Saturday, December 31, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One

(Gareth Edwards, USA, 2016)

After finally seeing it, I was surprised at how harshly some critics have responded; it's a bit wan and mechanical, sure, but otherwise unobjectionable.  It appeared to me to be pretty much exactly as advertised: a brisk, sensational adventure story, told in the vernacular of the OG Star Wars world (effectively, an exact simulacrum of Lucas's original combination of throwback kitsch and '70s grit), but with a suitably "darker" tone.   At this point, there should be no kvetching about the rampant nostalgia-mongering that is the franchise's stock-in-trade.  That's at least half of what viewers are showing up for, myself included, although I will say that my own case is one of mild curiosity rather than devotional zeal; different strokes, etc.  The other half is a passably diverting, engrossing - pick your adjective of lukewarm enthusiasm - tale of derring-do.

And on both counts, Rogue One delivers.  It's all a bit processed, yes, and the near-constant winking at the fans, from the casual to the ultra-hardcore (I can only imagine the volume of tics and references that I didn't pick up on, and I'm someone who put some serious wear on my A New Hope VHS as a youngster) can get a bit wearying, but it moves - it has the giddy momentum that its rather thin story requires, with just enough human drama to save it from inconsequence.  There's nothing particularly notable about the film's visuals, but they are effective enough - moody when they need to be, and even exhilarating at other moments (particularly in space, during the final battle, which conjures fantastic scale and motion with aplomb, and the arrival of Darth Vader on the Rebel ship, a brief but thrilling sequence of furious destruction.  It's better than anything Lucas choreographed in his goofy prequels, and even better than the light-saber battles in The Force Awakens.)

As for the stories of extensive re-writes and re-shoots, calling at least some of Edwards' authorship into question - we're talking, again, about a highly processed, rigorously committee'd, enormously expensive work of corporate entertainment.  I'm willing, in cases such as these, to enjoy the sausage, which would seem to require a certain indifference to how it's made, and of what.  What's strange is the cavils that this film has prompted, when so many other Kraft-cheese extravaganzas of recent vintage are done with far less wit and verve.  For all of its shortcomings, Rogue One manages to be effective without the mind-numbing overkill that tends to mar so many contemporary megabucks spectacles.  And the cast is uniformly great - confined, but excellent, with special mention going to Forest Whittaker and Ben Mendelsson, two giants who radiate intensity that can match, and even surpass, the CGI explosions.

PS - there are, I think, ethical questions that ought to be addressed about the digital reanimation of Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher.  I found it creepy and distracting, a point at which the pull of nostalgia and the embrace of kitsch went alarmingly full-blown.  But that's a matter for another day.

No comments:

Post a Comment