April 22, 2018
And we’re back with the second installment of too-late-to-be-relevant film reviews. MBW is back from her business trip. But while she was away I got in two more flicks.
First up, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I watched this with a sincere desire to enjoy it. But here’s the thing with Star Wars — no, let me backup, make a couple of digressions.
Everyone has a sort of personal history with Star Wars. It certainly made an impact on me. The first short story I recall writing, at about ten-years old was some dreck called “Han Solo and the Boy.” (I think I’d just gotten through the Brian Daley trilogy.) Even back then I realized something was wrong, went back and filed the serial numbers off so the story became generic space opera and not Star Wars. It was still dreck, of course. Later I made a few authorized bucks off Star Wars.
So there is some goodwill. I want Star Wars to be good. But from my personal viewpoint (the only one I’ve got, the only one I can truly express if I’m not writing fiction) is that sometime, quite early on, Star Wars lost its mojo, its Oneness with the Force. Most critics claim that the second film was the best. It was darker, addressed more serious themes. I think that is precisely wrong. I think The Empire Strikes Back is where Star Wars began to veer from the path. The first film offered everything an eight-year old boy (me, at the time) could possibly desire in an entertainment: young farm hands with a destiny, princesses, sword fights, rogue smugglers, monsters, spaceships, gun battles, and clearly defined heroes and villains. The film offered just enough hinted at backstory to make it seem real and lived in, but not so much as to muddy the cliffhanger simplicity of it. The Empire Strikes Back ushered in moral complexity and began to explore the larger politics of the galaxy, offering a more nuanced, adult story. The other films built from there, so by the time the second trilogy added on wings of trade federations, grandmother suites of slavery, and guest rooms of backroom Senate dealings the entire edifice had grown ungainly. The foundations of Star Wars simply weren’t built to support all this.
As a kid I enjoyed the second and third films well enough. When I watched them again as an adult I found them all rather hokey, but the first one held up despite the clunky dialogue. It was fun. (Not the remastered version, though. Despite what Mr. Lucas believes to have happened, as depicted on screen Han shot first. Deal with it.) So that’s what I was hoping the filmmakers would capture in The Last Jedi. And for a minute or two I thought they had. But it didn’t last. If you are telling a fun kids’ story then you can have manual releases for your bomb bay, operated by a man instead of a droid. And you can ignore questions such as the whether or not a spaceship develops an Earthlike gravitational field. You can have your Jedi princess fly back inside a spaceship and open a door sans airlock without blowing the rest of the crew out into space. But if you are taking your story and your universe seriously, aiming to tackle themes with a capital T then you don’t get a pass on at least attempting realistic science.
It had its moments, but then it would halt the fun for Rose or someone to engage in sententious speechifying, or the film would give a nod to real world problems like child slave jockeys, squandering the goodwill it had just developed. Still, I enjoyed some of the spectacle.
And speaking of spectacle, we come to Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The first film was a romp, characterized by spectacular set-pieces. The action sequences were terrific fun, over the top. Clearly that is what the filmmakers intended for The Golden Circle.
We can dispense with the plot. (The writers certainly did. Rim shot.) A film like this does not rely on plot. A plot is merely a coat rack upon which to hang action scenes and jokes. There are two problems. One is that most of the action scenes failed to reach the standards of the first film. The second is that there simply weren’t enough action scenes. Too much dead time, chit-chatting in service of character and plot development. (Did the writers and director forget what sort of film this was? Do they think we actually care about any of these people?) In short, not enough spectacle. This sort of franchise depends on expanding the envelope, outdoing the previous installment. Golden Circle simply didn’t.
If you truly loved this first one I can give this a tepid recommendation. For everyone else, I’d say pass.
That’s a wrap on reviews, until next time MBW goes out of town.