Science Fiction Movies 2016 – Worst to First

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Here’s a look back at the major science fiction movies from 2016.  There has been a resurgence of late of quality science fiction films, but that being said, 2016 didn’t have a lot to offer audiences in the sci-fi genre.  In fact, of the more than 50 films I saw in 2016, only five were science fiction.

Here’s a break down of how they fared, from worst to first:

passengers

5. PASSENGERS – this big budget pairing of superstars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt was my least favorite science fiction film from 2016.  That being said, it’s really not that bad a movie.  I would rate it slightly less than average.  Probably not worth a trip to the theater, but something you might consider catching at home on a streaming service or on DVD or Blu-ray.

The biggest culprit is a story that just didn’t work.  It’s about a massive spaceship carrying thousands of passengers in sleep stasis to a new colony planet where they hope to begin a new life.  When there’s a malfunction, and a man Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is accidentally awoken, he finds himself alone and realizes with 90 years still left to the voyage, he won’t get off the ship alive.  His decision to awake fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence)— in effect giving her a death sentence— and the subsequent love story  which follows sets up the burning question:  what will happen if Aurora finds out that unlike Jim she didn’t awake by accident?

The resolution to this question is both unsatisfying and unbelievable.  PASSENGERS is a good-looking science fiction movie hindered by a muddled storyline.  Plus Lawrence and Pratt share very little chemistry as desperate space lovers.

 

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4. ROGUE ONE:  A STAR WARS STORY –  while legions of fans call this the best STAR WARS movie ever! I simply found it to be a decent stand alone film in the series.  It starts off slow but gets better with an exciting ending that is one of the best endings of the entire series.

ROGUE ONE is a stand alone film in the series, meaning it’s the first film in the STAR WARS franchise not to be part of a trilogy.  It tells the intriguing story of the daring mission to steal those Death Star plans which would ultimately give Luke Skywalker the ability to destroy the evil Empire’s ultimate weapon way back in the very first STAR WARS (1977).  It’s a good story, but the film struggles to tell it at first, as we are introduced to a bunch of new characters early on with a minimum of character development.  As such, during the film’s first half, I didn’t care for any of these new characters.

Things eventually get better, and the ending is superb.  I really liked Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, but the rest of the cast didn’t really wow me.  Nor did the much hyped CGI-motion capture hybrid of Grand Moff Tarkin, which tried to recreate the late great Peter Cushing in one of his later roles.  Mixed results here, as this Tarkin looks just like Cushing if you imagine him as a cartoon.  I enjoyed STAR WARS:  THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) better.

 

morgan

3. MORGAN – Little seen and critically panned sci-fi actioner, but I really liked this one.  It’s the story of an artificially intelligent being named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who kills one of the scientists working with her.  As a result, the company which financed the project to create Morgan sends in an agent Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to investigate whether or not Morgan needs to be terminated.

The scientists who created and now care for Morgan argue in her favor, even though she killed one of their own.  They believe she has attained life and as such cannot be terminated at the whim of a company.  While the film does explore what it means to be an artificial life form, the story is not on the same level as the deeper and better written EX MACHINA (2015).

But where MORGAN does succeed is as an action thriller.  As such, MORGAN features two strong performances, one by Kate Mara as the driven investigator who will stop at nothing to reach her conclusions, and the other by Anya Taylor-Joy as the introspective and potentially dangerous Morgan.  The climactic fight scene between agent Lee Weathers and Morgan is expertly edited, as intense and violent a fight as you’ll see in an action movie, especially between two women.

 

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2.STAR TREK BEYOND- As a lifelong STAR TREK fan, I’ve enjoyed this rebooted movie series a lot, as it explores an alternate timeline involving the characters from the original STAR TREK series.

This third film in this rebooted series is as enjoyable as the two films which came before it. By far, the best part of these movies is its cast, which continue to do a bang up job at capturing the personas of the original cast from the first STAR TREK TV show.  Chris Pine shines as Captain Kirk, and I thought he played the role a bit more like William Shatner here in this third film than he did in the previous two.

Zachary Quinto continues to nail Mr. Spock by delivering a performance that Leonard Nimoy would no doubt be proud of.  But most impressive is Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy.  He has gotten better with each successive movie, and he was excellent to begin with.  He truly captures what DeForest Kelly did with the character in the original series.  Urban’s performance is uncanny.

 

And now we’ve reached my pick for the best science fiction movie from 2016.  We started with PASSENGERS, which I found slightly less than average, and the next three movies were all solid, flirting with average to better than average.

But my pick for the #1 science fiction movie of the year is the only science fiction film from 2016 that I considered excellent.  It’s a far superior science fiction movie than the other four films in this list.

And that movie is:

 

arrival

1. ARRIVAL – the one true science fiction movie from 2016.  When mysterious space ships suddenly appear all over the Earth, suspended silently above ground like enormous storm clouds, the governments from around the world scramble to decipher what these aliens want.

The U.S. government sends in linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to communicate with the aliens.  Banks not only has to try to learn the aliens’ language, but she also has to figure out a way to teach them ours.

What she, along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) ultimately learn changes the way we think about time and space.

ARRIVAL is fun science fiction movie with a thought-provoking script by Eric Heisserer.  It’s not perfect. I found the ending not quite as satisfying or mind-blowing as the ending to INTERSTELLAR (2014).  But Amy Adams is excellent in the lead role, and the film really belongs to her.

Without much serious competition, ARRIVAL is easily the best science fiction movie I saw in 2016.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

— Michael

 

 

 

 

 

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MORGAN (2016) Emphasizes Action Over Science Fiction

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Anya Taylor-Joy and Kate Mara in MORGAN (2016).

MORGAN (2016), the latest movie about an artificially intelligent humanoid, relies more on action than science fiction.  As such, there’s more BOURNE than EX MACHINA in this sci fi adventure tale.

MORGAN begins with scientist Dr. Kathy Grieff (Jennifer Jason Leigh) speaking to an artificially intelligent humanoid named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy).  Morgan suddenly flips out and in a jarring opening scene viciously stabs Dr. Grieff in the eye.

The company which financed the creation of Morgan sends a young consultant named Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to investigate the incident to decide whether or not Morgan should be terminated.  Lee gets to know all the scientists involved, and it’s clear from the outset that these scientists are emotionally tied to Morgan and extremely protective of her.  They do not want to see anything happen to her.

When psychologist Dr. Alan Shapiro (Paul Giamatti) arrives to perform his evaluation of Morgan, he purposely pushes her buttons to a get a reaction from her.  When she overreacts and escapes, all hell breaks loose and it’s up to Lee to stop her.

For a film about artificial intelligence, MORGAN is a pretty straightforward and simple flick.  It’s not really much of a science fiction movie at all.  The recent EX MACHINA (2015) was a much more thought-provoking take on the subject.  That being said, MORGAN is still a very entertaining movie. It’s an action thriller rather than a contemplative science fiction film, but this doesn’t take away from the fun.

Kate Mara is excellent in the lead role as Lee Weathers.  It’s one of the best roles I’ve seen Mara play.  She’s nearly perfect for this part.  She’s smart, sexy, and sleek, and she’s a formidable force who does not back down to the scientists around her or to Morgan.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Morgan, and she’s okay, but strangely  she didn’t have a lot to do. It’s not really Taylor-Joy’s fault but the way the character is written.  Most of the time she just stares ahead and looks artificial or ominous.  We don’t get inside her head enough to know what it’s like to be artificially created.  We never really feel what it’s like to be Morgan, and this is one of the weakest parts of the movie.

MORGAN is actually more about Kate Mara’s character.  Early on the film focuses on her investigation, and later on it follows her pursuit of the escaped Morgan, when the film turns into an action thriller.

The confrontation between Lee and Morgan near the end of the film is one of the more riveting female fight sequences I’ve seen in a while.  It was really intense.  I loved the way it was edited.  A great job here by director Luke Scott, in what might be the best scene in the movie.

Anya Taylor-Joy also played Thomasin in THE WITCH (2015), and she was better in that movie.  Of course, she also had more to do, and it was a better written part.

The rest of the cast is very good.

Rose Leslie from TV’s DOWNTON ABBEY and GAME OF THRONES plays Dr. Amy Menser, a behaviorist, who probably is closest to Morgan.  Toby Jones, the son of Hammer Films’ character actor Freddie Jones, plays Dr. Simon Ziegler, a man who is clearly proud of Morgan and does not want the company interfering with his prized project, which he continually tells people took years and years of hard work to perfect.

Boyd Holbrook plays the likable and easy going chef Skip.  Holbrook was memorable in the Liam Neeson thriller A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES (2014), and he was also in GONE GIRL (2014).  Chris Sullivan, who appeared in the first episode of STRANGER THINGS as Benny, the man who lost his life befriending young Eleven, plays Dr. Darren Finch, and Michelle Yeoh, who also just co-starred with Jason Statham in MECHANIC:  RESURRECTION (2016) plays the lead scientist of the group, Dr. Lui Cheng.

Paul Giamatti shows up for one scene as Dr. Alan Shapiro, the guy brought in to perform Morgan’s psychological evaluation.  It’s one of the better scenes in the movie, one I would have liked even more had I not seen most of it in the movie’s trailers.  Giamatti is always fun to watch, and he makes the most of this one sequence, which is pretty much all him.  Again, Morgan herself has little depth other than to show anger when pushed.

And even Brian Cox shows up for a brief second as the head of the company responsible for Morgan.

Director Luke Scott does a nice job with this one.  The fight scene between Lee and Morgan is a keeper, and the other action sequences are also done well.

The biggest knock on this one is the screenplay by Seth W.Owen. I really expected this one to be a thought-provoking science fiction tale, but it’s not.  We never get inside Morgan’s head.  The concept of what it’s like to be an artificially intelligent being is hardly explored.  It’s covered very briefly when the scientists speak of Morgan’s rights, and Lee flatly denounces, “She has no rights.”  That’s it.  No debate, no wonder.

Later, in what is supposed to be a defining moment, Morgan declares “I feel alive.”  She says this, but she never acts it.  She only acts like an assassin out of a Bourne movie.

And that’s because MORGAN isn’t really a science fiction movie at all.  It’s a Bourne-style thriller featuring a humanoid in the lead rather than Jason Bourne.  But as such, it works.  While I was disappointed the film didn’t have more ambition in terms of its artificial intelligence story,  I definitely enjoyed the thriller aspects to this one, and the Lee -in pursuit of-Morgan story I found compelling and very watchable.  In fact, I would argue that the best part of MORGAN isn’t Anya Taylor-Joy as Morgan, but Kate Mara as Lee.  Mara is the driving force behind this movie.

There is a twist in this movie, one that I sniffed out from the get-go due to some obvious hints that perhaps shouldn’t have been placed there so prominently.  I for one wasn’t surprised in the least by the revelation at the end.

All in all, for what it was, I liked MORGAN and found it a fun way to spend 90 minutes at the movies.

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