HEAT VISION

Fall's Upcoming Sci-Fi and Action Releases

'Jumanji,' 'Charlie's Angels' and 'Star Wars' are just the tip of the iceberg.
'Ad Astra'   |   Twentieth Century Fox
'Jumanji,' 'Charlie's Angels' and 'Star Wars' are just the tip of the iceberg.

As awards season begins to gear up and film festival season enters full swing, moviegoing can become a slightly overwhelming venture for film aficionados during these exciting times. There’s simply so much to see, so many performances to consider and directorial visions to debate when it comes to discussing the year’s very best films and how their placement into awards categories can elevate or dismiss their impact.

I, for one, have often found myself burnt out by the end of awards season and its typically emotionally heavy offerings and the bevvy of controversies that seem to punctuate each release. To balance this feeling, I’ve found myself looking for relief within the realm of the fantastic, in science fiction and action films that provide a specific rush of energy that makes settling down for the next three hour biopic, period piece, or war film all the easier. This fall offers an eclectic group of sci-fi and action spectacle, some of which may be likely awards contenders themselves, that may provide a respite from the more traditional Oscar fare and expand your mind in a different way. Below, take a look at what's to come.

Rambo: Last Blood (Lionsgate)

Release Date: Sept. 20

What’s it about?: Legendary Vietnam war vet turned one-man militia has finally found peace in the simple farm life. But that peace comes crashing down around him when his niece is kidnapped by a Mexican cartel. The film stars Sylvester Stallone and Paz Vega.

What’s unique about it?: It’s been 11 years since we last saw Stallone as John Rambo, and director Adrian Grunberg is behind the fifth, and perhaps final, entry in the long-running action series. It promises to be a bloody affair that action enthusiasts can get behind. While the Mexican conflict Rambo finds himself embroiled in could lack an awareness about our current political climate, there’s hopefully a strong emotional core attached to what’s likely to be a meat-and-potatoes action film that harkens back to an earlier era.

Ad Astra (Fox)

Release Date: Sept. 20

What’s it about?: An astronaut travels across the solar system to find his missing father and uncovers a truth that threatens the universe. The film stars Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Ruth Negga, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland.

What’s unique about it?: Director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) has compared the film to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but in space, suggesting an emotionally dark and morally complicated journey. The trailer teases a film hinging on both action set pieces and heady concepts of space exploration, the likes of which made Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (2014) popular in recent years. The pic received strong reviews when it premiered at the Venice International Film Festival.

Lucy in the Sky (Fox Searchlight)

Release Date: Oct. 4

What’s it about?: An astronaut returns to Earth after a long mission and finds herself losing grip with her reality as she begins an affair and grapples with her place in the universe. The film stars Natalie Portman, Jon Hamm, Zazie Beetz, Dan Stevens, Nick Offerman, and Ellen Burstyn.

What’s unique about it?: Lucy in the Sky is the feature film directorial debut of Noah Hawley, creator of FX’s Fargo and Legion. Those familiar with Hawley’s work may realize that the better question concerning the movie is “what isn’t unique about it?” Expect the unexpected in a sci-fi pic that will likely be equal parts beautiful and tragic. Disney’s second sci-fi acquisition from 20th Century Fox, Lucy in the Sky looks like it would make for a trippy, if exhausting, double-feature with Ad Astra.

Joker (Warner Bros.)

Release Date: Oct. 4

What’s it about?: A failed stand-up comedian lets go of his sanity and turns to crime and madness in 1980s Gotham City. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron, Douglas Hodge, Shea Whigham, Frances Conroy, Bret Cullen and Robert De Niro.

What’s unique about it?: Admittedly I'm cheating a bit here, because Joker doesn’t technically fall into either the sci-fi or action categories. But because the character of the Joker has been so closely associated with both genres, I decided to make an exception. Todd Philips’ (The Hangover) R-rated film eschews cinematic universe connections and Batman in favor of a gritty psychological thriller that surprised audiences at both the Venice International Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. Joker is promising to inject a fair bit of chaos into this year’s awards season.

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Gemini Man (Paramount)

Release Date: Oct. 11

What’s it about?: An aging assassin encounters a younger clone of himself whose origins leads them both down a dark path. The film stars Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Douglas Hodge and Benedict Wong.

What’s unique about it?: Ang Lee’s (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) sci-fi action spectacle Gemini Man once again sees the director pushing film technology forward, this time with digital de-aging and a frame rate of 120 fps. In development since the late 1990s, the pic teams Lee with producer Jerry Bruckheimer as they attempt to recapture the thrill of '90s high-concept action movies with the aid of modern advancements. One of the few big-budget original films to debut this year, a box office win for Gemini Man would be a major success for original concepts.

Black and Blue (Screen Gems)

Release Date: Oct. 25

What’s it about?: After a rookie cop catches the murder of a drug dealer on her body cam, she becomes a target for corrupt officers while seeking sanctuary in the community she turned her back on. The film stars Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Reid Scott, Mike Colter and Frank Grillo.

What’s unique about it?: Director Deon Taylor (The Intruder) takes the cop-on-the-run narrative and places it inside contemporary concerns about police and race relations. Like 21 Bridges, a film set for release in November, Black and Blue suggests a realization that although action movies starring cops will always be a part of the genre, the way we tell them and who they star must change with the times. The pic may not reinvent the subgenre, but it does posit an interesting evolution geared towards current conversations.

Terminator: Dark Fate (Paramount)

Release Date: Nov. 1

What’s it about?: Twenty-seven years after T2: Judgement Day (1991), a new model of Terminator is sent to kill a young woman and a hybrid human cyborg. Their paths cross with Sarah Connor and the T-800 and lead to a battle that will decide the fate of humanity. The film starts Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Grabriel Luna, Diego Boneta, Edward Furlong and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

What’s unique about it?: Dark Fate ignores the past two decades of Terminator sequels and brings back James Cameron as producer and co-writer. Directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool), the pic looks to return the franchise to its R-rated roots with top-notch action sequences, a streamlined narrative and one of the most badass heroines in all of cinema, Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor. While moviegoers have been burned on the franchise before, Dark Fate looks like it has the highest odds of delivering the version of Terminator 3 fans have waited almost 30 years for.

Charlie’s Angels (Sony)

Release Date: Nov. 15

What’s it about?: A new generation of Angels expand their efforts internationally under the direction of their mysterious benefactor, Charles Townsend. The film stars Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin, Noah Centineo, and Patrick Stewart.

What’s unique about it?: Director Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) seeks to inject a fresh perspective into the '70s-era concept by amping up the action and humor and bringing it into the 21st century. The film is said to work within the context or the original television series and the films from 2000 and 2003, while drawing inspiration from the Mission: Impossible movies, making this an enticing coming attraction for both longtime fans and newcomers. If the movie ends up being just as fun as the trailer is, then perhaps it will launch another female-led action franchise.

21 Bridges (STX)

Release Date: Nov. 22

What’s it about?: A disgraced NYPD detective puts the whole city on lockdown in order to hunt down a pair of cop killers and discovers a larger conspiracy in the process. The film stars Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, Stephan James, Keith David and J.K. Simmons.

What’s unique about it?: 21 Bridges, directed by Brian Kirk (Game of Thrones), comes from producers Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame) and marks the filmmakers’ first foray into producing action films outside of the MCU, while using lead actors they got to know at Marvel Studios. Ahead of Dhaka and Cherry, starring Chris Hemsworth and Tom Holland, respectively, the Russos will see if they can make Chadwick Boseman an action star outside of Black Panther and Avengers. 21 

Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)

Release Date: Dec. 13

What’s it about?: The teenagers from the last film return to the world of Jumanji but find themselves in different avatars and uncharted parts of the world as they undergo a new quest. The film stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Danny Glover and Danny DeVito.

What’s unique about it?: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2017. This sequel sees Jake Kasdan return as director and promises to offer even more of what audiences loved about the previous film while adding new wrinkles and characters that allow the pic’s stars to further stretch their acting abilities and break archetypes. This has fun escapism written all over it.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)

Release Date: Dec. 20

What’s it about?: Rey and the Resistance have a final showdown with Kylo Ren and the First Order in the conclusion of the Star Wars saga. The film stars Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, Joonas Suotamo, Domhnall Gleeson, Billie Lourd, Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Ian McDiarmid.

What’s unique about it?: This is the grand event of the season, and it just happens to come out on the last day of fall. At this point, no one who cares about the franchise needs to be sold on this final installment, but it’s guaranteed thar director J.J. Abrams has more than a few surprises up his sleeves and that the impact of this film will be felt for a long time to come.

So mark your calendars and plan your trips to the movies accordingly, permitting time for clones, clowns, terminators, angels and Jedi amidst all the pomp and circumstance that comes with awards season. There’s plenty of worlds out there to explore at the multiplex.

  • Richard Newby
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