Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

By: Kevin Jordan

Sooooooo worth the wait.

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Has it already been a year since Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  It doesn’t seem like that long ago that we were all giddily applauding the resurrection of one of the greatest and nerdiest movie franchises of all time.  Okay, maybe not all of us – 8% of critics and 11% of audience members (on Rotten Tomatoes) gave it a thumb’s down and probably kicked a puppy for good measure.  For the rest of us, the countdown to Rogue One began the moment the proverbial curtain closed on TFA because, like the addicts we are, we wanted our next fix.  Finally, that clock has hit 00:00:00:00 and we nerds rejoice.

(I will keep the SPOILERS to a minimum, but beware.)

My favorite conversation about this movie right now is the bizarre notion that Rogue One is a standalone movie in the Star Wars universe.  If you have been paying even the tiniest bit of attention, you know that this movie can only be a prequel to A New Hope.  The entire plot is how the rebellion manages to steal the plans to the Death Star and (SPOILER ALERT) you know they succeed because A New Hope opens with Princess Leia hiding those plans in R2-D2.  If you somehow forgot that or didn’t know it, you probably aren’t going to watch this movie anyway.

On a related topic, I predicted that everyone was going to die by the end of Rogue One because of a line spoken in the original trilogy by Mon Mothma – “Many bothans died to bring us this information.”  I would have sworn that this came from A New Hope and I think most people believed that as well (I confirmed this by asking several people about it).  As it turns out, that line was said in Return of the Jedi and was referencing Death Star II.  Whoops.  I’m not going to tell you how right or wrong I was, but I will say I wasn’t surprised at any death in this film because of my prediction.  I’m telling you this so you don’t make the same mistake.  The impressive thing about this film is that the characters were written so well that, even though I was expecting them all to die, I still hoped they would all pull through.  You know what I mean – every time you watch A New Hope there’s a small part of you that thinks Obi-Wan will hightail it out of there rather than letting Darth Vader kill him.

More.

More.

The most important thing you need to know about this movie is that fix you’ve been waiting for is the equivalent of mixing Viagra with Ecstasy while drinking absinthe and consuming edibles – all through a firehose.  There are AT-ATs, AT-STs, and death troopers.  There are TIE fighters, X-Wings, Y-Wings, star destroyers hovering over cities, and the Death Star rising over the horizon.  There is a new snarky droid (K-2SO), a new evil imperial commander (Orson Krennic), a new roguish pilot (Cassian Andor, who is dressed like a Han Solo worshipper), a new orphaned hero (Jyn Erso), and a new guy who might be a Jedi (Chirrut Imwe).  There are even familiar characters making cameos (Vader, to name one) or prominently featured (Grand Moff Tarkin).  It’s so much Star Wars that you’ll practically float through the next year waiting for Episode VIII.

MORE!

MORE!

You also need to know that the action in this flick is fairly limited.  Where TFA was almost non-stop fireworks finale, Rogue One saves almost all of the action for its actual finale.  That doesn’t mean things don’t happen, but not everything is draped in explosions and lasers.  It’s a nice change and gives the audience the ability to really admire the detail and care put it into realizing these places.  In other words, the special effects are so amazing that I’m half convinced that Disney created a wormhole to this galaxy, sent a camera crew through, and is literally just filming what is happening there.  If you don’t get shivers when you see the Death Star rising over the horizon of the planet in the finale…you…I just…bruised puppies.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh. That's the stuff.

Aaaahhhhhhhhh. That’s the stuff.

Another positive of reducing the action is we get to know the characters better and these actors shine.  Jyn (Felicity Jones) is exactly that mix of Skywalker and Solo without being quite as optimistic as Rey in TFA.  Cassian (Diego Luna) is the type of intense character that you now realize has been missing from a rebellion.  Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is just as loathsome an imperial commander as we like, though not as coldly evil as Tarkin, but far more intimidating than General Hux.  Then there’s K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Cassian’s droid companion, who arguably steals the show.  K-2 provides the vast majority of the comic relief, but is also the trusty sidekick (to everyone, really).  Speaking of sidekicks, Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) provide the muscle, with Imwe appearing to be a quasi-Jedi, praying to the force and kicking ass, but with no light saber to be found.  Make of him what you will.  Rounding out the cast, we have Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – an extremist rebel, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) – imperial defector, and Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) – Death Star designer.  All three are good secondary characters, though Galen and Saw get very little screen time.  That might seem like too many characters, but Saw was the only one that felt underutilized/underdeveloped to me.

We've been a waiting for you.

We’ve been a waiting for you.

The last thing you need to know is that this movie is drawing comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back and rightly so.  The movie is serious for far more of its running time than its brethren, with only a minimal amount of comic relief (but very well-timed comic relief).  The ratio of action to non-action is perfect for me, though I’ll understand if some folks get a little fidgety through the first half of the film (put the gigantic soda down).  And, again, those special effects…just wow (though one little facial rendering at the end of the movie proves we still have work to do with human faces).  As much as I liked TFA, I liked this one more simply because we got more of the nerdy stuff that we haven’t seen since the original trilogy, but wanted more of (like the Death Star doing Death Star things).  Like I said, the year was more than worth the wait and you will most likely agree.  If not, just leave the puppies alone.

Rating: Sooooooo worth more than the price of admission.

Doctor Strange

By: Kevin Jordan

Starring Bunsonburner Cucumberpatch.

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If you are a fan of BBC’s Sherlock and haven’t laughed like a hyena lately, check out the ways people have gotten his name wrong (intentionally and unintentionally).  What I love is that everybody knows who we’re talking about – as is mentioned several times in that link – and you probably read right past me referring to just ‘him’ without a second thought.  That’s the power of Bartleby Scratchanitch and might be why he’s been cast in seemingly every movie for the past five years.  And not just random movies for paychecks either.  He’s starred in The Hobbit trilogy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, several prestige films, cameoed in TV shows and other movies, was nominated for best actor as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, given us possibly the best Sherlock Holmes portrayal in history, and now is playing a prominent superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – Doctor Strange.  He’s like Nicholas Cage, but getting roles that Cage can’t even sniff at any more (also, Shaggypants is a much better actor).

If he hadn’t already played Sherlock, I would have been skeptical of Bishandchips being cast as a super hero.  As it is, casting him as an acerbic, arrogant, superhero who has to learn some humility is pretty much par for his course, especially since Robert Downey Jr. is already Iron Man.  Much like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is another unknown Marvel property that exceeds expectations partly because of superb casting.  In addition to Biddlebosh, Doctor Strange features Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams.  Wait…that can’t be right – they got four Oscar nominated actors and a James Bond villain in this movie?  Holy $#%^.  Also, they were all really, really good.

(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Perhaps the trickiest component of the film was giving the audience a character with an origin story that seems far more suited to a Harry Potter movie than an MCU film.  In a nutshell, Strange is a surgeon who loses his livelihood after a car accident maims his hands.  In desperation, he goes to Nepal to track down some magicians after Benjamin Bratt explains how they helped him heal from paralysis.  Yes, that Benjamin Bratt.  Strange learns magic, is taught about the infinite universes (multiverse) by The Ancient One (Swinton), and trains with Mordo (Ejiofor) in a Hogwarts-like setting.  Except without all the dragons and elves.  But, there is a lot of hand waving and library scenes.  And magical circles and teleportation.  If not Potter, then at least The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Huh….Cage…anyway.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Strange learns that this group is charged with keeping the Earth safe from a world-eating cloud monster (Dormamu) from another universe and Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to help Dormamu eat the Earth by destroying the three buildings on Earth that keep him at bay.  I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous and it is.  But it also works within the context of this film, as well as the MCU.  And because this movie is following a classic playbook (the hero’s journey), Strange rejects the quest at first (he just wants to heal his hands), then reluctantly agrees to fight for the cause.  I’m not saying it’s a great plot.  In fact, there are plenty of faulty pieces that would have been much more glaring if the other components of the movie didn’t make up for it.  For all you pouty DC fans, a couple of examples are Strange’s cape is very inconsistent (it’s alive…or something, and protects him…sometimes), the mirror universe seems to be there strictly for Inception-y special effects (they can bend buildings in there), and why doesn’t Kaecilius steal some other powerful artifacts and books in addition to the two pages from one book he steals at the beginning of the movie?  I mean they’re literally just sitting out in the open.  There, happy now?

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

Even though they left some things underdeveloped and even though making the noob fight the most powerful and dangerous entity in all the universes seems a tad clichéd, the movie is still immensely entertaining.  Like all MCU movies, the comedic relief hits every mark, things introduced early on have importance later in the movie, the romantic subplot between Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) doesn’t feel trite, the chemistry between Strange and Mordo is great, and Swinton crushes every scene she’s in, even when she’s fight-acting.  I didn’t know she could do that.  The movie even manages to include a “crossing the streams moment” that works on multiple levels.  Yes, it’s a deus ex machina, but Marvel manages to make it fun instead of eye-rolling.

And she didn't even say hi-yah.

And she didn’t even say hi-yah.

So, what do I think of it overall?  Well, I can’t just completely dismiss those earlier complaints.  But, with a cast including Bumpysplash and a summer filled with middling popcorn flicks, we’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, so it automatically gets a little slack.  Not to mention expectations were high because Marvel hasn’t whiffed on any of their films since The Incredible Hulk.  But most importantly, Barslap Cooneylatch was so good and fun that the movie could have been much worse and I still would have forgiven it.  Luckily, it wasn’t.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, and thanks to Binneyloon Crazypants for having such an awesome name (and being a great sport about it).