Solo: A Movie Review

Ahhh, I almost got you there, didn’t I?  You were probably thinking I wasn’t going to do this one.  Solo would be the first of the new era Star Wars flicks I’d skip reviewing, right?  Wrong.  I’m a creature of habit, dammit!  I can’t break the streak!  As I’ve noted several times before, Star Wars is a franchise deeply connected to its accompanying toys, so it’s a natural fit for an action figure review site. Do pardon the slight delay on this particular review; circumstances prevented me from seeing Solo on its opening weekend, and then circumstances prevented me from having any time to sit down and write about it until now.  So, how does the movie hold up?  Let’s find out!

THE ACTUAL REVIEW

Solo is an interesting beast.  In a franchise made up of epic after epic, Solo is decidedly *not*.  Quite frankly, that’s possibly the best thing its got going for it.  There are only so many times you can see a universe rocked to its core before you just need a few minutes to breath.

Set in the self-proclaimed “lawless time” of 10 years after Revenge of the Sith’s end and 10 years before A New Hope‘s beginning, Solo gives us the Star Wars universe at the most stable point we’ve seen it, at least in the movies.  The Empire has taken hold, but are still sewing the seeds of their totalitarian regime.  Obviously, we know where this ultimately leads, but it’s not there yet.  The Empire’s presence in this film is largely set-dressing, reminding us of where and when this all happens.  They are not the looming big bad of the original trilogy yet.  Moreover, the film doesn’t have a looming big bad at, really.  There are a few rival clans, each driven by their own agendas, but they don’t exactly have the organization or the numbers to muster the threat of the Imperials, the First Order, or even the Trade Federation.

In contrast to the somewhat frantically paced Rogue One, which gives us a myriad of planets to jump between, introduces an entire team, and places a very hard time limit on all operations, Solo takes its time.  Planets are introduced in a slower fashion, and the story follows them linearly, with no real jumping back and forth.  Unlike prior films, there aren’t multiple stories we’re jumping between.  Instead, we the audience take things in as the occur to Han, following his progression from street rat, to Imperial Infantryman, and finally to smuggler.

Alden Ehrenreich’s casting as young Han was met with a lot of uncertainty, as many felt he would be unable to live up to Harrison Ford’s legendary take on the role.  Ehrenrich plays a different Han, one who is more naive, and not yet the scoundrel we meet in the Mos Eisley Cantina.  Nevertheless, he is undoubtedly the same person at the core.  Ehrenreich captures the spirit of Ford’s Solo, without simply treading down the same path, or playing a caricature.  While perhaps he doesn’t look or sound the same, he certainly gets Han’s demeanor right, and it’s intriguing to watch as he takes on more of the classic Solo traits as the movie progresses.

Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is Han’s counterpoint; the other struggling street rat from Corellia.  Like Han, she has to take a slight detour on her plans in order to escape from her home world.  As a love interest for Han, she’s in dubious waters, since it’s destiny for their relationship to fail, and she’s inevitably going to be compared to Leia.  She’s a decidedly different character, though, and the movie gives her own, intriguing arc, as we make our way to the ultimately tragic ending of her and Han’s relationship.

Also serving as a counterpoint to Han is his mentor-figure, Tobias Becket, played by Woody Harrelson.  Becket allows Harrelson to do what he does best, playing a snarky hard-love mentor, with his own self-serving agenda.  Becket’s a vision of what Han might have become, had he not become involved with the Rebellion.  He’s a career smuggler, distrustful of everyone, and perpetually looking for that mythical “last job” that can get him away from it all.

Donald Glover’s turn as Lando Calrissian rounds out the major players, and is certainly a highlight of the film.  Ehrenreich’s Han is still on his way to being the character we know, but by contrast, Glover gives us a Lando that is unmistakably the same guy from Empire.  He’s clearly having a blast in the role, and he’s so much fun to watch.  His screen time is a little bit less than I’d initially been expecting, but Glover absolutely makes the most of it.

Supporting those four are a fun collection of smaller players.  Joonas Suotamo takes over the role of Chewbacca completely with this film, and gets one of the more action-oriented Chewbacca parts.  His backstory is expanded on from what we’ve seen before (and appears to be ignoring the Holiday Special.  I know, we’re all really broken up about it), but he’s still very much Chewy.  The recurring rivalry between him and Qi’ra for Han’s attention is quite amusing.  Phoebe-Bridge Waller’s L3-37 fulfills our requisite droid role, and takes the sassy droid archetype put in place by 3P0 and K2 and dials it up to 11.  She and Glover had great chemistry, and I’d love to see more of the pairs adventures.  Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau play the Zoe and Wash to Becket’s Mal, and, as with L3, I’d love to see more of their stories.

The role of antagonist gets passed around a few times over the course of the film, but the character holding it the longest is Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos.  His a delightfully charming villain, and the scenes containing him are a particular joy to watch.  After getting used to Bettany as Vision/Jarvis, the villainous turn allows him to show off some definite range.

Ultimately, nothing about Solo is revolutionary or game changing.  It’s not a movie about shifting the narrative or delivering new pieces of previously unknown lore.  Solo‘s purpose is merely to be a fun, small-scale adventure through a universe we all love, that offers up some fun nods here and there.  It’s meant to be a fun movie-going experience.  And at that, it definitely succeeds.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi — A Movie Review

I am, if nothing else, a creature of habit.  For two years running, I’ve made a point of sitting down and reviewing the latest Star Wars flick, and so, gosh darnit, I’m gonna do that again!  As I noted when I reviewed Rogue One, while I may be primarily an action figure reviewer, the Star Wars franchise is so interwoven with its associated merch that it just sort of feels right.  So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi!

THE ACTUAL REVIEW

I loved both The Force Awakens and Rogue One, so this movie certainly had its work cut out for it in terms of living up to the hype.  Popular consensus on the film is still very much split down the middle, with half the audience claiming it’s one of the best things ever to come out of the franchise, and the other half deriding it as the worst Star Wars film ever made.  I’m gonna tell you up front: I’m in the first category. 

As of yet, I’ve only seen the movie one time, so I don’t have a 100% accurate reading on where it stacks up compared to its predecessors.  I certainly won’t deny that the movie has its flaws, and I did find there were some more noticeable issues this time around that I didn’t experience with my first viewing of either Force Awakens or Rogue One, but I was still very much entertained for my 2 hours and 40 minutes in the theatre, and I walked out very content with the final product. 

There were still some similar story beats to what we’ve seen in the past, with a lot of elements pulled from both Empire and Return (which, thanks to this film, I don’t think I can just refer to as “Jedi” anymore), but they were presented a bit differently than what we saw in Force Awakens, resulting a very different feeling movie than its predecessors.  And, with that in mind, I understand that this movie isn’t going to resonate with everyone, though I’m surprised by the level of fan vitriol surrounding this one.  I genuinely don’t see how anyone can claim this film is worse than Attack of the Clones

Now, lets discuss some of the specifics.  The film sees the return of most of the last film’s major players, swapping out Han for Luke, of course, as well as introducing us to a handful of new characters.  I felt they did a pretty solid job of balancing the various characters and making sure everybody got a pretty decent storyline.

At the head of the movie are Rey and Luke, following up on the last film’s cliff-hanger ending.  These two had a good report, as Rey tries to get Luke to open up to her about the past and train her as a Jedi.  We finally get to see some of what sent Luke off into isolation, and Hamill gets to flex his acting muscles and inject a fair bit of pathos into our weary hero.  For her part, Ridley continues to play Rey as very likable and relatable, and it’s fun to watch her progress as a character.

Running in sync with Rey and Luke’s plot, we get to see more of Poe, Finn, and Leia, as they and the rest of the Resistance fend off the First Order.  I very much enjoyed Poe’s attack on the First Order Dreadnought which opens the movie, which serves to reintroduce us to Poe, BB-8, and Hux in a rather amusing sequence, before delving us into actions that drive this segment of the plot for the rest of the film.  I also liked getting to see a bit more of Oscar Isaac as Poe this time around, even if I do feel the film may have been a little rough on him at times. Nevertheless, he gave an immensely enjoyable performance.  Not to be outdone, though, are John Boyega and Carrie Fisher as Finn and Leia, who both give fantastic performances.  Finn continues to view things from the middle of the conflict, providing context for the actions of both the heroes and the villains as he struggles to find his own personal morals.  Leia gets an expanded role compared to TFA, and Fisher’s performance is pretty much everything I wanted.  This movie does a lot to highlight why Leia remains one of the greatest leaders in the franchise.

After spending a fair bit of the last film lingering about and looking very ominous, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren gets a more emotional arc this time around, as he deals with the fall-out of killing his father, and just how far gone he is.  A series of long distance communications between him and Rey allows him to continue to interact with her despite their separation at the beginning, and I really enjoyed their chemistry this time around.  As a whole, Kylo comes out of this movie much more fully formed, and I liked that.

The other returning players get more minor parts, but they each get a scene or so to do something cool or fun for their character.  After being somewhat ineffective the last movie, Phasma gets one of the film’s coolest fight scenes opposite Finn.  Maz Kanata gets a fun little cameo courtesy of a hologram, and Chewbacca finally gets to show off his piloting skills.

In terms of new players, the film introduces us to Kelly Tran’s Rose, Laura Dern’s Vice-Admiral Holdo, and Benicio Del Toro’s DJ.  Rose stood out to me as my favorite new addition.  Her side mission with Finn was a great little character bit for both of them, and she really felt at home with the rest of the cast.  She also gets to deliver the film’s central message of “Don’t fight what you hate, save what you love.”  DJ isn’t a huge role, but Del Toro’s good at playing a scoundrel and he’s clearly having a good time.  By far my least favorite new addition was Holdo, who just struck me as not being terribly interesting.  It’s not that Dern’s performance is bad or anything, but the character certainly isn’t as well developed as others, and I found her to be rather grating at times.  Nevertheless, she’s actually part of one of my favorite moments in the film, so I can’t say she ruined my experience.

Spoilers after the jump.

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Rogue One: A Movie Review

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I don’t do a lot of movie reviews here, seeing as I’m running an action figure review site and all, but the Star Wars franchise, more than a lot of franchises, is almost entirely built on the action figures that can be sold to go along with each new film release.  As with last year’s The Force Awakens, I’m sure that this next week will see Rogue One reviews galore, but I figured I may as well throw my hat into the ring.

THE ACTUAL REVIEW

Spoiler Free:

Let me start out by saying I did really like the movie.  It didn’t have perhaps the same awe-inspiring feel I got out of The Force Awakens, but quite frankly, it was just a very different sort of movie.  Where prior entries in the franchise have placed a heavy focus on the “Star” portion of the name, this movie flips over to the “Wars” part.  There is no denying that this is a movie about war.  A lot of reviews have cited it as a fairly straight war movie.  I personally would cite it as having the trappings of both a war movie and a heist movie. It’s a very different feel for the franchise, but it offers a plethora of new ground to be covered in future “stand-alone” movies.

jynbseadu1Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso presents a slightly different type of lead than we’re used to.  Unlike Luke and Rey (and I suppose Anakin) who are unrelated innocents dragged into a grander conflict, Jyn is in it from the start, albeit in reluctant manner.  There’s a sort of a drive to Jyn that keeps her going, but at times it seems to just appear out of nowhere.  She’s certainly given motivation for each part of the mission, but sometimes her resolve seems stronger than her outward rebelliousness would indicate.

Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor takes the role of dashing rogue in this film.  However, where Cassian is still a charmer, he is perhaps one of the more compromised Rebels we’ve seen on screen.  Luna does a good job of conveying some of Cassian’s internal struggle, and he’s certainly likable, but he’s not a Han Solo clone; he’s cut from a rougher cloth.

cassianeadu3Alan Tudyk as K-2SO delivers what is easily my favorite performance in the film.  It’s an interesting commentary on the states of the various characters that he, a reprogrammed Imperial Droid, is the least compromised member of the titular team.  K-2 is, of course, CGI, but he’s built on Tudyk’s actual performance, and it really shows through.  There is a brief moment where K-2 passes another Security Droid, and just the way the two carry themselves when walking speaks volumes to what sort of a character K-2 is.  K-2 is sort of like Chewbacca, if Chewy happened to speak in a posh Brittish accent.  He lumbers about in the back of scenes, speaks to all of the characters with brash and blunt sort of innocence that makes him quite amusing and very relatable.

Donnie Yen and Jian Wong as Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus add another inseparable pair to the Star Wars universe.  The two have a lot of chemistry and feel like they’ve been companions for a good long while before the movie’s start.  They also offer up some of the movie’s best action sequences. Chirrut’s careful, plotted take down off the Stormtroopers on Jedha is beautifully choreographed, and then wonderfully contrasted with Baze’s portable lawnmower approach.

Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook is this sort of sad, well-meaning guy.  He’s sort of key in getting the movie’s action going, and is a genuinely likable guy.  Perhaps the only oddity to Bodhi is how alone he always seems to be.  While the rest of the crew seems to naturally form into these little teams, Bodhi never seems to find his comfort zone.  There’s a slight hint of a possible friendship for him and K-2, but the movie’s frantic pace never really allows for it.

Forrest Whitaker’s turn as Saw Gurera is important, because he’s actually the first cartoon character to make the jump to the big screen.  It’s a smaller part than I think a lot of us expected.  He still leaves quite an impact on the story, and provides us with a well-meaning but misguided extremist, the likes of which we haven’t really had before (in the main movies, anyway).  Whitaker gives a very convincing portrayal of a shell-shocked veteran who is just in too far over his head.  His interactions with Jyn are an intriguing analysis of the problems with a warrior trying to take on a paternal role.

Speaking of paternal roles, Mads Mikkelson’s Galen Erso continues the franchise’s trend of troubled parent-child relationships, but with with a different twist.  Galen is sort of a tragic figure, and his relationship with the Empire calls to mind Wernher Von Braun’s with the Nazis.

What good are heroes without some villains, though?  Well, the main villain is Ben Mendlesohn’s Director Krennic.  While the Imperial command have always been rather spineless, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten anyone quite as detestable and slimy as Krennic.  He’s an opportunist, and a manipulator, and it’s clear that even amongst the other Imperials he’s not very well-liked.  What’s interesting is just how separated from the rest of the cast Krennic is.  He spends much of his screen time scheming just off to the side of the main heroes, but rarely does he directly interact. 

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Spoilers after the jump!

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Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A (Pseudo) Movie Review

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Hey look! Another movie review!

I’m sure that everyone and their mother will be weighing in on the latest Star Wars film in the next week or so. I mean, there are already several hundred reviews out there by now. There’s a lot of buzz about this new movie, especially after the poor showing of the last three Star Wars films. Could the franchise reclaim the magic? The short answer? Yes.

I saw the film last Thursday night, and I really, really liked it. Now, as I said, there’s no shortage of reviews covering tons of different angles of the film, and all its various merits.  So, to set myself apart from all the other reviews, I’m gonna handle things a little differently. I’m going to examine the film through the lens of how it impacts all those action figures I bought. This is, after all, and action figure review site, is it not?

IN BRIEF

All in all, I really loved this movie. Sure, it didn’t top the original trilogy, but it was very definitely a worthy successor. It was a fantastic experience, from start to finish, and the whole “event” around it has really done a bang up job of reigniting my excitement for the franchise.

The general plot is very similar in structure to that of A New Hope (with a little Empire thrown in for good measure).  A lot of the story beats are going to feel very familiar, but not in a bad way.  The similarities are important to the story, and are key to recapturing the feel of the older movies.

Now, let’s look at some specifics:

 

 

 

—-THERE BE SPOILERS BELOW!—-

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Terminator Genisys: A Movie Review

I don’t write movie reviews. This is an Action Figure review site, after all. However, I’ve just seen a movie about which I want to write.

The movie in question (hey, that would be a catchy name for a movie review site, wouldn’t it?) is Terminator Genisys. I’m a pretty big fan of The Terminator and I’d probably rank Terminator 2 in my top five favorite movies.  It goes without saying that I was more than a little disappointed by the two films that followed. I’ve never actually been able to get all the way through T3, and most of Salvation left me cold. I had pretty much written the franchise off, and I kind of figured it was more or less dead.

When the first trailer for Genisys showed up, I was surprised. Somehow, I’d entirely missed the fact that another film was in production. It actually looked pretty decent, as if this might be the movie to turn the franchise around. I was optimistic, if cautiously so. I was still pretty excited, so when it started showing Tuesday night, I headed out to see it. Without saying too much, my optimism paid off and I thoroughly enjoyed the film.

THE ACTUAL REVIEW

Spoiler-Free:

First off, let’s address the film’s biggest draw: Arnold. His return to acting was one of the driving forces of getting the movie made, and a lot of the film’s marketing focused on his big return to the role. This time around, he takes up a part not unlike “Uncle Bob” in T2, operating as Sarah’s father figure “Pops.” The film seems to draw from the learning ability of the T-800’s CPU established in the extended cut of T2. Here it’s been in operation for a while, allowing Arnold to play a character with a little more warmth and human understanding. That’s not to say he’s completely abandoned his robotic nature, though; it makes its way to the forefront a few times, generally in the more action oriented scenes, but also in a few humorous moments.

The film has more than a few humorous moments, sprinkled throughout. It feels like they’ve gotten the mix of humor and drama right this time around. Part of what I enjoyed so much about T2 was its seamless blending of humor and serious moments. The movies that followed never got this balance down. T3 went too goofy and Salvation went too dreary and hopeless, resulting in both films suffering. Genisys gets it right.

Humor is one thing, but a movie is hardly a proper Terminator movie without some action. Genisys offers a nice selection of action sequences. There are lots of call backs to older movies (especially in the first battle with the T-1000) but there’s a lot of new stuff too, which keeps things interesting. Some sequences relied a little too heavily on CGI, but it never gets distracting to the point of pulling the viewer out of the film. The newest version of Terminator plays a big part in making the action feel new and exciting. One of my biggest problems with the last two films was the stagnation of the Terminators. The T-1000 offered a significant upgrade over the first film’s T-800, and this movie’s magnetically-charged nanite-powered Terminator felt like a worthy upgrade to the seemingly unstoppable T-1000.

I spoke about Arnold’s performance, but what about the rest of the cast? Well, if there’s a weak link, it’s probably Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese. The biggest issue is that he really doesn’t look like Kyle Reese. Michael Biehn has a particular look, especially in Terminator. He’s not a clean cut, stacked action hero. Jai Courtney kind of is. His performance isn’t terrible, and he had grown on me by the end of the film, but he still felt a little off. Perhaps if Anton Yelchin’s turn as Kyle in Salvation hadn’t been one of that film’s few redeeming qualities, I’d be more forgiving.

Emilia Clarke, on the other hand, feels like a pretty worthy successor to Linda Hamilton. She plays Sarah with a lot of strength and presence, calling back to the T2 version of the character, but she also manages to still play up a lot of the uncertainty we saw in Terminator, giving us the best of both worlds. She and Arnold Schwarzenegger have a lot of chemistry, which really helped to make the movie work.

Jason Clarke takes over from Christian Bale as John Connor, and is probably the strongest of the re-cast parts. He actually plays the role in such a way that you can understand how this guy could lead the resistance to victory.

Byung-hun Lee gives a good performance as the T-1000, though he feels a little under-utilized here. I’m not sure rehashing the plot of T2 would have been the best way to go, but I felt like he should have had a little more to do.

JK Simmons and Matt Smith both give good performances in their respective roles. Simmons once again feels a little under-used, but the few scenes he does take part in use him pretty well. I’ll talk about Smith’s performance more in the spoiler section.

The film has a running theme of “old, but not obsolete.” This line is said more than once by Arnold’s Pops T-800, and it really
feels like it applies to the franchise as a whole as well. The movie strives to show us that this franchise may be old, but it’s not quite outmoded.

Spoilers after the jump.

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