Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Rogue One" (With Spoilers)

And when I say spoilers, I mean all the spoilers.

"Rogue One" is getting a lot of kudos for being a darker film that wasn't afraid of killing off all the major characters, but what I found really daring was that the filmmakers really committed to making the film a one-shot project. No matter how much money it makes, there will be no sequel, and there are vanishingly small chances of a spinoff. Frankly, as much as I liked the ensemble, the individual characters are too thin to sustain films by themselves. It wasn't until the final act, when the terrific death scenes started piling up, that I realized that I did care about them in the end, just a bit. It was the terrific momentum of the final mission for the Death Star plans that really sustained that ending.

This was the biggest disappointment of the film for me, because I came into "Rogue One" actively wanting to like these new characters, and wanting to get emotionally invested in them. Alas, the writing is simply too haphazard in the first two acts, with plot holes and weird ellipses everywhere. Not all the characters are handled poorly, but everything feels rushed and piecemeal. Forrest Whitaker's Saw Guerrera came off the worst, a rebel from the Rebellion with a murky philosophy, murky loyalties, and is pretty murky in overall construction. The bit with Bodhi and the brain slug seems to have no actual narrative impact, except to make Saw seem dangerous and sinister, until fifteen minutes later, when he isn't. And then he's dead, which actually comes as a relief. Forrest Whitaker was never able to stop being Forrest Whitaker long enough to mesh with the rest of the "Star Wars" universe.

I tried to be more open minded about Jyn Erso. I tried to forget that I'd seen (and been less than impressed by) Felicity Jones in other films. I tried to ignore the many similarities between Jyn and Daisy Ridley's Rey from "The Force Awakens." And while I have no major complaints about her or her narrative arc, Jyn simply strikes me as bland and unconvincing. I didn't buy her change of heart, but went along with it because the film simply refused to slow down long enough to let me think about it very much. It was the same with Diego Luna's Cassian Andor, someone potentially interesting, but who never really got around to fulfilling any of that promise. The rest of the good guys were colorful types, who didn't need to do much heavy lifting, and mostly succeeded at being fun supporting players. To reiterate, I liked them enough to care that they died, but that was about the extent of it. This is perfectly par for the course for most action spectaculars, but I still felt disappointed.

I've been critical of "Force Awakens" for having too many references and bits of fanservice. "Rogue One" is guilty of this too, but it's more forgivable because of the way the story directly connects to the original "Star Wars." I could have done with out the Cantina patrons and the familiar droids, but resurrecting all that great hardware - the ships, the costuming, and even the '70s era operating systems graphics, was a treat. Darth Vader was in the mix just long enough, not too long to overwhelm the proceedings, but long enough to make a big impact when it counted. In some instances, I also liked the return of smaller characters from the original trilogy in larger roles. Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly), for instance, was a familiar face who served the plot in a perfectly agreeable way.

This brings us, unfortunately, to the subject of the CGI resurrection of Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin. Though the technology has gotten better, the filmmakers are simply too ambitious with it, and CGI Tarkin stands out like a sore thumb in every scene he appears in. The CGI Princess Leia in the closing shot is hardly any better, but she's onscreen for only a few fleeting seconds, and easier to make excuses for. Ditto Red Leader and Gold Leader making their tiny cameos in the final space battle. Tarkin, unfortunately, has about as much screen time and narrative weight as Mon Mothma, and the CGI simply isn't up to snuff. I'm worried that this is going to set a precedence for more deceased actors being similarly revived before the technology is ready.

On purely visceral terms, "Rogue One" delivered all the action blockbuster thrills I ever could have wanted, and the "Star Wars" fangirl in me loved the nostalgia. However, the cynical cinephile part of me is worried about what this could mean for other upcoming "Star Wars" films, and franchise films in general. The films leans so heavily on nostalgia and spectacle, there doesn't seem to be room for much else.


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