CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the films of the moment
THIS WEEK’S FilmSpace takes a look at Blade Runner 2049, The Lego Ninjago Movie and The Glass Castle.
Blade Runner 2049 – ★★★★★
The environment is in tatters; AI has advanced beyond our expectations; production and slavery are intrinsically linked – but enough about real life, there’s a new Blade Runner film out.
The 1980s classic was about Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, hunting down and ‘retiring’ four replicants, having come to Earth illegally. That’s what the plot of Blade Runner is, but it’s not what it’s about, and that tricky difference is present in Blade Runner 2049 too.
It’s also the case that everything is a spoiler. What can be said is that Ryan Gosling plays K, who works for Robin Wright’s Lt Joshi. K, like Deckard, is a blade runner, and is tasked with finding something.
Like before, the world of 2049 is moody. There’s more natural light this time around, but it only accentuates the desolate world, violated by industry and neglect. Adverts are invasive, hinting at a consumption abundance that’s never seen, but is never in doubt. They’re tailored, too; massive holograms interact with those on the street, like targeted Facebook ads of years to come.
Blade Runner predicted the future, but 2049 builds on our present.
Blade Runner predicted the future, but 2049 builds on our present. It offers little in the way of social progress, making the character of Joi feel all the more depressing. Her face is plastered all over the city and lives in the pockets of everyday people. She’s a more visible version of Scarlett Johansson in Her, and it’s no coincidence her name is also a genre of porn.
It hints at a world without female agency, where men have complete control over the women in their lives (artificial as they are). Like Ex Machina, female AI characters are sexualised and robbed of their natural biology, and it’s up to the individual to decide if that is necessary for the point being made, or if the film is complicit in the sexism on display.
The way the world looked in Blade Runner set a precedent for sci-fi films and its influence is still everywhere, but 2049 has gone all-out to look just as iconic. Cinematographer Roger Deakins frames every shot to bring this uncanny world to life, dousing it with unnatural hues, making it look endless and toxic. Each frame could be a standout moment, so striking Deakins’ work is. He’s been nominated for 13 Oscars and is yet to win – surely this is his time.
The plot, for fear of spoilers, is not worth saying much about other than that it builds on what came before, and subverts it too. The relationship between humans and replicants is more blurred than it’s ever been, and while Roy and his gang fought for more life, now there is a search for meaning and the nature of reality. Is Deckard the good guy in Blade Runner? Can the lesser status of replicants be justified when they are this human?
It’s a really spectacular blockbuster movie, so beautifully told and packed with philosophy. Blade Runner didn’t need a sequel, but in 2049 it has one that expands the scorched Earth, pushes further into the future, and offers a glimpse of the conversations we will soon be having.
The Lego Ninjago Movie – ★★☆☆☆
After the surprisingly excellent Lego Movie and the relentlessly funny Lego Batman Movie, the series had plenty of good will going into The Lego Ninjago Movie, the third in this franchise. That’s partly down to the original’s ability to make audiences care about brightly coloured bricks, but also the kinetic pacing means there’s rarely a quiet moment, jokes coming thick and fast between plot points and vibrant visuals.
All the brightly coloured Lego bricks in the world can’t help Ninjago from feeling relentlessly dull. Once acclimatised to the typical Lego movie humour, there’s nothing underneath worth staying invested in.
After the originality of The Lego Movie, a clear decision was made to focus on tropes moving forward, Lego Batman being filled with references to superhero films and geek culture as it is. Ninjago looks east, taking inspiration from kung fu movies and features Jackie Chan as a wise mentor to young ninja students, tying in the most prominent of its influences – the Power Rangers.
Ninjago fails to realise that jokes are made to elevate entertainment, but to do so requires having something to elevate.
Armed with mecha beasts to fight town-bothering villains (the green ninja, Lloyd, being the son of antagonist Garmadon), it’s a nod to the Rangers’ Zords having to battle larger-than-life baddies. A menacing cat is named Meowthra, a reference no child is going to get, summing up Ninjago’s problem – as clever as it wants to appear, it does so by sacrificing heart and a captivating story.
While Lego Batman was overly funny, it did something original with Batman and forced him to confront his isolation. The original Lego Movie was a profound look at remembering to have fun (with a touch of anti-capitalism). Ninjago fails to realise that jokes are made to elevate entertainment, but to do so requires having something to elevate.
The story of the ninjas working to find their inner strength required to defeat Meowthra simply isn’t engaging, making the jokes all the more irritating. Whoever the target audience is (and it’s not clear who the Ninjago film thinks that is), no one would mind a few less jokes for a few more reasons to care.
The Lego Movie franchise has proved it can crack a joke or two, but it has a long way to go before it can convince that it knows how to tell a story.
The Glass Castle – ★★★☆☆
The only part of “PC gone mad!” I buy into is when it seeps into art, and even then, a lot of it I’m on board with. It’s tough watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle for that very reason, draped in lad culture like it is.
But when it comes to unhealthy relationships in film, I get defensive. Art reflects life, and life is capable of terrible things. Celebrating that can feel icky – what’s to be taken from seeing these relationships on screen is a comfort and familiarity for those who have gone through something similar.
If all cinematic relationships were perfect and something to strive for, it would alienate those who struggle making sense of what they feel.
Brie Larson’s Jeannette Wells is at the centre of The Glass Castle, a real figure with a memoir which the film is based upon, and it’s about her unconventional upbringing, along with the tensions within her immediate family. At first their life of squatting feels freeing and bohemian, later turning sour as Jeannette and her siblings grow old enough to ask the right questions.
It’s about this relationship made up of love and neglect, accepting his imperfections and continually fighting for hope.
Her turbulent relationship with her dad is the heart of the story. Woody Harrelson is on fine form as a man who drunkenly stumbles between charming and negligent, sometimes in the same scene. He is not doing well by his family or himself. On paper he’s a figure you would tell everyone to get away from and stay away from, regardless of how well-intentioned he is.
But that’s where The Glass Castle works. Life is messy, and that perfect solution is unrealistic. Jeannette believes in him more than anything else in the world, and he exists in every choice she makes with her life. It’s about this relationship made up of love and neglect, accepting his imperfections and continually fighting for hope.
It’s not something to aspire to, but it’s a heartfelt story of what family means to some people. I admire it, the choice and ability to forgive and believe in better. The last time Larson worked with director Destin Cretton they created Short Term 12, one of the best films of this decade, and The Glass Castle ain’t that. But there’s a lot of love here, and Larson and Harrelson really carry a film that has the ability to be genuinely touching.
Look at how important CommonSpace has become, and how vital it is for the future #SupportAReporter