‘Rogue One’ battles its way to the big screen

Rating 3.5/5

With an opening weekend total of more than $150 million and a worldwide total already of more than $290 million, it could be safe to say that Star Wars is still very popular. However, numbers can vary and may not necessarily tell the whole truth. Films could do very well at the box office but fail to grasp critic and fan approval to be labeled a true critical success. But I’m going to bet this stand alone film in the Star Wars storyline will achieve the feat of garnering that label.

Much like last year at this time, the anticipation was high with a new Star Wars film hitting the big screen. Some may criticize they would rather see the continuation of the Skywalker story and other new characters introduced in last year’s The Force Awakens. I personally am happy to see stories like Rogue One. I would even like to see some of the events between episodes before Empire and Jedi. Heck, it might even be a good story to see Obi-Wan on Tatooine as he watches over Luke as the Empire gains strength. But I digress. I was interested in seeing this story unfold and how it fit into the storyline. I would say it did not disappoint.

Right before the film began, I thought to myself “Will it have the normal musical fanfare and opening crawl that is signature in the rest of the saga?” My question was answered shortly thereafter. No.

The only thing it did have similar to the other films was the ten familiar words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” and that was enough to bring me into this film.

The film had a somewhat slow start, but it did quickly establish the characters and the fact that the Empire has grown and has made its presence known across the galaxy. The opening events could have only taken place a relatively short time after Episode III, because then the film jumps forward 15 years later.

The opening has Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), an engineer and weapons builder, taken by the Empire, and the film’s main antagonist Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), to help complete their ultimate weapon in the universe, the Death Star. Stormtroopers kill his wife and his young daughter Jyn looks on. She goes into hiding to escape falling victim to the Empire and is soon discovered by a family friend, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

This is where the story flashes forward and Jyn (Felicity Jones) has a particular set of skills that the Rebellion is looking for. Additionally they know she is Galen’s daughter and there is a thought going around the Rebellion believes Galen can’t be trusted. The film has just enough action to keep the story going without going into great expository detail. After a brief discussion, the film picks up some speed and adventure and dives deeper into the first Act, where the action only goes up.

Jyn teams up with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to infiltrate enemy territory to supposedly rescue Jyn’s father from the clutches of the Empire and ultimately steal the plans for the evil weapon and get them to the Rebellion in order to restore peace to the galaxy. The final battle in the film directly leads up to the events of A New Hope.

While the film has a noticeable absence of the Force and Jedi (and for good reason), it does not refrain from various fights and battles. Although the film may be similar to Empire or Jedi on some levels, they do hold their own within this Star Wars story. New characters and few familiar cameos lend a hand to this galactic space story. C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels) has an appearance as well as R2-D2, but sadly no Kenny Baker. Even Peter Cushing and a young Carrie Fisher make an appearance (through actor stand-ins and CGI). And Darth Vaver, perhaps one of the most menacing villains in all of movie history, makes an entrance and does not disappoint even in his limited screen time. James Earl Jones lent his voice once again as the Dark Lord of the Sith.

Jones’ Jyn Erso was not particularly memorable aside from the fact the story somewhat revolved around her. She was believable as a young fighter filled with hope. As was her male counterpart Cassian Andor. Diego Luna was not necessarily a standout portrayal either, but did present a determination to the cause with some humility thrown in. They weren’t necessarily strong characters, but they had just enough to keep me in the film. It seems there was some weak character development, but overall the film’s message that “rebellions are built on hope” and the final climactic battle where the plans are stolen, thus leading to the epic saga that follows, is what drives the film.

As in the other films in this saga, comedic relief is ever so present and it comes from a droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), an Imperial droid that has been reprogrammed for the Rebellion. Tudyk delivers his lines with precise comic timing and also lends a hand in commenting on story situations and developments. Despite having no real backstory, he seems to have an organic connection with the audience.

Mikkelsen, Whitaker, Mendelsohn and the rest of the cast give fine performances for what they were given. It seems what writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy failed to deliver on more character development, they presented a piece with just enough action, story, and spectacle to keep the scenes fresh and moving along at a nice pace without being bogged down with flashy or irrelevant dialogue.

Gareth Edwards has made an impact on his directorial entry to the Star Wars universe. He has blended all components into a satisfying film. He allowed the actors to contribute something to their characters while still maintaining a congruent story and spectacle. The individual fights and battles are a sight to watch, especially in the aerial combat sequences. The film explores new locations and imaginative set designs from the various planets to the various spaceships, thus making this a wonderful addition to the Star Wars saga.

Despite the sparing lack of some character development, the film does deliver. From its nostalgia to its familiar cameos to the new characters, Rogue One is a satisfying standalone film.



The mystic world comes to Marvel in ‘Doctor Strange’

Rating 3.5/5

Marvel appears to be on a roll. The studio’s films have not seemed to disappoint. At least they have not disappointed me. At this point, Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” has been out for more than a month and has made over 220 million dollars. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not really up on comic books and I know very little about the Doctor Strange character, but I (as always) will give an honest review of how I view the movie as a whole from a filmmaking standpoint.

Doctor Strange tells a mystical story with just enough thought and “eye candy” to keep the viewer interested. This film is an origin story that, by my calculation, fits into the Marvel Universe some time around Captain America: Civil War, as Stephen Strange is mentioned in the film. This film gives insight to the character’s origin.

As the film opens, we are treated to an exciting action sequence that sets the events rolling as the bad guy steals something that could possibly result in some very bad things happening. This of course leads us to the introduction of the heroic main character. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbacth), with a sense of arrogance, is a brilliant neurosurgeon who relies on his skillful hands and professional skills to carry him through life. One evening, he becomes the victim of a vicious car accident resulting from his fast, reckless driving. He is faced with the possibility of never practicing medicine again because of the massive nerve damage done to his hands. Desperate for any nuance of hope, he discovers a place where he could heal himself. So he travels to Nepal to train under a teacher known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). While there, he also meets a disciple, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and befriends him as Strange learns how to use mystic powers to bend reality and control time.

The action moved along at a decent pace. This was done with a skillful use of montages, imaginative scenery, and provoking dialogue. I felt the story never faltered and the action never seemed forced or trite. It flowed well all the way to the climactic showdown with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), and then Dormammu, a powerful cosmic entity.

This film was driven by highly effective special effects. Too often in special effects driven films, the story and characters suffer and are not fully developed. Here, they become part of the story and add the magic and excitement of the film. At times though, the effects appeared to be something from Christopher Nolan’s Inception, or sometimes characters running about through a landscape designed by M. C. Escher, but still they seemed imaginative and original to the film.

Scott Derrickson directed the film and also co-wrote it along with writers Jon Spaights and C. Robert Cargill. Famed Marvel producer Kevin Feige helmed that role once again. The filmmakers put together a film that was entertaining and they understood how to blend the elements of storytelling together seamlessly. This is another solid showing from Marvel that is continuing to build the foundation to its ever-expanding superhero universe.