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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom •••

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Are we reviewing a new Pokemon Movie with new dinosaurs and we “Gotta Catch ‘em All?”


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

No, Greg, the only thing we’re catching is sequel fever. It’s a Hollywood epidemic. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is running an organization to save the dinosaurs left on the Jurassic Island. The island is on the verge of exploding due to volcanic activity. She’s approached by entrepreneur Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who wants to save eleven species – especially the Raptor named Blue. She enlists the aid of her old friend / love interest Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who wants nothing to do with the rescue. She convinces him by reminding him that Blue was his favorite ‘saur. And they’re off to the island of misfit dinosaurs to catch ‘em all.


Of course things go badly on the island. Not only do Claire and Owen barely escape with their lives, thanks to the irritable volcano, but they also discover that the paid mercenary rescue team has been ordered to move the ‘saurs to the home of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a long-lost partner of Dr. Hammond who established the original Jurassic Park. All the ‘saurs will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.


Scott, I’m at a complete loss to understand why any of us should care about these ‘saurs. They seem really dangerous and vicious. It really seems like the world would be better off without them. We don’t see any examples of how the ‘saurs are compassionate, or cute, or cuddly, or in any way worthy of saving. Jeff Goldblum even reprises his role as Dr. Malcom to tell a Senate subcommittee that they should let the ‘saurs die with the island because they don’t belong here. So, the entire premise of the movie – that we need to save the dinosaurs – is in no way validated. So I can’t buy in to our hero’s goal to risk their lives to save really dangerous animals.


I admire your cynicism, Greg. You could say that our two romantic heroes are driven by two needs — the need to preserve life, however dangerous that life may be, and the need to prolong the longevity of the Jurassic Park franchise, which is making millions for Universal Pictures.

This installment of the Jurassic Park franchise has all the familiar ingredients – bloodthirsty ‘saurs, bad dudes who underestimate these ‘saurs, good dudes who try to stop the bad dudes from exploiting the ‘saurs, and a cute little kid who eludes the ‘saurs. There is also a romantic couple devoted to these creatures but are helpless to do anything about their mistreatment. To top it all off, Jeff Goldblum is the expert narrating the story and giving us the usual Jurassic Park commentary about the dangers of tampering with nature.

So you’d might think from my tepid description of the film that I was bored to tears and am ready to beg the filmmakers to euthanize this series once and for all. But I refuse to do that. Jurassic Park has always managed to entertain me even when I know exactly what’s going to happen before it happens. There’s no logic to my liking these overgrown lizards. It should be time to retire the raptors, terminate the T-Rex, and jettison the Jurassic. I plead guilty to liking a movie I have no business liking, and there’s not even an interesting hero story I can single out to justify my poor taste. Could it be that I’m partial to films starring Zefram Cochrane (played by James Cromwell), inventor of the warp engine?


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is what it is: a summer blockbuster popcorn movie filled with action and adventure. It’s not driven by a coherent plot, but at least the acting was pretty good. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes in this story are Owen and Claire. As a buddy and romantic pairing they do pretty well. Although Claire is played up as the beautiful brains behind the operation, she’s also pretty tough in her own right. Owen is the masculine save-the-day classic hero. I give them 3 out of 5 Heroes.

As for the archetypes, I noticed that they replaced the DAMSEL IN DISTRESS with a screaming, inept, and impotent COMPUTER GEEK. Good for them in the age of the #MeToo movement. There’s the classic CORPORATE FAT CAT only interested in profit without regard to life, liberty, or ethics. They also went to great lengths to create a family unit harkening back to the original Jurassic Park. Claire is not a fan of children, but by the end of the movie Claire, Owen, and the CLONED GIRL Maisie (Isabella Sermon) come together as the NUCLEAR FAMILY that the audience can recognize and root for. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Damn it, Greg, I hate it when we agree on all three ratings. This is a flagrant violation of the laws of nature and the world feels off-kilter now. This rendition of Jurassic Park is indeed a prototypical summer action flick that appeals to my reptilian brain, my inner ‘saur. There is a dark side to this film that is much more horrifying than the bloodthirsty lizards on the screen — the reality of human cloning, which is thrown at us without much fanfare. If the next film in the franchise runs with this idea in imaginative ways, we could have a really fresh future for this franchise.

So yes, my ratings are identical — 3 Reels, 3 Heroes, and 3 Arcs. The heroes of this story undergo the same journey as the heroes in all the previous Jurassic movies. They are not so much transformed by their journey as they are horrified and damaged by it — yet with each installment, they come back with renewed enthusiasm for saving the ‘saurs. Also, with each film we have a fresh new set of bad guys who underestimate the power of nature and whose cages for these creatures never seem strong enough. Did they never see the original King Kong movie? It’s definitely a ‘saur spot for this franchise.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

A Quiet Place ••• 1/2

Starring:  Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds
Director: John Krasinski
Screenplay: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: April 6, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it’s time to review Simon & Garfunkel’s film version of ‘Sounds of Silence’.


i just hope to find a Quiet Place to review this film. Let’s recap:


The year is 2020, and most of the earth’s population has been decimated by vicious creatures called the Death Angels. With hyper-sensitive hearing, these creatures attack and kill anything that emits the slightest sound. The Abbott family has managed to survive, thanks to their mastery of ASL (American Sign Language). There is Lee Abbott (John Krasinski), his wife Evelyn (Emily Blunt), and their three children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Noah (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward).


While Lee and son Beau are on an excursion, Evelyn goes into labor and steps on a nail and emits a noise that attracts the beasts. Now it’s a game of cat and mouse as the Abbotts must evade the death angels while keeping silent.


Greg, it’s hard to imagine crafting a decent movie that is 90% silence, but that’s what A Quiet Place manages to accomplish. We’ve seen this villain before in the movies, a pure-evil animal-like villain in the same vein as Jaws and Alien. Only the most empathetic of us will show compassion for a creature than indiscriminately kills and eats anyone who makes a sound. And only the most foolish characters in a movie would choose to have a baby in a world with creatures that will devour a crying baby in mere seconds.

Despite a rather boring pure evil villain and the foolhardiness of the baby, this movie works rather well as a horror story. The creature is bloodthirsty and relentless, and as in every scary movie, there are plenty of false scares and predictable moments of suspense. Our main hero, Lee, is compelled to invent a device that will destroy the creatures, and our secondary family member heroes all manage to overcome their fears and transform into courageous, resourceful threats to the creatures.


I was favorably impressed with A Quiet Place. Unlike typical horror stories, this is not a tale strictly of fright, but a tale of survival and family. Young Regan blames herself for her youngest brother’s demise and imagines her father also blames her. The tension between father and daughter is exacerbated by the typical angst of a teen trying to become independent.

At first the fact that Regan was hearing impaired seemed like an ironic twist. Later we discover that her disability becomes the key to defeating the Death Angels. While the actress who plays Regan happens to be deaf, this is not what separates her from other young actresses. Millicent Simmonds virtually carries this film with her emotive face. She has only one other acting credit before A Quiet Place, but she delivers in a film that requires a strong emotive presence. Truly, she is the breakout star of this film – standing toe-to-toe with the likes of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski.


This movie heightened the suspense by having Evelyn deliver her baby on her own, within “earshot” of a Death Angel lurking in her house. Somehow she does it noiselessly and without any pain medication, which has to be the most remarkable feat in human history. The birthing scene had me on the edge of my seat, as did the film’s climax requiring Lee to sacrifice his life to save his children. It’s good to see good old fashioned ingenuity win the day in defeating these “eerie” beasts (pun intended).

By the way, the FX crew did a fabulous job creating a brand new villain with elaborate ears that were (fortunately) no way reminiscent of the Ferengi in Star Trek. These beasts were indeed terrifying and Krasinski deserves kudos for steering this cinematic ship with sharpness and alacrity. In terms of archetypes, we’ve certainly got the pure evil villain here, along with the scientist hero, the damsel in distress, the budding teen girl with attitude, and a small child who you know is going to do something foolish to attract trouble.


A Quiet Place delivers on both suspense and emotional levels. The actors do an amazing job of performing without much dialog – keeping us interested by their actions rather than their words. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

This is very much an ensemble cast with the father as the leader. In our book Reel Heroes and Villains we discuss the family ensemble and how important it is. We are also guided by the Moxnes model which uses the family as a paradigm. I give them 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Again, as an archetype, the FAMILY saves that day. Otherwise, we only see THE PURE EVIL monsters. Usually, this is a boring trope, but it works well here as it forces the family to work together. And what family would be complete without the ANGST-RIDDEN TEEN. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


A Quiet Place is one of the best films in the horror genre that I’ve seen in a few years. This innovative new villainous menace brings a taut, quiet urgency to virtually every scene in the movie. The production, direction, and casting of A Quiet Place is just about perfect, although it’s pretty clear that the only reason the Abbotts decided to have a baby was for me to lose 10 years of my life in fright during the baby’s delivery. I give this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey appears in bold relief here as the family is compelled to transform the way the think, move, and survive in this new dystopian world. Most importantly, Lee’s ability to construct a device capable of defeating these ear-monsters is the culmination of the journey for his family and his gift to humanity. I award these heroes 4 Hero points out of 5.

We’ve reviewed the many archetypes in the film, and I agree with you Greg that a rating of 3 archetype Arc points out of 5 seems about right.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Ready Player One ••• 1/2

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I’m READY to be the ONE who reviews this next movie with you.


It appears the ‘80s are cool again. Let’s recap.


It’s the year 2045 and much of the world lives in poverty and squalor. As an escape from this grim reality, everyone spends most of their time in OASIS, a virtual world in which players assume various virtual identities. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has recently died and has left the ultimate game for users to play. Whoever finds the Easter egg that he has hidden in OASIS wins the game and will inherit ownership of OASIS. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an 18-year-old living in Ohio, is intent on winning the game, but he is up against a vast army of IOI “sixers” led by the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).


In the OASIS, Wade is known as “Parzival” and he befriends “Artimis” (Olivia Cooke) who in real life is “Samantha.” Together, with his best friend “Aech” (Lena Waithe) and other friends “Sho” (Philip Zhao) and “Daito” (Win Morisaki) they form a team intent on discovering the secrets of the OASIS and keeping it from the hands of evil Sorrento.


Greg, Ready Player One is both an adventure story and a “cause” film with a not-so-subtle biting critique of current social issues. First, there is the message about the dangers of online addiction and over-dependency on computer gaming. Second, there is the dystopian future theme of the younger generation showing greater wisdom than their corrupt elders, wrapped also in a critique of the older generation’s single-minded craving for wealth, greed, and power.

There are many nice touches here with regard to good storytelling. The whole idea of living beneath the veil of avatars underscores the heroic theme of secret identities that we see in so many classic stories ranging from Superman to the fable of the Ugly Duckling. The secret identity theme also touches on the dreams we have to become something bigger and better than ourselves. Ready Player One is all about journeying away from fantasy into a deeper, truer reality, which in storytelling is always a journey toward knowledge of one’s deeper, truer self.


Scott, I was a bit disappointed in RPO. As is true of many popular films of the day, Stephen Spielberg has opted to create a visual spectacle rather than tell a compelling story. None of the characters get a very strong treatment because there are so many of them and because we’re constantly assaulted by computer graphics and gaming imagery. When you remove all the smoke and mirrors, you’re left with a very simple story and a rather trite message – “the real world is better than the virtual world.”

But the movie doesn’t deliver on that message. The real world Wade belongs to is bleak. And his becoming the master of the OASIS does nothing to change that. Sure, he closes the OASIS two days a week – but that doesn’t change the fact that people are suffering. It only means that they have to suffer in the real world 28% of the week.

If this movie is in fact a cautionary tale, then we should see the real world ramifications of living in the virtual word. We should see the causes of people preferring the virtual world. None of this is present in RPO – it is just another roller coaster ride. So buckle up.


We have another strong female hero in this film, Samantha, who cautions Wade about her avatar misrepresenting her so-called true self, which features a facial birthmark. Wade loves her for her inner qualities, an act of pure love and acceptance that redeems and transforms her. We know that she becomes transformed when she revises her avatar to include the same birthmark that she once despised. This film wisely doesn’t take the extreme step of advocating the abandonment of technology; rather, it encourages a “balanced” approach with online fun being part of life but certainly not all of life.

You’re right, Greg, that true heroes would transform the bleak “real” world in addition to winning the game of OASIS in the virtual world. Perhaps that’s the ideal plot of a follow-up movie.


I’d be more impressed if Sam were not beautiful in a classic sense. It’s easy to love someone’s soul when she looks like Olivia Cook. How might this story have turned if she looked like Steve Buscemi?

Ready Player One is a great visual romp through 1980s video game culture. As a child of the 80s I found it very entertaining and nostalgic. The computer imagery was amazing, well beyond anything we’ve seen up to now. The recreation of the hotel from The Shining was absolutely incredible and well worth the price of admission. The story was a little formulaic and lacked any sophistication. I give RPO 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes here are pretty simple. Wade is the classic boy warrior and Sam the female sidekick. We don’t really admire Wade for anything he’s done except be clever in the ways of finding clues. He seems to have a sense of morality, but we don’t see much that endears us to him (where’s his “save the cat” moment?). I give Wade 3 out of 5 Heroes.

There are plenty of archetypal characters. Halliday is the WIZARD, there’s a MENTOR in the Curator. Sorento represents the EVIL OLIGARCHY. We also have the QUEST TEAM that Wade leads and they support him in finding the final Easter Egg. Overall, I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Ready Player One represents another triumph of sorts for director Steven Speilberg, as it is an ambitious film with plenty of heart, solid sentimental storytelling, and terrific action sequences. The film falls short of achieving epic status because no truly new ground is broken here in terms of originality and impact. We do have plenty of endearing characters and a classic good versus evil set-up which won my heart. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey for Wade and his friends is everything you’d want to see in classic storytelling. Every element of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth is present, from trials to allies to villainy and mentoring. This film is a rock solid hero adventure tale, with Wade displaying most of the “great eight” traits of heroes – intelligence, strength, inspiration, heart, selflessness, and resilience. I award Wade and company 4 Hero points out of 5.

Not surprisingly, the archetypes in this film are bold and moving. There is the underdog, Wade, doing battle with a far superior enemy force; there is the eccentric scientist in Halliday; there are wise children, a wise old man (Halliday’s partner); wizard-like characters in the virtual world; a curator serving as a guide, and of course a great love interest in Sam. Overall these archetypal element merit a score of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Black Panther •••••

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: February 16, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


It looks like Marvel is putting out a Pink Panther sequel.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Shirley you jest, Greg. This panther is fiercer and greater in every way. Let’s recap.


It’s 1992 in Oakland and the king of the hidden futuristic city of Wakanda is hunting the thief who stole vials of vibranium – a powerful metal from outer space. The thief is the king’s brother who is summarily executed leaving behind a young son. In the present-day Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), son of the king, is challenged for the throne and must defend his right by hand-to-hand combat. Once T’Challa succeeds, he goes to South Korea in search of Klaue (Andy Serkis) – an arms trader who has stolen Wakandan artifacts and must be brought to justice.


Meanwhile N’Jobu’s (Sterling K. Brown) son, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), has plans to use Wakanda’s riches, including vibranium, to liberate Africans worldwide from their oppressors. After Klaue attempts to sell the artifacts to CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), Killmonger arrives to kill Klaue. He then brings Klaue’s body to Wakanda where Killmonger announces his true claim to the throne. T’Challa accepts the challenge and the two men engage in hand-to-hand combat, with a surprising final outcome.


Scott, origin stories can be boring. Usually, we get a movie where the first half of the film is taken up with the hero getting their new powers (“hey, I just got bitten by a spider”), learns to use them (“I’m going to need a suit and web slingers”), and by the midpoint has become the hero they were meant to be. The second half is the chasing down and vanquishing of the villain. So, you often get two weak half-movies for the price of one. Not much fun.

Black Panther is different. Our hero starts out as a fully formed hero. But his father dies, leaving a vacuum in the land of Wakanda that can only be filled by ritual battle. Our hero steps up to the challenge and becomes king. But there’s a catch, one of T’Challa’s detractors forces his hand and now the search is on for the notorious Klaue.

Another difference with this film is the wealth of characters. This can be a problem in a 2-hour flick because often there is no time for the secondary characters to develop any depth. But Black Panther skillfully manages this by creating scenes that allow all the characters to participate. As much as this is T’Challa’s story, it is also the story of his family and faithful followers.


You’re right about Black Panther deviating from the origin story norm. From the opening credits, this film is a story about home — finding it, discovering its hidden powers, using those powers to better the world, and seeing home at ever more deeper levels. There are so many great elements of storytelling here. We are treated to reflections on the importance of family, the important linkage to one’s ancestors, the tragedy of colonialism, and the searing legacy of enslavement. It’s a rich narrative about fathers, masculinity, and the sins of the father that the son tries to correct.

I urge readers to check out my colleague Patrice Rankine’s erudite analysis of Black Panther in which he connects the film’s thematic highlights to biblical imagery and classic mythology. Both the hero and the villain of the story have a royal past, and each holds claim to the throne. While the hero is worthy of the status of hero, the villain is morally complex and leaves us pondering the worthiness of his agenda. The best villains in cinema have some redeeming qualities that leave us questioning their villainy and pondering whether they are redeemable. Regarding our hero, Rankine points out that near the film’s end T’Challa addresses the United Nations with a new accent reflecting his transformation into Africa’s international icon. As a result of his journey, T’Challa is forever changed and ready to lead his people toward collective enlightenment.


Black Panther is an artistic marvel (if you will pardon the pun). Everything about it exudes quality – the acting, the costumes, the dialog, world building, backstories, characterizations. This was not a haphazard affair as so many superhero movies have been (see my recent opinion of Thor: Ragnarok). I rarely rate a film above 4 Reels, reserving the highest rating for films that could not have been better made. Surely Black Panther is as good as it gets. I give it 5 Reels out of 5.

As a hero, T’Challa has it all. He starts out feeling entitled, learns that his father was not perfect, falls from grace, and must rise up (with the help of family and friends) to become the hero he is meant to be. It takes the entirety of the film for this transformation to occur. And it is well worth the wait. I give T’Challa 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Black Panther has a wealth of archetypes to choose from. There’s the KING FATHER in T’Challa’s father, the QUEEN MOTHER, the BRATTY SISTER. This is a very strong family hierarchy as laid out by Moxnes. Meanwhile, the RETURNING SON wants to take back the throne. The MENTOR advisor lays down his life for T’Challa. As I said before, it is a credit to the writers that everyone gets plenty of screen time and are well-developed, strong characters. I give them all 5 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


You’ve summed it up well, Gregger. Black Panther takes superhero storytelling to a bold, new level of complexity and wonder. Every great hero story is about home. Here we see a hero transforming himself and his people as a result of finding his home and discovering the full potential of himself and his home. There is so much of substance in this film regarding family, ancestry, women, masculinity, and redemption, that we can only scratch the surface here. Suffice to say this movie earns the full 5 Reels out of 5.

T’Challa’s journey is fascinating as it unfolds in ways he never could anticipate. This is the hallmark of good heroic storytelling, as heroes can only transform themselves by encountering unexpected and unsought turbulence, villains, allies, and mentors. Black Panther gifts us with a unique origin story of a superhero from whom we will hear plenty in the coming years. I award him 4 Hero points out of 5.

You’ve mentioned the depth of the archetypal images invoked in this film. There are kings with hidden identities, entire kingdoms themselves with hidden identities, Moxnes’ “deep family roles” involving fathers, uncles, sons, and lovers. There’s even a villain who is not entirely bad and whose intentions leave us pondering the nature of leadership and how to bring about social justice. This film is a treasure trove of archetypes that easily deserve 5 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

 

Maze Runner: The Death Cure ••

Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario
Director: Wes Ball
Screenplay: T.S. Nowlin, James Dashner
Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: January 26, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I was hoping this would be a movie about children running in maize fields.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Amazing that you would think that, Greg. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) who is trying to rob a speeding train. He and his friends steal a super helicopter, disconnect a car from the moving train and carry it off hanging from the super-copter. When they land they release the prisoners: a gaggle of youngsters round up by WCKD (Wicked) who want to harvest their blood to make a potential cure for the Death Plague. But the object of Thomas’s heist, friend Minho (Ki Hong Lee), is not in the car – he’s been swept away to The City and is being forced to experience terrifying images so that his body will excrete the serum that Theresa (Kaya Scodelario) hopes will be the cure.


Thomas and his friends devise a plan to secretly enter The City to find Minho. Their former friend Gally (Will Poulter), who was believed dead, helps them find passage inside the city walls. Their plan is to use Thomas’ former girlfriend Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) to help them enter the big research skyscraper where Minho is being held. They capture Teresa, who guides them into the building where all sorts of mayhem ensues after encounters with the villainous Janson (Aidan Gillen).


Maze Runner: The Death Cure is no improvement over its previous incarnations. The story makes little sense and is a series of unlikely events strung together that never deliver on their promises. At one point, I thought the writers were going to martyr Thomas, but they did not. I thought they were setting up a love triangle between Thomas, Teresa, and Brenda (Rosa Salazar), but they did not. I thought they were going to have Gally betray them, but he did not. This movie was one uninspiring scene after another. I was relieved when it was all over.


Greg, is it just me or have we seen far too many movies in the “dystopian-future-young-adult fiction” genre that all seem to share essentially the same plot. These movies feature a group of young people in rebellion over a corrupt older generation that has inflicted terrible injustices on the youth. Maze Runner: The Death Cure gives us nice ensemble cast of characters whom we can get behind, with solid kudos to Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Kaya Scodelario. The story of these young heroes overthrowing their corrupt elders is pretty much by-the-numbers and predictable.

The two most interesting characters turn out to be the villains, Ava Paige and Janson. We get the sense that Paige’s intentions are good though her means for attaining her goals are ethically a disaster. Janson, in contrast, is a total bad apple who is driven by a lust of power and control. We can tell a villain is pure evil when he smiles as he kills. Actor AIdan Gillen plays essentially the same sordid character here as he did in Game of Thrones. The character of Teresa is also complex as she finds herself caught between two worlds, and of course she must make a choice about which world to commit to — a conundrum that naturally leads to her demise.


Yes, adult corruption and overthrow is a common theme in Young Adult literature, and it has just about had its run. In my interactions with writers and agents in writer’s workshops and conventions, I’m hearing a yearning from young readers for themes that more closely relate to their world. Young readers (and movie goers) are well aware of these well-worn patterns and are ready for a change. Maybe that’s the reason for last year’s Lady Bird and Wonder.

As for the archetypes we encountered in Maze Runner 3, Thomas is the clear HERO. And we have dual LOVE INTERESTs in Teresa and Brenda. However, it appears that Teresa is the true object of Thomas’s affections as he risks everything to save her from WCKD. Brenda, on the other hand has little to do in this story. Gally is an interesting character as he is both BACK FROM THE DEAD and a REDEEMED VILLAIN.

In my book Agile Writer: Method I point out that at the 75% point in a story someone close to the hero may die. Newt fits the SACRIFICIAL LAMB archetype. It’s not necessary for someone to die, but movies often kill off a popular character at that point in the story to demark the lowest point for the hero and also to show that the stakes are very high – life or death.

Every hero needs a goal and saving Minho fulfils that role. Hitchcock called this THE MCGUFFIN. It doesn’t matter if Minho is actually saved because that’s not important. It’s the hero’s missing inner quality that needs healing. As you point out, every hero also needs a VILLAIN and that’s Janson – he most clearly is trying to thwart Thomas’s goal. It’s interesting that you mention Ava Paige because she’s not a classic villain – she’s an administrator with the goal to save humanity from the death plague. Her methods are cruel – to torture young people so they produce serum. I’m not quite sure what archetype she fits.


Greg, I’m not sure that Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a cure for death but it most certainly offers a cure for insomnia. There just isn’t any new ground covered here, only a recycling of many Young Adult literary themes from The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, and many other recent movie franchises. There are some commendable performances from several cast members, and a glimpse or two of effective villainy, but beyond that there is not much to cheer about. I give this film 2 Reels out of 5.

The heroes of this story do indeed traverse the hero’s journey. They boldly attempt a rescue by entering the enemy’s big city; they receive help along the way; and they encounter villains and obstacles. I don’t see any significant character transformation, which is not unusual given that this movie is merely a single installment of a series. Overall, the heroes are portrayed effectively, and so I award them 3 Hero points out of 5.

Greg, you mention several nice examples of this story’s use of archetypes. If I had to identify Paige’s archetype, it would be that of the tragic hero who means well but whose pride and arrogance condemns her to make bad decision (and also leads to her death). The effective use of archetypes here belies the mediocrity of the film. I give The Death Cure 4 archetype Arc points out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:


Maze Runner: The Death Cure is par for the course in the Maze Runner series. Like the prequels, a lot is promised and little is delivered. The whole movie has a sort of made-for-TV feel to it. I also give it 2 out of 5 Reels.

Thomas is a typical teen-in-dystopia hero – if there is such a thing. I’m reminded of Triss from the last movie in the Divergent series. They both seem to wander aimlessly through villages and brushlands. At any rate, Thomas dos all the things we expect him to do and he’s quite the bore for it. I can only muster 2 out of 5 Heroes for him.

As noted, there are a number of archetypes and they all perform their usual functions. There are no new or noteworthy icons. I’m giving just 3 out of Arcs for them.

Movie: Archetypes:   Heroes:

Blade Runner 2049 ••••1/2

Starring: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green
Mystery/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 164 minutes
Release Date: October 6, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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Scott, it’s time to run, don’t walk to the theater and see Blade Runner: 2049.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

This blade is sharp indeed. Let’s recap.


It’s the year 2049 and we’re introduced to ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling). He’s an android developed specifically for the purpose of hunting down and killing renegade androids. His boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is very concerned because K has just killed an android that left behind a strange box. When K opens it he finds the bony remains of a female android that appears to have had a caesarian section implying that the unthinkable has happened – an android has reproduced.


K is ordered by Joshi to find the replicant offspring and “retire” it. The deceased female replicant is identified as ‘Rachel’, and K discovers that she had a relationship with a former blade runner. Meanwhile, the head of the company that manufactures replicants, Wallace (Jared Leto) sends his henchwoman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to steal Rachel’s remains and to find the child.


Scott, Blade Runner 2049 is a great sequel to the original 1982 film. LIke its predecessor, 2049 is a bit ponderous – director Denis Villeneuve really takes his time setting up and executing each scene. And the scenes are constructed with great care and deliberation – which is to say that they are very detailed. The story is also told with great care and deliberation. It’s basically a mystery with clues left along the way as well as red herrings.

The movie clocks in at 2 hours and 45 minutes – which is long by almost any standard. I thought there were several places where scenes could have been more economical. We see a lot of shots of K deep in thought (which Gosling is known for). This feels more like a director’s cut than a theatrical release. The special effects were very good and at times it felt like the director was offering pornagraphic material – not so much because of nude bodies, but because he lingered so long on the effect.

I was also disappointed in the lack of scenes with Harrison Ford (Deckard, from the original) as he is featured prominently in the trailers (and listed as a costar).


Greg, we’re in agreement about this film’s excellence. Blade Runner 2049 is a masterfully constructed sci-fi flick that sets a very high bar for future work in this genre. Director Villeneuve makes exquisite use of space – I’m referring to the space between people, between objects, between buildings, etc. There’s also deft use of lighting and shadowing, along with creative camera angles that accentuate tension and emotional impact within a character. The craftsmanship here should earn Villeneuve an Oscar nomination, at the very least.

Yes, the movie strained my bladder, and I’d like to start a petition requiring movies to run no longer than two hours. If you can’t tell a story in 120 minutes, then you aren’t a good storyteller. Movie directors seem to fall in love with their work and can’t bear to leave a frame of their precious film on the cutting room floor. It would have been nice indeed to see more of Harrison Ford, but he appears to have reached the stage of his career when he plays more supporting roles than lead roles. Personally I believe he can still carry a movie on his geezerly shoulders, but Villeneuve doesn’t give him the chance here.


K as the hero of the film is worth following. Unlike his predecessor, Deckard, K is outed in the opening scroll as a replicant (android). It’s interesting to see this character treated as a slave and at the same time contemplate his own existence. We’re witness to K’s gradual realization that he is “the one” (a replicant born of a female replicant). Then the sudden revelation that he is not the one. It’s jarring both for the character and the audience.


You’ve identified perhaps the most fascinating element of the hero’s journey here, Greg. While all hero’s journeys are a search for identity, this film is daring in depicting an identity dead-end for our hero K. Believing for a while that he was “the chosen one”, he is instead left absorbing the reality of his ordinariness. This film is strong enough to get away with an identity realization that defies heroic convention. I could be cynical here by pointing out that this anti-revelation merely paves the way to yet another sequel, but I’d say there’s more going on here. The “treasure we seek,” in the words of Joseph Campbell, is rarely the treasure that we think we’re seeking. This film was so long that the treasure I sought was the nearest urinal.


There is no transformation for the world in which K lives. However, we do see K transform from a lost slave performing the duties he told to execute, into a self-aware and self-actualized individual. He makes decisions for himself and makes his own destiny. It’s not clear if he survives the film, although it doesn’t look good for him. And Deckard appears to have gone from just existing in his wasteland to caring about what happens to his offspring. It’s true that these transformations appear to be setting us up for a sequel, but it’s a sequel I’m looking forward to.


Blade Runner 2049 ranks among the best science fiction films of the past several years. This is true movie-making, a film crafted with careful attention to every frame, every camera angle, and every line of dialogue. The story also makes the bold move of defying an iconic convention of hero storytelling, namely, the illumination of the hero’s special identity. We thus see how skillful storytellers know how to break the rules. I award Blade Runner: 2049 a glowing rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

Ryan Gosling is cast perfectly in the role of K. a dutiful replicant who goes rogue in response to surprising revelations about his possible new identity. His hero’s journey contains the classic elements from Joseph Campbell’s monomyth of the hero — a departure to a startling new world followed by an initiation of trials, villains, detours, and discovery. This film gifts us with a terrific hero tale worthy of 4 Hero points out of 5.

Greg, you’re right about K’s transformation from a brutal slave enlisted simply to “retire” outdated replicants to an enlightened and empowered near-human being. In our Reel Heroes & Villains book, we describe five types of transformations: moral, mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. In this film, K undergoes a mental transformation, as his entire worldview is turned upside-down. K’s growth is this film is fascinating to watch and it earns him 4 transformative Deltas out of 5.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Scott, I couldn’t agree more. Despite the long running time and rather slow delivery, this is a film worth both waiting for and wading through. It’s artful, entertaining, and is every bit as good as the original. I can’t see how to improve it — 5 out of 5 Reels.

K’s journey from obedient slave to rising acolyte, to fallen hero is a great hero’s journey. It’s a heroic transformation that we don’t get to see often. And it was so skillfully delivered that I have to give a full 5 Heroes and 5 Deltas. Excellent.

 Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Flatliners ••

Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Screenplay: Peter Filardi, Ben Ripley
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: September 29, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, do you think the brainwaves of movie studio executives have flatlined?


I flat out believe that is the worst one-liner ever. Let’s recap:


A young woman named Courtney (Ellen Page) is driving and texting at the same time with a little girl in the passenger seat. The distraction causes the car to veer out of control and into a river. Nine years later, Courtney is a physician completing her residency at a prestigious hospital. She’s interested in near death experiences and wants to map the area of the brain responsible for these hallucinatory experiences. Enlisting the aid of friends Jamie (James Norton) and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons), Courtney decides to “die” and then get revived while under a CT scanner.


Sophia stops Courtney’s heart and she has an out of body experience. Her friends are so amazed by the happenings that they in turn go through the experiment. But something goes awry. Sophia starts having illusions of someone following her. And her friends see strange things as well. Soon, they realize that they’ve brought something back with them from the great beyond – something they each will have to deal with.


Greg, this modern version of Flatliners had the potential to be something good and worthwhile but it squanders all that potential by taking the cheap and easy route to storytelling. The idea that there may be a realm of conscious existence beyond death is a fascinating concept and deserves serious treatment. This film teases us into believing it might take an earnest look at the topic but instead it devolves into a standard ghost story with an unlikely and unbelievable moral resolution.

There are so many flaws to the movie that I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps the most striking idiocy occurred when all the characters leap to the bizarre conclusion that making amends for their past transgressions will rid them of the ghosts from the afterworld. We never actually see any evidence for this strange form of posthumous justice, but I suppose the idea we’re supposed to swallow is that all bad things happen for reasons that we all have control over. If only the world were this simplistic.


I agree. This film starts out wanting to ask questions about the hereafter, but never attempts to answer them. One suggestion I’ve heard is that part of the “dying process” is to be confronted with your sins and given the opportunity to atone for them. Since our heroes never complete the journey, they bring their sins back with them. I like this point of view, but surely, it is never presented in the film.

The real annoyance here is that there is mounting evidence about near death experiences that are much more interesting than this movie. I think a documentary about the dying brain would be more entertaining than (as you call it), a standard ghost story.


There is a discernable hero’s journey here, with our heroic ensemble departing into a supernatural world. The closest thing we have to a mentor figure in this story is Diego Luna, a more seasoned resident physician who gives warnings about the dangerous nature of his colleagues’ activities. Our heroes appear to be transformed morally as a result of their experiences. Sophia must apologize to a classmate for broadcasting nude pictures of her all over her high school. Jamie must make amends to a former girlfriend whom he impregnated and abandoned. Marlo must admit that she caused a patient’s death. As I’ve mentioned, these moral transformations seem contrived to me.


Yes, while Flatliners is an updated version of the classic, it is no more moving than the original. It was enjoyable as a horror film, but certainly not as good as other horror movies we’ve seen this year. I can only give 2 out of 5 Reels for this film. The heroes are average and go through changes that make them worthy of screentime, but not very exciting. I give them 3 out of 5 Heroes. Finally, this movie is all about transformation of the ensemble heroes. I agree with you that these transformations seem contrived, so I can only award 2 out of 5 Deltas.

 Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


No doubt Flatliners fell flat, Greg. The film had more than a kernel of potential but ruined it by settling for a cheap ghost story with a silly, hollow moral twist at the end. The ensemble cast was likeable and talented but there was no reviving the deadness of this screenplay. I agree that the movie only earns 2 Reels out of 5. We do have a hero’s journey here with some familiar elements such as departure to a dangerous world, encounters with villains, mentorship, and a real, albeit contrived transformation. This movie proves that a scary story needs good storytelling, otherwise the only thing I’m scared of is going to the theater again to see more “scary” fare from these filmmakers. I’ll give our heroes 2 hero points out of 5, and 2 transformation Deltas out of 5, too.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Spider-Man: Homecoming ••••

Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Jon Watts
Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein,  John Francis Daley
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 133 minutes
Release Date: July 7, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, let’s get into the swing of things and start reviewing the latest Spider-Man movie.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

I marvel at your pun-manship, Greg. Let’s recap.


In the prologue, we’re introduced to Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) – an everyman contractor responsible for cleaning up the alien tech left over from the last battle the Avengers had with beings from beyond the stars. He’s interrupted by a federal official who is taking over the salvage operation since the tech is so dangerous. But Toomes isn’t deterred and goes underground selling the alien tech on the black market.

Meanwhile, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has already had some notoriety as Spider Man after fighting in the Avengers Civil War. Now, he’s sitting in Tony Stark’s limo getting some mentoring. Stark passes his responsibilities on to “Happy” (Jon Favreau) – his man Friday – who must keep tabs on the new young superhero.


While waiting for Stark to contact him to fight crime alongside the other Avengers, Peter passes up a lot of opportunities for extracurricular activities such as joining the debate team. Meanwhile, he is attracted to a young girl named Liz (Laura Harrier) who is on the debate team and who Peter wants to take to the prom. While breaking up an ATM robbery one night, Peter accidentally reveals his identity to his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). The two work together to try to win favor with Tony Stark, but it isn’t easy.


Scott, we’ve come to expect a lot from Marvel films. They are strongly character-based and still have great plots. It’s a hard combination to master, but Marvel generally does it. However, they let me down with Spider-Man: Homecoming. The coming- of-age story for young Peter Parker is not very compelling and the it had a lot of holes in it. I left the film feeling disappointed.

For one thing, the villain character never comes off as particularly evil. He’s just a guy trying to provide for his family. He accidentally kills one of his henchmen rather than overtly dispatching him. While he appears to steal the alien ‘junk’ – we never see him do it. Keaton’s bad guy just isn’t bad enough.

Perhaps this incarnation of Spider-Man is aimed more at a younger audience, say tweens (10-12 year olds) rather than teens and twenty-somethings. There was a clear lack of blood and violence. And the language was similarly subdued. Even Peter Parker is a younger version of Spider-Men of years gone by – just age 14 (or 15). If this is Marvel’s attempt to cater to a younger audience, then this sort of “Avengers-lite” presentation makes sense.


You’re right about Marvel films, Greg. They are so consistently polished and gleaming that part of me resents their formulaic success and actively roots for one of their movies to fail. The problem is that for Marvel, failure is not an option. I’m forced to report that Spider-Man: Homecoming continues Marvel’s almost monotonous tradition of excellence. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a terrific movie, Greg. I tried not to like it, I really did! But Tom Holland is just perfect in the role of a young Spider-Boy. He has puppy dog eyes, a squeaky (clean) adolescent voice, and a charming and naive do-gooder attitude that in combination are all perfect for a young superhero who is coming of age.

We never want our villains to suffer from the dullness of being purely evil, and Michael Keaton as Toomes strikes the perfect dark grey shade of villainy. He’s not a terrible man but he’s bad enough to wreak havoc on society and even kill people in the name of profit. In addition to Toomes, the ensemble supporting characters add depth to the strong story. Girlfriend Liz, buddy Ned, Aunt May, Toomes, and Tony Stark supply humor, heft, and a spirited energy that won me over.


Young Peter Parker is a great heroic character. He is virtuous and strong but not egotistical. His major flaw is the desire to be a super hero on par with his Avenger contemporaries. He’s too impatient to wait for his maturity to catch up with his super powers. This is where Tony Stark (and to a lesser degree, Happy) come in as mentors. Sadly, their mentoring is little more than a pep talk before and after events. I did like the sort of reluctant mentoring that Tony gives Peter. Tony is uncertain as to how to advise the younger hero and so his advice is often too terse to have good effect (not to mention that he has delegated this responsibility to Happy and literally phones his mentoring in from time to time). But, of course, that is where the fun lies as Peter makes mistake after super-mistake when not taking heed of Tony’s advice and wisdom.

There are plenty of transformations here. Peter grows as a young man as he approaches dating the object of his desire, Liz. He also grows in confidence as he first learns to use the extended powers of his super suit, and then later to act without it.

I am concerned, though, about that suit. I think Spider-Man is on the same path as Iron Man was. Is it the suit or the man who is the hero? In older incarnations of Spider-Man, Peter Parker has only a few super powers: super strength, “Spidey Sense”, and advanced intelligence. The only devices he uses are the web-slinging apparatus. So, Spider-Man has (up until now) been all about the wit, charm, and intelligence of a mostly mortal against advanced powers of his villains. I fear this new incarnation of Spider-Man, with his sophisticated suit, will devolve into “gadget of the week” where it’s the suit that becomes the object of interest, not the man.


Mentoring can go one of two ways — either the mentor has to encourage a fledgling hero who lacks self-confidence, or the mentor has to knock an overconfident hero down a peg. The latter occurs with this rendition of Spider-Man. Tony Stark takes this peg-knocking to a new level with his rather dismissive attitude toward young Peter, telling the arachnid to basically give up hope of joining the Avengers. But Stark also shares an extremely important insight, namely, that if Peter only thinks he’s something in the suit, then he’s not worthy of the suit. So naturally, young Peter confronts a situation in which he proves himself sans suit.

As this film tells a coming-of-age story, we do witness Peter Parker transform himself from a small-time hero operating with training wheels to a stronger, smarter hero who uses both his wits and his emerging skills to take down criminal bad-asses. And he can’t do it without help from others. He needs his buddy Ned to lend a hand, and he also needs Tony Stark’s dismissiveness as added fuel. I wish I could say that Peter needs Liz and Aunt May, but alas, these women are relegated to distant supporting roles.


Spider-Man: Homecoming is an entertaining film filled with special effects and a new take on a classic hero. Like other films this season, CGI gives way to good storytelling. It’s a perfect allegory for the Spider-Man problem. Peter Parker must learn that technology is only the sugar coating to true heroism – just as CGI is the sugar coating to a great story. If you don’t have a great core, the whole suffers. I can only give Spider-Man: Homecoming 4 out of 5 Reels.

Peter Parker is a proto-hero. This is the story of how Peter Parker becomes the true Spider-Man. At the beginning of the story he’s a clumsy super hero. Then he becomes overconfident in the power of the suit. Finally, he throws off the suit and becomes the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. It’s a great hero origin story. I give Peter Parker 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Peter’s transformation is a good one. He grows emotionally by realizing that heroism comes from within – not from without. I give this film 3 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:


Spider-Man: Homecoming continues Marvel’s marvelous run of first-rate comic book superhero film extravaganzas. Young actor Tom Holland shines as a budding young super-arachnid who is desperate to prove himself and prove his mentor Tony Stark wrong. This movie offers an entertaining blend of humor, adventure, and superheroism. I also award it 4 Reels out of 5.

I agree with you, Greg, that we have here an exemplary coming-of-age story of heroic development. Peter Parker is fearless in confronting bad guys no matter how dangerous the job, and he shows a willingness to sacrifice a romance with his high school crush, Liz, in order to fight crime. All the elements of the classic hero’s journey are here — the call to adventure, the mentor, the villain, the belly of the whale, and the transformation into a full-blown spidery hero. I’ll also give him 5 out of 5 Hero points.

Parker’s transformation is also terrific to behold, as he grows from boy to man right before our eyes. We witness the genesis of transformation — a good mentor figure in Starks as well as a steely courage from Parker during his darkest hour without his suit. I award him 4 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformation: Heroes:

Transformers: The Last Knight •1/2

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Release Date: June 21, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, it seems like these Transformers never change.


It turns out they really are not more than meets the eye. Let’s recap:


In the 5th century, Merlin has teamed up with a dozen transformers in England to defeat the Saxons. In the present day, most of earth has outlawed transformers but they appear to be everywhere and they keep arriving. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has devoted his life to protecting the transformers, and he befriends a 14-year-old girl named Izabella (Isabela Moner). Meanwhile, on the planet Cybertron, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) has been captured by the evil Quintessa (Gemma Chan).


Over in England, Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) has summoned Cade because he’s been chosen by an ancient Transformer to the the last knight. Cade meets the beautiful and educated Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock). She knows the location of Merlin’s staff that can repel Cybertron. Now it’s a race against time as Cade and Vivian try to escape the Army, the TRF, ancient Transformers, and the Decepticons to defeat Quintessa and evil Optimus Prime and save Earth.


Greg, these Transformers movies are exhausting. No wonder this movie clocks in at two and a half hours – its tries to pack in every character and every plot device from every action movie ever made. We have a confusing array of heroes. First, there is a young girl in the ruins. Then there is Mark Wahlberg’s character Cade Yeager. Then Anthony Hopkins shows up. Then a beautiful professor of history joins in. There are also many villains: A floating metal woman named Quintessa, the TRF police hunting the transformers, plus a criminal gang of robot freaks led by Megatron.

It’s as if this movie wants to be an amalgam of Men in Black, National Treasure, and even Star Wars (as there are two robots resembling R2D2 and C3PO). This film has the same basic problem that plagues previous installments of Transformers, namely, it doesn’t know what it wants to be or who in the audience it should appeal to. The movie is too juvenile to appeal to adults and too crude to be appropriate for kids. Maybe that’s why it throws in everything plus the kitchen sink. If you include enough of everything, maybe something will stick to someone.


I could not agree more. What I saw was drones that looked like Tie-Fighters and robot destructors that looked like At-At’s. And plot twists that came out of The DiVinci Code. As if that weren’t enough, this was more like two separate movies. The first half resembles the plot of Logan with Izabella the Hispanic girl chasing our hero. She’s tough and resilient – just like Laura from the aforementioned movie. Then the movie abandons this storyline in favor of a sort of a DaVinci Code plot with the vivacious Vivian where they must decode the mysteries of historical artifacts. It is as if the writers could not agree on a plot so they combined two. It was a colossal mess.


I don’t think this film is a total disaster, as it does try to hit some key elements of the hero’s journey and heroism in general. Optimus Prime redeems himself and transforms back into his old benevolent self when an old friend expresses a willingness to die for him. This scene actually moved me. But I also know that the filmmakers threw in a few ingredients of heroism as an afterthought, just to make sure they covered a few key bases in the most perfunctory way.

For example, at the film’s end there is a brief speech about how our heroes just want to find home and how so much of our inner discoveries remain mysteries. Cade Yeager even has a secret identity as a knight, which is a classic theme in hero mythology. That’s all well and good but this film is guilty of superficially exploring these heroic themes. Sadly, Transformers movies are first and foremost hyper-masculine films consisting mostly of violence, cleavage, and “dickhead” comments.


Yeah. There are a lot of tossed-in elements. It’s like some sort of movie salad. Borrowed elements from other movies. Borrowed archetypes. Borrowed characters. The most heroic character (and by far the most interesting) was Izabella. She’s wise beyond her years, tough, and capable. Cade tries to treat her like a naive child and she has none of it.

Likewise, Vivian is a lot smarter than Cade and when the chips are down, it is she who can wield Merlin’s staff and save the day. Which is very confusing because it makes us wonder what Cade is there for. The artifact that chose him to be “the one” true knight. The artifact turns into Excalibur and then in a flash disappears. The most interesting characters in this film are the two women and there isn’t a single scene with the two of them together.


I think your “movie salad” description really says it all, Greg. Transformers: The Last Knight is an oversized casserole that you can’t possibly finish, nor would you want to. There’s just too much sound and fury with too little substance. There’s quite possibly a good movie lurking somewhere in this sloppy stew, but it’s hopelessly obscured by a cacophony of sights and sounds, most of them unnecessary. I’m generously awarding this film 2 Reels out of 5.

We do have several worthy heroes. Izabella is a good character who deserves more character development. She’s an example of heroic potential wasted. Cade Yeager is also an admirable hero who grows into his knightly role, but he’s also a flimsy character due to this film’s emphasis on action, CGI effects, flash, and noise. Burton and Wembley also have potential but are lost in the blaring cacophony. Heroic themes of home and inner discovery are buried as well. Thus all I can muster is a hero rating of 2 out of 5.

You’d think a Transformers movie would be bursting with interesting transformations, but alas, the vast majority of transformations here are of the physical variety. Machines become monsters and monsters become vehicles, etc. Optimus Prime does undergo a moving transformation from hero to villain and then back to hero again. But it’s all done on an unsatisfying surface level. As a result, I can only must a rating of 2 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


Scott, you are far too generous to this film. Transformers: The Last Knight is a mashup of a dozen other films. There’s nothing original here. And it was bloated to over 2 hours and 30 minutes. Yet in all this mess there was a barely perceptible plot. The goal was to save the Earth – but that isn’t established well into the second act. It took a long time to know what this film was about. I can only give it 1 Reel out of 5.

There were a bunch of heroes in this film that we haven’t really talked about. There were many Autobot Transformers to play sidekicks. And the Decepticons were there for a minute. There’s a big scene where Megatron picks his Suicide Squad – and then they never appear in the film. These heroes are weak and uninteresting. Aside from the two women, I don’t have any use for them. I give this film 1 out of 5 Heroes.

And despite the many transformations from robot to automobile back to robot – there really isn’t much growth or transformation for these characters. I give them all just 1 Delta out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:

Alien: Covenant •••

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date: May 19, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Will you enter into a covenant with me to review the latest Alien movie?


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

No doubt the words from this review will explode from the page. Let’s recap.


We meet newly minted android David (Michael Fassbender) who has been invented by genius Weyland. Then, we flash forward to the future where the crew of the Covenant is awakened by android Walter (also Michael Fassbender) from cryogenic sleep because their ship has run into trouble. The Covenant is a colony ship taking 2000 colonists to a terra-formed planet. While repairing the ship, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) receives a message from a nearby planet. He makes a plan to go to the planet, against the advice of his second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston).


A team of crew members descend to the planet and notice it is void of any animal or insect species. They discover a ship that had crash-landed there years earlier. Two crew members become infected with tiny microorganisms that soon morph into creatures that explode from the crew members’ bodies. The landing craft is destroyed and android David appears on the scene to rescue the remaining crew by taking them to a sheltered area. Soon the truth about David’s motives and his past actions on the planet becomes horrifyingly clear.


Alien: Covenant is a proper prequel to the franchise started with the original Alien film from 1979. The other so-called prequel, 2012’s Prometheus was a confusing mish-mash of science fiction tropes that never quite jelled as a coherent story. There was a lot of confusion about whether Prometheus occurred within the same universe as Alien – both among fans and the filmmakers. Alien: Covenant aims to knit the story lines of the four Alien stories with the less popular Prometheus. And I think it succeeds.

Sadly, however, Alien: Covenant is not only predictable, but borrows so heavily from Alien and 1986’s Aliens that there is nothing new to see here. When we see two identical androids, we know that there’s going to be the ol’ switcheroo at some point. It’s an idea older than Star Trek’s “Enemy Within” episode with two Kirks. We aren’t surprised when there are pods in David’s basement and a “face-hugger” erupts and kills Oram. We are only surprised that Oram is so clueless as to put his face into the pod as it slowly, menacingly, opens and undulates. We saw all of this in the classic Alien films so it doesn’t shock us as it once did.


Greg, I think you’ve pretty much nailed the main issues with this movie. It’s time for the producers and writers of the Alien franchise to make a decision about what its goals are and where it should be heading. Ridley Scott, are you listening? Yes, when we go to an Alien movie, we do harbor the sick need to see razor-toothed neo-creatures explosively burst out of live human bodies. Alien: Covenant gives us three cool body-explosions with aliens chewing their way out of a man’s back, another man’s stomach (very old-school), and one out of a man’s mouth. The CGI effects are sickeningly realistic and we love it.

But what’s the point? As you’ve said, Greg, we’ve seen this before and we’ve also seen “synthetics” who oscillate between good and evil. The franchise desperately needs to move forward with fresh storylines that go beyond mere survival from face-hugging biological weaponry. The idea of a Prometheus race of superhumans who created homosapiens on earth is promising but the concept is barely explored in these past two Ridley Scott films. Let’s hope we see some much-needed inventiveness in the next Alien installment — and this inventiveness needs to extend further than showing a new bodily orifice from which a creature explodes.


The hero structure is a bit muddied. We’re not sure who we’re following in this film. At first it looks like we’re following Walter since he’s the android running the ship when the prologue is over. Then it looks like an ensemble where we’re following the crew of 12. But then the story appears to focus on Captain Oram and his difficult decisions to both save the colonists and his crew. But ultimately, it is Daniels who is the hero of the story since the rest of the crew is picked off one-by-one and Oram gets an embrace from an alien. I found it hard to know who was the main character.

As far as transformations go, there aren’t any to speak of. Oh sure, people are transformed into alien fodder. And aliens seem to go from pods to full-grown Xenomorph. Nobody really learns anything. Daniels seems like a strong character at the beginning and it’s no surprise when she goes full “Ripley” on the alien when the chips are down. This is a classic horror film set in outer space. No one really needs to grow or change since scaring the audience is the priority.


You’re right, we have a large hero ensemble operating here, although it could be argued that ultimately this is a story of two cyborgs, Walter and David, who operate not as buddy heroes but as rival heroes. The human characters are a large group and so we don’t really have sufficient time to bond with any of them, which is unfortunate. They all die one by one, and in true Ridley Scott fashion, at the end the remaining hero is a woman who is at the mercy of evil forces beyond her control. The filmmakers here have once again set the table up perfectly for a sequel.

Although it is true that there are no real transformations among the humans, the synthetic David has undergone a transformation toward the dark side. The unfortunate aspect of his transformation is that it occurs off-camera and we’re only told (sort of) how he came to destroy the Promethians and why he is now enamored with the alien creatures. There are a lot of physical transformations going on among the Xenomorphs, some of them inexplicable, but these physical changes are consistent with previous incarnations of the Alien franchise.


Alien: Covenant is a good prequel to the Alien series and a much better addition to the franchise than Prometheus. While I was entertained, there wasn’t much depth to the story and we didn’t see much that we haven’t seen before. I give Alien: Covenant 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes are hard to measure. In the end, I would say that Daniels is the hero as she is the last woman standing. I give her just 2 Heroes out of 5. Finally, the transformations are hard to find as well. Daniels seems to go from a submissive follower to a true leader and warrior. I give her transformation 2 out of 5 Deltas.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


We’re basically on the same page here, Greg. A total of 3 Reels out of 5 seems about right for a movie that delivers all the blood-splattering alien killings that we hope for in an Alien film. One hopes that the next installment introduces some fresh storytelling ideas. Daniels is certainly one of the heroes in this ensemble, but I see the duo of synthetic beings, Walter and David, as the main hero pairing. Their story is fairly solid but hardly memorable, and so 2 Hero points out of 5 seems right to me. The paucity of transformations is another weakness of this film, so like you, Greg, I can only award 2 transformation Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: