Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (4.5*)
Avatar: The Way of Water (4*)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2.5*)
Two of this year’s three science fiction films are definitely movies you should make an effort to see; the third one, not so much.
Everything, Everywhere, All at Once surprised me. Although it received more Oscar nominations than any other movie and won most of them, including Best Picture, I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. And, initially, it was somewhat confusing. But after thinking about it, I realized that this film was an amazing discourse on the multiverse, nihilism, and postmodernism. Those are big philosophical concepts and even the idea that you could attempt to deal with them in a film where one of the central images is of an Everything Bagel, and you start to get an inkling of what the writers and directors known as “the Daniels” have accomplished. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, then do. And, if you’ve already seen it, you might consider a second viewing just to see what additional tidbits you pick up.
Avatar: The Way of Water is a more conventional sci-film, if you can consider Cameron’s stunning use of motion capture underwater and richly developed CGI backgrounds conventional. This sequel to Avatar is simply gorgeous and you will marvel at the visual effects (it won the Oscar) as well as the sound design and the lush attention to detail in all the computer generated settings. The story moves beyond the original film and focuses on the family that Jake and Neytiri have generated. But then the “Sky People”, aka humans, come back to Pandora to mine its riches. The Sully family must leave their original habitat and move to another Pandoran settlement where the sea is primary, not the forest. The change in environments allows the technical aspects of the film to shine as they generate simply amazing water creatures and exhilarating underwater scenes. The final battle scene is a bit too long and the film struggles to maintain its own integrity while setting up the characters and story lines for at least three more sequels. Oh, and you are going to love 76-year old Sigourney Weaver playing 14-year old Kiri! This is a long movie (190 minutes), but the visuals are worth the time!
This year’s third sci-fi film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, was, for me, a big disappointment. While I loved the first Black Panther movie, I found this one suffers from trying too hard to service too many goals. In addition to paying homage to the original movie’s star, Chadwick Boseman, who unexpectedly died, the film is also charged with the responsibility of wrapping up Phase 4 of the MCU comic book grand plan; introducing a brand new superhero, Namor – based on the legends of Atlantis and modeled as an offshoot of Mayan and Aztec cultures; and of being an interesting movie with an important story to tell all by itself. Honestly, despite Oscar-winning costumes and terrific makeup, hairstyling, and production design, the movie was saddled with too many objectives to actually work. Still, if you loved the original Black Panther (or you are simply an MCU fanatic) you will probably want to see this sequel. Otherwise, skip it!
If this year’s sci-if films aren’t enough for you, there are four of them in last year’s slate that I would recommend. Dune (5*) did not become the hit I thought it would, but it is still a very good movie with superb technical merits. The film’s story, like the book’s, is still pretty complex and there are lots of characters, but with at least one more in the series, everything should make more sense over time, much like the Star Wars films. Don’t Look Up (4*) isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t believe in climate change. But it has some hilarious moments amid the gloom and doom. Spider Man: No Way Home (4*) was an eye opener for me showing that super-hero films could be cast at an intimate level. And Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (3.5*) involved a lot of family dynamics, but I felt it left a lot of plot holes on the table.