No Ewoks, No Jar Jar: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, directed by Gareth Edwards)


rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The evil Galactic Empire spent what had to be billions of Imperial credits to build the greatest weapon in the universe.  It was known as the Death Star and it housed a laser so powerful that it could blow up a planet with just one shot.  And yet, for all the effort and all the years that were spent building it, the Death Star had one glaring vulnerability, an exposed exhaust valve that the Rebel Alliance twice used to the destroy it.

For years, fanboys debated why the Empire would go to the trouble to build a super weapon with such an obvious design flaw.  I have to admit that I was often one of them.  No one else seemed to care but, to us, this was a huge deal.  If the Empire could figure out how to blow up a planet with one super laser, why couldn’t they figure out how to protect that one valve?

Now, thanks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we have an answer.  We not only know why that valve was there but we also know what was meant in New Hope when the rebel general said that the plans to the Death Star had been stolen at great cost.

Rogue One is a fan’s dream, one that answers questions while expanding on the Star Wars mythology.  Unlike the previous prequels, it adds to the story without cheapening the original films.  In fact, of all the Star Wars films, Rogue One is the first to make the Death Star into a believable weapon of mass destruction.  When it appears over one planet, it blots out the sun.  When it blows up a rebel base, we see the destruction from inside the base instead of observing it from the safety of Death Star.  Director Gareth Evans does for the Death Star what he previously did for Godzilla.

death-star

Unfortunately, like Godzilla, the action and the special effects in Rogue One are usually more interesting than any of the film’s characters.  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, and Riz Ahmed are all good actors but they’re all playing underwritten parts.  No one steps up like Harrison Ford did in the original trilogy.  Commander Kennec, played by Ben Mendelsohn, has a little more depth than the typical Imperial villain but, for better or worse, the film’s most memorable performances come from a CGI Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones providing the voice of Darth Vader.

rogue-one

Despite the underwritten characters, Rogue One is still the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back, a return to the grittiness, the thrilling action, and the awe of discovering new worlds that distinguished the first two movies.  For once, a Star Wars film seems to have more on its mind than just selling toys.  Though we already know what is ultimately going to happen to the Death Star at the end of New Hope, Rogue One is a frequently downbeat film.  There are no Ewoks and, to great relief and rejoicing, Jar Jar is never seen.  The closest that Rogue One gets to comic relief is Alan Tudyk providing the voice of a cynical robot.  The emphasis is on the horrors of war and even the rebels are troubled by some of the things that they have done.  For once, the Rebel Alliance actually feels like a rebellion and the evil of the Empire feels real instead of cartoonish.

Rogue One is projected to be the first of many “Star Wars stories,” stand-alone film that will expand the universe and hopefully clarify some of the points that were left unclear by the original trilogy.  I think it’s going to be very successful very Disney.  I’m just dreading the inevitable Jar Jar origin story.

 

Two Late Reviews: The Legend of Hercules (dir by Renny Harlin) and Pompeii (dir by Paul W.S. Anderson)


As I mentioned in a previous review, I’ve only got a few months left before I’m going to have to make out my list of the 16 worst and the 26 best films of 2014.  With that in mind, I really need to get caught up on reviewing some of the films that might appear on those two lists.  For the most part, I try to review every single movie that I see but, occasionally, a movie or two will slip through the cracks.  And now, with Oscar season approaching but not quite arrived, seems like as good as time as any as to try to get caught up by reviewing two films that came out earlier this year: Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules and Paul W. S. Anderson’s Pompeii.

Hercules_(2014_film)_poster

The Legend of Hercules is a film that I first saw with my BFF Evelyn way back in January.  And while I meant to review it after I first saw it, I simply never got around to actually doing so.  Some of that is because, when Kellan Lutz first showed up on screen, Evelyn said, “Nice tits,” and I ended up laughing so hard that I nearly fell out of my seat.  This led to Evelyn spending the entire film trying to make me laugh again and, in between all of the whispering and the giggling, we undoubtedly missed out on a lot of the film.

However, I recently rewatched The Legend of Hercules on Cinemax and I was quickly reminded about the other reason that I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing it.  There’s really just not that much to say about The Legend of Hercules.  It’s just not a very good film but yet it’s not bad in a fun way either.  It’s just boring.  As played by Kellan Lutz, Hercules wanders through the ancient world and he does all the stuff that you would expect Hercules to do.  Actually, he does all the stuff that you would expect any character in a rip-off of 300 to do.  The film could have just as easily been called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  

In fact, I’d really like to see a movie called The Legend of Eammon, an Irishman in Greece.  Get on it, someone.

According to Wikipedia, The Legend of Hercules had a budget of 70 million dollars, which makes it a bit odd that the film itself just looks cheap and generic.  At one point, Hercules fights a lion and the CGI is so bad that, for a few minutes, the movie looks like one of those senior projects that students occasionally upload to YouTube.  (I was half-expecting to see a comment apologizing for the “crappy special effects” flash across the screen.)  During the film’s many fight scenes, director Renny Harlin does that thing where every punch is shown in slow motion.  It gets annoying after the hundredth time.

A few words about Kellan Lutz.  I happen to like Kellan Lutz.  I think he’s been likable in other roles.  But, in The Legend of Hercules, he really did spend the entire movie looking like he was wishing that he could be anywhere else.  But can you blame him?

Pompeii-posterFor a far more enjoyable trip into the past, allow me to recommend a film that came out a few months after The Legend of Hercules, Pompeii. 

Now, before I review Pompeii, I should admit that, as you all know, I am a history nerd and, as you all might not know, I’ve always been fascinated by the Roman Empire.  The summer after I graduated high school, I took a trip to Italy and I actually walked through the streets of Pompeii.  My two main memories of Pompeii: while we were touring an ancient brothel, an Australian man lay down on one of the slabs.  My other memory is that it was a very windy day and I was wearing a skirt so I can legitimately say that not only have I visited Pompeii but I’ve flashed Pompeii as well.

Anyway, Pompeii the Movie tells the story of the final days of Pompeii the City.  A Celtic slave and gladiator named Milo (Kit Harrington) is sent to Pompeii where he, in quick order, meets and romances the noble Cassia (Emily Browning), establishes a friendly rivalry with fellow gladiator Atticus (the always intimidating Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), spots the evil Roman General (Kiefer Sutherland) who killed Milo’s mother, and then eventually has to run for his life as a cloud of ash and a river of lava crashes down on Pompeii.

Pompeii is a lot of fun.  Harrington and Browning have a lot of chemistry, all of the actors are obviously having a good time with their melodramatic dialogue, and Kiefer Sutherland was born to play an evil Roman.  As opposed to the Legend of Hercules, Pompeii looks good and the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is genuinely impressive.  Perhaps best of all, the film actually allows things to play out to their natural and logical conclusion.  For once, history is not changed just to force a happy ending on the viewers and Pompeii is all the better for it!

So, in conclusion: forget about The Legend of Hercules and give Pompeii a chance.  Actually, you’ve probably already forgotten about The Legend of Hercules so just try not to suddenly remember it.  But seriously, Pompeii is better than you might think.