Needs More Stirring

For years, the two main comic book publishers were like feuding brothers – you could tell they were related but with two distinct personalities. DC was the older, more mature, and rather staid brother, while Marvel was the younger, wilder, and more inventive one. DC was the first to find success on the large screen, with Superman in the 1970s and Batman in the late ‘80s. It wasn’t until the late 1990s/early 2000s that Marvel characters moved into the theaters with Blade, Men in Black, X-Men and Spider-Man. DC did have the most critically successful series with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but then Marvel launched the first part of its massive Universe slate of films beginning with Iron Man in 2008. Disney’s acquirement of Marvel in 2009 helped push the superhero film market into a billion-dollar industry.

While DC has a production agreement with Warner Brothers, it recently hasn’t come close to the success of the Marvel movies, with the exception of Wonder Woman. Neither has it matched the output of Marvel, with four movies for DC to a score for Marvel. (It’s held its own on the small screen, with “Gotham” on Fox and “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Super-Girl,” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” on the CW – you could almost call it DCW.) Marvel has brought interesting and idiosyncratic directors to projects – Kenneth Branagh, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, John Favreau, James Gunn, Anthony & Joe Russo, and Taika Waititi, among others. With the exception of Patty Jenkins who crushed it with Wonder Woman, DC has gone with Zach Snyder.

Justice League could be seen as DC playing catch-up with the Marvel’s Avengers movies, the first two of which grossed over a billion dollars each. But rather than building the platform for its success with individual movies about the characters then bringing them together, DC has switched the order – group film first, with individual movies to follow. It doesn’t work as well. You’re not as invested in the characters, and they haven’t been as sharply drawn.

The Avengers were blessed to have cool bad guys since, just like James Bond, superhero films are only as good as their villains. For Justice League, the big bad is little more than that – big and bad. Steppenwolf is a personality-deficient character that’s only a little better than the evil cloud in The Green Lantern a few years ago – and that’s not saying much. He’s served by a horde of man-sized insects that are more annoying than frightening. It makes you want to grab a can of Raid.

The 120 minute running time doesn’t allow the new characters of Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg to go beyond the broadest brushstrokes. Ezra Miller suffers in comparison to Grant Gustin’s TV version, now in its 3rd season. He’s relegated to the role of the immature kid thrust into battle. It can be a powerful subplot when done well – think of Jeremy Davies’ Cpl. Upham in Saving Private Ryan, or, in the superhero world, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron – but Miller doesn’t get the chance to fully claim Flash’s superhero status. Hopefully that will be rectified in his solo movie Flashpoint, but that’s three years in the future.

Ben Affleck’s performance as Batman isn’t horrible – think of Val Kilmer’s turn as the character after Michael Keaton moved on rather than George Clooney’s ill-fated outing – and it plays off of Bruce Wayne feeling his age. It comes across better than in Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice. The resurrection of Superman is about the worst kept plot secret in history, especially with Amy Adams and Diane Lane participating in the film.

Snyder had to drop out of the film after principle photography was complete after the death of his daughter. Instead, Joss Whedon took over to finish the film, including extensive reshots amounting to about 20% of the film that pushed the budget into the $300 million range. Some scenes definitely have Whedon’s wry wit on display, where Snyder style is more straightforward, but it’s not enough to lift the film to a good level of excitement.

Yet within the film is a scene that shows what it could have been. Nihilistic bank robbers take hostages and plan to blow up the building, but Wonder Woman streaks in to the rescue. It’s tight and thrilling. As with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the best parts of Justice League revolve around Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. While I’m so-so on the upcoming origin films, I am looking forward to Gadot’s next turn as Wonder Woman. And therein lies the problem with Justice League.

My lovely wife has (rightly) pointed out that when I make tuna salad, I sometimes don’t stir it enough to fully blend the tuna, Miracle Whip, and relish. With Justice League, the characters haven’t been blended, and because of it, the movie isn’t stirring. And this movie definitely needs more stirring.

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Thin Alphabet Soup

The trip to the silver screen can be a challenge, with many pitfalls. After a film is written, there’s no guarantee it will be produced. The website Blacklist publishes a yearly listing of the best-liked scripts that didn’t have production deals. In 2014, that list had several screenplays that were successfully produced within the next three years. These included:

  1. Manchester-by-the-Sea, for which Casey Affleck won last year’s Best Actor Oscar
  2. 2016’s Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney
  3. Gifted (2017) with Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer
  4. Michael Keaton’s biopic of Ray Kroc, The Founder
  5. A screenplay titled “In The Deep” which became the thriller The Shallows starring Blake Lively
  6. “Mena” which became the better-titled American Made with Tom Cruise.

It also had two 2017 duds: My Friend Dahmer (who doesn’t want to watch a serial killer’s struggle in high school? Apparently almost everyone), and The Wall, the Doug Lyman-directed sniper drama that made less than 2 million at the box office.

Somewhere in between the good and the bad is LBJ, a biopic of Lyndon Baines Johnson. The screenplay was picked up by Rob Reiner, who made one of my favorite political movies, The American President, though that screenplay was by the thoughtful and erudite Aaron Sorkin. Reiner handles the period piece details of the story beautifully, with assistance from Cinematographer Barry Markowitz (Sling Blade, The Apostle) and Production Designer Christopher R DeMuri.

Reiner and casting director Jane Jenkins assembled a first-rate cast, starting with Woody Harrelson in the title role. Harrelson went through two hours of makeup daily to look like LBJ, and he has a definite power in the role. Jennifer Jason Leigh does well as Lady Bird, as do Jeffery Donovan as JFK, his second time portraying a Kennedy. Donovan had been Robert Kennedy in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, making him the second actor to have portrayed both brothers (the first was Martin Sheen). Other actors include Bill Pullman, Richard Jenkins, and C. Thomas Howell. An outstanding performance is given by Michael Stahl-David as Robert Kennedy who’s in a Civil War battle with pro-segregationist LBJ.

Strangely enough, given its place on the 2014 Blacklist, the weakness of the movie is its script. Johnson was a massive personality and a polarizing character. Biographer Robert Cato has worked on the life of LBJ for over 40 years, and his original plan for a four-volume has expanded to five volumes, with the last one only about half-done at this point. Johnson was in the middle of the most tumultuous times of 20th Century America, and he was a master politician. But LBJ concentrates on only about 10 years of his life.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The outstanding Patton took place over the last four years of the general’s life, though of course that was in the middle of WWII. George C. Scott’s performance, though, gave you the feel for the man far beyond those years. On the other hand, you have MacArthur in 1977, starring Gregory Peck, which covered his service in WWII through the general’s dismissal during the Korean War. That movie comes across more as a pageant, showing him in action but not truly illuminating his character.

Once again with LBJ, it falls in the middle, not revealing the character like Patton, but doing it better than MacArthur. The script ping pongs through time at first, telling the story of Johnson’s legislative battles relative to JFK and his selection as Kennedy’s running mate while contrasting it with the events in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Following Kennedy’s assassination, the movie focuses on Johnson trying to cement both Kennedy’s and his own legacy by passing Civil Rights legislation.

Filming of the movie was done two years ago, and it was screened at 2016 Toronto Film Festival. However, 2016 also saw Bryan Cranston in the role of LBJ for the better received HBO film All The Way, which covered much the same territory. Cranston was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his performance. So LBJ sat on the shelf for the over a year before it was released, likely to give it separation from All The Way.

LBJ, though, zooms through the story since the film runs only a bit over 90 minutes. Overall, it gives the feel that the story’s a Reader’s Digest condensation. LBJ had a thick stew life, but the movie LBJ is more like thin soup that doesn’t satisfy.

Stormy Weather

Dean Devlin made his name trying to destroy the world. In partnership with Roland Emmerich, they made the huge hit Independence Day (after doing Universal Soldier and Stargate earlier in the 1990s). Their next collaborations – the painfully bad 1998 version of Godzilla and the ham-fisted Revolutionary War melodrama The Patriot – led each to go their own way. Devlin focused on TV, producing shows for TNT such as “Leverage” and “The Librarian” (both the 3 TV movies and the pluralized series), while Emmerich continued to destroy the world with mixed results, writing and directing both the decent cataclysmic weather movie The Day After Tomorrow and the deplorable 2012. They got back together again last year for the major misfire, Independence Day: Resurgence. Another sequel  was announced but after Resurgence crashed and burned at the box office that’s highly unlikely. Now Devlin has written and produced his own weather movie, Geostorm. While it’s not quite as bad I feared, it’s nowhere near as good as I hoped.

An opening title card informs you that, after a series of huge natural catastrophes in 2018, the world decided to come together and spend a ridiculous amount of money to construct a planetary satellite system run from a massive space station with an international crew and serviced by a huge new fleet of space shuttles, all focused on the control of the weather. Well, maybe not those exact words, but it’s implied. Right from the start you know this is a fantasy.

The system was designed by Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), a genius with the intelligence of Steve Jobs mixed with Thomas Edison, packed into a body with the physical prowess of…well, of Gerard Butler. One thing he has no ability to do is deal with Congress, and he winds up kicked off of the project and replaced by his brother, Max (Jim Sturgess). Three years later, a man on the space station sabotages one of the satellites, only to be eliminated by being stuck in a small compartment while its environmental seals are blown open. The sabotaged satellite turns the population of an Afghan village into mom-and-popsicles.

Max is now romantically involved with Sarah (Abbie Cornish), a Secret Service agent assigned to the Presidential Protection detail. The Afghan event is viewed as a malfunction, and the President (Andy Garcia) along with the Secretary of State (Ed Harris) want Max to find the best person to correct the problem – as if that’s going to be anyone except Jake. Max tracks down his brother to a trailer parked near the Florida spaceport where Jake spends his time retrofitting classic cars with electric engines. Max also arrives during Jake’s visitation time with his daughter, Hannah (Talitha Bateman), who’s a precocious but beautiful science nerd like her dad. Hannah could have been a treacly mess of a stereotype, but Bateman manages to pull it off without making you check your insulin level. Max prevails on Jake to return to space to fix the system, not knowing they’ll both be caught up in a conspiracy.

Geostorm is a mix of 1960s Sci-fi and political conspiracy films along with 1970s disaster flicks, done with 21st Century digital effects. Think Fantastic Voyage mixed with 7 Days in May with Earthquake stirred in for good measure. But it doesn’t do any of those genres well. The digital effects feel like they were recycled from footage that was rejected by The Day After Tomorrow, especially the super-freeze sequences. The science fiction doesn’t have any sense of wonder, and the disasters are so farfetched they’re not compelling. It comes closest to being a decent paranoid thriller, but Geostorm messes that up by ruining any element of surprise at who’s behind the conspiracy.

If you happen to be a pre-teen boy, you may think Geostorm is great, but it would be one of those pictures you’d watch on late-night TV 20 years later and wonder what you were thinking that you ever considered this mess to be good. Save yourself the embarrassment.

Gotter-Damn-That’s-Fun

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok is a series of events and battles that lead to the destruction of most of the gods. But different from Apocalyptic stories, it leads to rebirth for the Earth. After natural disasters wipe out all humans but two (Lif & Lifthrasir), the land submerges beneath the sea only to reemerge renewed and refreshed. The two humans repopulate the world, living with the help of the surviving gods. In Judeo-Christian terms, it’s closer to the story of Noah than Revelations. Ragnarok has been translated to English as “The Twilight of the Gods,” and as “Gotterdammerung” in German, where it served as the basis for the last of Wagner’s operas in the Ring series. In the Marvel Universe, though, Ragnarok means the regeneration of the Thor franchise.

The original Thor in 2011 was fun, with director Kenneth Branagh contrasting the operatic heights of Asgard with fish-out-of-water humor when Thor is banished to Earth. But Thor’s later appearances in the two Avengers movies as well as Thor: The Dark World (2013) were more standard smash-‘em-up superhero fare. Overall, Thor was a bit of a prig with all the “only he who is worthy can wield the hammer” stuff and his impossibly sculpted muscles. Star Chris Hemsworth was getting so bored with the franchise he was ready to bail out.

Enter writer/director Taika Waititi. The part-Maori New Zealander has a wonderfully cockeyed sense of humor that’s been displayed in his projects like What We Do In the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and he brings that sensibility to Thor: Ragnarok. While three screenwriters got credit for the Ragnarok script, including Dark World screenwriter Christopher L. Yost, Waititi encouraged his cast to improvise – something that usually does not happen in the Marvel Universe. The story also gives Thor a fresh dose of humanity.

After the events of Age of Ultron, Thor battles Surtur, a huge demon beast who plans to destroy Asgard. He defeats Surtur and returns to Asgard, where Thor discovers Loki is now celebrated after his supposed death during the Dark World battles. He finds Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and many Asgardians watching a stage re-enactment of Loki’s death. (The cast of the actors is fun, with Chris’s brother Luke Hemsworth playing the actor Thor, Sam Neill [Jurassic Park] as the actor Odin, and the actor playing Loki is an uncredited Matt Damon.) The tag at the end of Dark World revealed Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was alive and disguised as Odin, and Thor finds a particularly Thor-ish way to make the trickster reveal himself.

Loki takes Thor to where he dumped Odin – a retirement home in New York City – only to find the home has been demolished. But with the help of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, in an extension of the tag at the end of Doctor Strange) they find Odin sitting on a bluff in Norway overlooking the ocean, awaiting his imminent passing. Odin warns Thor that his death will release Thor’s first-born sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. Hela had been at Odin’s side as he conquered worlds, but couldn’t accept peace, so she was banished by the Valkyries. When Odin slips away, Hela appears. She destroys Thor’s hammer, then catches a ride on the rainbow bridge to Asgard, tossing Thor and Loki into space on the way. Thor wakes on a junk-strewn planet where he’s captured by a mysterious woman warrior (Tessa Thompson) and pressed into gladiatorial combat by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). His first bout is against the Hulk, who landed on the planet after he flew off at the end of Ultron.

The plot of Ragnarok is fairly thin and straightforward. What makes it soar is the humor and characterizations, especially with some smaller roles. You have an almost unrecognizable Karl Urban (Bones in the rebooted Star Trek and the remorseless killer in The Bourne Supremacy) as Skurge, an opportunist who’s taken over running the rainbow bridge from Heimdall (Idris Elba). There’s also the blue rock warrior Korg, with a truly unexpected voice provided by director Waititi.

This movie gives the most screen-time yet to Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, and it makes you wish for a full Hulk movie, even after the two misfires with Eric Bana and Edward Norton. (Seeing Thor try to play the Black Widow role to calm the Hulk is almost too bizarre to believe.) But the one who steals the movie whenever she’s onscreen is Blanchett as the first female big bad villain in the Marvel Universe. She gives Thor and the Asgardians hell, even as she looks divine doing it.

You usually don’t go to a superhero movie to laugh out loud (with the exception of Ant-Man), but this movie will garner that reaction several times. Yet it still works perfectly as a Marvel film. Hemsworth’s Thor is rejuvenated by his trials, while the actor himself is reinvigorated by this take on the character. While the story may look at the “Twilight of the Gods,” this film is a delightful romp in the mid-day sun.

The Other One Percent

Up until the 1970s, when the US went to war it was felt throughout the country, at every strata of society. The armed forces represented the whole of the nation, and combat deaths reverberated across entire communities. That benefited the country since its leaders usually had first-hand experience on battlefields in their lives. They viewed war as a last resort, as the failure of diplomacy, and not an action to be taken lightly or casually if there was any way to avoid it. With the switch to the all-volunteer military, that shared experience is no longer the case. Now the armed forces are about one percent of the country’s population, and while they may be honored when in battle, too often they’re forgotten and ignored when they come home.

Thank You for Your Service tells the story of three soldiers, returning from Iraq in 2007, who are left to deal with the lingering effects of their service to this country. Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller) and two close friends from his unit, Solo (Beulah Koale) and Billy (Joe Cole), fly back to their Midwestern base and their loved ones, but they come bearing baggage. Schumann is haunted by an ambush of a patrol that led to the devastating wound for another soldier, as well as a later incident that caused the death of his commanding officer. As he walks across the tarmac toward his wife Saskia (Haley Bennett) and his children, he’s confronted by the CO’s widow (Amy Schumer in a straight dramatic role) who wants to know what happened to her husband.

While they’re back in the US, the three find they’re in different kinds of battles. The Schumanns have had to rent out their home and live in a much smaller house because of bills. Solo’s PTSD has left him with a Swiss cheese memory, but he can’t get help at the VA because of a bureaucratic snafu with his record. Billy comes home and finds his fiancé has cleaned out their apartment and left him.

Based on the book by Pulitzer prize-winning journalist David Finkel, screenwriter and first-time director Jason Hall brings you inside the men’s struggles, even as they’re closed off from those around them by the war’s trauma. Hall had done the adaptation of American Sniper, so he is acquainted with the theme of returning from war, but this time there’s none of the rah-rah patriotism that clouded the message of the previous film. These are normal men who dealt with hellish situations. In one telling scene, the three soldiers meet for a drink in a bowling alley bar. Solo puts a song on the jukebox and soon the men are dancing around the bar, brashly singing along with the music. You know it’s exactly what happened when they were deployed, but for the audience it’s a scene suffused with sadness. They’re still lost in the war, and can’t find their way home.

Teller’s performance is much different than his other film currently in theaters, Only the Brave. Schumann still feels responsibility for the men he led, yet he’s also aware of how he himself is damaged. Haley Bennett is terrific as Saskia, who’s fought her own battles while Schumann was away and now must figure out how to reach him. The role could have been a stereotype, but between Hall and Bennett they’ve honored military spouses.

If you want to celebrate Veterans Day, you may want to do it by watching Thank You for Your Service. Then ask what you can do to help the one percent who have carried such a massive burden for this nation. War has a cost far beyond dollars and cents, and we as a nation forget that at our peril.

The Fire Inside

This year has been historic for wildfires. From the Mexican border up into British Columbia, wildfires burned huge swaths of land and filled the atmosphere with smoke the traveled far to the east. In Des Moines, Iowa, over a thousand miles from the fires, we had evenings of incredible sunsets caused by the particulates in the atmosphere. The fires that ravaged Santa Rosa, California, and the Napa Valley wiped out whole neighborhoods and were the deadliest ever in the state. It is fitting that Only the Brave was released while the embers were still warm.

In fighting wildfires, Hotshot teams are the equivalent of SEALs. They’re a 20-man team that battle blazes with spades and chainsaws while carrying 50-pound backpacks. Only 109 such teams exist in the US. They might get air support from tankers or they might not, but still they go. They are tasked with slaying a monster that can devour square miles of forest and brush, race along faster than a man can run, and burn at temperatures well over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. In effect, they walk into Hell and try to beat back the Devil.

Only the Brave tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. They were an anomaly in that Hotshot crews are usually attached to Federal agencies, but Granite Mountain was part of the Prescott (AZ) Fire Department. They began as a fuel management crew in the 1990s after a wildfire near Prescott had burned 24,000 acres and killed 6 firefighters. In 2004 they qualified as a Type-2 firefighting crew that would do support and clearing work, but did not take on the fire directly.

The movie picks up when the crew had been Type-2 for four years. Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), the leader of the crew, wants them to step up to Hotshots but they can’t get the evaluation done. No other city in the US had their own Hotshot crew, so he wanted to do the unprecedented. Six of the men were fully employed by the fire department, while the rest were seasonal. After Marsh is over-ruled by an out-of-state Hotshot team at a local fire – leading to the destruction of a neighborhood – he pushes the state fire coordinator, Duane Steinbrink (Jeff Bridges) to get the evaluation done.

Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller) is a stoner who’s been living with his mother. He discovers a girl he dated is pregnant with his child, but she rejects him as irresponsible and plans to raise the child herself. After a drunken episode lands him in jail for breaking into a car, Brendan seeks to turn his life around. He applies for an opening on Marsh’s crew, and while he’s not prepared for the first question Marsh asks in the interview – “When was the last time you lied?” – he answers it honestly and owns up to his mistakes. Marsh gives him a chance.

Only the Brave does an excellent job capturing the camaraderie of the team. It is close to an Armed Forces unit, and part of the reason Marsh’s second-in-command, Jesse Steed (James Badge Dale), joined the group was to find again the sense of purpose he’d had as a Marine. During the fire seasons Hotshots see far more of each other than they do their families. Of course, with 20 men you have an overabundance of testosterone, so there’s a fair amount of ribald and dark humor, especially on the part of Christopher MacKenzie (Taylor Kitsch). In many movies such interplay is stilted or over the top, but here it rings true. The script by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer works from a GQ article by Sean Flynn that gives you a clear-eyed view of the characters. Both Nolan and Singer have done movies based on true stories before – Nolan wrote Black Hawk Down while Singer did American Hustle – and the film oozes with veracity.

Director Joseph Kosinski blends digital effects with old school technique seamlessly. (The film crew created an outdoor set where they could create controlled forest fires so they could film the actors close to the flames.) While it clocks in at two and a quarter hours, the story flies by and keeps your attention riveted on the screen.

Josh Brolin’s work is the best since No Country for Old Men. It doesn’t mean his work in W. or True Grit or Sicario isn’t excellent; it’s just he’s gone to an even higher level here. He’s ably supported by Jennifer Connelly as Marsh’s wife, Amanda. They’re like iron and flint on the screen – sparks fly in their scenes. Miles Teller had a breakthrough with Whiplash and has done some decent work since, including in War Dogs, but here he has to dig much deeper into his emotions to portray McDonough, and he nails it.

This movie truly honors the real characters, their bravery and their sacrifice. You’ll never again hear a story on the news about fires without thinking of this film and realizing how much is owed to those who voluntarily walk into hell to save people from the beast.

Back to the Future

When Blade Runner debuted in 1982, it underperformed in the US and polarized critics. Director Ridley Scott had done two films at that point – the Napoleonic War story, The Duelists, followed by the seminal sci-fi film Alien. Based on Alien, hopes for Blade Runner were stratospheric, but people weren’t ready for a dystopian film noir loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” It was the first film adaptation of Dick’s work, who died of a heart attack at age 53 a couple months before the film’s release. Since then, Blade Runner has been accepted as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Philip K. Dick’s work has been adapted multiple times for the big screen (Total Recall, Imposter, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Bureau) and Amazon, who has a hit with their version of Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle,” will shortly premiere “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams,” based on the author’s short stories. Meanwhile, Ridley Scott has become an entertainment conglomerate.

Now, 35 years after the original, comes the sequel Blade Runner 2049, which picks up 30 years after the first film. The years haven’t been kind to the world, or to the Tyrell Corporation that created the original Replicants. After the rebellions of the Nexus Series 6 through 8 replicants, the corporation went bankrupt. An event called the Blackout wiped almost every digital record in 2022; only partial files remain from before that time. The world’s ecosystems collapsed causing a massive famine that swept the Earth. It was solved when Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) invented synthetic farming. That made him a wealthy man, allowing him to absorb the Tyrell Corporation and introduce the Nexus-9 replicants.

The return of the corporation meant an expansion of the Blade Runner program to control the replicants, though now Nexus-9s are used for that purpose. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one such Nexus-9, working under Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright). He lives in a poor section of LA, which is now surrounded by a dike system because of the rising waters following the melting of the ice caps. K’s only companion is a holographic program called Joi (Ana de Armas).

When K comes to “retire” an older model Nexus (Dave Bautista) on a protein farm outside the city, he discovers a crate hidden beneath a dead tree. It contains bones of a female with marks that suggest she died during a C-Section delivery. The bones are also marked with a serial number; the woman was a replicant. Joshi is shocked since replicants weren’t supposed to be able to have children; it could cause the line between human and replicant to be obliterated if this became known. She orders the evidence destroyed and tasks K with finding the replicant child and retiring it. K begins his search by heading for the old Tyrell building to find out what he can about the replicant with the serial number on the bones. Wallace’s replicant assistant, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), leads K to a partial audio file of the female replicant. When it’s played, we hear the voice of Rachel (Sean Young) being questioned by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) 30 years earlier.

French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve is in somewhat the same position as Ridley Scott was when he made the original Blade Runner. In the last four years Villeneuve has made several stunning films: Prisoners, Sicario, and one of my favorite films of last year, Arrival. He is a strong visual stylist like Scott who works every single shot with a perfectionist’s eye. While the images of 2049 blend with the original, he also makes use of angles so that streets and reception desks seem to run to a vanishing point. The neon and building-size screens of the original are now expanded to 3D holographs. It’s like the director has stretched the original to cover a wider canvas.

Gosling gives a restrained, interior performance as K that makes the impact powerful as he goes deeper into the mystery. Wright, Leto, and Ford are effective in their roles, but the movie is stolen by Ana de Armas and Sylvia Hoeks. De Armas was born and raised in Cuba, but moved to Spain to pursue acting. She’s had supporting roles in the Roberto Duran biopic Hands of Stone and the comedy War Dogs, but here she gives a luminous performance as Joi, a hologram who is the most human character in the film. On the opposite side is the Dutch Hoeks, who was an Elite model in her teens before attending the Maastricht Theater Academy. She’d become a leading actress in Europe before taking the role of the beautiful but thoroughly ruthless Luv in her first Hollywood film.

Villeneuve matches the pacing of the original, which here means the film runs for two and three-quarters hours. With the slam-bam pace of most movies 2049 may seem slow to some, but here it’s Villeneuve giving the audience time to breathe and process the story as the mystery is peeled away layer by layer.

When Blade Runner 2049 was released a few weeks ago, it underperformed in the US and polarized critics. Some were put off by the pace while others felt it was more a paean to the original rather than a movie that stood on its own. But 2049 gets into your head and keeps rolling around in there as you consider the implications of the story. This also may be a movie that grows in stature as we move farther into the future.