Thursday, January 5, 2017

Film Friday: Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One is a flawed, shallow movie with indifferent characters and barely the semblance of a plot. This movie is the See Spot Run of science-fiction. It makes The Force Awakens look like Moby Dick. But it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it a lot while watching it, though I don’t really want to see it again. Ultimately, it doesn’t bode well for future Star Wars movies, however.

The Plot

The story opens with Imperial Weapon Designer Orson Krennic arriving in Scotland with a squad of troops to force genius scientist Galen Erso to come design the Death Star. Erso is played by Le Chiff from Casino Royale. Le Chiff buys time for his daughter Gin, er Jyn, to escape into the hands of Rebel “extremist” Forest Whitaker. Let’s call her GirlPower.
Fifteen years later, Rebel spy Cassian Andor, frees the now grown up GirlPower from prison on the desert moon Jedha when he’s searching for an escaped Imperial pilot who knows something about Le Chiff. Andor has a sarcastic Imperial droid he’s reprogrammed to help him. This is K-2SO, who says whatever he’s thinking and is quite fun, but doesn’t matter to the plot.
As Andor and GirlPower argue with Whitaker, the Empire test fires the Death Star at Jedha and blows up the planet in slow motion. Andor and GirlPower escape with the pilot along with this blind Chinese monk who is a total rip-off of Seraph from The Matrix II. Rebel command gives them the assignment to go “rescue” Le Chiff, which really means Andor is supposed to kill him. Le Chiff gets killed, but not by Andor, but he tells GirlPower where to find the plans to the Death Star first... Jamaica. They decide to attack the beach, against orders. There’s a battle. The story ends and they heavily sell the idea that this is seconds before the opening scene of Star Wars.
Gee, I hope you could follow all those twists and turns.

The Two Sides of This Film

Let’s start with the good. The film is fun the first time through. It is also visually stunning. It is a little dark and smudged at times, but overall it is very pretty when it gets going. The scenes on Scarif, on Jedha and anything Imperial are beautiful. The Rebel base on Yavin was exactly what it should have been. The CGI world of Eadu was kind of crappy Clone Wars-y, but it was forgivable because it was short.
The acting was passable. Though the fact I couldn’t remember anybody’s name was a bad sign. GirlPower was indifferent, but Andor was quite good. Krennic was good and had the only depth. Le Chiff was good, but was underused. It was nice in theory to see some of the Star Wars actors appear again in the combat scenes, but having a brain I knew exactly where they had taken these lines from the Star Wars attack on the Death Star and that felt cheap to me – they claim the lines are unused, but they are only unused in the Lucas butchered versions. The Vader scene lacked punch. The Leah scene was nicely done. The Grand Moff Tarkin stuff got his character wrong.

SarcBot was pretty awesome. He was probably my favorite character. Once again, Alan Tudyk did a phenomenal job of giving the perfect voice to a character; he’s perhaps the greatest voice actor of all time. The character itself was fun too. They did a great job of mixing machine and comic relief and little bits of awesome with him. It’s too bad his role was so small.
I really liked Seraph too, though he was in the wrong film. In fact, Seraph was a problem. Not only was Seraph stolen from The Matrix II, but he didn’t fit in this film’s world. Seraph had powers unseen before in Star Wars which nearly matched those of the Force. The felt wrong in this universe, which has always been presented as a realistic world except for the Force. This felt like a violation of the rules. Still, he was one of the most likeable characters and I liked watching him. Though, when the guy who shouldn’t be in your movie is the highlight, then you’ve done something wrong.
The plot existed. It was enough to make the film work given the special circumstances here, which is that we know the Star Wars world already and we know where this one would end, so it just needed to achieve a couple plot points. It could have used more plot, but it didn't technically need it. Still, it boggles the mind that a movie claimed to be “written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta” could be so underpowered. How do four people write a story and yet manage to come up with less plot than an initial impression? There is no character drama in this film. No character development. There are no twists, no turns, no clever or unexpected moments. The plot is literally a straight line: learn about plans and go get them. There are no subplots, no twists, no growth, no ebb and flow, and no hurdles.

This is what worries me most. Disney is planning to spin Star Wars into a million new films and this is a very bad start. This film has no plot, no depth and no characters you give a crap about. It makes the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise seem like high drama. There was nothing original or innovative or even clever in this film. It was pretty pabulum.
Even the attempts to give it meaning were crap. You had the father-daughter relationship that generated about three lines of pretend motivation and otherwise generated nothing in the way of emotion or interest. If you weren’t paying attention in the first five minutes, I doubt you would even have known that Le Chiff was GirlPower’s father. You had this fake new cliché moment where everyone suddenly whines at Andor for whatever bad things he’s done on behalf of the resistance, only to have him give a passionless speech about how he lives with that everyday. Wahhh. For a guy whose character shows no emotions whatsoever, this was really an out-of-place speech. What’s more, why the other people he’s just saved and who have volunteered to go on this mission would lament the “bad things” he’s done is utter nonsense. This is New Liberalism not being able to grasp that heroes aren’t tortured souls.

If this becomes the formula then we are looking at some crap films ahead. We are looking at straight-line plots with indifferent heroes meant to echo the original Star Wars cast and who feel the need to give character-development speeches right before they blow something up for some reason you don’t care about. Not good.


shawn said...

I enjoyed the movie, but agree about the lack of character building. The RedLetterMedia guys called the movie "All icing, no cake". Hard to argue with that.

I read something once, I believe it was in Joe Esterhaz's book "The Devil's Guide to Hollywood" in which Esterhaz lamented the up and coming crop of screenwriters. He said in his day, most screenwriters were well-read, wannabe novelists, but the new crop grew up on t.v. and film and only thought in script format making for a much shallower story.

ScottDS said...

The aforementioned John Knoll is a genius. He's an FX supervisor and creative exec at ILM and it was he who concocted the original story, which he described as "Mission: Impossible meets The Hunt for Red October." (Where do I sign?!) He also co-invented Adobe Photoshop, so you can thank him for your book covers. :-)

From what I understand, he was first, then Weitz and Whitta took the ball and ran with it, then Gilroy was brought in for reshoots. We may never know the extent of what was changed but the movie geek sites have everything mapped out, shots in the trailer that aren't in the movie, etc. I'd be surprised if any of it is on the Blu-Ray.

As for me... I thought it was a blast! The opening is a bit rushed, going from planet to planet. Whitaker's character was a bit of a mishmash and I hate that they gave him a breathing apparatus. I know why they did but it just looks bad. The others were fine... the best being the droid and Krennic. Vader's first appearance was more awkward than anything but his second appearance... oh boy!

I understand some folks have legit gripes with the movie (unmemorable characters, a lack of motivation, etc.) and they're not wrong. But this is a movie I can enjoy in spite of its problems - I can't do that with just any movie.

And Michael Giacchino's score is fine but it's a shame Alexandre Desplat left. He's also a great film composer and would've done something interesting. Giacchino was a "safer" choice.

Now if it were me? I would've done more of a technothriller Red October story. Jyn is okay but I hate that every hero nowadays has to have some trauma. Jack Ryan was a geek in over his head but it all started as just another day at the office and he had no major hangups (his chopper accident notwithstanding).

OR... I was toying with this idea. Make the heroes a married couple. Star Wars meets Nick and Nora Charles!

Koshcat said...

At the rate Disney is going, by the fourth movie the hero will be a transgender robot with a furry fetish.

Kit said...

I read the first sentence and already I knew my response:


tryanmax said...

I have not seen this and probably won't until Redbox has it. The best defense I've heard of the film is that it's perfectly in line with the Flash Gordon serials which inspired Lucas to create Star Wars in the first place. As an added defense, consider the franchise title: Star Wars. One might argue that linear plots and canned dialogue don't comport with a Disney/ILM/whatever-else-the-mouse-devours budget, but Disney gonna Disney.

I just wonder if the company is monetizing this cash cow properly? Sure, another endless franchise based on a wildly popular IP, a la The Avengers, means comfortably reliable ROI for doing what the company does, which is make these wildly speculative things called movies. Still, they could parlay some of that reliability over to prop up more original works worthy of the term "art form."

To an extent, fools are going to part with their money for anything with Disney, LucasFilm, or MARVEL production logo in the opening credits. But what if, in direct homage to the very serials that inspired Star Wars in the first place, Disney started producing 20-min Star Wars shorts to be shown exclusively before other feature films? (And to be later gathered for release in a multi-disc DVD/BluRay/Digital combo-pack with exclusive artwork and behind-the-scenes bullcrap--but if you wait til then, you'll be like 40 installments behind.)

Think like those annoying PIXAR shorts than nobody knew about and just want to be over, except that these would actually drag people into the theaters to get their fanboy rocks off and, since they already paid $10.50 for a ticket, plus twice that for a bucket of soda and a bushel of popcorn (delivered in a commemorative duffel bag bearing Yoda's face), they may as well sit through whatever film Disney is propping up and, hey! It might just be the next big thing! And you can still have Star Wars tent poles, to boot. Maybe you flip the script and start with a featurette introducing a separate movie.

I realize this bears many of the same risks as a franchise growing stale. Just as people will drift away from a series that loses the plot, people will also give up on serials attached to lousy features. But in the latter case, provided the features aren't lousy, you at least have the opportunity to draw people to something new--which is REALLY hard--by inciting them with something familiar. And when the old IP inevitably needs to be shelved, you'll have a stable of newer properties to exploit. This is basically the next step in the comic book model that MARVEL has brought to cinema.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, There has definitely been a change. Movies have become much more shallow and paint by numbers. There are no longer sweeping arcs or legitimate twists and turns. It is A-B-C-D roll credits. And that's too bad.

All icing, no cake is a good description of this one. It's basically a series of fight pretty scene strung together with meaningless dialog. It's fun to watch as you're watching it, but it's completely forgettable.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, He may be a genius, don't know, but this was in no way Mission Impossible meets the Hunt For Red October. It would have been awesome if it had been. Instead, this was Commando without the humor. Clearly, along the way, they kept dumbing it down for fear it wouldn't sell, and what was left is just a shell of an idea.

In terms of enjoyment, I enjoyed it. But it evaporated the moment it ended. Interestingly, I watched Force Awakens that night and comparing the two, Force Awakens is a fantastic substantive movie (even if it is entirely stolen from the first three) which sticks with you and feels like something you want to see again, whereas Rogue One doesn't even try to be that and comes across as a one-off.

If Rogue One didn't have the Star Wars name, I think it would have been a complete bomb.

Making them married would have been something at least in terms of depth! Nice idea! :)

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, There is that issue too. It hasn't bothered me much so far, but it is an annoying drag on these movies.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That's actually a fantastic idea. Not only is that a great way to prop up their other movies, but it could easily become a sort of badge of honor for Star Wars fans. They could even sell collectors cards at the theaters.

In terms of "art." I think Disney is doing this wrong. At some point, making the same movie over and over with the same characters will burn out the franchise. To keep it alive, they need to do some artsy, weighty stuff as well. Personally, I would approach the Star Wars world from many angles. I would continue the main point in it's own thread: Rebels v. Empire/First Order. (I would have gone Asimov's "Foundation" route actually for the collapse of the Empire). I would spin off pure adventures like this, though with more of a heist feel. I would spin off father-son-daughter-mother dramas related to specific characters (Boba Fett) or someone training to be a Jedi. I would even do a couple "Empire as the good guy" stories just to add depth.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

That was Knoll's original conception. He also said the film should be smaller and cheaper to make than The Force Awakens. I think the budget was less but obviously the film became something much bigger.

As far as the gender stuff, it doesn't bother me at all. But it's another one of those things where folks on the right (not you) bitch about Star Wars becoming PC, which is such an overused and abused term it's lost all meaning! "Oh no! A woman!" ;-)

And then, even more hilariously, you have people on the left bitching: why is Jyn the only woman in the group? Where are the gay characters? Etc.

It's enough to drive you insane!

PikeBishop said...

I really enjoyed the movie, after three god awful prequels and TFA, which after I really, really looked at it, despite my praise for it last year, was really just Star Wars redone, this was a fun, well-done, grand adventure. I consider it the 3rd best Star Wars film ever done. My takes:

1. The first one without a crawl at the beginning and God did this film need a crawl. After the prologue the movie went from here to there to there to there. It took me a good 20 minutes to figure out what was going on. Four scriptwriters and they couldn't have tightened this a bit?

2. Unlike the prequels I loved the fact that the worlds they visited were dirty and disheveled. The Storm troopers uniforms were dirty, the people's clothes were ratty. These places really looked like the asshole of the Empire, disheveled and run down buildings, older vehicles, etc. In the prequels everyone and everything was squeaky clean and pristine. Everything gleamed like an 80s MTV video. These worlds looked "lived in." The art direction was superb. I felt part of this world.

3. The main characters are not bullet proof. There are some genuine surprises and shocks at who doesn't make it to the final scene. One of the problems with "Revenge of the Sith" was that every single plot thread was preordained. You knew how everything was going to turn out, so there was no dramatic tension. Not the case in "Rogue One."

4. Yes, there could have been more character development, but in a film like this, it's not necessary, at least in my opinion. In every World War II film, you didn't need to really get to know Kowalski, O'Brien, Romenelli and Goldstein to cheer them on in their mission.

5. Less reliance on CGI and more use of good old fashioned model work, like the first film, way back in 1977. Although there were some breathtaking shots in this film. I found the Death Star coming into view like a sunrise on the planet to be just amazing.

I will watch this one again. I probably won't bother with TFA ever again.

Anonymous said...

I maintain that prequels are difficult because you know where there characters/story will (or sometimes, won't) end up. Do you delve into an established character's backstory and motivations? Do you write new characters for the audience to invest in, knowing that they'll be angry if the characters don't survive or are otherwise never heard from again? It's a razor's edge.

I thought it was a good movie, but not great. A feed-the-fanbase-filler movie. IMO, it works best if you view it as "character" development for the 2 warring sides of the SW universe. Fleshing out the moral bankruptcy of the Empire. Galvanizing the imperative of the Rebel Alliance. The themes of unifying to oppose evil, the dangers of allowing the ends to justify the means, trust, and sacrifice are sufficiently expressed within a wartime scenario. If you care too look that deeply, at least.

At least it's not preachy.

ScottDS said...

Pike -

Great call on "Kowalski"! Ha!

I've never understood the criticism re: the prequels looking too clean. Sure, some of that is due to visual effects that haven't aged well (some more than others)... but the idea that Star Wars must look dirty or it isn't Star Wars... I never got that. I attribute the criticism to how the prequels were shot versus how they were designed.

Personally I'm hoping a future installment shows us a steampunk-style planet. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I suspect that a smaller, tighter film could have been done a lot cheap and been more effective.

On the "dirty" aspect, I don't think it's the film style. It's that Star Wars and Empire very much felt like a world that people lived in. They wore clothes with wear. There was dirty and carbon scoring on droids, etc. In the prequels, especially the second and third films, everything was pristine. It looked fake.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Not having a scrawl was an odd decision.

I think the lack of being bullet proof was the one thing they relied on for drama. In particular, I think you were supposed to be shocked by the ending and you were supposed to go away amazed that so many characters died. I won't say how or how many for obvious reasons.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, Personally, I think every film or series of films needs to be taken at its own value. If you start relying on people knowing how it ends up to give it life, then I think it's a mistake.

tryanmax said...

It makes sense that the prequels were clean (and Phantom Menace wasn't all clean). This was before the fall of the Republic. While a Republic in decline would realistically be gritty, narratively it would not, and Star Wars is fundamentally a visual epic narrative. If Disney does it right, the final installment should feature a return to a pristine civilization.

PikeBishop said...

Ok, let me clarify, it's not "dirty" per se, it's just that idea of "lived in" or fully inhabited worlds, as has been discussed over on the Star Trek threads and how the TNG Enterprise looked like a cruise ship, where the TOS enterprise was more spartan, and resembled a military and research vessel.

Ben L. Kemer said...

The ending was a letdown to me. So basically a ship breaks free of a ship to get captured again? How stupid does that sound. There was a Star Wars video game with a superior plot, where you as the empire intercept the ship end route, and they don't escape.

Anonymous said...

The new Star Wars better take us back to the planet of the wookies, I felt shafted that we never got to meet Chewbaaca's, Ewok were played for comedy, but it was nothing a group of wookies couldn't also do.

John Johnson said...

I love the attempt at creating realistic characters. Hate the two manual combat scenes with Jyn though. The strong independent woman trope. Kicking and punching men. Yeehaw!

Hollywood HAS to implement something nudity. Glad they didn't here, until the end, where they HAD to implement this two second shot of Jyn's rear (probably a stand-in too):
No added value whatsoever.

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