Belated, Obligatory Thoughts on Disney’s Latest
In the interest of full disclosure, I saw the first 20 minutes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a couple days after I saw the final hour and 40 minutes. If this blunder in any way compromised my ability to experience the emotional arc of the film to its fullest and likewise compromised the integrity of my critique, then I will humbly retract this post, but for now I’m going to go with my gut and not give Disney the benefit of the doubt for obvious reasons. I should also disclose that because of my work arrangement I’ve seen parts of this film what feels like a dozen times, so I’m probably better equipped than anyone except the people who edited it to talk about its faults.
Rogue One’s demure and clunky title reads like a disclaimer, apologizing for its own inconsequentiality as the first of many one-offs in the series that won’t be centered upon the troubled Skywalker family. Although it occupies the same universe, this outing is not a proper Star Wars film as we’ve come to identify one, or so it shouldn’t feel pressured to be. Disney does admittedly eschew the opening title crawl and use of Jedi powers as a major plot device, but otherwise Rogue One looks and sounds very conservative and kiddish for something advertised as a realistic, grounded war film. Director Gareth Edward’s contribution is muddled amidst the noise, making one wonder why the studio would even bother enlisting him based on his past work. This is a far cry from the 2014 Godzilla in terms of tone, and even farther from his no-budget underground extravaganza Monsters, which utilized seamless visual effects as a backdrop for a tale he apparently found more interesting, that of two young people falling in love under trying circumstances.
Rogue One supposedly takes place in a galaxy far, far away, but it might as well be another plane of reality, which is basically the opposite of the reality posited in years past by Ex Machina and Her. The A.I. characters in both films harness their simulated sexuality to control and comfort their respective human masters. “What imperative does a gray box have to interact with another gray box?” asks Ava’s inventor of his partner at one point. Most of Rogue One’s characters take after a gray box, with the ironic exception of a re-programmed imperial droid who hoards almost all the personality in the film for himself. Everybody dies, but what imperative do audience members have to cry over a gray box, even six of them?
Some other points:
* Star Wars’ scores under Disney’s domain have been bland and dated and need to evolve to counteract the staleness of new Star Wars products. John Williams in the prequels did an excellent job retaining and revamping familiar themes while introducing completely new earworms that complemented the maturing tones of the films (Duel of the Fates, Anakin and Padme’s love theme, and the multiple eerie songs reflecting corruption and darkness in Episode 3). There is no reason why composers on the new films can’t do the same, but Disney so far has been shackling itself to an “epic” and indistinctive sound as if in fear that veering too far off a path well-trodden in the 80s will cause their project to implode. The last couple years have seen an incredible outpouring of inspired and fitting scores – Sicario, It Follows, Interstellar, Ex Machina, Under the Skin, Turbo Kid, and Dredd to name a few –, and doling out the Star Wars franchise to a diverse range of directors seems like the perfect excuse to let a similarly diverse group of composers offer up their ideas. Instead, everyone Disney’s hired thus far, including John Williams, has been cruising on aping Vintage Williams.
* Early on Mads Mikkelsen’s character says something like, “You say you want to create an empire of peace, but all I see is terror,” to which Krennick says, “Well, you have to start somewhere.” What does that even mean?
* When Krennick runs into Jyn on the bridge to the communications satellite thing and asks, “Who are you?” she answers, “You know who I am; I’m Jyn Erso, daughter of…” This line doesn’t make any sense because it’s the first time Krennick has seen her in the movie and because we have no indication that he was ever concerned about Galen Erso having a child. It’s almost as if the writer just shoved, “You know who I am!” into the script because he thought it sounded like a cool, plucky thing to say and wasn’t concerned about the logical basis for it.
* Characters in the movie are generally endowed with more knowledge of what’s going on than they should realistically have. For example, when the Middle Eastern-looking guy gets killed by a grenade, the Asian gun mercenary looks up at the distant explosion, frowns solemnly, and seems to undergo a renewal of purpose because his friend just died. However, things are blowing up all around him, radio chatter is chaotic, and there’s really no way of knowing who all died in that explosion, so why does he act as if he knows?
* The camera-man obviously thinks that audiences are stupid and need important lines to be singled out by movement for their comprehension. Example: when the rebels are being captured by the stormtroopers and Jyn stupidly throws out her family heritage and the camera zooms in on her to make you go, “WHOA! She’s the daughter of Galen Erso! This changes everything!”
* I don’t get why Tarkin is in the movie, and neither does anyone else as far as I can tell. Knowing the actor is dead was a constant distraction.
* I watched this a couple days after seeing Hacksaw Ridge, which is by all measures a better-made film, and the action in Hacksaw Ridge makes the most violent scene in Rogue One look like a leisurely stroll through a video-game Wonderland. Hence, whenever I hear anyone trying to characterize this as a darker, grittier, or harder-hitting Star Wars movie, I can only scoff. This is what doing Disney’s marketing for them looks like in practice.Like every other blockbuster in 2016 except for that Tarzan movie, Independence Day 2, and any DC Comics movies, Rogue One has excellent CG effects, and its greatest asset as a film may be its transience, which optimists may call replay value. Because of my job I’ve walked in on certain scenes from this over and over again, and even though my brain says I’ve already seen Rogue One, I always feel like I’m experiencing something new. That’s the magic of Disney for you.
The Edge of Seventeen – This trailer didn’t do anything for me and made the film look like John Green junk, but the movie itself was OK. I may comment more on it in an end-of-year movie roundup I may or may not write for the Files.
Phoenix – It’s a found-footage movie with a purposefully mysterious ad campaign designed to provoke curiosity, except it didn’t for me.
Collateral Beauty – This is destined to be another classic mainstay in ABC Family’s Christmas programming rotation.
A Cure For Wellness – I was really impressed by this the first time I saw it, sucked in by the creepy, somewhat Kubrickian visuals and nebulous premise. On repeated viewings its effect has started to wane on me, but it’s still a fine tease for a February horror movie that’ll probably end up being blah.
A Cure For Wellness trailer 2 – This is a really bad trailer, but on the bright side I no longer have any interest in paying for this blah.
Office Christmas Party – This movie has Abbey Lee from Mad Max: Fury Road, one funny scene where Jennifer Aniston bullies a little girl by pretending to call Santa, and no redeeming qualities apart from those. More like The People’s Party of SNL.
Allied – The first half of this trailer was way too much déjà vu with a too young-looking Brad Pitt shoved into yet another World War II movie, but when the twist came up along with the tone shift from romance to thriller, I was hooked. It’s too bad the movie itself turned out just OK.
The Bye Bye Man – Calling an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes for this teen girl-oriented scary picture.
A Dog’s Purpose – This looks like one of these 90’s live-action Shaggy Dog-type movies brought back from the grave. In other words, it’s a movie for nobody.
Passengers – I wouldn’t have remembered seeing this if I hadn’t recorded that I had. More on the movie later in the potential end-of-year roundup.
A United Kingdom – A terrible, cloyingly awards-baiting advertisement for what may be a good movie.
The Shack – Oh boy. Here comes this year’s low-budget, evangelical-pandering sensation that’s going to win the hearts of all my undiscriminating friends and further entrench the woeful stereotype that Christians don’t know how to make good movies. At least Sam Worthington is getting work again after Avatar, which means he won’t have to beg for housing or food.
Wonder Woman – This is going to be a clustercuss of a storytelling and contain a lot of unnecessary, unfunny humor just like Suicide Squad, but at least the Amazon action looks kind of cool, if heavy on the green screen and slow-motion.
Transformers: The Last Knight – I know well how foolish it is to get optimistic about the prospects of any new Transformers movies, but I see several promising signs here. For one the lead girl doesn’t appear to be depicted as a sexpot, which would be a huge advancement for Michael Bay if it holds true. Having Optimus Prime trade blows with Bumblebee for whatever reason also makes for a positive change of pace after four movies straight of killing Megatron, Decepticons, and whoever the bad guy in Transformers 4 was. On a more concrete level, the blending of in-camera explosions and CGI looks fantastic as usual, which is one of the few things Bay consistently does right contrary to his critics. In the last two movies, unfortunately, it was about the only thing he and his writers did right, and he did it right for an hour and a half at a time, which made it wrong. On a side note, playing super slowed-down, distorted versions of The Flaming Lips or any other recognizable band doesn’t make a trailer sound more epic, only silly.