by Philip Price
Come what may, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is a curious middle chapter that will likely be remembered more for its curiosities than its contributions to the overall arc of this new trilogy. What will allow the ‘World’ trilogy to always have an upper hand over that of the will-always-be-superior original and its two less than successful follow-ups are that of the coherency this new set of films will seemingly possess and thus is what initially makes ‘Fallen Kingdom’ so intriguing. Intriguing in a morbid curiosity kind of way as the first act of the film would have one believe it was something of a task to bring together our protagonists from the first film. Bryce Dallas Howard's no longer high-heel wearing Claire Dearing has become a voice for the dinosaurs left abandoned on Isla Nublar as a volcano is set to erupt at any moment threatening another extinction-level event. Convenient, right? Well, as it turns out this is not only an opportunity for writers Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow to move the action off the island (a good thing), but it also creates inspiration for Claire to reach out to now ex-boyfriend and "raptor wrangler" Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) so that they may reunite to rescue as many dinos from the island as they can. Is it necessary that Owen be brought back into the action? Not entirely and ‘Fallen Kingdom’ does Pratt's character no favors by giving him little to do other than become a human super hero who in turn becomes more of a dinosaur whisperer than a trainer that is also doomed to repeat the romantic beats of the first film with Claire, but to not have the star of the first film return would feel weird as well. It makes sense to a degree, but this contradiction of sorts in need versus obligation is symbolic of what seems will come to define the shortcomings of this new trilogy as well. Owen is a fun and charismatic character that functioned well for the plot of the first film, but who is only called on to be fun and charming in this sequel despite the function of his character within the plot being largely pointless (though this wouldn't be as glaring if there were more depth to the character). The movies themselves are breezily enjoyable and often massively entertaining, but the plots on which they function will seemingly only feel more and more strained the further they push this. Other than for financial reasons is there a story worth telling that justifies the existence of more of these movies? The moral dilemma of should man do something simply because it is capable has been obliterated yet another genetically engineered dino is at the heart of Fallen Kingdom with this film moving more into should these dinosaurs be regarded in the same way as other endangered species despite being created in a lab. Much in the same way Owen is charming and fun to have around even if his presence is mostly unnecessary ‘Fallen Kingdom’ only brings up said points to try and validate its existence without ever exploring them enough to make this movie feel necessary.
If “Jurassic World” gave us the operational theme park that “Jurassic Park” only hinted at, ‘Fallen Kingdom’ takes the idea of dinosaurs visiting the mainland that was tacked onto ‘The Lost World’ and ratchets it up a couple notches. Knowing too much from the given trailers will tell you the entire first act of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ and as much as has been summed up in the opening paragraph, but there is some clarity in the motivation to be desired and thus Connolly and Trevorrow backtrack to tell us that the late Dr. John Hammond (the late Richard Attenborough) was not alone in his quest to clone dinosaurs from prehistoric DNA, but that he in fact had a partner in the endeavor before something insuperable came between them. That man, as it turns out, was Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) and while that man still loves dinosaurs he has apparently never been important enough to note before this time of needing another "in" when it comes to the initial tinkering that brought about the problem of the initial re-birth of the prehistoric period. Whatever caused Lockwood and Hammond to sever ties is left for a third act twist, but what Lockwood's presence is initially utilized for is that of reeling in Claire and encouraging her to save the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar as he has created a new piece of land where they can live and breed without the interference of man. Of course, at this point Lockwood is ill and nearly completely bed-ridden and thus has someone who was once "young and optimistic" guiding his estate into the future cue the introduction of Rafe Spall's Eli Mills. Mills presents a united front with Lockwood and is designated as the one who will organize everything for Claire's expedition, but if this operation is to be successful Claire is told they need to capture Blue, the trained Velociraptor from the previous film, as Blue is one of the most intelligent beings on the planet. This, of course, requires Claire to recruit the reluctant Owen-though not convinced of the need for this mission by Claire, but rather by his video journals of Blue as a baby-Owen decides to join his ex along with obligatory tech guy Franklin Webb (Justice Smith) and dino doctor Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda) who one thinks will be more vital and who we will come to know better than we ever do. This is the only movie the trailers had to sell us on, but Universal or whoever they hired to cut the trailers for this thing didn't seem to think that was enough for the public to be intrigued by a sequel to their $1.67 billion grosser. And so, before going into ‘Fallen Kingdom’ most of the audience is already aware Mills is an evil dude and is only using Lockwood's facade and money to double cross Claire and Owen so that he might retrieve Blue and as many dinosaurs as possible to both sell them on the black market and use them for further experiments via the incorrigible Dr. Wu (BD Wong). Oh, and Lockwood has a precious granddaughter named Maisie (Isabella Sermon) that comes to be quite important in the grand scheme of things.
The first “Jurassic World” was a surprise due to low expectations and the initial hesitance of there being any premise that validated continuing the series. The idea that a functional tourist attraction was in fact able to be accomplished and successfully operational for some time considering the events of the previous three films was somewhat fascinating, but the execution in which that same park's inevitable downfall was chronicled was immensely entertaining and largely satisfying from a narrative and character perspective save for that atrocious subplot that dealt with weaponizing the raptors. It may have simply been the experience of seeing the first new ‘Jurassic’ film in 14 years on an IMAX screen that gave many of that film's shortcomings an easy pass as, upon a second home viewing, the film isn't nearly as intriguing as memory served it to be, but with ‘Fallen Kingdom’ being the newest ‘Jurassic’ film in only three years and the film itself feeling like a series of events more to get from one point to the next rather than a set of circumstances from which natural character reactions and interactions are born the sheen of the world in which we were so exhilaratingly introduced has worn off somewhat. That said, there is a lot to like about ‘Fallen Kingdom’ much of which comes from the hiring of new director J.A. Bayona who cut his teeth in the horror genre with the Guillermo del Toro-produced “The Orphanage” and 2016's “A Monster Calls.” Bayona's touch is immediately apparent on a franchise that has largely profited off the "wonder" elicited by seeing present day human beings interact with creatures that have been absent from this terrain for some 65 million years by turning this wonder into something of a realistic fear and terror rather than the cheap switcheroo of sorts that was employed by ‘The Lost World.’ If examples are needed, one needs look no further than the opening sequence that, for all accounts and purposes, is rather nonsensical and messy, but is constructed in such a way that it pulls out the most thrilling aspects of the scenario simply by way of how it is presented to the viewer. In this sequence, a team we eventually learn has been hired by Mills to extract DNA from the long dead Indominus Rex is put through the ringer by the massive Mosasaurus and is framed so that the tone immediately elicits more of a horror vibe than it does an action/adventure one. Furthermore, the third act of the film kind of hinges on the splicing together of a new dinosaur called the "Indoraptor" and while there is always doubt these movies will be able to top the presence of the T-Rex, Bayona is able to employ real dread and panic each time he turns his camera toward the intimidating Indoraptor; a feat not to be casually dismissed. That the movie begins by implementing this kind of tone sets in motion a certain set of new expectations and Bayona keeps a steady hand on this tone as he seemingly had no say in the direction of the narrative. To be able to keep said tone in check is a task that is tougher and determines more than one might expect or even realize, especially when in the case of a movie like ‘Fallen Kingdom.’
It’s a given ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is a big budget franchise film intended to be little more than popcorn fare and thus we as audiences have been trained to more or less expect this kind of movie to know exactly what it is and succeed in being that kind of movie while making a few winks and nods to assure us the moments that could potentially be interpreted as stupid are done in a purposeful fashion. Fallen Kingdom doesn’t fall prey to this though, but more it owns every minute of what it commits to the screen. There isn’t a knowing bone in Bayona’s sincerity and in turn ‘Fallen Kingdom’ becomes this kind of dour, but legitimate movie even if certain points of its story make little to no sense or could be ridiculed as stupid. It’s a tricky line to walk and that isn’t to say the story is terrible for the direction that Connolly and Trevorrow have set-up is nothing short of intriguing and inspires a certain curiosity in where the franchise might go. That said, the biggest complaints that exist and can be logged against ‘Fallen Kingdom’ do come from the screenplay. Beginning with the underdeveloped characters and ending around the unexplored themes that are consistently hinted at. The emotional logic of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ never feels out of whack as it doesn't try to be or do too many things at once allowing the audience to nestle into the kind of thriller splotched circus the film ultimately becomes. As the film goes on it becomes increasingly darker and Bayona seems thrilled to be able to intertwine this darkening storyline and the somewhat unexpected direction of the film's climax with his already solemn sense of imagery and score as provided by the always reliable Michael Giacchino. This makes ‘Fallen Kingdom’ a different enough ride from the previous films so as to be distinguishable as well as slightly more memorable than any of the other sequels that came before, but to really elevate this from what is a passably entertaining movie to that of an all-around solid if not exceptional blockbuster would be to have the character's emotional arcs as well as the arc of the story in general fall in line with those images, that music, and the ultimate direction of the plot. Instead, Connolly and Trevorrow dispense archetype after archetype and cliché after cliché into these beautifully photographed scenarios as if to intentionally derail the film from entering too interesting or too specific a territory. The movie clearly wants to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to its crux of either killing or unleashing these dinosaurs upon humanity, but even this idea of an underground black market dealing in buying and trading dinosaurs could have been something interesting yet none of it is never fleshed out enough to feel as if any element is the key to understanding what makes the movie's heartbeat. ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is probably a better movie than “Jurassic World” because it at least has some ambition to it whereas the Trevorrow-directed film was more a live-action cartoon come to life that was easier to engage and immediately un-engage with. That is to say, ‘Fallen Kingdom’ holds itself to a higher standard and in reaching for more falls shorter than its predecessor did of attaining the goals it set for itself. All in all, here's to hoping the climax of this trilogy can bring these ideas and tones together in a coherent fashion that might truly set these films apart from the shadow of that original or at least on a new path so as not to continue to rehash the same premises again and again.
by Philip Price
It has been 14 years since the Parr family, including Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter), and their three children-Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner), and Jack Jack (Eli Fucile)-were introduced to audiences through the magic of Pixar and the imagination of writer/director Brad Bird (“Ratatouille”). In those 14 years since the first “Incredibles” film Pixar has steadily upped its output of sequels going from only a single sequel in “Toy Story 2” as of 2004 to “Incredibles 2” being the seventh Pixar sequel of some sort. Does this say anything about the studio outside of the fact they enjoy making money and are not immune to capitalizing on IP's the same way every other studio does? No, not really, but it does always feel like something of a missed opportunity when Pixar releases something that re-hashes a striking original rather than releasing what is hopefully another striking original. This is all to say that while “The Incredibles” always seemed like the most obvious choice for sequels, it was also a stand-alone film that didn't necessarily require any type of continuation. Thus, bringing us to what is probably the most impressive thing about Bird's “Incredibles 2” in that not only does the film seem to effortlessly pick up right where the original left off, but it validates itself thoroughly and makes its case that not only is its existence justified, but rather that the original needed this extension of the story to exist. And while this is impressive for obvious reasons it is the ideas the film dolls out as well as the engaging if rather complex without feeling convoluted premise that will earn “Incredibles 2” this sterling reputation as a sequel that both earns its place alongside the original as well as one that improves upon it. Incredibles 2 will undoubtedly please the generation that grew up on it and are now entering their early 20s, but as someone who was among the “Toy Story” faithful, Pixar blossoming just before we did, I was getting ready to enter my senior year of high school when “The Incredibles” was released and feel no inherent connection to that original whatsoever. Due to this and the fact we live in a time where the market is saturated by super heroes it was genuinely surprising how much joy came from watching a family of super heroes strike a balance between feeding the machine and rebelling against it. Which, as Pixar sequels go, is par for the course.
“Incredibles 2” feeds the machine simply by existing, but it rebels against it by being the furthest thing from a carbon copy of that original film or even following the beats that would have been easy to concoct and let play out for the sole purpose of profit. Instead, “Incredibles 2” actually takes this idea of being a part of the capitalistic machine and turns a blind eye to it by having the gall (or balls?) to have a discussion per the film's villain about how society has become engulfed in the packages prepared for them within their screens and how so much of people's lives are lived through watching and consuming experiences rather than having them on their own (mind you, this is being telegraphed as we watch a profitable property on a massive screen). There is something to be said about how dependent on these things we've become and how entranced we are by the apps and opportunities offered to the point we spend more time catering to our online persona more so than we do living an actual life that might accurately reflect that representation, but it's difficult to gauge if “Incredibles 2” really wants to discuss this issue or if it simply wants to suggest to the kids in the theater that after they finish watching the film to be sure and go outside and play pretend rather than going straight to their phones or video games. Either way, it is touches such as this-the villain having a heavier weight to them than simply wanting to take over or destroy the world-that make “Incredibles 2” and Pixar in general a sharper set of eyes. By lending the smallest and broadest strokes a fair amount of detail to add a greater weight to how these factors play into the climax both thematically and in terms of the action that is executed out of obligation these touches inherently lend some meaning and emotional investment. Speaking of emotional investment, it is here that “Incredibles 2” falls off the Pixar wagon as it lands comfortably in line with Cars 3 and the majority of “Finding Dory” which had zero to very few instances where the film provided any such situation or character moments that really tugged at the heart strings. Naturally, if you're familiar with these characters you will be invested in their plight, but it's not that we don't care about the characters, but more nothing happens with these characters that causes us to sit up straight and reassess our life choices as most Pixar films will and it doesn't seem “Incredibles 2” cares to do anything of the sort. This isn't necessarily a pre-requisite or anything, but it has become such a trope that Pixar will play with your emotions that one expects as much and so, when a movie like “Incredibles 2” skimps on the emotional investment to instead try and simply make a few different statements via keen observations it's only natural it feels lacking. Furthermore, while the story itself goes an unexpected route the narrative twists and turns taken within are rather predictable and therefore slightly disappointing.
The biggest narrative twist “Incredibles 2” has to offer though has already been given away in the trailers. This, of course, being the fact that Helen's Elastigirl has come to be the center of attention in the wake of their own little revival rather than Bob's once iconic Mr. Incredible. Picking up soon after the events of the first film it becomes immediately clear that society is still not ready to accept super heroes back into the mainstream or as a part of their lives given the perception they ultimately end up making things worse and causing more destruction than they do helping or, heaven help us, preventing bad things from happening. Bird and his team treat the audience to a fantastic and visually inventive opening sequence that features Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Samuel L. Jackson's Frozone coming face to face with old arch nemesis The Underminer (the always present John Ratzenberger) as they try to stop him from robbing a bank as Violet and Dash trade off babysitting duties with Jack Jack while trying to assist their parents in their super hero duties. The Underminer gets away though, the bank having been heavily raided, and with untold amounts of property damage behind them it seems The Incredibles have done little to sway public opinion around themselves or super heroes in general. Government agent, Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks), who has been tasked with keeping the Parrs mundane and undercover is getting set to retire after his department has been set to shut down allowing him to only be able to offer the family of supers a two week stay at a cheap motel after which, they are on their own. As Bob and Helen weigh their options, Frozone AKA Lucius is approached by Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) a wealthy fan of super heroes who now runs his family's telecommunications business with his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). Winston and Evelyn want to bring back the "supers" by re-vamping the public's perception of them and believe their best bet is to first re-introduce the world to Elastigirl. This relegates Bob to being on daddy duty, but fortunately this isn't played for laughs in a schticky way as much as it is for relatability with the bonus that these children have super powers. From here, Bird (who is once again the sole writer of the screenplay) toggles back and forth between the domestic struggles Bob experiences in trying to understand and relate to his three children while remaining patient and supportive for his wife who is out in the public eye attempting to earn back the public's trust in super heroes. The Deavor's invest a lot in this mission to reverse the law that made supers illegal, but with the appearance of a big bad who calls himself Screenslaver (Bill Wise) this may not turn out to be as simple as either they or Mr. Incredible might have hoped.
It is in this switching of the gender roles that “Incredibles 2” fits squarely into the 2018 climate where women are truly beginning to, if not see equality in greater ways, are at least making serious strides and becoming unafraid to take what they so rightfully deserve while at the same time making a seemingly obvious point in the fact that there are two sides to every coin, that different versions of the same thing can both exist and be ridiculous, and that it takes two contrasting ideas battling one another to really understand something as a whole or really glean any wisdom from it. More than the rather self-righteous aspect dealing in screen time, Bird seems to have placed his thematic eggs in this basket. In a time where tensions always seem high and anxieties run aplenty Bird has crafted a tale that involves acceptance or support of a balance of a degree of social equality. Yes, Elastigirl is the chosen star of the show here and the film takes advantage of this set-up to discuss not why women are just as capable as men, but more how men and women can be good at the same things in vastly different ways-this goes for being both a parent and a super hero. As much as the movie teaches Mr. Incredible a lesson about putting his assumptions aside because he was once deemed the biggest super hero around while learning to share the spotlight with his equally gifted wife it also tells Elastigirl to not assume that the moment she leaves her domesticated bliss that everything will fall apart at the hands of her husband. Moreover, “Incredibles 2” doesn't place Elastigirl at the lead simply to make a point, but rather it places her there to display two ends of an opposite spectrum; those two conflicting ideas that must be taken in relation to the other to make sense. While Elastigirl is a beacon of hope, a person who does good because she can and because she has been given powers that would dictate all men were not created equal she is naturally opposed by a woman who sees the second coming of the super heroes to show society just how destructive they really are. There is no favor, no kindness shown to one sex, gender, persuasion, or whatever might be the case without something or someone to balance those expectations and create a well-rounded portrait of the world we sometimes forget is out there. Of course, this all sounds a little provocative for a mainstream animated film aimed at kids, but that it works on this level of societal assessment while also being a tale of silver-aged comic book heroes in the vein of a retro James Bond flick that ultimately leads to a lesson surrounding the familial bond is what makes “Incredibles 2” as engaging as it is entertaining. Take all of that as you will, but all you really need to know is that Jack Jack steals every minute he's on screen and is the real star of the show. Now, go buy a ticket.
by Philip Price
It's not difficult to appreciate the craft and attention to detail in first time feature director Ari Aster's “Hereditary.” What is difficult to appreciate is the narrative path “Hereditary” follows and how much it ultimately feels patched together to execute horror tropes that, in all honesty, it is too good for. There is one aspect of “Hereditary” that feels right at home exploring the continued ramifications and deep-seated issues that are passed from one generation to the next while being more than willing to take on and explore how family can really mess you up given the most extreme of circumstances, but there is another side to the film that wants to utilize this most extreme of family dramas to paint itself definitively into the horror genre and this is where the movie kind of falls apart. The upside to this is that “Hereditary” only begins to really become or at least fully embrace this unnecessary narrative evolution in the last 15 to 20 minutes or so. Prior to this, Aster shrouds so much of what is going on in this questionable state of what might be happening and what is happening by building Toni Collette and her Annie's mental state to a point where her actions are in total question of reality. We're made aware of her family history and their bouts with depression and mental health issues very early while throughout the course of the film Annie experiences incredible and unthinkable traumas that would undoubtedly bring such issues to the forefront, but while the devolving security of Annie's mental state is what ultimately brings about the true, genuine horror in “Hereditary” it is also this avenue, this idea of how bad parents can mess up their children that is placed on the backburner in favor of the more genre-specific plot elements. It is something of a shame it's with this familiar bang that “Hereditary” decides to go out as it leaves something of the wrong impression on the audience given the majority of what comes before the final revelation is an unsettling more than it is scary exercise in pacing that boils each individual party to an intentionally uneven place of uncertainty, exhaustion, and just...pure misery. “Hereditary” is one of those movies that is easier to admire than it is to necessarily enjoy, but it seems Aster only ever meant to paint a portrait rather than entertain a mass. It's not difficult to appreciate the camera, sound design, and especially each of the very committed performances in “Hereditary,” but that this twisted dysfunctional family drama ends up being more dysfunctional than it does pure family drama leaves a simplicity to be desired.
“Hereditary” is being described as a horror movie with intense elements of drama and that is certainly what it is, but more than anything else this is a movie about the pressures, stresses and blame that are passed from one family member to the next in search of a place of truth or reason or justification or whatever it might be that an individual party who is living at the time may or may not need in order to exist with the least amount of any of those things. Unfortunately, through the actions of Annie's mother Annie has seemingly felt nothing but fault and guilt for most of her life. As stated in the previous paragraph, Annie enlightens both the audience and those fellow members of her grief counseling group very early in the film that her family has a long-standing battle with mental illness and depression as her father starved himself to death while her brother hung himself after stating their mother was forcing people into his head. For these reasons and due to the fact, she then saw and felt it necessary to keep her first born, Peter (Alex Wolff), away from her mother Annie inherently feels this deep guilt; this sense of constant stress over whether letting her mother back into her life and the life of her second child, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), and whether that was the best choice despite seeming objections from her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne). Furthermore, the pressure of having these children that was applied to Annie that is eventually revealed only adds to the stress and guilt she feels when somewhat manifesting these feelings and fears into actions that are despicable and otherwise unexplainable. “Hereditary” is a movie about how these kinds of unspoken struggles often come to the surface in the ugliest of ways which is naturally intensified by the genre in which Aster has chosen to convey his story. We initially meet Annie and her family shortly after the death of Annie's mother which seems to be more of a period of relief than it is one of grieving-Byrne's Steve and Wolff's Peter are especially disinterested in mourning and more in moving on with their lives-but then there is Shapiro's Charlie who, by all accounts, is a rather odd individual. Charlie is quiet, she likes to draw, and every so often will make a "cluck" noise with her mouth to remind you she's present. Charlie also has strange habits of decapitating animals, sleeping outside in her tree house, as well as an unnerving connection with her grandmother-even after the matriarch has passed on. Everyone else in the family seems to ignore these strange traits or are so desensitized to Charlie's choices by now nothing seems out of the ordinary, but it is in the wake of this death in the family that what was thought to be the source of heartache a la evil that tensions only continue to rise rather than disintegrate.
It is then due to “Hereditary” basking in such rich material through its many themes and ideas that are intricately implemented that it also comes to be disappointing that the film does not feel more cohesive upon first viewing. After having read many other thoughts, theories, and critiques (or lack thereof) of the film it seems a second watch of the film might be extremely beneficial as far as seeing the throughline of how all the dots so precisely connect and while that's great news and something to look forward to (I was immediately intrigued by the thought of if this might be the rare exception where a horror film improves upon multiple watches) it also strikes me as being a caveat that shouldn't technically be necessary to fully appreciate what a great movie the film actually is. Is “Hereditary” a bad movie? Absolutely not. The craft on display alone is worth the full price of admission, but as far as how the narrative devolves into a rather rote re-imagining of such cult/witch devil-worshipping tribes requiring sacrifices to please one of their strangely-named deities it is rather disappointing and honestly, disheartening. It is not that “Hereditary” uses the horror genre as a way to tell its story - this is done effectively in multiple instances throughout “Hereditary” - but rather it is how the film takes advantage of the genre and uses it when Aster's imagination seems to otherwise lack a clear direction or idea as to how or where to take the story to both be as surprising and fresh. What makes where “Hereditary” eventually goes so disparaging is that so much of what precedes it feels destined for so much more. In fact, there is a sequence that lasts for a solid ten minutes that occurs near the end of the first act and it is within this scene that Aster brings every single one of his seeming talents together to craft something that is both a technical marvel as well as something literally breathtaking and narratively unsettling. Seriously. The sequence works so well in fact that, as we see what unfurls after these events, we are largely invested to better understand what these characters might do to cope rather than being interested in these characters for where their story arcs might lead. To best take advantage of the stage he sets for himself Aster goes to both complicated and abundantly interesting places as far as the family dynamics are concerned, but it is with the entrance of Ann Dowd's Joan that things become more standard horror movie fare. The best aspect of “Hereditary” is this chronicling of Annie's descent into insanity despite her best efforts to avoid this very fate. This coupled with the fact that Peter comes to be as crucial an element as any, despite the marketing pointing the audience to expect as much from Charlie. In this way, Aster plays on the audience’s assumptions and upends our expectations in ways that are still fulfilling from a story perspective because of these rich ideas that deal in sacrifice, greed, distrust between those we're told all our lives we should be able to rely on, and sometimes the complete abandonment of those we once loved or still do for the sake of something bigger or what is believed to ultimately be better.
Let us return to Annie's descent into madness though as, for everything else “Hereditary” weaves into its execution and sometimes throws against the wall, it is Collette's performance and her reaction to the series of escalating of events that is happening around her that will forever be the stand-out feature in the film. There are no less than three separate, but equally impressive sequences in “Hereditary” where Collette either puts on full display the range she is capable of or plays to a subtler level than might be expected in the genre, but in doing so garners greater and more affecting results. For instance, there is a blunt moment between Peter and his mother that may have received the biggest gasp from the audience in attendance at my screening none of which had to do with employing any scare tactics. It's in this type of reaction alone there is evidence of where “Hereditary” finds its most weight as well as the true source of its horror. This sense coming from the fact that we come to realize Annie's descent into madness is this burden of her having to carry the weight of her lineage, of having to essentially breed these children for her mother so that they may one day be possessed by a demon. Once upon a time mental illness was considered a possession or as coming from a demonic influence and so there are hints of this type of metaphor at work in Aster's screenplay. This idea is rather deliciously paid off as-if you consider what happens to each of the women in this movie-the grandmother, Annie, and Charlie are all relieved of where their mental illness would have been housed. Relieved of what was causing this pain; lifting a curse if you will. And so, while “Hereditary” offers the furthest thing from a happy ending one can only hope Annie's mother wasn't lying or that she wasn't only referring to whatever glory might be due to Paimon when she said there will be riches and rewards for she and her families sacrifice if for nothing else, for consolation for Annie. It truly is tragic when one takes a moment to step back and look at it from the point of view that having children with someone you love should be this joyous and life-altering experience, but this was never going to be the case for Annie; the blessing of being able to have children was always going to be a curse. This is another way in which Aster upends the expectations of the audience as-despite the stress, guilt, and levels of denial that Annie faces-she still tends to feel more like an anti-protagonist, if you will. Annie is very clearly not the antagonist-that belongs to an amalgamation of her mother and this demon seeking a host body-but there is this strong hesitance to embrace the character. She is someone who, because she feels blamed and is in so much denial and constantly experiencing so much guilt that it's difficult not to look at her as the only one who can do something to turn her life around. Even her husband seems to view things this way as Steve largely represents the viewer in the scenario.
This brings us to the other characters in the film. Through Annie we sense a coldness in the relationships she holds with each of them. This is true of especially Peter and Steve. With Charlie, and Shapiro is devastating as the misunderstood and forever mysterious Charlie, there is more a sense of longing than anything else. It is with Charlie that it's as if Annie sees the real possibilities of what could have been whereas with Peter there is this embodiment of regret-of where she first began to lose control of her life and of her destiny. The film was always, in part, focused on Peter though, as even with the opening shot the first room we are welcomed into is that of Peter's. Wolff's character again is used in a way where Aster reverses the expectations set by the marketing and by most films of the genre by initially giving the impression Peter is something of a throwaway character who is unfocused and out of touch. It is through Peter that the film infuses some moments of real, honest familial humor in the dynamic and the way we interact with those we know best. This too is a way to distract from how real what is going on around Peter truly is. Wolff balances his characters multiple roles within the narrative arc perfectly for as soon as Peter gets thrown into the thick of “Hereditary” Wolff really shows up; going from a disinterested attitude disgusted with his mother and buddy-buddy with his dad to someone being corrupted and tortured. Wolff's performance eventually personifying these emotions in the most terrifying of expressions ultimately featuring an image of Wolff where his face is disfigured, but not from any physical beating- that will forever stick with me. And thus, the inner-conflict of the character drama versus the horror execution continues. One is rich in its characters and dissension while the other largely feels a way to streamline the madness. Much like Annie's dollhouses, the horror elements of “Hereditary” create this feeling of being played with, but also lend Aster and in turn Alice a way to more easily feel in control. The way Annie uses the dollhouses suggests her disconnection to her family due to that trauma she has experienced, but the way Aster uses the genre tropes suggests a disconnection from the material and the characters that doesn't always feel natural.
by Philip Price
Very early in this spin-off of director Steven Soderbergh's trilogy of movies about George Clooney's ultra-smooth, ultra-smart thief we are introduced to what is and arguably always has been the most fascinating thing about these movies not to mention heist and/or crime dramas in general. This being the fact that the type of people who find themselves in such scenarios have enough self-confidence and charisma to be able to pull-off whatever facade they wish to carry. It's not about what you may or may not be hiding on the inside or what you know about yourself that you believe everyone who sees you immediately assumes as well, but more it is utilizing your appearance, age, and swagger (or lack thereof) to allow those who see you to make those first, quick assumptions only for you to then deliver upon them so as they don't think about you again. It is an awareness of sorts that Clooney's character never fully utilized, he was always the cool guy in the nice suit, but it is almost immediately that his sister, Debbie Ocean, as played by Sandra Bullock utilizes this tool. And then she uses it again. And again. Hell, if her character's tastes weren't so expensive she could make a fine enough living as a salesperson given the way she is able to adapt to and go with whatever environment she finds herself in and whatever people she finds herself in front of, but this is a movie that is meant to both continue the ‘Ocean's’ legacy while expanding on the diversification of those gender and ethnic gaps that are being actively addressed in Hollywood as of late. Whether you are in support of this or moronically opposed for one reason or another this agenda doesn't really factor into the execution of the film save for one very pointed line of dialogue that is delivered in such a fashion to provide reasoning if not necessarily a justification for this movie's existence. Whether this was an Ocean's movie or not though, what gives the film its pulse is this throughline idea of knowing how to interact with people by scanning them upon meeting them and figuring out what type of person they want in their life and immediately becoming that person. Bullock and a few of her co-stars can explore this in a few different ways, but it is mostly Bullock who presents a surprisingly layered approach to this train of thought as we see her Debbie battle with how long such a lifestyle can remain exciting as masked by intentions of justice and vengeance. It's a shame the movie itself doesn't follow through on these instincts as the movie Bullock presents us with and allows us to assume “Ocean's 8” might become is far more fascinating than the fun, but ultimately derivative one it ends up being.
Directed and co-written by Gary Ross along with Olivia Milch, “Ocean's 8” does what it needs to do to fit into the style and tone of Soderbergh's world (overcompensating in this aspect to some degree), but it is clear that while having to fit into this certain niche style that Soderbergh re-invigorated for his 2001 re-make of the Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin film “Ocean's 8” also wants to be its own thing. It wants to prove it can do something just as well as the boys while putting its own spin on things and it mostly succeeds in being good fun finding fault not in what it presents or who it is presented through, but more in the inability to capture the energy if not the spirit of Soderbergh's films. This is glimpsed largely through the editing and pacing of the first act of the film as Ross' picture struggles to gain its footing after what is both an impressive and nearly flawless opening sequence that introduces us to Bullock's lead character and perfectly encapsulates who this woman is and how she operates. After this initial introduction the film has an obligation to then introduce the remaining seven members of the crew though, and does so by next presenting the audience with Cate Blanchett's exquisitely dressed Lou (Cate Blanchett) or who amounts to be the female version of Brad Pitt's Rusty Ryan in that she is an expert con artist who has connections out the wazoo, but is largely a part of the group because she has the balls and that aforementioned confidence and swagger to do things most people wouldn't be willing to risk. Bullock and Blanchett make a formidable duo and thus is the reason they seem to so quickly be able to round-up the likes of their hacker in Nine Ball (Rihanna), their low-key thief and pick-pocket in Constance (Awkwafina), their jewel expert in Amita (Mindy Kaling), a fashion designer on the fringe who gives them an in to the world they're attempting to hijack, Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter), as well as fellow con-artist, thief, and all-around criminal aficionado Tammy (Sarah Paulson). It is in this extended montage of sorts that the film is either unable to find its footing or becomes one of those "this happens and then this happens" type of stories and it's hard to decide which it is as Ross and Milch's script certainly seems to know what it's doing and how it's going to go about making things happen, but it never feels as if the movie really takes advantage of all it has available to it in a fashion that is genuinely exciting or compelling. It's just kind of there.
The heist at the center of the film revolves around New York City's star-studded annual Met Gala event. After a long five years, eight months, and twelve days in prison Debbie has concocted what she believes to be a perfect plan for how to lift what is known as the Toussaint Necklace. A six-pound, 136.25 carat blue-white diamond piece worth upwards of $150 million, the necklace has been buried deep within the vaults of Cartier at their home headquarters in Paris for some fifty years, but given the theme of this year's gala dealing in European royalty and the history of the piece having been worn by such Debbie believes that with the right combination of designer and celebrity they can convince the luxurious jewelry company to allow the priceless piece out of their hands if not their sight for a single night. Enter Bonham Carter's Rose who is something of a relic of a fashion designer that can't help but to dig herself further and further into debt to resurrect her career. She is the perfect mark for Debbie and Lou to bring into the fold and make promises to while at the same time having to unwittingly convince this year's honorary event day chair, actress Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), to choose Rose as the designer that will dress her for the event. It seems a lot of holes to jump through and a lot of trust to extend which would seemingly make some of Bullock's dialogue rather bullish considering how confident she is in her plan, but alas Debbie and Lou are able to convince Rose and in turn Rose is able to convince Daphne rather quickly and successfully that, despite her current reputation, nostalgia is in and she's the perfect unexpected choice for Daphne. Lou recruits the likes of Rihanna's tech expert who is one of the few hackers that isn't Russian as well as Awkwafina's pick-pocket neither of which Debbie seems initially impressed with and both of which serve to exemplify the biggest weaknesses in this spin-off. In Soderbergh's films each member of the crew was an integral part of the heist-that much is still true here-what has changed is how well we get to know each of the characters involved and how much those individual characters are developed. As previously stated and what we'll delve into more here in a moment is how much more Bullock brings to the table than what seems might have existed on the page, but while Rihanna, Awkwafina, and even Kaling serve their purpose as far as plot goes their actual characters are little more than the skills they bring to the table; there is nothing beyond who these people are beyond those skills and therefore viewers are only invested in the job so far as if it is successful or not rather than being invested in whether or not these specific people are successful.
So, Debbie. Ms. Sandra Bullock. She had no need to bring in what was this unfiltered aspect to her character-a character that was christened into the church of criminality and made to live or die by how good she was at being cunning and conniving-also seems to be a person who is lost without a job to look forward to. This isn't exactly a revelation as most criminals-like adrenaline junkies-don't do these things or risk their lives, freedom, etc. for the sake of the outcome, but more for the thrill, the high of executing the gigs. With Debbie, there is this keen sense that she is aware of her addiction and the ugly pattern it typically follows, but in one scene where she is both giving herself a pep talk and preparing a rousing speech for her troops she essentially reminds herself how much all of this is worth even if it doesn't go exactly as she imagined it the many, many times she went through it and revised it while in prison. Like everything else in “Ocean's 8” this scene isn't communicated with much weight nor does it contain any techniques that might suggest something more at play from a filmmaking standpoint, but rather it is a piece of a dialogue meant to serve as the calm before the storm where everything is neatly summarized before being put into action punctuated with a slight joke to ensure tonal consistency and yet Bullock brings this authenticity to the character; this sense that this is who Debbie genuinely is and can't help it even if she wanted to be someone else. She may or may not desire the life she satirizes in the opening scene of the film when pleading her case to the parole board, but even if what she said included a hint of truth there is more fear to let slip what she sees as the security her skills as a criminal provide than to ever must try and make an honest living. Debbie's arc inevitably proves that she can indeed go on doing what she knows she's good at, but in giving this line that goes, "a him gets noticed, a her gets ignored and for once...we want to be ignored," there is this sense not only of what women's roles are in society and what they're expected to be, but such awareness of one's self and the inherent nature to adapt to mirror the people one surrounded by at any given point is a case of constantly feeling like you have to sell yourself. Why would someone constantly feel the need to sell others on themselves? Any number of reasons, but in the case of Debbie it seems to be this hope she might stumble upon something better, something more purposeful and in understanding she only has so much longer before she's stuck with what she was always destined for it's not hard for Debbie to embrace that destiny rather than take this moment to do something normal which, for her, would be quite difficult.
Of course, “Ocean's 8” isn't really interested in following any of those paths or developing further as a character study, but more it is about having a good time and watching these gals steal some expensive jewelry with style to spare. In this regard, Ross delivers as he and his teams re-creation of the Met Gala is rather impressive if not for the host of cameos and clothes featured, but more for adding some palpable tension into the mix as each of these films has always hinged on the nitty-gritty of executing the master plans and Ross, his script, and his actors nail this part of the pre-requisites. Furthermore, while the cast of characters are more undercooked in some areas while more sporadically entertaining in others there needed to be more of an overall sense of camaraderie or at least better rapport between more combinations of these characters than what is on display in the final product as the lack of characterization in some of these individuals leaves much to be desired. That said, and while Bullock is certainly the lead and provides whatever substance a movie like “Ocean's 8” might have to offer, it is actually Hathaway who comes away with the most to gain as her performance here as a spoiled, catty, super diva plays up exactly what Hathaway herself has been accused of being over the past few years with it seeming as if the actress took this role and took full advantage of the opportunity to play Kluger so as to show what a true diva might look like and then shut every one of her haters and shamers down with what is a truly fun, versatile, and admittedly wild performance that gives the film that boost of energy and shot of rhythm it desired and needed to be considered akin to Soderbergh's trilogy.
by Philip Price
To properly assess “Adrift,” the latest lost in the wild adventure, it would seem the most logical thing to do is compare it to that of the wave of recent films with similar premises and or ideas with the main objective being to determine whether it does anything different or at least attempts to bring new ideas or layers to the experience. While “Adrift” doesn’t necessarily add anything new to the genre or say anything that hasn’t been said before it does stand to reason that no matter how similar the circumstances included in these stories of desperation and survival tend to be one is typically as harrowing as the next and, if executed in an effective enough fashion, will still hit all the necessary marks and retain enough suspense to be both entertaining as well as eye-opening. If “Adrift” is anything it is effective in its execution; this likely has to do with director Baltasar Kormákur's (“Everest”) experience in bringing these true to life, but often gruesomely heartbreaking events to life in an honest, but completely cinematic fashion. Kormákur takes this based on actual events story (as most of these are) and intertwines the survival narrative with that of a blossoming love affair between two young/beautiful people that are unaware how much their wills and fresh love are about to be tested. As corny as that may sound or as cheap as that storytelling trick may seem, Kormákur somehow manages to pull it off with a certain level of credibility that lends the familiar beats a sense of urgency which is good as, if one is clued in at all, they will be able to see the plot devices at work. This potentially undercuts what Kormákur and screenwriting team the Kandell brothers (Jordan and Aaron) are counting on as the emotional anchor (pun totally intended) they pull out from under the audience at the beginning of the third act. Fortunately, “Adrift” still works no matter your disposition thus leaving the overall impression the film leaves to once again rely on how effectively what we as an audience have been trained to know is coming is conveyed. In the tradition of films where people are stranded and left to contemplate the meaning of their now-seeming small existence in relation to the expanded world around them “Adrift” ranks somewhere a bit below “Life of Pi” and a fair amount above that of last year’s “The Mountain Between Us.”
It is 1983 and 24-year old Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) has just arrived in Tahiti where her last gig as a cook on a schooner brought her. Tami has no plans and seemingly little ambition other than to stay as far away from San Diego, Calif., otherwise known as home, if she possibly can. It seems as if Tami has been following this pattern for quite some time-picking up odd jobs wherever her sailing gigs happen to take her. It is in Tahiti though, that things take a turn for the interesting when Richard (Sam Claflin), a former naval academy student who has built his own boat and sailed half way around the world on his own, shows up and sweeps Tami off her feet, for lack of a better expression. The thing about “Adrift” though, is that we don't learn all of these details in chronological order, but rather Jordan and Aaron Kandell, along with David Branson Smith, have taken Oldham's 1998 debut novel, Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of a Woman's Courage and Survival at Sea, and very precisely plotted it out so as to make the survival sections of the film merge with the flashbacks that reveal how Tami and Richard met and fell in love in a very specific way that, even if you've read the source material or are familiar with the real life story, there are a certain amount of stakes you're able to get caught up in. The script layers in the details of Tami and Richard's relationship to make the moments in which we see the couple in deep desperation as they are stranded in the middle of the ocean that much more meaningful. Whether this be that Tami is a vegetarian, that she's only picked up a few lessons on how to sail from her previous jobs, or that she is generally a free spirit who is, "fearless like a bloke," as Richard says, it is these details we see exemplified in individual flashbacks that directly contribute to the inevitable scenario that Tami must deal with on her broken and stranded boat while battling mental exhaustion and physical debilitation. This technique that was formerly referred to as being something of a storytelling trick comes to be something of its saving grace given how much it would have felt the movie were spinning its wheels were it to simply stay with Tami and Richard throughout the forty-one days the characters are stranded on the boat. This alternate approach makes the storytelling both an interesting way to provide variety and increase investment while at the same time exercising a practical way in which to convey the story that, while at first feels rote, comes to be a technique that crescendos with the intended emotional significance and essentially solidifies the film’s place as both a well-executed and moving entry in the genre.
And while both the Kandell's screenplay and Kormákur's measured direction lend the film more of a subtle weight than expected there is much credit to be given to the actors on screen as well, primarily Woodley, who has to do the majority of the heavy lifting given Claflin's Richard is injured and bound to a single position for much of the runtime. From the onset of the film it is easy to see why Woodley was attracted to both the character and the material as Tami is very much a free spirit a la very much in line with Woodley's seeming own character, but more than this it seems something about Oldham's story genuinely connected with the actress as not only does Woodley star in the film, but she produced the project as well. To this effect, Woodley throws herself into the role completely and while it is easy to forget the “Divergent” star is a very raw performer (see “The Descendants” or “The Spectacular Now”) rather than just another flavor of the month hot, young actress who stumbled upon her own YA franchise, Woodley really shows up here to give this character her all. As a good portion of the film sees Woodley acting alone with no one else to feed off or even utilize in convincing the audience of her authenticity, the actress can harness this presence she possesses and utilize it to the point we want to stick out this journey with her even if we ourselves can't wait to get away from the circumstances. Claflin, in a less showy role than Woodley, still maintains his own sense of self (he did something similar a few summer's back in “Me Before You”) as the actor looks appropriately early-eighties in much of Richard's garb while more so he impresses by turning little moments into ones that will completely devastate you in the most rewarding of ways. There is a scene about mid-way through the film where Claflin's character discusses the death of his mother at a young age and how he has come to somewhat internalize this idea of who he believed her to be and how he uses this internalization as a point of guidance. It's a nice, pure, insightful moment that might easily be dismissed or forgotten in the grand scheme of the story, but it is a scene that not only furthers said story, but also doubles to deepen the relationship between Tami and Richard as well as highlight why Tami falls so quickly and so deeply for this man she's only known a few months. This type of believable bond that is revealed after such a short time (which is even more truncated in the film, obviously) is also a testament to Woodley and Claflin's chemistry and the well-constructed screenplay. Tami and Richard rarely allow themselves to become overly irritated with one another despite their circumstances and instead consistently remind themselves of this inherent connection they have that seems to be greater than any problem they meet. Again, everyone seems aware of how corny this all sounds and could come off as, but somehow “Adrift” and Kormákur make it work at a level that is not only credible, but largely impactful.
To be adrift is defined as floating without being either moored or steered. In this film, Tami must deal with a broken vessel while feeling like one herself and to be determined enough to find direction and steer one's self out of the headspace and the scenario itself is something the film does surprisingly well. It would be no surprise to state that, going into “Adrift,” there wasn't much in the way of expectation and while this may ultimately give the film an edge this is a film that knows what it is and takes the tropes and clichés of these kinds of films and uses them to its advantage by not only chronicling these moments in ways that continue to deepen our sympathy for the characters, but also quietly speaking to some of the larger themes at play. That being said, “Adrift” isn't venturing to say much beyond the obvious, but what it does tackle it tackles well. For example, in one of the first discussions between Tami and Richard, Richard talks about his love/hate relationship with sailing and how there really isn't much good about it in terms of the work versus reward, but he does pause a moment when reflecting on those times-days into a voyage-when the infinite horizon before him becomes an incomparable intensity that swells within him. Now, this is quickly dismissed as being corny by Richard himself, but Tami gets it and is very much in tune with recognizing the role we as humans play in our environment and how she admires Richard for having found his when she still feels so lost and so far away from her destiny. Is “Adrift” necessarily trying to say anything specific about a person's sense of self in a world that is much bigger and more expansive than the individual can even imagine? Probably not, but there are suggestions there if you care to look for them. The same with that of a scene in which Richard proposes to make Tami his girlfriend by telling her that in a certain culture placing a flower behind one ear over another is a sign of being off the market; a flower that moves faster through its life cycle than anything else on earth-blooming and wilting in the same day. Is this foreshadowing? Naturally. Is it some slight symbolism for how the movie makes itself as much about the connection between Richard and Tami as it does the two of them surviving one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history? Of course. They survive only because of the strength once receives from the other as in one of these stories can't happen without the other and the fact the movie realizes that is what makes it so commendable and so...effective. Sure, it has things it stumbles over-it reiterates things we understand in sometimes blatant, fashion-but it is also surprisingly restrained for such a naturally sweeping love story. The cinematography by Robert Richardson (a frequent Tarantino and Scorsese collaborator) is ravishing while Volker Bertelmann's score is there, but never swells to egregious levels. In essence, “Adrift” does what it is meant to do as effectively as it could which, if you've read the entirety of this review, you know is what matters most.
by Philip Price
There is no mention of the force. Barely a lightsaber is wielded. In these tangential ‘Star Wars’ stories Disney has somehow figured out how to not only expand a brand, but simultaneously how to sell what were once mid-range, star-driven vehicles that have become obsolete in the current theatrical landscape of tentpole after tentpole. It makes sense: to be not what everything else is, but what you need to be sometimes means taking up the mantle of that which will make people feel the urge to venture out to the theater while ultimately delivering something they didn't know they missed seeing on the big screen. And so, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is a heist film that just so happens to feature characters with names and a few locations a few of us might recognize. Moreover, these characters may not require further backstory or exploration as this may in fact be detrimental to the mythos of some while fascinating in other circumstances, but in this universe as it now exists both the recognizable and additional characters on display here all have their own stories that can be expanded upon and thus is the reason LucasFilm and Kathleen Kennedy no doubt found this a solid if not necessarily wholly compelling piece to produce in the beginning phases of these extraneous stories taking place around the core trilogies. Because of this and because of Disney's inability to add any genuine stakes to ‘Solo’ given it takes place prior to the original trilogy and they've already spoiled what happens to the character after; the studio has been afforded the opportunity to make a Han Solo movie which isn't really as much a movie about who Han Solo is and why or how he became the Han Solo we all came to know and love in ‘Star Wars,’ but more it is a movie about a team of scoundrels and smugglers who are always seeking that "one job to end all jobs". You know, the one they might retire on, settle all their debts with, and that will set them up prettily for the rest of their lives? Yeah, that's what ‘Solo’ is. ‘Solo’ is a mob drama of sorts, albeit an intergalactic one, that by default functions as part of two specific genres and works well enough to varying degrees in both for the general effect that it suffices to satisfy audiences seeking either type of movie just well enough. Does it hold much weight? No. Was it necessary? Of course not. Worst of all, it's not very efficient with its own storytelling in certain acts, but it's a fun enough time with characters that, if you loved them already, you won't mind hanging out with more and getting to meet some of their extended circles you weren't acquainted with prior.
We begin not with a crawl, but with what is still prefaced as taking place "a long(er) time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." We are told this is a "lawless time" and are then set down on the planet Corellia, a shipbuilding world, where our titular "hero" (we'll come back to that later) was presumably born and raised. It is also a place run by scum that goes by the name Lady Proxima (voice of Linda Hunt) who has commissioned the young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) to steal what is known as "Hyperfuel". Meanwhile, Han sees this rare and valuable element as a way for he and his girlfriend, Qi'ra (Emilia Clarke), to finally be afforded the chance to flee Corellia. In one of those moments that will forever change the course of their lives, Han is able to narrowly escape Lady Proxima's henchman, but Qi'ra is apprehended just before she can step into freedom. Han quickly enlists in the Imperial Navy as a flight cadet in a scene I can't decide if I liked or not, but that would seemingly be a monumental moment were everyone's opinions not already informed by everyone on the internet's opinions. I want to believe this scene in particular is a nice touch with swell intent even if it is a little on the nose, much in the same way I want to like Phoebe Waller-Bridge's featured droid in this ‘Star Wars’ story, L3-37, is but despite being wholly her own character and different than any droid we've seen before in a ‘Star Wars’ film her characterization feels so pointed in its agenda so as to often times come off as obnoxious rather than as this liberating force she is meant to represent. This is jumping ahead though, as L3 isn't introduced until after Donald Glover's Lando Calrissian comes into the fold which, as many I expect will be disappointed to hear, isn't until around the 50 mark of the film. This is jumping ahead of the fact the film itself jumps ahead three years after Han makes it off Corellia and winds up inadvertently hanging out with a gang of criminals posing as Imperial soldiers led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), his girlfriend and explosives expert, Val (Thandie Newton), and their pal and pilot Rio Durant (voice of Jon Favreau). Han and his newly acquired friend, a wookie named Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo)-you may have heard of him, blackmail their way into Beckett's crew and are soon hijacking a shipment of that hyperfuel coaxium on the planet Vandor. As these things go though, nothing goes as planned and given Beckett is in deep with crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) who runs a syndicate known as Crimson Dawn Han, Chewie, and Tobias have a lot of explaining to do when Vos shows up to collect his goods and they don't have them with the fact Qi'ra now works for Vos only further complicating things.
Written by “Empire Strikes Back” and “The Force Awakens” scribe Lawrence Kasdan along with his son, Jonathan, there was hope that this guy who'd had a hand in some of the title character's most iconic moments might lend his origin story some real weight, but while Kasdan obviously has a love and a passion for the character of Han Solo what he and his son have concocted for this film in particular holds no gravity and instead operates on a handful of those previously mentioned genre clichés that amounts to an entertaining enough time in the moment, but contains nothing to earn its name alongside fellow pop culture milestones born from the original trilogy. It is in the screenplay that we probably find the most disappointment as it was the one seeming constant throughout what is now a famously storied behind the scenes saga. As you've no doubt heard, director Ron Howard was brought in after head of LucasFilm, Kathleen Kennedy, essentially fired original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miler (“The LEGO Movie”) over what was once again deemed to be "creative differences". To this point and now having seen what Howard, Kasdan, and LucasFilm delivered it is difficult not to wonder what exactly Lord and Miller might have produced and how it might have felt more vital and necessary than this fine, but forgettable adventure film. If Lord and Miller were able to bring actual gravitas to a movie about toy blocks one can only imagine what they might have done with the origin story of one of the most notorious scoundrels in the galaxy; opening up the movie to explore more the why of why Han Solo is who he is when we meet him in ‘Star Wars,’ rather than simply re-capping the how of how he arrived on Tatooine in the circumstances we all recall-which is what it feels as if Solo has done by the time the credits roll. There are certainly scenes to suggest layers to our titular character, but this goes back to the issue of the script as the Kasdan duo are able to highlight a context and set of circumstances early on from which Han was born and grew-up in that suggest his disposition as a loner and outsider, but as the full set of events chronicled in the film unfold it more becomes a sense of this happened and then this happened rather than this natural sense of provocation in which Ehrenreich's Han Solo becomes Harrison Ford's Han Solo. It all makes sense in dramatic terms as this young-ish version of Han (‘Solo’ supposedly takes place a decade prior to the events in “A New Hope”) is taught lessons of perspective and betrayal that lead to him falling in line with neither the Empire or emerging rebellion, but rather set-up both his dissenter attitude as well as the dynamic he carries with characters audiences are both seeing for the first time and have seen before. In fact, this may be the strongest aspect of this ‘A Star Wars Story’ as Clarke's Qi'ra offers our most intriguing character arc and Glover's iteration of Lando and his interactions with Han are some of the most entertaining moments in the movie.
The fact that the film is so plot heavy and thus less naturally evolving is what ultimately makes ‘Solo’ more of a chore than an inherent piece of the puzzle, but that isn't saying the movie doesn't offer some interesting new spins on the ‘Star Wars’ universe or that it does nothing of value. This is by no means a bad movie it is simply a "good enough" one that doesn't zero in on the meat of why Han Solo has always been an intriguing character that being his duality. Though often thought of as a reluctant hero; a man who places his own welfare and well-being ahead of the greater cause but allows his good side to prevail largely due to the relationships he forms with those around him ‘Solo’ somewhat upends this and paints Ehrenreich's version of the character as an optimistic and persistent individual who seems to always have the bad luck of being or ending up in the wrong place. Ehrenreich's Solo doesn't need to be convinced to help, but rather he is already on this course of obtaining an objective that was seemingly a given in his life before being thrown off track and becomes this somewhat naive, but still charming and effectively convincing rogue that will do whatever he needs to return to that course. Sure, the Han Solo here is still very much looking to make a score and looking out for his best interests, but it is the end goal being made visible that changes our perspective on how the character might evolve from Ehrenreich to Ford's portrayal. In ‘Solo,’ Han still isn't your typical hero, but he is going out of his way to ensure he can rescue the girl and allow them to henceforth live happily ever after. Ehrenreich exudes the necessary qualities with which to convey this slight change in tone and his chemistry with Clarke is what makes the film as involving as it is despite shortchanging the audience when it comes to the arc of each of their characters truly beginning to become interesting. The same can be said for Ehrenreich and Glover's chemistry and charisma as the first hand played between the two in a game called "Sabacc" is genuinely great and gives the movie its first real boost of energy after an hour of plodding through plot to unite each of the characters it wants to have form this core cast. With the appearance of Glover's Calrissian as well as the much-hyped performance Glover was expected to give, Lando is not actually in the film a lot and is only as good as he is due to the fact he appears in small doses. Glover is doing (much) more of an impersonation of Billy Dee Williams than Ehrenreich is of Ford and if, as rumored, Glover is requested to do an entire movie centered on Lando it would be difficult to see how the audience might not be tested by or find sympathy with him.
“Solo: A Star Wars Story” looks, sounds, and feels different than any other prior ‘Star Wars’ film with cinematographer Bradford Young (“Arrival”) really owning the look he's chosen as John Powell's score certainly includes some of those iconic orchestral moments, but also deviates from what our ears have been conditioned to. Otherwise and aside from those previously noted highlights, the Han/Chewie introduction is a perfectly concocted moment and there are thick chills laid when Han gets his first look at the Falcon. If nothing else, ‘Solo’ serves as another interesting entry in the now long-running history of this ship as we've seen where it's been and where it's gone, but apparently there are still plenty of places it's going and have been that we've yet to see...much like the ‘Star Wars’ franchise itself these days.