Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Review)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Review)

Ah, Star Wars.  One of two iconic sci-fi properties to ever grace our cultural mind.  Regardless of how you view the Prequels or the changes made to originals, you can’t deny that Star Wars, as a phenomenon, is here to say.  And now with the return of Star Wars last year with Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it seems we are going to be getting more and more Star Wars in the years to come.  This year, we got Rogue One, the first of the Anthology series of Star Wars films, covering side stories and the backgrounds of famous characters.

Rogue One is the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a career criminal who is taken and forced to join the Rebel Alliance to find her father, the unwilling architect for the Death Star.  She is forced to accompany career Rebel Alliance Soldier Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and repurposed Imperial droid, K-2SO.  Along their journey, they are joined by recently defected Imperial Pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior and believer in the Force, Chirrut Imwe, (Donnie Yen) and his partner, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

The first thing I have to give props for is the diversity of the cast.  Not just diverse in the sense of their racial background (I’m still very happy about their casting choices), but also in how different the characters are.  Although I was not able to remember their names (not because they were unmemorable but because they were in no ways as easy to remember as Han, Luke or Leia, this being set in a galaxy far, far away), I could instantly recognize each character.  When the camera flashed to a shot of one of the characters, there was no way I was going to confuse who it was.  I knew exactly who it was.

This just makes it even more of a shame that character development really took a back seat to the plot.  There is a lot of pathos going on for these characters that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.  Things do come to a head in the film between two characters, but it never really feels resolved.  It just happens and then you’re off to the next set piece.  This happens to Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, an extremist who has been broken by the war.  His whole character appears to be to show just what a war can do to a person but in the end, we can’t spend too much time on this without sacrificing the rest of the movie so what we’re left with is a character with a weird rasping voice.

Speaking of, there are quite a lot of references to previous films.  Either characters that appeared in previous films (like Grand Moff Tarkin in a CGI role that is a little hard to get used to for the first few minutes), or places that are revisited (one location actually made me go “oh, hey, we’re back here again” in the theater).  There are so many references that I started to wonder if any of them were actually necessary.  Where do you draw the line between a reference that is there because it would make sense story-wise for them to be there, and a reference that is there just for the sake of a reference?

One thing that I will appreciate is that this film is by far the darkest Star Wars film of the franchise, because this is absolutely a war film.  People die, sometimes not for victory but for the chance of victory.  This is not the time frame of A New Hope because in this time frame, hope doesn’t exist yet.  This is the edgier side of Star Wars that hasn’t really been seen in a while, and I appreciate that.  It makes the franchise feel more alive.

I truly enjoyed the film.  From start to finish, I really did enjoy it.  With that said, I can’t help the more I think about it, the more problems I find.  The characters aren’t as developed as I would have liked, though this is a much larger cast than in previous films.  Everything just moves from set piece to next set piece.  Having said all of that, at the end of the day, it was truly a story worth telling and I’m still glad I went to see it.  Plus, the final scene with Darth Vader (it’s not a spoiler to know that Darth Vader is in this movie, the trailers showed that he was) was well worth the price of admission.

Doctor Strange (Review)

Doctor Strange (Review)

Doctor Strange tells the origin story of the titular Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a famous neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in a car accident.  In his desperation, he seeks the help of a group of mystics and sorcerers led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).  As he learns the mystic arts, he must battle with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a rogue sorcerer who is trying to find a way to bring eternal life to the people.

There was a lot of controversy around the film regarding the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and the stereotypical tropes that Doctor Strange relies on (the exotic East as a source of mysterious power).  People who know me know that I was pretty upset by these things but what they probably don’t know is the reason why I was upset.  It wasn’t because I thought the movie would be terrible before I’ve even seen it and that nobody should enjoy this movie because of these reasons.  Its because it’s a problem that somehow still continues to exist in the movie industry today.  Hollywood would always rather hire a white actor over an asian actor because they sell.  The common audience don’t often go to Asian countries to see what it’s actually like there, so they don’t ask questions when these stereotypes crop up again and again.  If it seems like I’m targeting this film in particular, it’s simply because it’s the most recent example of these problems.

Did any of these problems stop me from enjoying this movie?  Hell no.

The movie reminds me a lot of the original Iron Man movie with it’s smaller, simpler narrative.  Dr. Strange also reminds me a lot of Tony Stark, though, regrettably, Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t quite have the same charisma that Robert Downey Jr. does.  Benedict Cumberbatch is a brilliant actor, though, and he does his job as Dr. Strange incredibly well.  In fact, this entire cast of characters was surprisingly well put together.  Tilda Swinton plays the part of the Ancient One with grace and poise but also with ferocity, making her one of my favorite characters in the movie.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is both charismatic and harsh as Mordo, Strange’s ally in arms.  Even Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius garners some sympathy, but only in the one scene he gets to be sympathetic, which continues the trend of Marvel villains being boring.

The only actress to really get the short end of the stick is Rachel McAdams, who is relegated to being the token girlfriend.  Even though she has her own life and is an accomplished nurse, her whole role in the movie is to be the representation of Strange’s former life.  Maybe I’m being too harsh because, to be fair, they used to be lovers but they broke up after the accident, which makes her more of the token friend.  Still, I hope that if they plan to use her again in the future, that they actually give her more to do than patch up Strange.

The main issue with the film is that it relies on so many tropes that this movie feels more like a paint by numbers Marvel movie.  The only part that was different is in how Strange deals with the issues.  He might very well be the only one in the entire MCU whose first instinct isn’t to fight or kill anyone.  As a doctor, he’s tasked with saving lives, not taking them and it was nice to see him solve problems through bargaining rather than killing.

I’ve listed numerous problems the film has but I still enjoyed the movie.  People seem to forget that you can both enjoy a movie immensely and still be aware of the problematic things that exist within it and by contrast to other movies, the problems in this movie are small in comparison.  Tilda Swinton is fantastic and ended up being my favorite character.  All in all, it’s a fun movie with some of the trippiest visuals I’ve ever seen.