Monday, December 19, 2016

Rogue One: Initial Thoughts, Part Three

* Today is all about the bad guys.

* Orson Krennic. Walking out of the theater, he was the most underwhelming part of Rogue One for me. (The character, not the performance. Ben Mendelsohn is exquisitely evil as Krennic. "Oh, it's beautiful..." is the line reading of the movie for me.) I just felt like there wasn't much to him besides a great performance and a wicked cape.

I've warmed up to Krennic a good deal. I like where his character ends up. Like Jyn and company, he becomes another soldier forgotten to history. The fact that he dies usurped and alone, destroyed by his own creation is riveting stuff. And like our heroes, he looks his death square on, powerless to change it.

Think how fascinating his death would be if we knew more about him. We hear the Death Star is behind schedule. Is it his fault? Is that why he's slowly losing power over it? Or is he just another hardworking, screwed-over middle manager whose boss hogs all the glory?

What drives him? The power? The work? That sweet Imperial grant money?

A little more clarity could've turned Krennic into an all-time great villain. I'm willing to admit there's something I missed during my first viewing that would explain away my frustrations. We'll see.

* Death troopers, man. Those assholes can aim.

* What else is there to say about Tarkin? He's in the movie for a good reason, even if he gets too much screentime. Right now, I'm ambivalent about Peter Cushing's digital resurrection. I prefer the idea of this technology being used to age/de-age living actors, who are involved with the production. I'm pleased to hear Peter Cushing's family gave their blessing, but it still raises a lot of questions for the future.

At this time, the technology isn't photo-realistic. It's impressive...but fake. Since it is an obvious artificial performance, I'm not sure how this differs from his likeness being used in a Star Wars comic or on Rebels.

Again, there are questions for the future - if the technology ever progresses past the uncanny valley. I'm not sure it ever will, though. The tech here is a big step forward from Jeff Bridges' de-aging in Tron: Legacy. It's not perfect and a little distracting - especially the one shot of "young" Carrie Fisher. But here's the thing: recasting, makeup, or digital augmentation - they're all going to spoil the illusion to some degree. It's gonna happen and it's not that big a deal. I was willing to step back and go along with the idea that Tarkin - not Peter Cushing - was alive again on the big screen.

Though if Christoper Lee were still alive, I bet he'd be Hayao Miyazaki-levels of mortified by all this.

* Darth Vader. One bad pun and a lot of badass moments. James Earl Jones still has it. I've always been of the opinion that Vader can be a whiny bastard and the baddest villain of all time. That being said, it's nice to leave the whiny bastard behind and get the character back to where we met him in A New Hope.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: Initial Thoughts, Part Two

* Saw Gerrera. One character, one monster, and one idea too many for this movie.

* Don't get me wrong. I like this character and the idea of a more militant band of rebels. And I dig what Forest Whitaker's doing. It's big - but he's in control of the performance. And we need more weird performances in sci-fi movies. Here's the problem: we're introduced to his rebels and the Guardians of the Whills on Jedha. All of our affection goes to Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen's characters before Jyn reunites with Saw.

It's too much information in too short a time - because this movie moves.

* Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe. My favorite new character by a country mile.

* I wish we got more on the Guardians - and how the Empire is stripping another piece of the Jedi from history. I'm not sure why Saw wasn't a part of this group, especially since there isn't much tension once Jyn and company arrive at his base. That feels like a cleaner narrative.

* One idea half-explored in the final cut is that the rebellion is trying to be an army while clinging to the democracy they once were. You see an uglier side of the Rebellion here, and it feels like Saw Gerrera was designed to show a road they shouldn't go down. On that front, he's in and out of the movie too fast for that to stick.

* There are only a few moments in this movie I actually dislike - and the brain-sucking monster is one of 'em. It's ticking off a box on a list of things we expect from Star Wars. First off, it seems weird that a group of insurgents travels around with a polygraphuosaurus - but hey, it's Star Wars. Let's not get too Comic Book Guy about this.

My beef is they set up that this monster will fry your brain while sucking it. After his brain-sucking, Bodhi Rook (a great Riz Ahmed) snaps back awfully fast with no harm done, and the creature is never seen again. Maybe a previous draft featured Saw attempting to use it on Jyn or Cassian? As is, it feels like a long way to go for one small link in the narrative chain.

* There are a lot of good things in this part of the movie, too. The battle in the city streets of Jedha is fantastic, gritty and visceral. And as I said on Twitter, Donnie Yen kung fu fightin' stormtroopers filled a hole in my heart I didn't know was there.

Galen Erso's holographic message to his daughter is powerful stuff. Jyn's scenes with Saw are too brief to have the same power, but I appreciate how Saw's death is handled. He'd only slow Jyn down. Saw looks death in the face, knowing he did what he could. It's a nice bit of foreshadowing for where the film ends up.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Rogue One: Initial Thoughts

No, it's not the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. But it's pretty darn close and pretty darn good.

Rogue One feels manufactured, even if it was manufactured with love. I'm sure I'll warm to it more on repeat viewings. I walked out of Force Awakens the first time with frustrations (though fewer than I have with Rogue One), and I freakin' adore that movie now, warts and all.

My time is limited due to the holiday season, so I'll be jotting down thoughts over the weekend about Rogue One. Full spoilers ahead - so come back after you've seen the movie. And remember, there's no right way to enjoy Star Wars. These are my thoughts and they're gonna change with time. But here's where I am now with this messy but riveting entry in the series. Please feel free to leave a comment or engage with me on Twitter.

* Holy shit, the ending. They went for it. I'm curious what the backlash from parents with younger kids will be. Rogue One may join the infamous list of films - like Dune and Batman Returns -  aimed at kids that are so not for kids. I'm not letting my young son anywhere near this movie for a long time. More thoughts on the ending to come.

* Well, one more thought right now. On the whole, it's the right ending.

* Although offering no surprises, the opening sequence - where a young Jyn Erso is orphaned - is still tense. A real rough opening. From the start, this film is visually and tonally different. The writing also differs from previous installments. Not bad different - but these characters and their voices didn't come from George Lucas or Lawrence Kasdan. The dialogue is punchy and lean. There's little of the bantering we expect from Star Wars. And it works.

* These characters truly feel new, but they still fit comfortably into the Star Wars universe.

* It's amazing how little footage from the teaser trailer (above) is in the final movie.

* Not sure we'll ever know how the story changed with reshoots, but I'm guessing the focus was on Jyn's backstory and character arc. In the movie we got, she is a criminal - but she's just trying to get by. My guess is she was a harder character at the start, much more morally complex. The issue probably wasn't about softening her but making sure she was a counterpoint to Cassian Andor, who does the Rebellion's dirty work.

* The teaser trailer plays like she's a hostage of the Rebellion. Was the relationship with her father not clear at first and they saw her as a potential threat? If that was the case, I can see audiences - especially casual viewers - having mixed feelings about the Rebellion, especially if this scene still took place after Cassian shooting a fellow conspirator in the back.

* I bet Jyn originally left Saw Gerrera, not the other way. The idea of her being orphaned twice works, but it feels a little... Disney. Lucasfilm most likely wanted us to think the choices she made were the only choices available to her.

* Oh man, we're gonna get to Saw Gerrera. By far the messiest part of the movie. More tomorrow.