Friday, 24 February 2017

The Thin White Dude's (Capsule) Reviews - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy
Allison Shearmur
Simon Emanuel

Screenplay by: Chris Weitz
Tony Gilroy

Story by: John Knoll
Gary Whitta

Based on: Characters created by George Lucas

Starring: Felicity Jones
Diego Luna
Ben Mendelsohn
Donnie Yen
Mads Mikkelsen
Alan Tudyk
Jiang Wen
Forest Whitaker
Riz Ahmed

Music by: Michael Giacchino
John Williams (original themes)

Cinematography by: Greig Fraser

Editing by: John Gilroy
Colin Goudie
Jabez Olssen

Studio: Lucasfilm Ltd.

Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Release date(s): December 10, 2016 (United States, Los Angeles Premiere)
December 15, 2016 (United Kingdom)
December 16, 2016 (United States)

Running time: 133 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $200 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $1, 051, 757, 527

So, here is my take on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the latest instalment in the recently-revived Star Wars movie franchise, and the first of the spinoff project which are now becoming known as the 'Star Wars Anthology' series, which will also see the likes of a young Han Solo movie. It means that the fans get satiated with at least one new Stars Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future while Disney make a ton of money off of the brand. Rogue One is set immediately before the events which occur in Star Wars: A New Hope, and stars Felicity Jones in the lead role of Jyn Urso, who alongside a group of rebels band together on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star, the Galactic Empire's new superweapon. Got it? Good!

Starting off with what I liked about the film, from a technically standpoint, as perhaps is to be expected, Rogue One excels. It's a visual treat, and between the effects, cinematography, production design and costumes, it delivers a wonderfully-realised mise-en-scene. Bring that together with the sound quality of the film, and what we have is something that gets across that what is occurring onscreen, particularly in the action sequences, which are spectacular in their own right, is something of great scope. Speaking of sound, Michael Giacchino is a welcome addition to the film's aural palette. While the legendary John Williams' original themes remain, Giacchino, one of the best working composers out there, plies a not-dissimilar method to that of his work on Jurassic World (taking over, once again, from John Williams' originals), weaving the motifs in and out of his standard rousing orchestrals, giving us something that is both new and familiar at the same time. Also, given the quality on display and that it's the first Star Wars film not composed by Williams, it gives Rogue One something of a unique sonic feel. I would also like to praise the central performance from Felicity Jones. Admittedly, I'm somewhat biased, given that I first praised her more than half a decade ago for her work in Cemetery Junction, but it has been great to see her transition from that to Academy Award nominee (for her role as Jane Wilde Hawking in The Theory Of Everything) to the lead actor in a major blockbuster. Her Jyn Urso is a powerful character, but also there is a fair degree of complexity to the part. She displays courage, grit, determination, and a loner's streak is clear there, and yet in the most subtle of ways, we never forget that this is someone who went through a tremendous amount of childhood trauma. As the protagonist, she carries the film with a great performance. Finally, I admire what they are trying get at with this film and the direction that this rebooted Star Wars franchise is taking. The multi-cultural diversity and the lack of a gender bias (this and The Force Awakens were both female-driven pictures) is pleasing to see and an example of how Hollywood should be looking at things. Furthermore, they are trying to be topical and relevant, not forgetting that while they are space opera films, the proof is in the title, and that they are also most definitely war films. This and The Force Awakens have delivered so far in that regard. 

Now, I did like Rogue One and think there a fair amount things to like about it, but I do think it is a flawed work and has it's moments of trouble. The first thing I should address, just get rid of the elephant, is the whole CG recreation thing. On this one, I'm in the nay camp. Yes, I know it may seem necessary to the story, but surely they could have written around it and just creatively thought their way out of these predicaments. Furthermore, I think there's something ethically questionable about using the likeness of actors in this way after they have passed away. Why don't I just start putting calls into Marlon Brando's estate because hey, 1950s Brando a la A Streetcar Named Desire, The Wild One and On The Waterfront is my idea of a great leading man? But that wasn't my big problem with Rogue One. To me, the central issue is the tone of the film, in that it seems to have an identity crisis going on. On the one hand, it tries to fit into the epic space opera of the franchise, and on another it's going for a much darker way of looking at things. Also, is it a science-fiction/fantasy spectacle or an action-packed caper? I think it tries too much to do all of these things, and instead of a delicate balancing act, it kind of glances over the top of them all. Furthermore, the actual story itself, while well-executed in some aspects, is nothing we haven't seen before in many other movies. It follows a very predictable and at times tedious plot trajectory, and most of the characters (bar Jyn), despite being played by seasoned actors, are two-dimensional and don't give those portraying them enough to do because they're underdeveloped and lack any real arcs to talk about. It's not enough to throw at me these moments catering towards fans of the franchise. Yes, it's cool that x shows up, but I need more to get me to go completely with it. Finally, while it's obvious Gareth Edwards can direct action sequences (Monsters and Godzilla both feature some spectacular moments), I have begun to wonder whether or not he's becoming a sort-of go-to studio gun-for-hire they can depend on to deliver their big-budget pet projects.

Rogue One is a troublesome piece of work. Although I obviously fall into the nay camp on the whole CG-recreation thing, there are other problems with the film. It has a very predictable and at times tedious plot trajectory, and most of the character, despite a cast of seasoned actors, are left underdeveloped. Also, Gareth Edward is like Jekyll and Hyde here, given that it's obvious from here and his other works that he knows how create amazing moments, but I've begun to wonder about whether or not he's becoming a studio gun-for-hire on their big-budget pet projects. That being said, it is still a good film. Whatever issues I have, it's a technical marvel, with great cinematography, production design, visual effects and costumes creating a wonderfully realised mise-en-scene, the overall sound quality contributing to the makeup of that world. Michael Giacchino is a welcome addition with his musical compositions, and Felicity Jones is terrific as protagonist Jyn Urso, delivering a performance of real complexity and carrying the proceedings upon her shoulders.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Recharging batteries

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