Last year, Disney reintroduced the Star Wars franchise to a new generation with “Force Awakens.” The positive of that was to see a new story on the big screen from the galaxy far, far away. However, my greatest disappointment was how so much time was spent rehashing material from the first movie instead of being its own thing. “Rogue One” has the upper hand because its a true prequel. This one has the advantage to expand on the universe while being a true link to “Star Wars.”
The main center of the story is a heroin named Jyn (Felicity Jones) who reluctantly assists a group of rebels to find out what the evil Imperial army is up to. I like how at first she doesn’t show interest but suddenly shows a sign of care once faced with what’s to come. Although she has little to no appeal in the space battles, her curiosity peaks when she learns how her father is in the mix of this. She is rebellious yet cunning. Honestly, I can’t think of a female character in the Star Wars universe that wasn’t highly determined.
Joining for the trip is an officer named Cassian (Diego Luna) whose only there to do his job. Tasked with the mission at hand, Cassian shares the same instincts but knows his limits. In one crucial moment, he’s told to assassinate someone vital to bringing down the Rebellion. Once in the moment, he hesitates questioning what value it would bring. I like how he’s not stubborn to a new idea and at least there is no romantic pairing with Jyn. He’s an honest companion that questions his rights as a fighter.
Other rebels on the way range from a blind man who believes in the Jedi ways and his friend who is more militant. There’s sort of a ying and yang idea going on here as the two have different fighting methods. One is more resourceful on spiritual belief while the other is more into physical action. Its elements like these that make me wonder why “Force Awakens” wasn’t this clever with ideas like this. Sure it had Finn questioning if he’s a human or a fighting machine, but “Rouge One” was built around a fresh story.
To be fair, this one doesn’t shy away from reheating leftover elements. Case and point is an android named K-2SO. He’s obviously the C-3PO type who is very knowledgeable despite being the comic relief. Thankfully, Alan Tudyk’s performance saves the character from being a predictable variation making K more open to fighting when needed and hilariously pessimistic. In a way, this bot reminded me of Marvin the Depressed Robot or some kind of creation that only Douglas Adams would delight in.
Like I said, “Rogue One” doesn’t shy away from the bin of “oh, look its this from the other films” or “wow, that answers this.” I can’t begin to describe the amount of Easter eggs and things I’m sure Star Wars fans of old will be overjoyed in. The one I’m most surprised is a CGI recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. I guess now in days you don’t need to hire a new actor with heavy make-up and I should be too shocked considering this same method was done in Tron Legacy to Jeff Bridges. Still, I liked how limitless this movie went when it came to linking itself to the older entry.
When you boil it down, “Rouge One” is hard to talk about without giving away most of the plot details. For fans of old and new, this will certainly be a nice Christmas treat. I know considering how much of a kick I got out of seeing real sets instead of CGI crafted ones, actual planet environments instead of studio built ones and intense battle scenes that challenge or match the charm of the original trilogy. I can’t tell you how much I smiled to see the AT-TA walkers during the big finale. This is a fun ball of nostalgia while also delivering a complex movie about power and fighting back.
Though parents, be fair warned. “Rouge One” is highly recommended not for smaller fans. This is a radically different movie as director Gareth Edwards wanted this to be more like a war movie and I feel he succeeded. Despite the PG-13 rating, this is packed with many intense battle scenes and shootouts that parents might want to reconsider this as a Christmas gift for their kids. Even bigger of a debate is the ending (which I will try to avoid ruining) as key characters get killed off to which I’m certain will upset some viewers. For alternatives, I suggest taking them to either “Moana” or “Fantastic Beasts.” Both films have a kind charm that are better suited for the holiday. “Rogue One” is a good entry and an improvement over last year’s entry. But what irks me is how it won’t be canon with the new trilogy. Apparently, the idea is to make a series of Star Wars anthology movies that are more in line with the original films. Honestly, I’d more inclined to see them than watch the continuing retreaded adventures of Kylo Ren.
It has been a decade since “Revenge of the Sith” and my thoughts were simple. Six films were all that was needed in the Star Wars canon. There was no way they could make a new set of films or even a new one period. The cast was too old and I didn’t feel there was anything else to explore in the franchise. Sure there were tons of worlds but considering the fan fiction and “Expanded Universe,” I didn’t think there was a possible way to make a new movie at the time. And when Disney bought the rights from creator George Lucas, I still didn’t think it was possible. Well one way or another, they did it. They were able to make a seventh entry in hopes of making a new trilogy from what I hear.
I went in, had my “Dark Crystal” t-shirt on (lost my Star Wars shirt. still fitting seeing 33 years ago that movie came out on the 17th of December), treated some friends of mine and watched the movie. My reaction will be quite different from what many will expect. But let me say off the cuff that this is a Star Wars movie. There are elements and things that I can look at and say this is something I can picture in the Star Wars universe. The planets, alien beings and spaceships are Star Wars elements. But as far as the rest of the movie goes, it makes for a good entry. Not a great entry along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back,” but at least respectfully better than the prequel trilogy.
Without ruining too much, “The Force Awakens” has plenty of interesting elements and story ideas. I dig the idea of a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) questioning his place in the universe. Along the ranks of the Iron Giant and Peace from “Wizards,” his position as a weapon is seen as an afterthought as he seeks for redemption. I felt the character and the actor were one seeing how much subtly they show in his wish to change. This is not a basic cliche but a full developed character. Not once in the saga have we questioned the aspect of a mindless solider’s ability to have a personality and questioning morality. Here, we do and it does feel philosophical in a sense. Not in a “beating over the head message” but more of a character motive which is very fitting here. To me, this was “THX-1138” but performed better.
Of course, things get into a tangle with a desert scavenger (Daisy Ridley) who is also searching for purpose as well. Again, hard to talk about the character without giving too much but here are the basics. This is a cool heron. When she is captured, she doesn’t sit and wait for someone to rescue her. This is the kind of character that will seek a way to escape no matter what it takes. Of course, this does contradict it a bit seeing she thinks certain parents who abandoned her as a kid will return. On the plus, its nice to see a female hero that can fight, use logic and know how to run a “bucket of bolts.”
“Force Awakens” I’m sure will be the talk of the town with old fans seeing some familiar faces appear. Confirming just by the trailer, yes we get Han Solo and his sidekick Chewbacca. I admit, seeing Harrison Ford still doing stunts at the age of 73 was incredible. It shows he still knows hows to be an action man even long after the originals. Some get cameos, some get a small importance to the story while others appear just to please the fans. Its nice to see familiar faces and the original actors but part of me wishes they did a lot more. Or didn’t use some for a sequel bait. Oh, well get to that later….in non-spoiler fashion.
However, not all of the new adventures works. At least for me. The story-line I felt took one too many familiar beats from the original trilogy. And I understand what its trying to do. Certain elements are trying to please the mass of die hard nostalgia fans. Again, I can’t talk about them without spoiling it. But let’s say unlike Terminator Genysis, they at least take old stuff and try to do new things instead of tossing them at the screen and seeing if it sticks. A good example is the aspect of the villain. Yeah, they try to do this thing with Vader by giving him a mask and family issues. Its no Vader but there is this nice menace that reminds us of the power that was once there.
And speaking of which, the new baddies were get are not that interesting. Instead of the Empire, we get the First Order. Yeah, an obvious take and attack on Nazism even right down to the flags and its general making dictations of conquest as an army of stormtroopers observe. Yeah, you can argue that was something with the original trilogy but here, it feels a tad more obvious even right down to the banner design. Even the new set of villains are sort of forgettable. With more focus on our heroes, the basic gist we get from these new evildoers is they are evil and want to take over the galaxy.
Even Kylo Ren is pitted as the next Vader and to be honest, he does has some intimidation. You can feel this fear and anger flow from him but only when he had the mask on. Though, there are times when he did act like he was having a childish fit when he thrashed his light-saber at computer screens after hearing bad news. And without giving too much away, when his true face is revealed, most of that menace dimmed. It appeared more like a brooding version of the secret love child between Benedict Cumberbatch and Josh Groban. And the ever so hyped Captain Phasma felt very useless to me. Aside from one moment near the end, this metallic baddie never did anything that stood out to me. The only one who stood out was Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, a tough as nails general whose so determined to conquer even to the point you see his eyes bug out of his head when he’s screaming speeches.
Now, I understand this is a new entry in a trilogy Disney is crafting but when making a new film, it would be nice to at least tie up some loose ends. Again, without spoiling too much, there are open questions left here and there which I feel give too much sequel bait. Call it a nitpick, but seeing we are being introduced to these characters for the first time, I feel it would have been nice to at least give a sense of closure without being too broad. I understand there are character arcs that need to be explored but even in the first Star Wars (“A New Hope”), it ended on a note that felt satisfying as opposed to saying “there will be another” in a blunt manner. A better example are the new Planet of the Apes movies which do open the door for a sequel but not in a demanding way. It tells us the story is concluded and there is room for another as opposed to making obvious set ups. When something like that happens when it leaves too many questions floating around, it obviously says “there will be a sequel to answer those” and it really annoys me. Again, these are new characters and at least we should feel a sense of closure as opposed to a “To Be Continued” feeling by the end. Its a double edge sword but that’s how I felt.
Aside from the flaws, I can safely say this is a Star Wars movie. I can look at a certain scene from the movie and say on the fly, this is what a Star Wars movie looks like and acts like. The action scenes are enjoyable, the new monsters and aliens are unique to look at, the weapons are certainly Star Wars and the new worlds we see are a nice change of pace. I feel like its something “Star Trek: Generations” tried to do by merging the universe of the old with the new, but I feel its done a tad better here. Maybe if the villains where more threatening and the story took some new risks, it could have been this great sequel along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back.” But I feel its enjoyment is on the level of the first movie and “Return of the Jedi.” And thankfully its nowhere near the area of the prequels, but part of me feels there could have been more improvement in spots. On the upside, it was nice to see a new Star Wars movie on the big screen and makes it an easy recommendation. Just don’t go in with too much hype is what I say.
Being a science fiction lover, I found myself disappointed with Disney’s “The Black Hole.” While not a huge flop (or even a big hit on its Christmas 1979 release), it has gone underrated and I can see why. The movie has grown a cult fan base and I can understand why. One the surface, this is really impressive looking movie with huge spaceship models with an extensive use of sets and matte painting special effects. Its a shame because I wish the story was about as interesting and engaging as the robots that fly around on wires.
A crew of pilots aboard the Palomino craft discover the space vortex and among it a lonesome craft stranded in space with it. It may sound like such a small scene but what I described in the past sentence takes roughly 17 minutes of screen time. I would be fine if it was half of that but a good portion of the opening is spent floating about with boring and pointless science talk that can easily go over so many heads. Worst of all within those 17 minutes, I could barley remember anything about the crew members. A lot of time is spent floating about and avoiding the black hole in a slow pace that the only thing I can recall is that Anthony Perkins is on-board and their cute little robot assistant named V.I.N.C.E.N.T. is voiced by an non-credited Roddy McDowell. Sad really when the main focus of your first act is just floating around and less on establishing.
Once we finally get into the other spacecraft, the Cygnus, things change up a bit but the pacing of “Black Hole” becomes more prodded and slow than it ever does. The leader of the Cygnus is a mix between Captain Nemo and Dr. Moreau. He has been on stranded on the Cygnus for a long time to study the black hole and in the process goes mad to the point where his mutinous crew is lobotomized to a robotic state. He plans to drive straight into the black hole and offers the crew to join him as they try to escape the ship in the process. Oh, I’m sorry. The whole converting the crew into human droids was meant to be a big twist. Well, considering it was in the trailers and the paper-thin delivery of the story it doesn’t feel like that big of a twist when we get to it.
“The Black Hole” is clearly two stories in one as it tries to be theological like 2001 questioning the aspect of technology while trying to be action-packed like Star Wars. The idea and concepts are there but nothing is fully utilized. I’m positive the scientific stuff on the black hole is inaccurate and I could forgive it seeing it is just a science fiction/fantasy. But what I can’t forgive is how this movie is being presented and executed. The science talk is about as boring as a college lecture and the action scenes feel thrown in than add on any form of tension. Its a very uneven picture to the point you just don’t care about anything. One character gets disemboweled (in a very non-graphic way) and I feel like I should feel something but I don’t. We spend time with the Palomino crew before they board on but nothing feels like we connect with them. Its just the cliche archetype with the band of people that have personality by traits like the all-knowing professor and the hot shot kid that wants to be another Han Solo. These are personalities but they just feel generic and done before.
Even the captain of the Cygnus who is also the villain is uninteresting. Again, he has a fascination with the black hole like Captain Nemo’s fascination with the sea but then you have that Moreau twist where he converts the crew into machines. The ideas are there but there is no motivation behind it. In argument, this could make for a scary and tragic character but I feel more depth should have been added. Why is he fascinated by the black hole? What does he expect upon entering it? Unless I missed something during the endless conversations, it doesn’t matter to me in the end.
The only good thing I can remember that is remotely enjoyable is Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens as two floating robots. Its an unlikely paring that is interesting but even they can’t save much of the movie. They already are channeling RD-D2 even though they speak and don’t resort to sounds. But even considering the round design and utilities they have, it starts to become questionable. Regardless, the special effects and puppet work on these two are interesting considering how pre-dated CGI was back then. Sure you see some strings here and there but you have to admire the effort put into its effect work.
But even then I shouldn’t praise it too much for that aspect. The robot designs and sets look iconic but at the helm is a done to death story with great ideas that are tossed into the mix and nothing really comes together. I know I shouldn’t compare this movie too much to Star Wars but a lot of studios at the time where jumping on with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Moonraker. The difference is that those movies knew what they wanted to be. Star Trek was more 2001 while Moonraker was action-orientated like Star Wars. The Black Hole tries to be two in one but it doesn’t work.
Even when we do go into the black hole in the finale there is nothing unique or spectacular about it. Our heroes go in, have a trippy 2001 moment and come out scratch free. And considering the lack of effort in story and characters, it doesn’t matter talking about the way it concludes seeing how it quickly ends after about 80 minutes of boredom. And to see it wrap up a plot element so fast, perhaps its the only positive thing aside from the robots and special effects I can highlight it for. But even then what you don’t want a movie to do is make you glad is that it ended and you can move on with your life. A movie should get you engaged into its world and give you the feeling that you wish it went on longer to enjoy it. The Black Hole on the other hand, I was more happy when the end credits appeared than when it first started. And that is a feeling I never want to experience again.
On August 1, 1986, Universal Pictures released Howard the Duck, one of the first Marvel Comic adaptations to ever hit the big screen. In my opinion, its a campy, goofy B-movie that has flaws but doesn’t take itself seriously with the idea of an anthropomorphic alien duck stuck on Earth. Unfortunately, audiences were split over to take this movie seriously or not at all while critics were far harsh with the film. Why do I bring this movie up you ask? Again, this was released on AUGUST 1ST and was the first Marvel Comic “comedy” of its time. For a good bulk of the 1990s, we mostly got DC Comic adaptations while Marvel stayed in the shadows till Blade and X-Men showed how comic adaptations can be fun but realistic at the same time with thought provoking messages of finding acceptance and good amounts of action.
Skip to August 1, 2014 to the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy and it happens to the second attempt Marvel takes a crazy idea like Howard the Duck and make it work. When you think about it, Marvel has given us a long line of films that are dark yet have this uplifting vibe to them from Iron Man to Captain America. While comic book in tone, these movies were serious with its material while taking basic concepts and making them fun and engaging. Guardians is so absurd, so out of this world and strange on paper that it feels like it might turn one off. Yet, everything about it works well. Surprisingly, this is by far the most uplifting, funniest and by far the best one of the batch.
Chirs Pratt plays Star Lord (or Peter Quinn if you want his real name), who was a human abducted as a kid by aliens and now grows into a bandit of the galaxy that has a bounty so big, it makes Bobba Fett look shallow in comparison. Chris’s take on the character is close to the heroic whim of the Rocketeer meets the space hero serials of the 1950’s but if he was a playboy and a lovable jerk. What keeps Star Lord from being unlikable is his child-like quality with roaming about the universe while still having a smug attitude. He even has a Walkman from the 1980’s and it still works interestingly. But yet, he is just the basic every man trying to make a quick buck with a strange relic that he doesn’t even know if its dangerous or mostly harmless. If he walked into the Cantina bar from Star Wars, I’m sure him and Han Solo would hit it off big.
Also in the ragtag group is Bradley Cooper’s stealing the show as a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket. He may have a mouth that matches the personality of Joe Pesci but carries weapons so huge that complement his furious attitude more than his size. This critter is less about wisecracks and more about blowing stuff up and keeping his personal needs in play. This is a really funny character and I’m sure there will be a growing fan base out there quoting his cynical but humorous quips as well as wishing there was a spin-off made. It also helps that he is more smart when it comes to fabricating things from weapons to even hijacking security systems. In short, Rocket is one creature you don’t want to mess with.
Aiding the fierce Rocket is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a giant tree like humanoid that grow to any size and even grown back a limb. The humor from this character shines a lot from his visual actions and the fact his vocabulary is only limited to saying “I am Groot” which acts as a form of language that only Rocket can understand. While technically the Zoidberg of the group, Groot gets a lot of memorable moments being a giant that can be destructive but also innocent and kind at the same time.
Dave Batista shines as Drax the Destroyer who looks and talks like a major brute but yet takes things way too literally for granite. Dave manages to make the character his and even go as far to take his own wrestling moves into the action scenes. Again, the quirk that shines the most from Drax is how his species don’t understand metaphors well and even have a poor understanding of knowing when to joke around or even know how to describe sympathetic feelings. His personality matches Strax the Sontaron from Doctor Who so well that it makes me wonder what a barfight between the two would be like.
Lastly is Zoe Saldana donning the green skinned Gamora who is one sleek assassin that questions the amount of brains in the leader of the group and everyone else. With a bad attitude and sometimes one step ahead, she can have a heart too when it comes to trying to being righteous and is not cold hearten as you think. She can be fun to watch when the sleek killer plays off of Star Lord’s devilish personality but even she knows when to show she has a heart.
The reason these guys are all together is because they are after an object Star Lord obtains early on that again could either destroy the universe or maybe be a cheap antique. One or another is after each other because of prejudice or one has a higher bounty quality and it honestly works. The first half of Guardians feels a bit slow but what holds it together is the way these people work off each other. They are schemers and pull heists but yet somehow you can see them working together for something like trying to save the world while other characters feel this is the last thing they would expect from them. I’m saying little about the villains as well as the other characters as it would ruin a lot of expectations. I admit, I was confused as to who the real antagonist was but when they got to reveal the true nature of the orb, it all made sense to who was in it to make a profit and who wanted to harness it to rule the universe. By midpoint, everything clicks and we know our good guys from our bad guys.
For me, I never read the comics themselves or see any cartoons with their appearance in them. But this movie is really a solid introduction. Again, it drags in the first half but I feel its because viewers have no idea who or what this universe is like. So that is understandable and by midway, we begin to relax and enjoy the bickering between Drax and Rocket while knowing how this alien universe works. I must highly complement director James Gunn’s decision to use practical sets, effects and make up while knowing when to use CGI for characters like Groot or Rocket. This gives the environment of Guardians a more realistic feel and not video gamey like Avatar or the new Star Trek films where CGI sets are the norm. Its a breath of fresh air to see a movie use more practical work for things like blue skinned aliens and even studios sets to look like a desert planet. I had a great time looking at these places and even feel robbed wishing these existed despite some feeling desolate and in ruins.
But even looking pass the special effects and story, what holds this move together are the Guardians themselves. These are average joe’s from their own worlds who you don’t expect to see form a team but yet they all have something in common. As Star Lord puts it, “I see losers…folks who have lost stuff. Our homes, our families.” And is with this, they have a reason to save the galaxy from this huge threat. They have had a hard time and this is their chance to at least do good for someone even if they had the worst of it. Even during the climax, I noticed none of them backed down when it came to a point they knew an action they would do would have little chance of survival. They put their own life on the line just to save a world full of people and I find that is a rare trait in today’s film characters who would go far to take risks like this.
And unlike films that have multiple endings, when you think its going to end and it doesn’t, you are glad to see it keeps going. Not once did I feel Guardians dragged on for too long or even wish it to end sooner. It knew when to expand and conclude at the right spots. Its a very uplifting and humorous movie that I do hope many get the chance to see. It has something for everyone from great special effects to really great writing. August is normally the dead spot for summer blockbusters but I feel its appropriate for Guardians to end this dead and desolate summer season with a bang so big you feel satisfied. And…remember what I said about Howard being the first Marvel comedy. Want to really know why I bring it up? Stick around after the end credits of Guardians and you’ll see why. Because I do feel some things can come full circle. Regardless, Guardians is the best fun I’ve had at the summer blockbusters season and I’m sure to pre-order my ticket for its squeal way in advanced.