By BRUCE DENNILL
Blade Runner 2049 / Directed by Denis Villeneuve / 16LNV
Ghost In The Shell / Directed by Rupert Sanders / PGV
The Dark Tower / Directed by Nikolaj Arcel / 13VH
The 5th Wave / Directed by J Blakeson / PGV
Cross Wars / Directed by Patrick Durham / PGV
Dystopian futures have been a staple of fantasy and science fiction since both genres were invented or formalised, allowing for a development of the concept that would, you’d think, have resulted in an almost limitless array of shades in terms of the palette storytellers use to create their worlds. But that is only superficially true, with a number of recent films looking markedly different, but having similar moods – none of them particularly convincing.
There’s no way to avoid Blade Runner 2049 being regarded as important – it is the belated follow-up to a film that cemented the reputations of two of the biggest names in cinema history in Harrison Ford and Ridley Scott. But this new project relies on the 1982 original for just about all of its appeal. There are no entirely new concepts, only continuations of the threads established then, and Ryan Gosling’s K is a man as sullen and brooding as his surroundings. The Los Angeles he lives in is, to be fair, a dark and dangerous place run on tyrannical guidelines, but the pacing and characterisation makes it seem like K is more philosophising about the scenario he finds himself in than fighting against it. There are a few impressive landscapes, but nothing that isn’t recreated in any flick with a decent CGI budget.
Speaking of CGI budgets, Ghost In The Shell, based on a Japanese Manga story, is defined by its expensive looks, like a hyper-realistic computer game. The tale involves the enhancement of humans with technology and the many moral, ethical and practical issues that creates. It stirs in a great deal of fast-paced, violent action and has at its core Scarlett Johansson as Major, a bionic cyber crime-fighter. That solid platform set, however, it simply plateaus, with the plot tying itself in knots that viewers really need to commit to should they want to figure it all out. It’s difficult to care about what is happening, and as a result, all the bright colours in the world do little to add to the piece’s allure.
Stephen King’s work has always met with mixed success when translated for the screen, and The Dark Tower, despite having two charismatic leading men, is not one of the better options. It’s a complex story that plays out in different, sometimes parallel time-frames, with Roland (Idris Elba) a Gunslinger whose mission it is to seek out and kill the Man In Black (Matthew McConaughey), who is essentially a Lucifer figure trying to take over the world – all the worlds. Again, there is a feel of the characters being overbearing in the way that the viewer seems to be expected to experience them, as though they are prophets rather than fictional mechanisms used to tell a tale. The apocalypse unfolds, but somehow it all seems precious rather than particularly stirring.
Where violent futuristic setpieces aimed at young adult audiences are concerned, The Hunger Games has made life difficult for its competitors. The 5th Wave is different in that the violence is the result of alien attacks rather than maltreatment by fellow humans, but the protagonists are, once again, attractive youths who must step far outside their comfort zone to survive. Lessons of teamwork, leadership and growing out of naivety are all sewn into the piece, but not in so compelling a way that any one thread or performance sticks with you after the film ends.
Then, back to LA for a supposed action thriller based on a series of comics – Cross Wars. It looks and feels cheap, features brainless, simplistic writing and makes very little sense at all, particularly when answering the question: “Why was this made?”. The cast features, if not heavy hitters, at least actors who should never have to stoop to this student film level. Even Brian Austin Green deserves better, but why Danny Trejo, Tom Sizemore and Vinnie Jones agreed to get anywhere near this is a mystery.