sci-fi

REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

While Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to learn the way of the Force with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) leads the Resistance as the First Order threatens them all.

All the characters we met before in The Force Awakens (2015) have returned, plus some new ones. Two of the key new characters are Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) who befriends Finn (John Boyega), and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) clashes with.

A lot of the film focusses on Rey’s training as she learns more about the Force and what made Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turn to the Dark Side. Rey and Kylo are often portrayed as equals or two sides of the same coin and their interactions are often tense and fascinating. These two are the main focus of the film, which then means characters like Finn are side-lined which is unfortunate. To be honest, the Finn and Rose’s whole plot could’ve been much more condensed so they get back to the main group of heroes sooner. That being said, all of the cast give excellent performances and Hamill and Fisher add so much more to their iconic characters.

The Last Jedi is an action-packed sequel with a lot of humour, some of which doesn’t always hit the mark. There’s a lot going on in this film with characters splitting off and going on their own missions, but at the same time, all of this stuff doesn’t do much in terms of progressing the overarching plot. This film seems to focus more of character development, which is not a bad thing at all, though it is sometimes heavy handed and by focusing on this there doesn’t seem to be any form of resolution in the battle of good vs evil. Naturally this is the second film in a trilogy, so there’s time for things to be resolved in a satisfactory way.

The action is well shot, and the blend of CGI and practical affect is once again to the highest quality. The Last Jedi is also a good-looking film, with some stunning locations and interesting new worlds and creatures to meet.

The Last Jedi combines the family fun with dark themes, to varied affect. Sometimes these opposites are too extreme while in other cases it allows for a moments rest before these characters we know and love are in peril once more. There’s a lot of twists and turns in The Last Jedi, taking the franchise to places it may not have gone to before and it’s an unsettling thing. This makes The Last Jedi a fun ride but it’s not a flawless one. 3/5.

*Side note* I will be seeing this film again next week so I’m interested to see what I make of it after I’ve had time to think about it – will the flaws be more noticeable, or will I find more things I like? Who knows?

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REVIEW: Downsizing (2017)

The world is suffering from overpopulation but some Norwegian scientists have found a solution – shrinking people to five inches tall. When Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) decide to change their lives and become small, things don’t go the way they expect.

Downsizing has a solid first act. The concept of shrinking people down so they don’t use as much resources or produce as much waste is fascinating and it was really cool to see how the process worked and what it meant for society – both for those who became small (an irreversible process) and those who stayed normal size. Seeing small people (and things), in a normal sized persons world is weird but enjoyable because it’s so unusual.

The premise is an interesting one, with what it tries to say about the environment, poverty, and society as a whole but unfortunately it seems to try and say too many things so it ends up saying nothing of real substance.

This is the unfortunate thing about Downsizing, the premise and the set up is great but it never really lives up to that. After the first act, the film, much like Paul himself, meanders along, and things just happen to Paul without him really being that proactive. The film doesn’t go where you think it might but if anything, that makes it worse as it seems almost aimless, and you feel the just over two hours running time.

Damon is fine in his role but Christoph Waltz as Paul’s neighbour Dusan is the most fun and engaging character. He lives life to the full and has some of the funniest lines. With the character of Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) a Vietnamese revolutionary, it seemed the film wanted you to laugh at her. She often seemed like a racist caricature and again the film didn’t really seem to know what to do with her.

Downsizing is supposed to be a comedy, and at times it is. Other times though it feels like the concept was stretched out to more than it could be, losing humour and any real character development on the way. 2/5.

REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

When a dark force threatens Alpha, a vast structure home to thousands of different species, Special agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) must race to find those responsible to not just safeguard Alpha, but the future of the entire universe.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a wonderful example of adventurous sci-fi. The opening credit sequence is so full of hope, wonder, as people from all corners of the galaxy coming together to share technology and knowledge and that is really the epitome of what sci-fi should be. It’s a weird and vibrant film, the costumes, the sets, everything just pops from the screen. The special effects and creature designs in this film are gorgeous. Honestly, it’s like a feast for the eyes, so much so that it can be a bit overwhelming at times. For instance, there’s so much to see as a spaceship manoeuvres around Alpha that everything can seem like a blur. That being said, when things are more static and you can appreciate how good the CGI is and how there’s so many different creatures, it’s truly wonderful. The sequence in the market, which is like a miniature heist, is an inventive and standout moment.

The human characters are pretty much your typical clichés and while you don’t really get to learn a lot about the alien creatures, besides shapeshifter Bubble (Rihanna), they tend to be more interesting than the humans. In the first scene between them, there’s some clunky exposition where you learn everything you need to know about Valerian and Laureline from a conversation where they point out each other’s flaws and backstories. Exposition continues to often be on the heavy-handed side but when there’s so much to see and appreciate about the environment this story is set in, that it doesn’t really matter too much.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a fast-paced, visual extravaganza that’s a lot of fun. It has its faults but overall, it’s kind of delightful in how much it loves being big and bold. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Russia: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

It’s 2033, the world is ruined and humanity is almost extinct. Possibly the last of the worlds survivors live in Moscow’s Metro system. There they’re safe from radiation in the city above and societies have formed across the metro system and its many stations. Artyom lives in VDNKh, the north most inhabited station on its line, life there is good, until the station becomes endangered by outside forces. Artyom is given the task to traverse the complex metro system to search for help and to warn every one of the new threat bearing down on his native station, and the whole Metro.

Metro 2033 is an interesting story. It’s quite slow to start with as there is a lot of world-building to do. Each of the different train stations in the Metro have become their own mini society, some have become Communist, some are Fascist while many others have their own capitalist democracy. It’s interesting to see what life’s like underground and how it differs from station to station. It wasn’t till I was about halfway through the book and I felt that I had a fairly good understanding that the story picked up speed.

The whole book is quite exposition heavy really and in some ways, it reminded me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman – both are quite slow reads, with a lot of world-building and main characters who seem to go from A to B without being an active participant in the situations they’re in. That being said, I felt Artyom was a character who actually reacted to the mad and dangerous situations he found himself in and, as the story progressed, he became more proactive and confident in his decision making and abilities.

The people Artyom meets on his journey are all very different. My favourites were those who are old enough to remember life outside the Metro, and everyday normal life in the cities. There memories were often rose-tinted but it was good to see Artyom compare it to what he knows as he was only a toddler when everyone had to hide out in the tunnels. It was those moments where you really got the dystopian aspect of the novel.

Metro 2033 also has horror and sci-fi elements as there’s rumours of creatures who have been mutated by the radiation, lurking on the surface and readying themselves to enter the tunnels. There are some passages on Metro 2033 that are generally creepy and unsettling as Artyom traverses the dark tunnel between stations. There’s some eerie stuff in Metro 2033 but it doesn’t always pay off which is regrettable.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it does leave things on a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, there was no real build up to the “big reveal” so instead of a plot twist you could’ve figured out yourself, it’s more of a huge surprise. I think I will pick up the rest of the series at some point as I’m intrigued to see what happens next but Metro 2033 didn’t pull me in enough from the start to make me super eager to continue. 3/5.

REVIEW: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

illuminaeIt’s the year 2375 and two mega-corporations are at war over a small, insignificant mining planet. Pity they didn’t warn the people living there. With enemy fire raining down, Ezra and Kady manage to make their escape on the evacuating fleet. But that’s just the beginning of their troubles. A deadly plague has broken out on one of the space ships, their ships protection is vulnerable and no one will say what is going on. As Kady hacks into the ships mainframe to try and find the truth it soon become clear that Ezra is the only one who can help her. The only problem is that they split up before the war started and she isn’t supposed to be talking to him.

Illuminae is very different from any book I’ve read before and that’s because of how it is written. It’s composed of instant message chats, surveillance footage summaries, interview transcripts, mission reports and more. Files look like they have been clipped into the book or have been printed off and stuck in. It’s really interesting and makes the book quick to read and adds a new spin on things.

It’s interesting how Kady, Ezra and other characters come across through what’s kind of like second-hand text. Kady is super smart and feisty and wants to know the truth about what’s going because both the good and the bad will affect her and her loved ones. Kady is also stubborn and believes she’s always right which does rub people, including Ezra. Ezra is almost the polar opposite of Kady and it’s difficult to imagine them as a couple (though opposites attract and all that I suppose), he follows the rules and doesn’t really question anything, especially when he’s conscripted into the military.

Illuminae is a super-fast read. That’s down to how it’s written, reading conversations through instant messages will always take less time than “proper prose” but also because it’s an action-packed book. It kicks off with a war and then there’s corporate espionage, military cover-ups and a deadly plague. It’s one thing after another that Kady and Ezra must work together to deal with and how they cope will test them and offer both funny and tense moments.

Illuminae is an exciting sci-fi book that has a lot of surprises and I can’t wait to read the sequel. 5/5.

REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

star trek beyond movie posterWhen responding to a distress signal in the far reaches of uncharted space, the crew of the USS Enterprise a drawn into a trap by the ruthless and mysterious Krall (Idris Elba). Stranded on a barren planet, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew must work together to find a way to save the universe.

What Star Trek Beyond gets really right, is the characters. The crew of the Starship Enterprise are supposed to be like a family and that really comes through here. It helps that unlike the previous two Star Trek films where they were primarily focused on the relationship between Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto), this time they and the rest of the crew are split up into teams that you don’t normally see. It’s a clever move by script writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung as it allows the film to explore different character dynamics and still gives each character time to shine.

When Scotty (Simon Pegg) ends up stranded, he meets Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), someone who has also been stranded and is fighting to survive. Jaylah is a brilliant character. She’s a badass, she’s funny and she’s also really interesting. She fits in well with the crew of the Enterprise and while she may be a new character, there is neither too much focus on her nor is she pushed into the background.

One of the best character dynamics presented in Star Trek Beyond is that of Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock. They must work together and you see how their personalities clash but they still respect each other. Both Urban and Quinto are funny and give great performances. While Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) may have less to do than their crewmates, they all still shine and have a moment or two of awesomeness. To be honest, one of the best things about the rebooted Star Trek movies is the casting – it has been spot on and each actor brings a lot to their role even when the script doesn’t give them so much.

The script really is great as it combines action, humour and the heart of Star Trek which is hope and unity. There’s never a dull moment in Star Trek Beyond because the film starts right in the middle of a mission and from there there’s always something happening. Justin Lin does a great job directing. He has proved with his outings as director of four of the Fast & Furious films that he can handle action sequences but with Star Trek Beyond there are also quieter moments where the camera barely moves at all. Plus, like the Fast & Furious franchise Star Trek, in amongst the explosions and death-defying situations it really is all about family.

Krall is an interesting villain. He’s foreboding yet pretty mysterious throughout most of the film but when his motivations become clear it offers another layer to his character and everything he has said and done previously makes even more sense. Idris Elba is two of the most threatening and potentially scary villains this year, Krall and Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, and both times you don’t really see his face. That’s some acting.

Star Trek Beyond was truly wonderful. Full of action, humour and brilliant character moments. It is definitely one of the better Star Trek films, not just in the rebooted series but including the previous ten Star Trek films as well. 5/5.

REVIEW: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

independence_day_resurgenceTwenty years after the first Independence Day invasion attempt, Earth is faced with a new alien threat. Will mankind, including those who helped stop the first attack, be able to triumph this one?

Independence Day: Resurgence is the long-awaited sequel to 1996’s Independence Day and a lot of the original cast is back, as well as a lot of new characters. That in itself is a bit of a problem. Original characters like President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and his daughter Patricia (Maika Monroe), go-to alien-expert David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and his father Julius (Judd Hirsch) all return and then you have new characters like pilots Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher) the son of Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller and Rain Lao (Angelababy) and then there’s scientist Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and a lot of children – a school bus-full of them. The film struggles to give the runtime to all these characters, it tries to give them each an emotional moment or character arc but it doesn’t work a lot of the time.

Independence Day: Resurgence is also a bit slow to get going. It has to set up all the aforementioned characters and the type of world they’re in now that humanity has pulled together and has used the alien technology to improve their own. Plus, there’s this whole bit in Africa with David Levinson at the beginning that almost feels like it’s just a reason for him to be away from America when everything really kicks off.

That being said, the effects are pretty spectacular and the action-sequences are thrilling – though when there’s dogfights in the air it’s a bit difficult to keep track of which planes are the good guys since humans have combined human technology with alien tech. No one quite does worldwide destruction like Roland Emmerich!

Independence Day: Resurgence is mostly entertaining but doesn’t live up to the original. While it still has some humour, it doesn’t always hit the spot and I think the film misses the charm and charisma that Will Smith brought to the original. 3/5.