A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Friday, January 1, 2016
On Further Review: STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS doesn't suck but is still a troubled cash cow rather then satisfying work of art (Contains spoilers)
I'm kind of horrified that Star Wars: The Farce Awakens will be the highest grossing film of all time.
While infinitely better than the mistakes George Lucas directed the film still isn't up to the first three films. There is a weightlessness to it with any gravitas borrowed from the earlier films and generating almost none of it's own. Its a film I stared at frequently pondering why it was getting the love it has because the film is so feather weight and flimsy that it crumples when you try and get close to it.
To be honest I don't think its a bad film, I just wonder why anyone with any sense is calling it anything other than a just good film.
While the plotting of the film is considerably less stupid than the last three films, I would think most of the problems with the film are the fault of JJ Abrams who has made a flashy film that isn't very deep. It has some great set pieces but nothing past that...which is kind of like most of the other things that he directed. or even the TV series he produced. He's more a guy who keeps things flashy to mesmerize his audience while giving them little of substance. Frankly the only thing he's done previously was the first of the rebooted Star Treks.
What bothered me about the film?
Belt in, this is going to take a while (It would be longer but I ran out of napkins to take notes on)
The first thing that pissed me off was the opening crawl. It was beyond simplistic. Luke is gone, Leia wants to find him and there is a map to where he is somewhere so she sends he best pilot to go get the map.
That's it? Its more simplistic than even the most simple of the old Universal movie serial crawls that the trope is lifted from. Its so simple that we's be better off with out it.
It also shines a light on one of the films biggest problems - the film has no real characters.
No, it doesn't - anything you are reading into the characters you're bringing to it.
Who is Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron? He's Leia's best pilot. We know that because we are told in the crawl. What is he beyond that?
Come on - someone anyone - what is he?
No really, what is he based on the film?
I have no idea, we have nothing.
How about Finn? Who is he? He's an ex storm trooper and he he does the right thing...and what else?
Nothing. No complexity there. (And if he was in sanitation what is he doing in uniform and how does he know how to fight?)
How about Rey?
Okay, there is a little bit more here, We get a sense of her beyond what we're given. She's clearly full of the Force and will do what she has to but if you look at here there isn't much there. No seriously there isn't. While I believe that she is one of the best written characters in the film, She is little more than cardboard. I also think that many people are loving her is because she's at the center of a big budget film rather than she's a compelling character in her own right.
Kylo Ren...Oh christ, no.
He's a whiny affulenza afflicted asshole of the sort you find in the upper part of Manhattan. He's a little brat playing dress up who is far from menacing. This is the new Darth Vader? Bite me. What does he do that's menacing- order people to die and throws temper tantrums. He's one of the worst villains in any film in years. People are afraid of him, really?
The only character that works in the film at all on any level is Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata. Here at last is a character, a real character that belongs a Star Wars film. Everyone else comes across as just another face in an over loaded group of characters. Abrams has given us so many characters that none of them other than Maz are well drawn.
And as for the old guard- what hell are they doing here? Outside of Han and Chewie thay are given nothing to do. Leia stands there and looks serious, C3PO is pointless and R2D2 appears at the end as a deus ex machina simply to set up the final bit. Did we really need all of the cameos from past films here?
No, no we didn't.
George Lucas is on record as saying that the film was made more with an eye for nostalgia than with telling a story, and he's right. The plot is largely a remake of the first three films with echoes and riffs on past glory. Abrams has simply tried to hide it all with a a coat of paint and some clever tricks but lets face it between the father issues, fall of Jedi and the planet killer secret weapon we've seen this all before.
One of Abrams' problems is he structured the film completely wrongheadedly. Where the first STAR WARS essentially started small and got bigger as Luke goes out into the world, thus allowing us to be spoon fed what we need to understand the world of the film, Things got bigger as they went on. Here we start big and get bigger. People and places are added willie nillie for no real reason. Why even bother with destroying the Republic worlds when they otherwise have nothing to do in the film beyond being destroyed (The destruction of Alderaan in the first film had a real reason, this doesn't)
There are HUGE plot problems and world creation problems that make no sense even internally. Worse there is no room for back story so we don't know how somethings came about or why they are happening. Things just happen and that's it. The world doesn't bleed off the screen the way it should. The result is that the minute we think about the plot it all falls down.
Let's take a few story problems of various sizes. Mind you this is only going to be a few because there are way too many to list them all (and I ran out of paper in the screening)
One thing at the start - you are not allowed to tell me that it will be explained in the next film, or a tie in or something. Everything in a film has to work within the film and can not be brought in from elsewhere. That's not fair and not right. This film gets a pass with some bits since its the seventh film in the sequence - but outside of the STAR WARS films this film can not refer to anything else.
Easy one - why are the stormtroopers wearing armor when one shot and they are dead? Anyone? Why would anyone join up if you die that fast?
What is the structure of the universe? Why is there a Republic which in theory the government and a rebellion? Didn't the rebels win in JEDI? I understand the new Empire but you also have rebels? Why?
If Luke doesn't want to be found, why did he leave a map? Why did he leave it in two pieces? Why is there a reference to it in the old Imperial archives? Where does R2 come from and why didn't anyone know he was there? Why is he suddenly so important?
If the new "death star" sucks in a star ;to power it's weapon and it's carved into a planet - how does it reload?
Why does Chewie ignore Leia at the end instead of embracing her? He should hug her not Rey.
Okay, if the planet killer weapon is firing across hyperspace, how do the rebels know when it's supposed to fire?
Why does Snoke deal with Kylo Ren when he is clearly a basket case?
There is so much more I want to question - nit picky things that are the result of the film simply throwing up way too much and not explaining enough.
I suppose the problem with the whole film is that it has no weight. There is no cost to any of the main characters until near the end and that, for better or worse, is a kind of forgone conclusion. All of the destruction, all of the death is largely to people who don't matter. Even the one bit of cost resulted in no reaction from the audience. It should have been a horrifying moment but one of the people involved is so badly drawn there is no emotion and no feeling of loss. It simply plays as if its just a plot point getting it's boxed ticked.
Characters appear and are gone. Things happen to move things not because they feel right. We get Max von Sydow at the start but's he's dead almost instantly. Why did they cast him? Everyone has been making a big deal about Captain Phasma but she's in two scenes and does nothing other than drop the shields - and if she was such a bad ass as she seems in her first scene why does she wuss out?.
IS that what Star Wars is now? Random cool looking characters with no backstory and weight that we can project on to? Is everyone like Boba Fett and Darth Maul - two characters that feature big in promotion but did shit in the actual films? Are they simply cardboard figures to be moved around instead of characters acting in an organic manner?
Sadly I think they all exist not for the myth building but for the money taking. This film doesn't care about expanding the myth it simply cares about making money.
Fuck you very much JJ Abrams and Disney, I hope you choke on all the coins.
Sadly this is a clear sign that big budget film-making truly has ceased about creating art or myth but simply about making money. If you need proof that almost every big budget film over the last few years and from here on is not a piece of art but an ATM this is it.
And despite it all I like the film.
Hey it doesn't suck like the last three so that counts for something.
It has some great set pieces. It has Maz Kantana and there are a couple of moments where it all goes right and it's 1977 again and I'm seeing something amazing.
I enjoyed myself in a weird way.
Will I ever see it again?
In bit and pieces on TV, but I doubt I'll sit down and do so from start to finish.
Will I see the next ones?
Yes. I'm hopeful that they will at least be entertaining- besides the next film ROGUE ONE a stand alone story has Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang and Mads Mikkelsen.
Ultimately its a good but disappointing film that it never truly soars like earlier entries in the series.
Worth a look, but nothing special.
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