Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Image is property of Lucasfilm and Disney

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams

Director: J.J Abrams

Synopsis: The First Order, under the leadership of Kylo Ren, seeks to consolidate its power following the deaths of Luke Skywalker and Leader Snoke. Meanwhile Rey leads the rest of the Resistance in a bid to restore peace in the Galaxy…

This review will be 100% spoiler free

Review: For over four decades, ever since a little film called Star Wars was unleashed on the world, it became this massive pop culture phenomenon, with an immeasurable, ever-lasting impact on the world of entertainment. Several times over the last few decades, we have seen this franchise take its supposed final bow. First came 1983, then in 2005, closing out the prequel trilogy after two lacklustre preceding films. Following Disney’s overtaking of the franchise, a new trilogy came into being. Four years since this trilogy blasted its way into existence, the time has come for it, and The Skywalker Saga, to take its proper final bow, in rather disappointing fashion.

Having lost instrumental figures following the events of The Last Jedi, both The Resistance and the First Order are seeking to take advantage of the power vacuum in the Galaxy and vanquish the other side once and for all. This galactic power struggle is thrown into further chaos when a mysterious entity, of a terrible foe long since thought to be dead, is threatening to unleash a new terror upon the Galaxy to ensure that the Dark Side will triumph once and for all.

It is not exactly news to anyone who has followed this franchise over the years that after The Force Awkakens chose to play things safe for the reintroduction to this franchise, The Last Jedi made some bold choices in a bid to try and take the franchise forward. In so doing, it caused an enormous divide among fans upon its release. Therefore having retaken the reins from Johnson, the onus was on JJ Abrams to steer this ship home, but it definitely hasn’t come home in one piece. The screenplay from Abrams and Chris Terrio feels very haphazardly put together, giving the impression that a slew of ideas were thrown at the wall and  meshed together, which produced decidedly mixed results. Having managed to craft a pretty airtight script for The Force Awakens, it’s extremely perplexing how the script this time around is full of what feels like unnecessary side quests, consequently feeling rather unfocused.

What’s worse is that some of the dialogue borders on prequel level of how cringe-inducing it is. To add further insult to injury, the directions that some of the characters go in are just completely baffling, and in some cases, are borderline insulting. In the wake of the backlash that was directed at TLJ, all the promising potential that TLJ offered is firmly discarded. All the intriguing plot points put forward are retconned in favour of a script that just for want of a better word, was nothing more than pandering to try and get the fans back onside following The Last Jedi. Favouring appeasement of the fans over bold and creative storytelling feels like an enormous cop-out, and could set a worrying precedent.

This isn’t to say that the whole thing is a complete waste of time, as Abrams brings his usual visual panache to the direction and the lightsabre battles that are present are exhilarating to watch, and for all of the story’s faults, there was potential there. Yet, for all that technical marvel, nothing shown here remotely represents an improvement on what came before it, and everything feels completely inconsequential. Therefore credit where credit’s due as all of the principal cast do excellent jobs reprising their roles, in spite of the less than stellar material they were given to work with, all. The leading lights are once again, Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren who by far and away are giving the best performances in the film.

It’s fantastic to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian but he is frustratingly given sparse to do, and same goes for the rest of the new crop of supporting characters, none of whom are remotely memorable in the slightest, apart from Richard E Grant’s brilliant turn as a First Order officer. Completing the arc of General Leia cannot have been easy considering Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing. However, through the use of archived footage, which surprisingly fits into the story fairly seamlessly, credit can be taken for giving this beloved character a satisfying concluding arc, one that is not a slap in the face to the fans.

No matter what you feel about the preceding two films in in this franchise, they represented the opportunity for the franchise to go in some bold new directions. Thus, to see that all ultimately get thrown away in favour of the direction they did go in is extremely disappointing. For a franchise that has meant so much to so many people throughout the decades, everything was in place for Abrams to wrap up this trilogy in triumphant fashion, but unfortunately, stick the landing, it does not.

While offering some exciting moments, the Skywalker saga ultimately wraps up with what is, comfortably, the weakest film in the trilogy. A disappointment not felt in the galaxy since the days of the Prequel trilogy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ex Machina (2015)

ex machina
Image is property of DNA Films, Film4, Scott Rudin Productions and Universal Studios

Ex Machina – Film Review

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Director: Alex Garland

Synopsis: A young man is selected to take part in a unique programme that develops and evaluates the world’s first artificial intelligence.

Review: As humans, we all go through life wondering what does it feel like to be alive? We all go through different stages, birth, childhood, teenage years, graduation, jobs and of course ultimately death. In these big moments, we are overcome by emotion and feel what it is like to be alive. But what if you’d been brought into the world by some technical genius who sought to create the world’s first proper artificial intelligence? How do you express how you feel? How do you convey emotions? Are you truly alive? This is the enthralling premise of the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who primarily is known for his screen-writing credentials on the likes of Dredd and 28 Weeks Later. However, his first foray into directing is a dazzling, beautiful piece of work.

In recent years, we have seen science fiction films go from apes with incredible intelligence, to time travel, and to interstellar voyages and back on a crazy big budget scale. Yet there is none of that crazy grand scale adventure here. At the heart of the story here, is a simple tale of humanity, emotions, feelings. Yet also at its core, its dark, dangerous and somewhat eerie. We have seen forays into beings of artificial intelligence, with the likes of Kubrick’s 2001 and The Matrix, yet nothing on quite the personal, intimate level that we see here in Garland’s sharp screenplay. The interaction between the AI being, played wonderfully by Alicia Vikander and the lucky (or is he?) programmer Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson. As they interact, you feel the tension building. Does he have feelings for her? Does she have feelings for him? Is she really that different from a human being? There’s no guns blazing, high intense action here, but the dialogue between the two is extremely riveting to watch, as their chemistry grows, it definitely provides some of the most intense dialogue so far this year.

By stark contrast, Oscar Isaac playing the eccentric playboy billionaire Nathan, gives off contrasting signals. Sometimes he’s very warm and friendly, other times he feels cold and detached, which one might suspect if you lived in a vast complex with a considerable amount of money at your disposal to build an AI. The relationship between the three characters is thoroughly compelling as you wonder if any of them have any ulterior motives. All three are electric together which should be encouraging for this December’s Star Wars. Yet by far the biggest shining performance is that of Alicia Vikander’s work as Ava. She maybe an AI but with every action she takes, she feels like a real human being. Sexiness and remarkable intelligence combined, every man’s dream.

For a directorial debut picture, the film looks immaculate, with wonderful shots of breathtaking scenery. The look of Ava in her full mode is also immaculately well realised. Sometimes in film, it can be painfully apparent that what you are looking at is CGI but not in this instance. She may look like a robot, but Vikander’s grounded and sublime performance will make you think again. Likewise, this film will have you thinking about its content and characters long after you finish watching.  This is a landmark achievement in CGI films, and will have a great impact on the genre going forward as it feels remarkably real and personal. Also this is not the last we will hear of Alex Garland as a director or Alicia Vikander.

A thought provoking, imaginative and original sci-fi flick with tremendous performances from the three leading actors and a wonderful directorial debut from Garland. 

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