Tuesday, December 20, 2016

[Review] Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

"Rebellions are built on hope."

The extravaganza levels sure do skyrocket whenever a new Star Wars film releases into theaters, don't they? The latest installment is Rogue One, a sweeping side-story that operates as a lead-up to 1977's A New Hope. It's technically the first "standalone" film in the anthology. No iconic opening crawl. No screen wipes. However, the events are very much an integral piece of the whole. And while the film isn't an absolute triumph, it's undoubtedly a thrilling and crowd-pleasing blast of a blockbuster.

Meet Jyn (Felicity Jones, a great lead), a scrappy maverick who's developed a knack for defying orders and doing things her own way, which of course makes her character all the more intriguing. After some chance meetings and jailbreaks, she teams with Rebel officer Andor (Diego Luna), blind warrior Chirrut (Donnie Yen, purveyor of the already famous "I am one with the force, and the force is with me" line--which will probably get mixed up several times in the future.), heavy artillery wielder Baze (Jieng Wen), and cargo pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed). The rugged crew sets out to retrieve the plans in order to blow up the Death Star. And in operatic fashion, Jyn's own father (Mads Mikkelsen) is the keeper of the superweapon's secrets (I promise that's not a spoiler), as he's unwillingly been taken in by director of destruction, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn getting his villainy on).

The beginning involves a lot choppy of planet-hopping. But at least it's some interesting planet-hopping, immersing us into the vivid textures of the landscapes, and the eccentric production design, costumes, and creatures of this universe that we've come to know and love. Once the narrative finds its true path, the film launches into an elaborate heist mission containing loads of heavy exposition followed by grand spectacles of chaotic space combat (I mean, this is a Star Wars movie). And when the picture isn't shrouded in shadows, Rogue One proves to be one of the more visually striking films in the series--from the ethereal skies to the shots of the brooding Lord of the Rings-esque towers (I was almost waiting for Saruman's beard to pop out from somewhere). Speaking of darkness, the tone is mostly on the serious side this time around, even though the spunky K-2SO droid provides a source of comic relief, delivering plenty of chuckle-worthy wisecracks along the way.

Just like J.J. Abrams did with last year's spirited The Force Awakens, director Gareth Edwards (who's responsible for the fairly well-received Godzilla reboot) makes sure to give the fans what they want here, leaving little room for any colossal disappointments--even if there's a bit of a retread factor. Personally, I enjoyed the nostalgic nods and the connective tissue to films of the past (if you pay close attention, you can spot unused footage from original trilogy). I'll also go ahead and say that seeing Donnie Yen take out a squad of Stormtroopers by himself with nothing but a staff is worth the price of admission alone. And as the trailers hinted, there's even some good ol' Darth Vader action. At one point, he utters a polarizing pun (I'm still trying to decide if I like it or not). Dialogue beef aside, the film's biggest flaw is that the ensemble of characters aren't developed very deeply, and we don't totally sense their bonds or camaraderie as much as we'd like to, because they're thrust into action so quickly. That said, it's still cool to see such a diverse and charismatic group on screen together.

Rogue One ultimately ends up being a worthy addition to the Star Wars cannon. It's a tale of sacrifice, trust, and joining forces against seemingly insurmountable evils. That's certainly something to root for.

* 8.5/10 *

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