23 to See in 2017
I’ve yet to see various of my suggested 2016 titles, what with being generally recalcitrant and several having not yet come my way (Hacksaw Ridge, Silence, War on Everyone, The Neon Demon, Patterson, Passengers), one being now set for 2017 (A Cure for Wellness, which as a consequence won’t feature in the following list, but it does look promising) and one being so universally slated that I feel reluctant to admit I even picked it out of my nominal hat (Nine Lives, in recognition that once, in the mists of time, Barry Sonnenfeld made a couple of decent movies; I shall endeavour to include a at least one movie in the following run down that is also likely to be roundly lambasted).
Of the rest, only Batman v Superman falls into the category of outright disappointment (albeit, there wasn’t a huge amount of belief there in the first place; it simply had to be seen), while a few more (Star Trek Beyond, A Hologram for the King, Rogue One, Suicide Squad, Jason Bourne) were reasonable but unremarkable, and a couple more still (Hail Caesar!, Finding Dory) were too much of a remix of their creators’ key notes to reach greatness. That still leaves some that were good, solid movies, The Nice Guys leading the way, and followed by Marvel on a roll with Doctor Strange and Civil War, and, yes, I really did like it, Zoolander 2.
Why not a nice round 20? Well, on past form, a couple may drop by the wayside between now and then.
23. Kong: Skull Island
I’m no more convinced this will be a satisfying movie than Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was, but I’m just as convinced it will be a striking-looking piece of blockbuster movie making, with its cap firmly doffed to Apocalypse Now and a flagrant set up for the forthcoming Kong vs Godzilla by engineering an ape blessed with the mightiest proportions yet.
John C Reilly’s comic sidekick seems entirely wrong and out of place, and this is the sort of fare where otherwise respected performers like Tom Hiddleston (sporting attire that doesn’t look remotely ‘70s) and Brie Larson could come away with no credit if the material is that thin, but we also get the likes of John Goodman, Shea Whigham and Toby Kebbell. And then there’s Samuel L Jackson, but it’s unclear as yet whether this is one where he’ll be making any effort.
Monster movies are generally all fanfare, quickly finding they have no place to go, and this one, even with other monstrous inhabitants of Skull Island on show, may find itself following the prevailing trend. But it, at least, like those DC movies tend to, has marked itself out as a must-see.
Due Date: 10 March
Time was, I was all on board for seeing where George Clooney’s directorial career would take him. His meddling with the screenplay might not have endeared him to Charlie Kaufman, but Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was a debut he has yet to surpass or even equal (Good Night, and Good Luck garnered the plaudits, but it’s solid, respectable and a little bit too self-consciously worthy). Of his six features, two (Leatherheads and The Monuments Men) have been outright busts, and one might hold hope that, since he’s embarking on a Coen brothers’ screenplay, festooned with a profusion of stars (Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Julianne Moore), this will be something special.
But then one notes that Clooney gives himself a writing credit with Grant Heslov, and one wonders what he may have done to distract from the merits of the undiluted version (a crime comedy set in the titular town in the ‘50s, it revolves around a home invasion turned deadly). The Coens wrote it way back in 1986, which may explain the tinkering to an extent… but then, has Blood Simple actually aged at all?
21. White Boy Rick
Yann Demange’s ’71 was a hugely effective urban paranoia thriller in the vein of The Warriors that just happened to be set during the Troubles. His follow-up goes the biographical route, set in ‘80s Michigan and relating the tale of undercover police informant Richard Wershe Jr, who started selling drugs, was caught and sentenced to life in prison; he has since become the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in the state’s history (29 years and counting). McConaughey has been lined up as the dad, although unconfirmed, and with filming set for the first quarter of 2017, White Boy Rick may not end up missing a 2017 release date. Demange’s debut was so impressive, anything he tackles has to be worth serious attention whenever it arrives.
20. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Yes, this is the likely Nine Lives of this year’s list. I can take the brickbats; I haven’t quite given up on this franchise. I didn’t hate Stranger Tides; I was more slightly disappointed by it, but I knew going in that Rob Marshall would in no way shape or form fill Gore Verbinski’s shoes. Kon Tiki directors Jøachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg should at least compensate on that front, but the next question becomes “Can screenwriter Jeff Nathanson – such gems as Speed 2: Cruise Control, Rush Hours 2 and 3 and Catch Me if You Can, which is actually pretty good – make up for the absence Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio?”
And, will blandest-of-the-bland, whose-bright-idea-was-that-exactly-anyway-possibly-the-same-person-who-shoehorned-Legolas-into-The Hobbit-and-gave-a-dying-career-a-lifeline returnee Orlando Bloom and personification-of-the-new-bland Brendon Thwaites do for any chances of this being salvageable? And will Javier Bardem be remotely memorable or will he settle for ineffectual hamming, as per his Bond role? There’s always Geoffrey Rush, though. And David Wenham, and Stephen Graham, and Kevin McNally.
And Depp? It’s his trademark role, the one that shot him to the stratosphere, but he may not have been on the best of form during filming. Still, I’m more into seeing how this has turned out than many a sequel in ‘17, particularly since I rate three out of the four previous entries in the series, and don’t mind the other. So, I am not most of the Internet when it comes to this movie. Yet.
19. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Everything about this project is entirely wrong. I say that as a huge fan of Excalibur, who would love to see a really evocative, magical reclamation of Arthurian legend by someone who actually knows what they’re doing and has a genuine interest in seeing the material done right (so not Bryan Singer remaking John Boorman’s near-masterpiece). And yet, I’ve learnt not to discount Guy Ritchie, who has made a couple of Sherlock Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr that, despite the director’s inherent, public school-informed, faux-laddishness, offered a much more appealing take on the detective than Steven Moffat’s progressively more wretched and up-its-own-self-regarding-arse contemporary version. He also surprised with a witty, colourful big screen The Man from U.N.C.L.E., one that no one may have seen but most of those who did professed to having a good time with.
This has Charlie Hunnam in the lead, still needing to convince me of his chops outside of Sons of Anarchy, ridiculously anachronistic outfits, dialogue and – most of all – that all-important knockabout laddishness. Will it be awful? Quite possibly (definitely, if the “Raised on the Mean Streets, born to be a King” spiel is an indicator), but it could well be huge fun despite itself (or both, even). Lock, Stock and Two Sword-Wielding Pendragons.
And it has Jude Law as a very nattily-armoured villain. And Hunnam’s old Queer as Folk co-star Aiden Gillen doing his usual thin-lipped smile thing, and maybe even attempting a duff accent to boot. If we’re lucky. And, er… David Beckham. It can’t possibly be less scintillating than the 2004 Clive Owen version, which is something (at least this one boasts fantasy elements). And if this modernistic take on Arthur isn’t to your taste, there’s a similarly gritty, mean streets-raised Robin Hood due in 2018 to cause further deep distress.
18. Wonder Woman
At this point, anticipating a DC movie is most certainly a mug’s game. It will be interesting to see how Justice League performs, given how it appears of a piece with the derided, deplored and generally ripped-to-shreds Dawn of Justice. Odds on, it will be far less so to actually watch the thing. Wonder Woman, though, like Suicide Squad, suggests that, providing what WB is selling looks sufficiently differentiated, audiences won’t necessarily mind it coming from the same stable as something that flat-out sucks.
I’ve certainly been more impressed by the trailers for this than any of the studio’s other superhero vehicles, and Patty Jenkins – or her second unit – has evidently come up with a propulsive action sensibility for the picture. Wonder Woman should have no worries in that regard, but the quality of the action wasn’t the issue with Batman v Superman. The question mark hovering over the proceedings is the curse of the Snyder, who gets a story credit and whose “vision” for the DC-verse has most likely been disavowed too late to leave Wonder Woman free from blemish.
17. American Made
Doug Liman has two features in-bound for 2017, one of which is a low-key Amazon release called The Wall, in which Aaron Taylor-Johnson comes under fire from an Iraqi sniper. The other is this, most-blandly titled of movies, that explores some of the same territory as Narcos, an ‘80s set story following Tom Cruise’s CIA-recruited pilot running drugs for the Medellin cartel.
We’re more in fact-ional Fair Game territory than Liman’s overtly blockbuster-positioned escapades (The Edge of Tomorrow, Jumper, Mr & Mrs Smith), so American Made’s prospects of success may be limited, and doubly so with Tom’s non-M:I waning star, but it’s quite possible this will turn out to be one of the year’s smarter mainstream movies.
UK: 25 August, US: 29 September
16. Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle
In one respect, I’m a little disappointed that Matthew Vaughn has chosen to reprise his surprise hit of 2014; I’d rather see him continue to take on new properties, restricting himself to starting franchises (Kick Ass, First Class, this) rather than sequelising himself. And, as frequently dazzling, uproarious and (consciously or not) reactionary as The Secret Service is, it seems just the sort of material that can only be repeated to lesser effect.
That said, I couldn't be more pleased at the resurrection, in whatever form, of Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, since it’s probably the first role I’ve seen him in where I really liked him, and he’s the key – much more than Taron Egerton, which is in no way to do down his sterling work – to the success of the first picture, embodying a retro, “halcyon days of the Empire” cool that’s more Steed than 007, and in so doing is a welcome poke in the eye for the current incarnation of Bond the bruiser with his charmless ways.
Vaughn and his former producer Ritchie are both turning out highly entertaining pictures at present. But, while they both have similar, unreconstituted overgrown lad traits, Vaughn is the more versatile in conceiving and developing projects. I hope The Golden Circle isn’t a step backwards for him – if there’s a sequence during the film where Eggsy quits Kingsman, before rejoining, that will be a warning sign of a new franchise that might have been best left as a one-off – but for now I’m interested to see the director competing against himself, and how he’ll do better.
Hopefully by eschewing some of the baser/naffer elements that diminished the last twenty minutes of the original, and trying to muster something on the jaw-dropping scale of the church massacre. As for Channing Tatum? Well, he has surprisingly strong comedy chops. And I don’t doubt Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Halle Berry will be used well (Vinnie Jones also). But Elton John? Since when was his casting a coup (ditto Paul McCartney in Dead Man’s Chest)?
UK: 29 September, US: 5 October
15. The Snowman
With Assassin’s Creed looking dumper bound and his future as Magneto in doubt, the Fass will have to continue the search for that franchise with his name on it (there’s always Alien, but the David/Walter role(s) might be a little too idiosyncratic in terms of star status). He may have it with this adaptation of the seventh in Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole (just what kind of character name is that?) series.
The plot concerns Harry’s investigation into a disappeared woman whose scarf is discovered wrapped around a Snowman (so the location has not been transposed to California). The cast is impressive (Rebecca Ferguson, JK Simmons, Val Kilmer (!), Toby Jones and Charlotte Gainsbourg) and director Tomas Alfredson ought to accentuate its classier rather than schlockier potential. Against its prospects is that Tom Cruise has rather failed on the long running airport fiction front with Jack Reacher, so there’s always a Netflix series if Harry’s maiden voyage is holed.
14. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Most of Guardians of the Galaxy was a breath of fresh air, which made its standard-issue, blow-everything-up, Marvel-verse final act doubly disappointing. But James Gunn (who, truth be told, failed to completely blow me away with earlier offerings) appears to have been rightly been given a head of steam both as a writer and visual stylist from a studio that leads with how handicapped and identikit its product is. A strike against homogeneity, then. Relatively: it comes to something when a journeyman like Scott Derrickson has the lustre of an auteur by Marvel standards, but Gunn combines a vibrant visual attitude with a sure sense of humour, and even second time around this looks like the only thing out there achieving such a balance (just look at the mess DC gets into when attempting a similar blend).
The trailer has an easy grip on all its characters, and importantly takes the rise out of leading man Pratt, who elsewhere, since Guardians made his name, has been near-fatally miscast as a straight hero. To be a misery guts for a moment, the charms of cute ickle Groot have yet to work their magic on me. That aside, this is surely the closest next year has to a dead cert sequel; even if it’s just more of the same as the first one, that means inventive, genuinely funny more of the same.
UK: 28 April, US: 5 May
Alex Garland’s feature directing debut didn’t knock me for a hoop like it did most people – I found the themes and devices a little too familiar to be truly impressed – but that was more about his writing than direction, which was assured and elegant. This sophomore effort is adapted from the first novel in Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, so it may be exempt from Garland’s standard issues with plot resolution and structure. In a Stalker-esque set up, a scientific team (Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez) investigates Area X, an environmental disaster zone that has defeated previous expeditions. Garland reportedly didn’t pay much attention to the sequel potential of the material, but that will no doubt become an instant top priority if this does well.
12 Baby Driver
Way back when, probably in the wake of Hot Fuzz, I’d have been champing at the bit in anticipation of a new Edgar Wright movie. That was before the resounding disappointment of The World’s End, though, a damp squib finale to his and Simon Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy. Scott Pilgrim vs The World meanwhile, whose commercial failure immediately invested it with the cachet of cult status, is a movie I like more with revisits but is nevertheless one I can’t say I adore (and it’s one of those movies that absolutely lives on those who adore it). Baby Driver has the kind of title you’d expect from an early ‘90s John Hughes production, such that I’m surprised it hasn’t been changed, and features Ansel Elgort (so good at dying in The Fault in Our Stars) as the titular character, a getaway driver who finds himself deep in it when a heist goes bad.
Wright’s cartoonish, pop-culture sensibility looks to be ideally served here (the attempts to impress maturity and a reflective mood on World’s End just showed up how ill-equipped he and Pegg, as perma-boy-men, are in that regard; it’s the same reason you’ll never find anything really deep in a Tarantino movie – except maybe the one he adapted from source material – but he’ll still be credited for doing so because he’s so cool).
The motley cast of Kevin Spacey (following a career best turn in Nine Lives), Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Lily James will surely be put to good and probably atypical use. The picture’s music-driven, which will no doubt also dictate style and editing (Mint Royale’s Blue Song, directed by Wright, is cited as the inspiration for the screenplay, and it’s easy to see why), so expect something with the avalanche of visual invention that beset Scott Pilgrim.
UK: 18 August, US: 11 August
11. The Coldest City
There are a couple of in-coming female lead-driven spy flicks due in 2017, which may provoke jeers of Salt-clogged derision from more blokey devotees of the genre (I hasten to add, I liked Salt, so there), but the issue is hardly one of gender-based opportunism relating to the current high-riding (potential action) star allure of Jennifer Lawrence and Charlize Theron. Rather, it’s whether you can make a proper, plot-driven spy thriller when the suits are pushing for an all-out, next-Bond blockbuster assault.
Red Sparrow, the Lawrence vehicle, may sound like the better proposition on paper, based on the novels by CIA veteran Jason Matthews, although IMDB’s synopsis leaves something to be desired (“A sexy Russian spy falls for a CIA officer and considers becoming a double agent”; so, is Joel Edgerton the sexy Russian spy, or is it J-Law?) It has a couple of promising screenwriters on its side (Justin Haythe, Eric Warren Singer), but Francis Lawrence’s capable-but-functional pair of hands suggest this is strictly, superficially multiplex-driven, delivered with a hint of the plastic-substance Hunger Games spoke to but which was actually packaging for critics and think piece commentators to make a meal of, rather than anything satisfying or pervading.
Conversely, The Coldest City sounds like dreck on paper: it’s co-writers are Kurt Johnstad (Act of Valor! The 300s!) and Antony Johnston of the Dead Space video games, based on his graphic novel, and it’s an action thriller – which I just suggested wouldn’t be the way to go, so pay no attention to me – set in Berlin in 1989. Theron is the MI6 spy attempting to track down a list of double agents, who are being smuggled into the West. So far, so unremarkable. But, with James McAvoy as her Berlin station chief, and blend-right-in faces like Toby Jones – of course, he’s in everything – and Eddie Marsan, and John Goodman, the casting is enviable. And Theron clearly knows what the well-dressed female spy was wearing that year. The decider will be David Leitch calling the shots, hot off co-directing John Wick and with something to prove in the big leagues (John Wick 2, not on this list, but a near-miss, is delivered solo by Chad Stahelski).
UK: 11 August, US: 28 July
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The best part of Civil War was the introduction of Spider-Man (in retrospect, the tension between Tony and Steve feels too schematic and rote, mainly because of the rather dissatisfying manner in which it is brought to a head), and now there’s the promise of a whole Spider-Man movie with not only that sharp sense of humor and boyish enthusiasm brought to bear (arguably – despite Sam Raimi’s virtues in many areas – for the first time on the big screen) but also a confident martialling of the geography of the action sequence.
Could it be that Marvel is about to turn the corner on directors, or will this be exclusively the domain of their Sony collaboration? Probably the latter in the immediacy, since the Russos are helming Infinity War, which at this point lends itself to about as much excitement as Zack Snyder presiding over Justice League. Simply, this looks like it will be huge fun – Keaton bringing the nasty à la Pacific Heights, in a splendidly snug, furry-collared coat (albeit the mech suit thing is long-since old now), Downey Jr sparking off Tom Holland with such chemistry that Mark Ruffalo must be a wee bit jealous, and action that might not be quite as giddy as Raimi’s but is still back-of-the-net on the evidence of the trailer. Sony ought to be feeling very confident, as Marvel appears to have completely turned around a spluttering and wheezing franchise that was slowly expiring.
9. Paddington 2
The first Paddington was a tremendously appealing family-sized surprise, even more so given that, despite the CGI rendering of the bear from darkest Peru bearing little resemblance to the Peggy Fortnum bear, or even the ‘70s stop motion one – shades of the Garfield movie for those alert to warning signs – the sense of humour, warmth and the very British quirkiness running through it in such a consoling and disarming manner gave hope to all those who had given up on much-loved properties resisting the desire to update and defecate on all that made them distinctive in the first place.
Paul King thankfully returns for the sequel, and the plot sounds appropriately slender – all the better upon which to build absurd and well-constructed comic set pieces – as Paddington buys a pop-up book for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday that is then stolen; he promptly sets off on the trail of the thief, with the Browns in tow. There are bound to be numerous more successful family movie sequels in 2017 (Despicable Me 3, Cars 3), but I doubt that any will come close to Paddington quality-wise.
UK: 10 November, US: January 2018
8. The Shape of Water
I’ve been underwhelmed by Del Toro’s post-Hobbit-exit excursions (Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak), movies that felt as if they were written in bold type and accordingly lacked the texture and nuance of (most notably) his Spanish language excursions, or even the sense of exuberance and energy of Blade II and the Hellboys. Will The Shape of Water break his (creative) losing streak?
It certainly sounds appealingly offbeat compared to the previous two rather literal exercises in genre. Set in 1963 and described as romantic fantasy, the picture concerns a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) working in a lab occupied by an amphibious man (Doug Jones, inevitably), and also features Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg. At very least, it makes a change to hear a premise and have little idea where it’s likely to finish up, so fingers crossed.
7. God Particle (to be retitled)
With JJ’s Mystery Box, the less that is known tends to be for the better, even though that’s inversely proportional to the desire he creates in one, by holding back, to get the low down. It’s debatable whether the overt thematic linking of 10 Cloverfield Road to Cloverfield really served what was a tight, clever little psychological two or three-hander, since the last 10 minutes, entertaining though they are, are rather beside the point. But really, if that’s all there’ll be to complain about regarding God Particle, I’m quite willing to take it.
The cast includes Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Bruhl and David Owelyo and concerns the crew of a space station encountering a space shuttle after the Earth has vanished during an experiment. Which all sounds intriguing, and hopefully, like 10 Cloverfield Road, it will more than justify itself in terms of plot, and we won’t spend the running time waiting for the thematic link to the franchise to make itself known. Julius Onah makes his sophomore feature, while the screenplay is co-written by Banshee and Star Trek Beyond scribe Doug Jung, with Oren Uziel. Hopefully this won’t get buried by the Life on Mars Jake Gyllenhaal picture, also concerning odd goings-on on a space station, due first.
US: 27 October
6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
If the McDonagh brothers each release a movie in alternate years henceforth, that would be more than fine by me. Last year, it was older brother John Michael’s turn, while 2017 sees the arrival of Martin’s third feature. The latter gave us probably the best of their combined sextet of films so far, In Bruges. His second, Seven Psychopaths, which I was more than satisfied by, was seen as something of a disappointment in some quarters. If that picture flirted with the post-Tarantino, self-reflexive crime feature commentary (complete with Christopher Walken), Three Billboards could be riffing on the Coen Brothers’ encounters with the same genre (complete with Frances McDormand).
McDormand is the mother of a murder victim who goes to war with the local police, having reached the view that they’re more preoccupied with torturing black people than solving crimes. Psychopaths returnees Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell play the chief of police and his mummy’s boy deputy respectively, and the cast is a regular smorgasbord of talent, including Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish and Zeljko Ivanek, (both also back from Psychopaths). The title speaks a little too much of appealing to a quirky, niche market, but the content is sure to be caustic, funny and lacerating.
5. Alien: Covenant
Ridley delivered a grue-splattered Christmas Day present of a red band trailer for his latest Alien prequel/Prometheus sequel, and Alien: Covenant’s doing nothing to especially be complained about by the looks of things (except perhaps the slasher movie-baiting shower scene, which seems more like something we’d have found in Alien vs Predator: Requiem, from a director with zero self-awareness… wait, what am I saying?) But it’s also offering nothing that instantly screams this is going to be something different either, which whatever your complaints about it, couldn’t be said of Prometheus.
And, since I’m a relative Prometheus apologist (the script is often replete with lousy dialogue, inept motivation and an annoyingly developed premise, but for all that it’s a frequently beautiful movie, and very, very watchable), I’m not convinced that’s a good thing. Like that movie, we have a distinctive new (or old, depending on whether you’re in the xenomorph universe or not) aspect to the alien lifestyle (spores do the infecting) and hosting mechanism (breaking out of someone’s back in a quite ghastly fashion, like something from a cheap early ‘80s Alien knock-off, which isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring).
On the other hand, this is a movie with a suspiciously-motivated android front-and-centre, a suspiciously-motivated android who isn’t even the suspiciously-motivated android from the previous movie, who is also in it. The trailer – hopefully – is trying to let those who were malignly-bitten by the previous movie know there’s more than enough alien terror to keep them sated, while holding back the plot juice of what David has been up to and where Noomi Rapace is in all this. So, while I’m not about to fall hook, line and sinker for this seemingly perpetually on-a-back-foot franchise, I’m more than satisfied for now with just being intrigued by where it’s going and what it’s doing.
4. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
I’m an unabashed celebrant of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. So what if Gary Oldman denounces it? He clearly can’t see it features one of his best performances. But part of what I like most about the movie is how larger than life it is, from the performances to the design work. The design work of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is suitably impressive, based on the French comic series and informed by the illustrations of artist Jean-Claude Mezieres, but the trailer thus far hasn’t sold me on the humour.
Will Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne have the appropriate comic chops to measure up to Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich (to be fair, having The Beatles’ Because over the top of the trailer doesn’t exactly allow its idiosyncrasies to shine through)? I hope so, as this does look like it knows how to have fun, and provide a whole host of impressive flourishes, as you’d expect from Besson. Its Euro-sensibility surely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea (as was the case with The Fifth Element), but vibrant, pop sci-fi has been in a severe drought of late – at least until James Gunn came along – so it’s about time the situation was further remedied.
UK: 4 August, US: 21 July
3. Blade Runner 2049
I intend to present no arguments that Dennis Villenueve isn’t a talented director, only that he doesn’t necessarily know his arse from his elbow when it comes to picking scripts. Hence the beautifully-made-but-devolving-into-clichés Sicario, the just-plain-hackneyed Prisoners and the nearly-but-not-quite-there Arrival and Enemy. Will this change with Blade Runner 2049? Well, the screenplay is co-credited to Hampton Fancher, the more cerebral (in Sir Ridder’s words) half of the original duo (I was hoping to see David Webb Peoples return too; he has Unforgiven and 12 Monkeys on his list of credits, after all), but also to Michael Green (who has contributed to Alien: Covenant, and is as yet unproven in features).
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the screenplay is top notch and all there, despite it featuring a quest for Deckard (shades of Luke in The Force Awakens, as has been noted by commentators across the board). There are still many imponderables to ponder. Such as, can such a casually unbothered Harrison Ford – if the trailer is any indication – do anything but sink the picture? He looks like Harrison in jeans and t-shirt just chillin’ at home. Couldn’t he have put on a future-retro shirt, at least? Something with a collar? Something to suggest he’s not just been chillaxing on the bong again? And can Ryan Gosling – suitably Blade Runner-ish great coat notwithstanding – bring the right tone? I’m a fan, but he’s an actor who really needs a meaty part or a sympathetic director to bring out the best in him. He might dwindle into blandness here.
At least the supporting cast don’t ring alarm bells – Jared Leto, Robin Wright, David Bautista, Lennie James – they seem eclectically chosen and are quite possibly entirely suitable. And the score – if that’s Jóhan Jóhannsson in the trailer – appears to be picking up from Vangelis in the right kind of way. But, and I hope this isn’t representative, as burnished and impressive as the visuals from Roger Deakins are, they don’t have the same virtuosity of depth and texture that Jordan Cronenweth brought to the original.
There just isn’t the toxic atmosphere of oppressively claustrophobic architecture and a slowly suffocating populace; Villeneuve’s thirty years on seems too clean and uncluttered. And since, at least as much, if not more of the original’s brilliance is about the way the setting seeps into the consciousness, anything less than reigning acid rain ambiance will be a disappointment. I hope that, at this time next year, we’re saying Blade Runner 2049 is the exception that proves the rule of the inadvisability of picking up decades hence from originals (the other being Tron Legacy), but I’m both whetted of appetite and unhopeful.
Also, in a year of coats with fake collars (see also King Arthur and the Vulture in Homecoming), Gosling’s number looks to be the early frontrunner.
2. T2 Trainspotting
Given the birth pains of T2 Trainspotting, the way it has been ruminating for more than a decade and various parties involved (notably Ewan McGregor, estranged from Danny Boyle thanks to The Beach) have suggested it wasn’t ever likely to happen, and commentary that the source material (Porno) wasn’t up to much, the hopes for this being other than a doggedly determined project on a course for self-destruct, one that could only be a bad idea, seemed slim. And admittedly, from the trailer you don’t get much idea of what this is about, other than Renton returning home and getting up to no good with his former associates in crime and drug abuse.
But the trailer (the best trailer of 2016?) has also left me entirely at T2’s mercy and enthused by the prospects for this rematch. I’ve only become more convinced that Danny Boyle is a whole lot of style over substance since his ‘90s heyday (particularly with the likes of Trance and Best Picture Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire), but the melancholy of the trailer and – curiously much more than seeing Renton again – the dour return of Sickboy are infused with a kind of queasily irresistible nostalgia.
Yeah, this is likely a fool’s game, sequelising a zeitgeist movie, but in an age where such nostalgia dictates every other remake, sequel or adaptation, it may still turn out to be a surprisingly canny-but-sincerely-motivated one. And one thing’s for sure, Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography is much more suited to this than another misbegotten Ron Howard affair. Not long now either, to find out whether this one was worth the long gestation.
UK: 27 January, US: 3 March
1. Star Wars Episode VIII
Boring, I know, but It has to be, really. I like that we still don’t know Episode VIII’s subtitle yet, and this isn’t even a JJ Mystery Box production. All we do know, JJ-wise, is that he claimed, on reading Rian Johnson’s screenplay, he was jealous he wasn’t getting to bring it to screen. Which I can believe. Backing this up, Adam Driver thinks the screenplay is “remarkable”, so that’s worth remarking upon.
Johnson will likely go down as the Lawrence Kasdan of this trilogy – assuming this is the highlight, which even if it isn’t another The Empire Strikes Back (and let’s face it, hoping for that would be reaching for the stars) is more than likely – not just for providing the best entry but for sourcing the story for Episode IX that Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow will proceed to ruin (much as George dissed all the better instincts of Kasdan and Gary Kurtz when it came to Return of the Jedi).
Am I excited for this? That would be too strong a word, after the watchable-but-unremarkable antics of Rogue One and the decent character work but not a lot else of The Force Awakens (that sounds too damning, actually; there’s a lot I like in TFA, but the misshapen and derivative plotline mostly isn’t one of them), yet I’m definitely intrigued to see where Johnson takes us, and don’t even rule out the possibility that TFA may retrospectively gain cachet if VIII atones for some of its more egregious sins.
I’m certainly looking forward to seeing Mark Hamill revisit Luke properly, since he was cheated in the previous chapter, and maybe Captain Phasma will actually get to be more than just a cool costume to sell toys? And Adrian Edmondson is apparently in it, set to deliver the line “The First Order is an anagram for total and complete bastard”. Obviously too, this will also be the final appearance of Princess Leia, unless Trevorrow exhumes her via CGI. After all, that worked so well in Rogue One…
Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.