. Despite an inkling of an interesting idea, the film is a largely bland and derivative sequel that makes the first film look like a masterpiece by comparison. Stallone die-hards and undemanding action fans may find something worthwhile, but most will be left without an escape and without a plan, languishing in movie hell. 

Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars: Rent it.

“Escape Plan 2: Hades” Stars Sylvester Stallone, Dave Bautista, Xiaoming Huang, Jamie King, Jesse Metcalfe, Wes Chatham, Tyron Woodley, Chen Teng, Titus Wellive, and Curtis Jackson. It is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD now.

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Bro-Reviews: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lost in space.

It bears reminding that Disney’s quest to take over the world came into great focus after they purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion back in 2012. This purchase came with the promise that not only would there be a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films, but also spin-off films of some of our favorite characters. One of the more beloved characters who was announced as getting his own Solo adventure was Han Solo, which was met with a resounding meh. Throw in the casting of Alden Ehrenreich and the firing of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller of the “Jump Street” movies fame, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” seemed doom from the start. The opening weekend results haven’t been pretty, as “Solo” had the worst opening of the new “Star Wars” films, but the rumors of pre-production problems and box office competition doesn’t mean the film is a bomb, right?

“Solo” sees a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) attempting to escape orphanage on the planet Corellia with his first love, Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). After separating during their escape, Han vows to return for Qi’ra but joins the Imperial Navy to escape capture. After being expelled for insubordination and becoming an infantryman for the Empire, Han meets a group of criminals, led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who plan to steal the valuable resource known as coaxium for the evil crime syndicate known as Crimson Dawn for their leader,  Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Along with the help of a Wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), Solo joins the gang the origin of Han Solo’s legend is revealed.

It needs to be said that perhaps no one could aptly portray a character made so legendary by Hollywood stalwart Harrison Ford, but Alden Ehrenreich is no Han Solo. Ehrenreich doesn’t have much charisma or screen presence, making him a dud as Han Solo. A resounding 90 percent or so of his jokes fall flat, and his sweet talking in negotiations nowhere near matches that of Harrison Ford. And call it nit picking, but the man is barely taller than his female counterpart in Emilia Clarke, so how are we to believe this guy is the legendary space cowboy Han Solo? 

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Aleden Ehrenreich in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”.

Speaking of Ehrenreich’s female counterpart, Emilia Clarke barely resonates as Han’s first lover, and her arch is beyond predictable. Donald Glover, who plays Lando Calrissian, seems to be doing a bad impression of Billy Dee Williams, who was the original Lando. Any hype surrounding Glover’s portrayal of the 2nd most sleazy space cowboy next to Solo is unwarranted, as his performance disappointments. Paul Bettany is an afterthought as a villain, and when your best characters are secondary ones such as the always likeable Woody Harrelson and a character who cannot speak English in Chewbacca, your film more than likely has a tremendous problem on its hands.

It doesn’t help the dialogue is bad, and the actors cannot bring it to life or rise above it. Most of it is exposition, and the cracks of preproduction definitely show in the films’ script. The action in “Solo” isn’t inventive or imaginative, a crushing blow to a film that is surprisingly boring throughout, making this “Star Wars” story a slog to get through. 

The only positive in the film revolves around a cameo appearance from one of the most under appreciated villains in “Star Wars” lore. I found myself nerding out at the appearance of this character, but to have to sit through two hours of the film just to get a two minute cameo is torture.

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a Solo venture that should have never been greenlit. Its preproduction problems undoubtedly seeped into the script, its action never excites, and the casting falls incredibly flat. If not for the one easter egg towards the end of the film, “Solo” would be a colossal waste of time. As it stands, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is the worst “Star Wars” film since “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and gets lost in space. 

Rating: 1 out of 4 Stars. Skip it. 

“Solo: A Star Wars Story” stars Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Joonas Suotamo, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Jon Favreau, and Paul Bettany. It is in theaters now.

Bro-Reviews: A Quiet Place

Quite the surprise.

Horror films have been lacking originality these days. Most rely upon teenage tropes that only unassuming audiences can enjoy, or recycle the same premises or old franchises ad nauseam. However, when trailers dropped for the new survival horror film A Quiet Place, people were instantly intrigued by its unique premise of using the ever so underappreciated use of quiet as a means of survival. Even more shocking was the reveal of the talent behind the camera, Jim Halpert himself, John Krasinski. With all of the intrigue and positive word of mouth for the film coming out of the South by Southwest Festival, A Quiet Place couldn’t land in theaters soon enough for the general public to see and judge for themselves.

A Quiet Place takes place in the year 2020, where a blind alien species with supersonic hearing has arrived and wrecked havoc on the earth. One of the few survivors consists of a family having just experienced a tragedy: a mother and father, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), their son, Marcus (Noah Jupe), and their deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds). The family must live in silence and band together to avoid the seemingly invincible creatures in order to survive.

A Quiet Place gets plenty of mileage out of its selling point and biggest asset: quietness. With the premise established in a fashion in which you fear for the characters at every turn, A Quiet Place has you paralyzed in suspense and at the edge of your seat throughout the film. The premise lends itself so well you begin to feel frightened for just squirming in your seat too loudly, as the film transports you to its world so well you too feel as if you’re living under the dire circumstances established in the film. Much of this credit must be given to director John Krasinski, who also co-wrote the film. With so little innovation in the horror genre, A Quiet Place is a welcome change of pace. A rare jewel in the genre that is not only tense, but undeniably frightening as well.

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John Kasinski in A Quiet Place

In regards to the performances, one must highlight the actor’s abilities to convey real emotions while still maintaining the logic of the premise. The strongest of the bunch has to be deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, whose character comes across as sympathetic and brave, and is a testament to the wonders of properly casting a role. Blunt also delivers as a caring yet strong mother, and her encounters with the other worldly species are undeniably jumpy. While some may laugh at his attempts to shed his Jim Halpert persona in favor of a ripped bearded mountain man in the hopes of reminding us he was almost Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, John Krasinski also does a splendid job as the family patriarch and protector.

If there’s anything to gripe about, the film’s premise does render its first half-hour somewhat slow. Yes, it’s all to establish the environment and setting, but even after the first sequence we get the point. Also, you can’t help but question some of the logic behind the film’s premise, such as day to day functions. Call it nit-picking, but the film doesn’t answer some of those questions as well. Most films at a certain point have to cheat their premise, but it would’ve been nice to see some of those burning questions resolved as well.

A Quiet Place is an edge of your seat survival-horror thriller that will leave you jumping at every sudden move. When a film can absorb you into its world to the point the happenings around you make you feel terrified for the potential consequences set up in the film, one must give kudos to the filmmakers for creating such an uneasy atmosphere. Considering its quiet rise to the public’s attention, A Quiet Place is quite the surprise.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.

A Quiet Place stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinsku, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds. It is in theaters now.

Bro-Reviews: Ready Player One

The ultimate 80s video game.

It’s been discussed here before, but it bears reminding; adapting popular books into films is a tall task. Not only do you have to please the fans of the source material, but also make it accessible for general audiences to enjoy as well. The latest book to get the big screen treatment is Earnest Cline’s “Ready Player One”, a futuristic science fiction novel published in 2011 that gained “unfilmable” status as soon as the idea was brought up. Of course, the only man willing to tackle this challenge head on was legendary Hollywood blockbuster director Steven Spielberg, as the film became a passion project of his that took years to develop and film. Now, the “unfilmable” Ready Player One has arrived in theaters, hoping to capture the attention of the novel’s fans and reignite the imaginations of general audiences everywhere like the director has done for decades upon decades.

Ready Player One takes place in the year 2045, where much of the earth’s population now lives in slum-like conditions due to overpopulation, climate change, and corruption. To escape the hardships of reality, people spend most of their days in a virtual reality platform called OASIS, created by the late innovator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Before his death, Halliday created a game within OASIS called “Anorak’s Quest”, wherein easter eggs are hidden throughout the virtual reality world, and the person who collects all the easter eggs gains control of OASIS. This attracts normal everyday users of the platform called “Gunters”, including Columbus, Ohio resident Wade Wilson (Tye Sheridan), and an army of soldiers called “Sixers” controlled by the leading creator of virtual reality equipment, Innovative Online Industries, and their CEO, Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn). With such high stakes on the line, it’s a race to find all of the easter eggs and gain control of not only OASIS, but also potentially the world.

There’s no doubt Ready Player One is a blast from the past, an 80s type film for the present generation’s enjoyment. Spielberg, when he doesn’t want to lecture a history class, still knows what puts butts in the seats: a good story, relatable characters, and blockbuster thrills. In regards to most of those categories, Ready Player One delivers on an epic scale. OASIS is a full blown spectacle of special effects, with animation so rendered and crisp you feel as if you too are part of this virtual reality. The action scenes that occur in this realm are nothing short of jaw dropping, whether it’s a race featuring King Kong standing in ones path to the finish line or the films’ the final battle sequence, only a true craftsman like Spielberg could handle such awe inspiring action.

One of the more intriguing aspects to the film is its dependency on pop culture references. There are so many easter eggs and nods to the 1980s, a decade Spielberg directed films dominated, throughout the film. It definitely draws a parallel to today’s pop culture obsessed world, somewhat of a biting commentary that our current habits will only be expanded to new levels in the future and in the soon to be virtual reality driven society.

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Ready Player One.

While the film doesn’t boast any A-list stars, the ensemble cast delivers. Tye Sheridan makes for a compelling protagonist in the film, and his chemistry with Olivia Cooke is apparent. Ben Mendelsohn may be somewhat of a generic villain, but he’s having a blast in the role of a corporate suite. Mark Rylance and Steven Spielberg appear to be attached at the hip these days, but Rylance once again does a remarkable job embodying the spirit of a film. The rest of the ensemble, consisting of Simon Pegg, T.J. Miller, and Lena Waithe, also hit their marks, making for a diverse, well rounded cast.

While the story definitely sets up for great visuals and special effects, it does take a little getting used to the visual dependent film, and could be overwhelmingly vibrant for some. The story itself has also been explored before not only in other science fiction novels, but in other films as well. This means its general themes can be pinpointed quickly, and audiences get a general feel for where the film is going over its 140 run time.

Even with the aforementioned faults of the film, Ready Player One is old school blockbuster filmmaking from a director who keeps finding ways to out-do himself. It’s a visually striking triumph that should not only please fans of the novel, but also general audiences deprived of such good quality films. Ready Player One is the ultimate 80s video game, a great reminder from the legendary Steven Spielberg that he’s not slowing down anytime soon, and a reminder of why we go to the movies; to escape the plight of reality for a short period of time, only this time it’s not just to theaters, but to OASIS as well.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.

Ready Player One stars Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe,Win Morisaki, Simon Pegg, and Mark Rylance. It is in theaters March 29th.

Bro-Reviews: Annihilation

A thought-provoking, ambiguous science fiction tale.

While science fiction films have been a staple of Hollywood since its inception, it appears as if the novelty of the genre has seemingly lost its luster. No longer are the days of original works such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars that marked the height of the genre. Presently, most science fiction films are the result of adaptations of popular written works. One such example is the recent film adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 science fiction novel “Annihilation”, as the book captured the attention of a young upstart direction in Alex Garland of Ex Machina fame. Throw in once of the few survivors of the Star Wars prequels, Academy Award winner Natalie Portman, and Annihilation was surely bound to capture the attention of genre purists and moviegoers alike.

Annihilation sees former Army soldier turned professor of cellular biology Lena (Natalie Portman) struggling to cope with the disappearance of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), a co-vert soldier. When Kane suddenly re-appears and reveals to be fatally ill, Lena and Kane are taken by a government security force to Area X, a secret government compound nearby a mysterious force-field called “The Shimmer”. The lead psychologist of the compound, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) reveals to Lena Kane and a team of soldiers went into “The Shimmer” to investigate the area, and she and a team of scientists (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny) plan to do the same. Lena joins them on this expedition in an attempt to discover the source of “The Shimmer’s” power, not knowing the horrors that lie within.

Director Alex Garland has become somewhat of a critical darling after the rave reviews his directorial debut, Ex Machina, earned. Clearly Garland has an eye for science fiction, as he is able to take a fairly low budget and make Annihilation into one of the more imaginative sci-fi films of recent memory. The special effects are nothing short of breathtaking, and the realization of “The Shimmer’s” environments and the creatures that inhabit it are an achievement in the genre. Garland’s screen writing talents are also put on display, as the film constantly leaves viewers pondering what exactly is occurring and leaving it up for their own interpretation instead of spoon-feeding them. While some may find this frustrating, others who prefer their movies with a little bit of smarts to them are in for a treat.

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Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson in Annihilation.

The performances also lend themselves well to the film. Natalie Portman has become a stalwart actress in Hollywood, and Annihilation is another example of her emotional acting prowess. Jennifer Jason Leigh has somehow revived her career, and her supporting performance in the film serves as a reminder of how talented of a performer she has been in her relatively unnoticed career. Tessa Thompson and Gina Rodriguez also stand out in the film, and show they have bright careers in their futures as members of the crew on the expedition.

The film does get off to somewhat of a slow start, and while most of it is due to developing characters and the story, some may find the film’s pace slacking. While the film should be commended for its mystery and ambiguity, it does leave viewers in a confused state. Certain reveals in the film aren’t explained thoroughly and have the potential to leave audiences dumbfounded walking out of theaters, and that lack of explanation will leave them wondering “what was that?”. It’s a daring risk for the filmmakers to take, but not all may find it to be a rewarding experience.

Annihilation boasts a game cast and a director furthering his career en route to becoming one of the few auteurs in Hollywood due to his visual style and provocative ideas. However, the film’s lack of resolution definitely leaves much to be desired despite its intriguing premise and ideas presented. Annihilation is a visually rich, thought-provoking, ambiguous science fiction thriller that is sure to please genre enthusiasts, but also more than likely leave general audiences scratching their heads as the head for the exits at the same time.

Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars. Pay low matinée price.

Annihilation stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Issac, and Benedict Wong. It is in theaters February 23rd.

 

Bro-Reviews: In Defense of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The hype was too big to live up to.

The early buzz for the latest entry in the world famous space opera saga Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been very positive, with many saying it is one of the best the series has to offer. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening in theaters this week, many television networks are of course opting to show the previous entries in marathon fashion throughout the week. This of course always re-opens the conversation Star Wars junkies and casual fans almost universally agree upon: the prequels are awful.

After the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi, fans had to wait nearly 16 years for another Star Wars film. It came in the form of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menance, the first film in a planned trilogy that would act as a precursor to the original three films from the man who helmed the 1976 film that started a worldwide phenomenon, George Lucas. With the promise of state of the art special effects, a talented ensemble cast including the likes of Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson, and an ominous new threat, the film had sky-high expectations, especially considering the positive reception the first three films earned.

Fans waiting outside of a movie theater to be the first to see “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

While the film earned over $431 million and was a smash hit at the box office, many left the theater disappointed. Most of the complaints centered around the terrible acting, over-complicated plot, lack of action, and Jar-Jar Binks. One might say the film is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of cinema, and the release of two more not well received prequel films only solidifies this status, as it was the one that started the disappointing cycle. I, however, invite you to reconsider, as while The Phantom Menace is far from a perfect film, it is a fine entry in the Star Wars saga.

Many criticize the acting in the film, placing much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of unrefined child actors Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd as Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker respectively. Here’s a newsflash: most child actors are terrible. I would never advise one to praise their acting prowess in the film, as they deliver mostly wooden performances, but they get the job done. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Won Kenobi respectively, and are able to anchor the film. And lets be honest, the acting in the original three films is awful as well. There’s a reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer (*R.I.P.*) didn’t get much work once the original saga concluded, it was because they weren’t very good. Star Wars isn’t a movie franchise you go to see for the acting, you go for the visuals and the story.

Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, and Ewan McGregor in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

However, many complain the story in Phantom Menace is poor as well. What they really mean is that the story is complicated. It isn’t as clear as the Cold-War like storyline represented in the original three films, which is the Rebels (*the good guys*) fighting the Empire (*the bad guys*) for space supremacy. In Phantom Menace, there’s many more parties involved, including the Republic, the Trade Federation, the Gugans, the Galactic Senate, the Jedi Council, and the Sith. Each of these parties have their own agendas, with some even acting as double agents, thus alluding to the political climate we have grown accustomed to. The film may not have the sharp dialogue required to pull off the story due to George Lucas’s shortcomings as a writer, but the film should be praised for containing such a complex story-line and using it as the set-up to the stories in the 70s and 80s films.

“Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

If there’s anything I can agree with most people about, it is Jar-Jar Binks. Actor Ahmed Best will have to live with this burden the rest of his life, as the borderline racist character will forever live in infamy as one of if not the worst character in the Star Wars universe. However, fans and critics are missing the point as to why the character exists: it’s a movie for children. Yes, Star Wars appeals to fans of many ages, but the films target children. Jar-Jar was the major selling point for kids to see the movie, as the fun loving, goofy character represented the lighthearted side of the film, and whose main function was to provide comic relief for the children. After seeing him in the film, children who more than likely loved the character would then bug their parents enough for them to buy them a Jar-Jar toy, thus allowing the Star Wars franchise to obtain even more funds from everyone. The same was and remains true for Chewbacca, the Ewoks, and also continues for new additions like BB-8 and Porg.

Ahmed Best as Jar-Jar Binks in “Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

The podracing scene stands out to most as the best sequence in the entire movie. It’s undoubtedly inventive and suspenseful, and clearly took advantage of the advancements in special effects technology to deliver one of the most thrilling scenes in Star Wars canon. But let’s not forget the feeling of dread and awesomeness when one of the baddest Sith lords to ever grace a Star Wars film, Darth Maul, reveals his double sided lightsaber in the best lightsaber battle in all the Star Wars films. Sure, it’s interrupted by a somewhat annoying Anakin Skywalker in an auto piloted starfighter joining the federation in fighting the droid control ship and the Gugans battling the droids with a clumsy Jar-Jar somehow saving the day, but even those scenes are fun as well. The choreography for the lightsaber fight is unprecedented, filmed in such a way you can tell what’s occurring on screen and feel every clash of a lightsaber, and adds one of the biggest gut-punches that would forever shape the Star Wars universe.

Ewan McGregor in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

It’s elements such as these that makes Phantom Menace much better than its reputation would have you believe. Yes, it’s far from perfect and maybe has its sights set too high in regards to its story for a Star Wars film, but Phantom Menace delivers blockbuster thrills and tremendous state of the art visuals on a grand scale. The hype machine set the expectations for the film so high there was no way it could live up to it. People had been craving another Star Wars movie for over a decade, and wanted it to be the way it was when they were a child. There’s no doubt “this wasn’t my childhood” sentiment also hindered the film, but it’s been long enough now that hopefully everyone has grown up and realized these movies, while they can be enjoyed by all ages, are targeted towards children, which they obviously no longer were by the time Phantom Menace landed in theaters nearly 20 years ago. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace should be given another viewing, and one should leave with a greater appreciation for the film than they did a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Liam Neeson, Ray Park, and Ewan McGregor in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.”

Rating: 2.5/ 4 Stars. Pay Matinée price.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiamird, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Frank Oz, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Bro-Reviews: Blade Runner 2049

This Blade (Runner) cuts deep.

Hollywood has been in the business of making money off of old properties for quite some time. Hollywood has also been in the business of attempting to create franchises by making sequels to popular properties, a trend that has no foreseeable end in sight. Combine these two trends together, and most of the time it yields disastrous results. That’s why when it was announced a sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott sci-fi classic Blade Runner was getting a sequel 35 years after its original release, many were apprehensive to the idea. A sequel to one of the most groundbreaking genre films of all-time? And old man Harrison Ford was returning as the original Blade Runner, Rick Deckard? It seemed like all was lost, but is there a chance Blade Runner 2049 is the rare exception that comes along every now and then?

Blade Runner 2049 sees bioengineered humans called replicants integrated into society, including LAPD “blade runner” K (Ryan Gosling). K finds himself embroiled in a case revolving around a secret regarding the human nature of replicants, something his superior officer, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright) believes to be dangerous. Lt. Joshi tasks K to get rid of all traces regarding this potentially revolution sparking secret, which leads to K encountering former “blade runner” Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), whilst on the run from the head of replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) and his deadly assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks).

While I understand the cinematic significance of the original Blade Runner and the influence it has had on the sci-fi genre, I personally can’t hop on the bandwagon of saying it’s a masterpiece. It was visually stunning and presented may thought provoking ideas, but its narrative just wasn’t cohesive enough. Blade Runner 2049 is the rare sequel that improves upon the faults of its predecessor, and is much better than the 1982 original.

While the film runs at an epic 163 minutes and still retains some of the clumsy narrative that made the original a divisive film at the time of its release, it uses its length to tell a more clear, simpler story with a thought provoking premise. Fans of the original Blade Runner and its many cuts will no doubt love the narrative provided by visionary director Denis Villeneuve, as it functions perfectly as a continuation of the last film. And fear not those who are not fans of the 1982 film, Blade Runner 2049 spoon feeds you just enough so that you too can follow along this thinking man’s neo-noir science fiction film as well.

Harrison Ford in “Blade Runner 2049”

Blade Runner 2049 retains its striking visuals that made the original such an influential film in the genre as well. It wastes no time in integrating the audience into this futuristic society with overcrowded cities, larger than life advertisements, and barren wastelands, making the world seem not as far fetched as some may believe it to be. In that regard, Blade Runner 2049 is nothing short of a visual masterpiece.

Blade Runner 2049 also features stellar performances from its talented ensemble cast. Ryan Gosling continues to showcase he’s one of the top leading men in Hollywood as officer K, and gives an emotionally engrossing performance. Robin Wright also gives the film a jolt of energy when needed, proving she can still deliver an emotionally charged performance. Sylvia Hoeks is chilling and frightening as a cold blooded killing replicant, and functions perfectly as the film’s main threat. Jared Leto isn’t in the film much, but is delightfully creepy as a replicant manufacturer similar to Joe Turkel’s Dr. Eldon Tyrell in the first film. And while Harrison Ford remains as grouchy as ever and doesn’t appear until the last act of the film, his reinsertion into the Blade Runner universe as an older Rick Deckard works, and questions linger in regards to whether or not he too is a replicant.

In regards to the stunning Ana de Armas, she proves she can give a solid performance in the film, but her character as K’s holographic companion Joi doesn’t quite work. It’s an interesting idea and a thoughtful commentary on how our society is moving closer and closer to developing more meaningful relationships with machines rather than humans, but since K too is some type of replicant, it makes this aspect of the film feel somewhat out of place, and could have possibly trimmed or cut out entirely to shorten the film’s already lengthy run time.

Despite the initial backlash and the one aspect of the film that doesn’t quite work, Blade Runner 2049 is a definite improvement over its already highly regarded precursor. The rare sequel that is not only better than the original, but takes the original’s themes and furthers them to comment on today’s society and dares to ask prominent questions we have regarding our own existences. Blade Runner 2049 undoubtedly cuts deep, and leaves audiences and fans of the original begging for more, even after 163 minutes.

Rating: 3.5/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Carla Juri, Wood Harris, Barkhad Abdi, and Hiam Abbas. It is in theaters October 6th.