Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
ListsAn error has ocurred. Please try again
Rogue One (2016)
17 years after The Phantom Menace, Gareth Edwards and Tony Gilroy have delivered a sophisticated Star Wars prequel the franchise deserves.
It's enormously telling that, when Darth Vader makes his entrance midway through Rogue One, one is taken aback by the sheer cheesiness of his iconic costume and speech. While Vader remains one of cinema's most enduring villains, the late 1970s-aesthetic of the character is at such sharp odds with the dusty realism of Gareth Edwards' new spin-off that the contrast is truly shocking. Star Wars has come a long way, not only from the sand dunes of A New Hope, but from the infantile comedy of Phantom Menace and clustered CGI cityscapes of Attack of the Clones— George Lucas was clearly not the best person to direct Star Wars prequels; Edwards (and co-writer Tony Gilroy, who oversaw much of Rogue One's last-minute re-tinkering) have managed in one film to tell a more coherent, human story and establish the groundwork for the original trilogy better than Lucas could in 7 hours of the prequel trilogy.
The existence of Rogue One highlights the divide in the Star Wars mythos between the story of the Jedi and their spiritual battle with the Sith (an undeniably fascinating subject, but one that Lucas horribly mishandled) and the on-the-ground Star War between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire. In Rogue One, there is nary a lightsaber in sight and The Force has evolved into a vague philosophical concept, spoken of by warrior monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). The choice to focus on the 'real' side of the Star Wars world facilitates, and somewhat obligates, the filmmakers to tell a compelling story of politics and war set against the backdrop of the Imperial superweapon: the Death Star. What Lucas and co. were forced to paint and sculpt in 1977, Edwards can create with layers of CGI: Rogue One in many ways does justice to the ambitious vision of the original Star Wars: a vision too grand for its technical era. While the constance of thrilling set-pieces in JJ Abrams' The Force Awakens, occasionally at the expense of quieter character moments, was grating, in Rogue One it feels justified: this is, after all, a war movie. Also, while several of the film's characters (Îmwe and Sheldon Cooper-esque droid K-2SO) are superbly-realised, the band of misfits at Rogue One's core feel neither deserving nor necessitating a great amount of those "quiet character moments": these are simpler figures than a Skywalker or a Solo, a Rey or Finn, and these are figures whose strongest moments of character development emerge on the battlefield.
Though the poster-girl for the film, Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso is undeniably the least interesting protagonist a Star Wars film has ever had: despite Jones' best efforts, Jyn remains frustratingly one-dimensional throughout. She's not unlikeable, and her motives are noble, but- as the only significant female character in the film- she fails to stand out from the otherwise-male team as a memorable hero. Diego Luna's Captain Andor is drawn far too similar to Jyn, sharing her stone- faced resolve but possessing none of the wit of the great Star Wars male leads: Han Solo, Finn, Poe Dameron, Anakin Skywalker (we may be lying about that last one). Riz Ahmed's Bodhi Rook is, at the beginning of the film, incredibly energetic, but after spending some time with "Rebel extremist" Saw Gerrera (a distractingly wheezy Forest Whitaker) loses much of his personality: Ahmed, a superb actor, is never truly given a chance to shine. Jiang Wen's Baze Malibus, meanwhile, serves primarily as a Butch Cassidy to Îmwe's Sundance Kid. They're a formidable duo who could probably have led their own spin-off, and provide tremendous insight into the impact of Imperial rule over the unsung citizens of the Galaxy.
The film's most impressive performance, unsurprisingly, comes from Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic: a character of subtle villainy, highlighting further Revenge of the Sith's missed opportunity at exploring the Dark Side's complex appeal. Mendelsohn excels in every scene, particularly opposite both Mads Mikkelsen and a certain other actor in a stunning surprise appearance. His scenes with Darth Vader are the highlight of the film: the Sith Lord has never been filmed nor framed so beautifully. Michael Giacchino's score, though largely a generic mashup of John Williams' classic motifs, is at its best when introducing Vader.
Rogue One's third act, much of which was reshot and reedited (several shots from the trailer are nowhere to be seen) is essentially a hybrid of the Original Trilogy's most beloved action scenes: there's an AT-AT attack, a break-in involving ladders, forest fight and the most impressive X- Wing battle in the franchise's history. The outcome of the Rebels' mission, if you've seen Star Wars, is predictable. Rogue One's final sequence is as breathtaking a tribute to Lucas' 1977 film as we'll ever see, presenting a magnificently terrifying realisation of one legendary Star Wars figure and an utterly joyful appearance by another. However, Rogue One doesn't need nostalgia and foreshadowing to succeed: as a standalone product with few links to the familiar elements of the franchise, this looks and feels like Star Wars in a whole new way. Breaking free into the Galaxy, this film establishes a new era of the Star Wars world: one of uninhibited exploration and imagination. We're hopeful for the future: after all, Star Wars is built on hope
Solid Sci-Fi Fare
Although it is set 141 years from now, Neill Blomkamp's Elysium portrays a vision of Earth that would be more suited to a setting 1000 years ago. The citizens wealthy enough to afford a ticket have emigrated to the suburban environment of 'Elysium', where cancer can be cured in seconds and poverty is nonexistent. Everyone else is left breathing in toxic fumes and living in dire conditions on the planet we call home, wondering what they did to deserve this life. Andrew Niccol's In Time realized a similar world quite well, but unfortunately was highly ignored and proved financially and critically unsuccessful. Elysium, meanwhile, is getting far more attention both because it's director was Oscar-nominated for his last (and first) feature, District 9, and because it's star, Matt Damon, has a noticeably better reputation for making good films than In Time's lead, Justin Timberlake. Damon has been promoting this film by telling the press about it's "political themes and messages", which he apparently feels quite passionately about. However, any moral lessons from the film which Blomkamp and Damon are attempting to convey to the audience in relation to poverty and human rights are lost amongst the CGI landscapes and loud, violent battles displayed on screen.
Elysium begins with Damon's character, Max, on his way to work (on Earth), but being unfairly attacked by some robotic cops and beaten unconscious. This scene is a good indicator of what the rest of the film will be like- using regular sci-fi fixtures to tell a story which is all too realistic. Released from hospital, Max is immediately forced to enter a highly radiated chamber in order to keep his job, and becomes seriously ill as a result. He learns he has but 5 days left to live, and is hastily released onto the streets by the comically evil CEO of the company he works for, William Fichtner's Carlyle. Carlyle has all the film's funniest lines, such as "Don't you dare breath on me! Cover your mouth!" to a reasonably affluent Earth citizen. In fact, the film looks set to be quite funny for the first 15-20 minutes, as Max sits down with a robot parole officer to whom he must repeat words phonetically as we would to an automated phone operator. These traces of humor utterly disappear, however, after Max's accident, which sends the plot into a spiral of painful gore, intense shoot-outs and epic intergalactic explosions.
Damon has been on top form recently with his roles in Behind the Candelabra and Promised Land, and he carries much of the film on his newly thickened shoulders. That said, Sharlto Copley really is the standout, playing the single most hateful, terrifying character portrayed in a film of this scale in years. I will forever be going to lengths to avoid having to meet the man in person, as that would result in me scurrying away in fear. Jodie Foster's smaller-than- advertised 'role' (it's more of a cameo) is nothing to write home about, particularly since she hasn't given a good performance since Lambs.
If you enjoy watching spaceships land on dusty land (bringing back oh-so-fond memories of The Phantom Menace), you'll love this film. If you get your kicks from watching data rapidly transfer between hard drives (National Treasure-style), Elysium is for you! Using countless science-fiction clichés in an impressively subtle manner, Blomkamp has managed to make a film that is shockingly entertaining, considering it's dark roots, and outdoes such mediocre fare we've seen this year, like Oblivion, in everything from acting to visuals. It may not have the epic scale or sheer fun of Star Trek Into Darkness, but this is a nice break from the pure awfulness of some of the year's other sci-fi films.