A Satisfactory Replicant: A Review of Blade Runner 2049

To get the heresy out of the way: I have never been all that enamored of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). Yes, the film is well made and visually stunning, and it certainly stands head and shoulders over all the other, usual lamentable adaptations of Philip K. Dick stories in the three decades after its release. But it remains the prototype for a sort of science fiction film that sadly ...Read More

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“This Is Going to Be a Lot of Fun”: A Review of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

For the most part, I found Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to be an enjoyable space adventure, deploying consistently dazzling visuals in support of an involving story that never becomes entirely predictable. And while serious issues are intermittently raised, the film is refreshingly unpretentious, in contrast to other recent films, as the director’s primary aim was clearly to entertain audiences, not to enlighten or inspire ...Read More

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The Apes of Wrath: A Review of War for the Planet of the Apes

To my knowledge, there are no announced plans for a fourth film in the recent Planet of the Apes prequel series, and everything about Matt Reeves’s War for the Planet of the Apes thankfully suggests a desire to bring its series to an end as a trilogy. True, much of the film simply carries on the apes-versus-humans saga unveiled in the second film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ...Read More

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A Working Model for Superhero Films: A Review of Wonder Woman

Without a doubt, Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman is the very best of the recent “DC Extended Universe” superhero films – yet the praise doesn’t mean as much as it should, inasmuch as its undistinguished precursors – Man of Steel (2013 – review here), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016 – review here), and Suicide Squad (2016 – review here) – set the bar very low, to ...Read More

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Contractual Obligations: A Review of Alien: Covenant

In contemporary Hollywood, the announced information about a film often conveys an implied contract – a covenant, as it were – between filmgoers and filmmakers: if you buy a ticket to see this movie, you are guaranteed to experience certain desired forms of entertainment. Thus, a picture with the word “Alien” in its title, directed by Ridley Scott, promises potential viewers that they will observe numerous images of H. R. ...Read More

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Back to the Retrofuture, Version 2.0:A Review of Ghost in the Shell

by Gary Westfahl

One personal revelation garnered from watching the new, live-action version of Ghost in the Shell is that it is possible to admire a film without really liking it. Director Rupert Sanders and screenwriters Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, and Ehren Kruger have unquestionably crafted an intelligently-written, fast-paced, and visually stunning adventure, and as the events unfolded, I kept thinking that I should be enjoying the experience. Instead, I ...Read More

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Mutiny of the Unknown Alien Slime: A Review of Life

by Gary Westfahl

From one perspective, Life represents yet another example of a recent Hollywood trend that I find heartening – a renewed interest in realistic depictions of humanity’s probable future in space (which I term “spacesuit films”) that contrast sharply with the appealing fantasies of the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. The film takes place on the actual International Space Station, and it involves a long-researched project – ...Read More

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Bungle in the Jungle: A Review of Kong: Skull Island

by Gary Westfahl

Kong: Skull Island actually begins quite promisingly, as we are introduced to a diverse and generally appealing cast of characters, and they gather together to journey to the mysterious Skull Island and confront the enormous, and initially hostile, King Kong (also glimpsed in a prologue). One briefly imagines that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has finally achieved what John Guillermin (in 1976) and Peter Jackson (in 2005) could not ...Read More

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The Boy Who Fell to Earth: A Review of The Space Between Us

by Gary Westfahl

Like a NASA rocket slowly rising from the surface, The Space Between Us takes a long time to achieve escape velocity and soar through space; however, if you can endure one of the most boring opening sequences in any film I can recall, and about an hour of trite melodramatic sequences interspersed with inauthentic personal drama, its last thirty minutes are actually quite enjoyable, even moving. Whether ...Read More

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Starshipboard Romance: A Review of Passengers

by Gary Westfahl

There are several reasons to admire Passengers: it addresses a topic that is usually avoided in science fiction films – how humanity might colonize the galaxy without the magic of faster-than-light travel; its starship is filled with imaginative visual touches; and its story is genuinely unpredictable, consistently holding one’s interest despite a small cast and limited sets. And yet, there is also something strangely incongruous about ...Read More

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“I Have a Bad Feeling About This”:A Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

by Gary Westfahl

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story provides precisely what it promises – a professionally-rendered, authentic Star Wars story – and enthusiastic devotees of the Star Wars universe will probably be pleased by the results; indeed, in the theatre where I watched it, its conclusion was greeted with scattered applause. However, filmgoers who are not diehard fans, and who were not entirely thrilled by Star Wars: The Force ...Read More

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Two Thousand Translations: A Speech Odyssey: A Review of Arrival

by Gary Westfahl

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a film that will be properly praised as an unusually intelligent and sensitive science fiction film, derived from an unusually intelligent and sensitive science fiction story, Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life” (1998). In many respects, it is faithful to Chiang’s novella: linguist Dr. Louise Banks, enlisted to translate the enigmatic spoken and written languages of visiting aliens, finds that as she masters ...Read More

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Another Day, Another Dinosaur: A Review of Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence)

by Gary Westfahl

Because the Japanese film Shin Godzilla (also known as Godzilla Resurgence) was unexpectedly given only a limited American release, beginning on October 11, it is inevitably a film that will take quite a while to achieve its full audience, as it gradually becomes more accessible via Netflix, cable television, DVDs, and network television; in this case, then, a promptly posted, day-after-release-date review did not seem important. ...Read More

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Dawn of Injustice: A Review of Suicide Squad

by Gary Westfahl

It is not a critical term that often comes to mind, but David Ayer’s Suicide Squad strikes me as a very meh kind of film – a hodgepodge of characters and moments that work, and characters and moments that don’t work, tossed together in a story line that sometimes makes sense and sometimes doesn’t. Further, the film cannot escape the perception that it is a stopgap measure, ...Read More

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Steady As She Goes: A Review of Star Trek Beyond

by Gary Westfahl

To a remarkable extent, Star Trek Beyond is a film designed to appeal to aging fans of the original series; certain moments – the repeated references to the late Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of the elderly Ambassador Spock, a photograph of the original cast, the sound of the first series’ fanfare, and the concluding recital of the iconic Star Trek oath (“Space …. the final frontier ….”) by ...Read More

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The Fogeys of July: A Review of Independence Day: Resurgence

by Gary Westfahl

Since I was recently complimented at a conference for writing “honest” film reviews, I feel obliged to begin this one by conveying my honest reaction to Independence Day: Resurgence: although I was bored and appalled by the original Independence Day (1996), and utterly baffled by its tremendous popularity, I somehow found its belated sequel to be surprisingly engaging, even moving, despite some obvious issues in its ...Read More

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Alice the Great and Powerful: A Review of Alice Through the Looking Glass

by Gary Westfahl

The visual effects are regularly creative and engaging, and there are lines here and there that might make you laugh, but overall, anyone looking for 153 minutes of entertainment on this Memorial Day weekend would be best advised to read, or reread, Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871) instead of watching this film, which borrows its title but none of its unique ...Read More

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“No One Stays Good in This World”: A Review of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Since debuting in 1938, Superman has confronted many imposing adversaries, including Lex Luthor – a formidable foe whether characterized as an obsessed bald scientist or scheming corporate tycoon; the alien computer Brainiac; Terra-Man, armed with an endless array of ingenious weapons; several Kryptonian supervillains who survived the destruction of their planet in the Phantom Zone; and the ancient Kryptonian monster Doomsday, who once succeeded in killing the Man of Steel. ...Read More

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A Divergent Hunger Maze Game: A Review of The 5th Wave

It seems to be the new pattern for Hollywood success: write a young adult novel about an apocalyptic future society wherein likable teenagers are oppressed by evil adults, ostensibly for some noble purpose; stretch the story out into (at least) a trilogy; sell the rights to film producers anxious to exploit a pre-sold property, designed to appeal to a coveted target audience, that requires no expensive stars; and achieve fame ...Read More

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“It’s Gravity Meets Night of the Living Dead!”:A Review of 400 Days

by Gary Westfahl

Note: if you don’t happen to live near the fifteen American theatres where 400 Days is opening on January 15 (listed here), you may find that the film is available through your cable services as a Video on Demand, which is how I watched the film. Indeed, this might be an ideal way to watch the film, since it is described as the intimate drama of ...Read More

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Actually, the Force Is Sleepwalking: A Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

by Gary Westfahl

An introductory disclaimer: although I have repeatedly watched, vividly remember, and still cherish the first three Star Wars films – which I still insist upon calling by their original titles, Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983) – I could never force myself to watch any of the three “prequel” films in their entirety, and I have no familiarity with ...Read More

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Rebels Without a Clue: A Review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

by Gary Westfahl

As I review The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, one major challenge will be to avoid repeating what I said while reviewing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014) (review here) – because, as their titles indicate, they are two parts of the same film, planned simultaneously and largely filmed at the same time. (There is absolutely no pretense that this is a ...Read More

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‘A Huge Moment for NASA’ … and Novelists: A Review of The Martian

by Gary Westfahl

Let me immediately say that Ridley Scott’s The Martian is the best film I’ve seen in a long, long time, and it can be enthusiastically recommended as involving and uplifting entertainment. Most of the credit for its success, though, should go not to director Scott or screenwriter Drew Goddard, but to Andy Weir, whose novel The Martian (2011) provided them with a marvelous blueprint for a successful ...Read More

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An Un-Amazing Story: A Review of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

by Gary Westfahl

Fans of James Dashner’s young-adult Maze Runner novels will be very surprised by the film adaptation of its second novel; for while the film version of the first novel, The Maze Runner (2014) (review here), was generally faithful to Dashner’s text, this sequel, while it borrows some characters and incidents from the novel, is essentially telling an entirely different story. And it is interesting to explore ...Read More

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The Fifty Years Later Affair: A Review of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

by Gary Westfahl

If anyone is wondering why a science fiction film critic would be interested in reviewing a film version of the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), it is important to recognize that when the series debuted in 1964, it represented one of the few opportunities for viewers to watch science fiction of any kind. The Outer Limits (1963-1965) was in the process of being killed off ...Read More

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Old Whiners in New Bodies: A Review of Self/less

by Gary Westfahl

As a film, Self/less has several significant virtues: it is fast-paced and involving; it is unpredictable; it features excellent performances by an actor expected to provide them (Ben Kingsley) and an actor not expected to provide them (Ryan Reynolds); and its science-fictional premise, while not without questionable aspects, is developed with unusual care and consistency. However, while praising director Tarsem Singh and screenwriters David Pastor and Alex ...Read More

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Our Dinosaurs, Ourselves: A Review of Jurassic World

by Gary Westfahl

If you are wondering whether or not you should see Jurassic World, here is this reviewer’s advice: either pay the exorbitant price of admission to watch the film in a theatre, or never bother to watch it at all. Viewed on a small screen, the way I watched the other Jurassic Park films, this fourth installment’s shrunken dinosaurs will not be impressive, and the flaws that ...Read More

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Star-Crossed Horizon: A Review of Tomorrowland

by Gary Westfahl

In the final analysis, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland is a film that one yearns to love, but not a film one can actually love. In contrast to a superbly crafted piece of entertainment like Mad Max: Fury Road (review here), the film’s pacing sometimes seems awkward or hesitant, and its back story is poorly explained and not entirely logical. One wishes to argue that none of this ...Read More

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Mad Maxine and Her Marvelous Machines: A Review of Mad Max: Fury Road

by Gary Westfahl

I must begin by acknowledging that my memories of the first three Mad Max films – Mad Max (1979), Mad Max II (aka The Road Warrior) (1981), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – are fading and fragmentary, so I cannot provide a detailed exegesis on how this fourth film continues, expands upon, or contradicts its precursors. Yet I suspect that most of the people now ...Read More

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Methuselah’s Daughter: A Review of The Age of Adaline

by Gary Westfahl

In many respects, Lee Toland Krieger’s The Age of Adaline is exactly what it announces itself to be: a classic Hollywood “women’s film.” And one expects that, as in The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) (review here), a seemingly novel trope borrowed from science fiction – here, the secret immortal pretending to be an ordinary person – would be deployed in a perfunctory manner solely to generate ...Read More

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Dead, and a Rival: A Review of The Lazarus Effect

by Gary Westfahl

While the uninformed sometimes see science fiction solely as a genre of spaceships, aliens, and amazing gadgetry, one should also remember that there is a long tradition of medical science fiction, focused on posited advances in the ways that humans are created, nurtured, and treated for various health problems. Such stories can be traced back to nineteenth-century progenitors like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) ...Read More

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