Monday, December 26, 2016

Please Hammerhead, Do Hurt Them!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016): written by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, and Gary Whitta; based on characters created by George Lucas and others; directed by Gareth Edwards; starring Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Alan Tudyk (K-2SO), Donnie Yen (Imewe), Wen Jiang (Malbus), Ben Mendelsohn (Krennic), Forest Whittaker (Gerrara), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), and Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso).

Rogue One is better than any of the Star Wars prequel films. That doesn't make it a great movie, but it has its moments. Director Gareth Edwards (with seamless, inset reshoots from writer-director Tony Gilroy) manages some sublime visual moments among the frantic battles and travels.

The first 20 minutes or so are jumpy and in desperate need of streamlining. They play like a series of videogame cutscenes being fast-forwarded through by a low-attention-span gamer. Things then calm down, especially once we've bid a not-so-fond farewell to Forest Whitaker's mumble-mouthed Rebel freedom fighter. 

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna play the two leads, and it's a good thing they've got charisma because Rogue One has no interest in characterization except as it pertains to plot and motivation. Chewbacca and R2D2 playing holographic chess would be a Godsend to this film. There are no quiet moments of humour or pathos: everything serves The Plot.

The visual effects are impressive and sometimes overwhelming. The performances are solid, excepting the eccentrically unintelligible Mr. Whitaker, who also summoned mumble-mouth as a U.S. soldier in this year's Arrival. The climax goes on forever, and features about two too many sub-climaxes. The movies Rogue One pays homage to aren't always old Hollywood classics -- besides the other Star Wars movies, Rogue One nods to Serenity and Deep Impact, The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Navarone

And, in the droid voiced by Alan Tudyk, Marvin the Paranoid Android from all the iterations of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Is it fun? Yeah, once it gets going. One never feels much for anyone -- there are too many characters and not enough lines. But it's a competent, mostly bloodless war movie. Brief stretches are spent trying to convince us that the Rebellion is more morally complex than it appeared to be in previous Star Wars films. These moments never really 'stick.' The Star Wars Universe doesn't play all that well with moral complexity. Love the Rebel Hammerhead Ship, though! Give that ship its own movie! Recommended.

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