Wednesday, February 22, 2017

OVP: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Film: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker
Director: Gareth Edwards
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Best Visual Effects, Sound Mixing)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

I have seen every live-action Star Wars film in theaters.  It's something I try to remind myself when I kind of also remember that I'm a casual fan (in the case of almost all entertainment-based pop culture phenomenons) when I'm usually an ardent and obsessed one of such cinematic undertakings.  After all I have so much Harry Potter merchandise in my library you'd think you'd actually made it into a Hufflepuff's dorm, and I can tell you nearly every episode title of Lost without looking them up (seriously-test me sometime).  But Star Wars, while I appreciate it and in the moment, really love it, is one of those areas of pop culture where I can become objective about what is "good" versus what is "bad."  I haven't become so steeped in nostalgia that it clouds my judgment.

(Spoilers Ahead) This is all to say that Rogue One was not a movie that I particularly enjoyed.  The movie follows Jyn (Jones), the daughter of a scientist (Mikkelsen) who will one day build the Death Star.  She is raised largely as an orphan as she escapes the burgeoning Empire and is raised by Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), a family friend who increasingly goes mad as the film progresses.  The movie follows her as she attempts to find a way to connect with her father, and then as she, along with a motley crew that includes Cassian Andor (Luna) tries to find the plans to the Death Star, which she knows has a vulnerability in it (which of course any fan of the original series also knows), to transmit to the Rebel Alliance.

There are admittedly a few things to enjoy in the film.  Luna stands out to me as the best-in-show of the actors, but it's also kind of cool that they have a leading woman that doesn't really need a love interest to catapult her through the movie (I'll believe it when I see it for Daisy Ridley's Rey), and there's a wonderful finality of the penultimate scenes on the beach (which are beautifully rendered in terms of the special effects-I love the minimalist, high water production design of the planet); you don't have to worry about a sequel since you've already seen one and these characters aren't going to be coming back since, well, they all died.  The movie's score is robust and though it never quite hits the iconography of John Williams, perhaps that's for the best as it hums and drums in a slightly darker way that works in select sequences of the movie.  Plus, I like a sequel/prequel (whatever this is) that actually fills in some of the gaps rather than just creates new ones or stretches them out to make more money.

But all-in-all this was not as much fun as The Force Awakens.  The film suffers from that "reinvention" issue that plagued The Phantom Menace (it's not THAT bad, mind you), in that it is too reliant on super-fans to fill in the gaps rather than the plot, and there's way too many characters all at once.  For a while it feels like we're just hiring dozens of well-known character actors to randomly come in and be a part of the Star Wars movies, as if Gareth Edwards had a list in his house of every person he's ever wanted to turn into an action figure.  This causes too much busy-ness in the first half of the movie from which it never really recovers, and he hires actors that are a bit too naturally hammy (Mikkelsen and Whitaker being the chief culprits) to be able to deal with what they're doing onscreen.  Whitaker in particular crosses the line into "bad acting" toward the end-his character being too filed with ticks and clicks.  It's kind of dull when you take the Star Wars adventure out of it, and in particular it never really recovers from the "we know how this ends" aspect of the movie, even if the ending actually works.

The other problem I had here was the visual effects.  While certain parts of the art direction and the matte work were divine (like I said, the water planet in particular was really cool), the Peter Cushing/Carrie Fisher stuff was deeply off-putting.  I felt like every time that Cushing's CGI creation was onscreen I was supposed to be seeing some version of a cartoon, or that my eyesight was messing with me; the technology is not there yet to believe he's a human alongside actual humans.  It was less a supremely cool effect and more like a Robert Zemeckis animated work (the same can be said for Fisher, though that's only one scene so it's less of a callout).  Putting aside the moral dilemma here (and that really should be a factor since Cushing himself never consented to being in this movie), it's not a good effect.  The sound work, art direction, and music are all strong, but I'm going to be deeply disappointed if this gimmick lands the movie an Academy Award on Sunday.

Those are my thoughts, and yes, I'm definitely The Force Awakens>Rogue One, but how about you?  Where does this land in the Star Wars pantheon?  Who is best-in-show in terms of acting?  And do you think Rogue One can take the VFX Oscar on Sunday?  The comments are below!

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