Rogue One (2016)


Jumping into hyperspace is this Star Wars story, slotting before ‘A New Hope’, it’s a fantastically expansive kick-start to the Lucasfilm and Disney anthology series, with the overall feel of this operatic space blockbuster being somewhat different to what has come before.

After being freed by Rebel Alliance officer Cassian (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) comes to realise her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been building a powerful weapon for the Imperial Army. Hoping to find some plans to destroy the Death Star, Jyn leads a troop of fighters to do just that and avoid the evil grasp of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

A film such as this is obviously going to arrive with trumpets tooting and hype at an all time peak, so it’s always a task to live up to expectations. Mostly, this movie does succeed if not having a few minor weaknesses. The detail and visual splendour of every planet alone is enough to delight and even more so when seen on the IMAX screen. The new characters are engaging enough to take us on this rebel journey and they’re written with that classic Star Wars code of either bad or good to fit this standalone story snugly with the other movies.

What works so nicely and what I liked the most wasn’t just the impressive scale of the hero’s mission but the attempt at a different tone set up here. It’s not exactly darker but threat is certainly on the line and with everyone’s favourite masked baddie back again it’s clear that the good guys need to watch out. The narrative we receive is unique enough in not tripping fully down nostalgia lane and it has us thrown into a murkier spy-like sci-fi with lives very much on the line.

It’s a simple focused story which is why it’s easy to follow this film and immerse yourself amongst the new creatures, wonderful Michael Giacchino score and fan pleasing links to the Star Wars galaxy. Gareth Edwards directs confidently and with his team the structure of the movie is sound, it all works well, maybe too well because there’s times when the movie feels safe even when it’s treading down an unexplored road of danger and rebellion.

For me at least, the ending is orchestrated greatly, sky fights and ground battles combine in harmony but there comes a time when casualties of war become commonplace and drastically lose impact. Also a near end deus ex machina is totally cliched and felt lazy. Everything just comes to a head, it’s like they tried set up but it didn’t quite work and thinking on it the simple story is non-daring and tightropes the line of being not Star Wars but yet a thoroughly Star Wars picture.

Felicity Jones is brilliant in this, she portrays a gritty determination and hopeful look for a better Empire. The wavering teary eyes give great character emotion and then she can do steely Lara Croft action or engaging empathising smiles to round Jyn Erso as a cool addition to the Wars World. Ben Mendelsohn does a fine job in almost stealing the show, snarls and calm villainous stares make him a marvellous antagonist. Forest Whitaker is a believable guardian yet with a shaky moral core being good yet having a mean streak for intruders. Diego Luna pairs nicely with Jones, the writing of an affection is lame but he’s a rough and ready soldier and a capable male lead. It’s great to hear James Earl Jones voicing Vader once more and trust me, Darth does force choke his way to bad-assery during the film.

Mostly, Rogue One is an entertaining change to the galaxy we know, as it tries to conjure up something a bit different which is almost 100% successful and aside from a couple of near-end niggles, this is a movie to excite all ages and comfort you whilst blasting you with new faces and new worlds.



Godzilla (2014)



A suitably large sized chunk of entertaining carnage and demolishment to mirror the well known and loved monster from the seas. This film comes with a fair few stock characters and either predictable or weak moments but on the whole it’s great for what it is and breathes better life into ‘Gojira‘ than the 1998 version.

This time around we see the nuclear testing of weapons and the like as the catalyst and metaphor for the birth of this monster, though Godzilla himself is already alive and part of covered up history and folklore by the start of the movie. He serves as a more terrifying image of the brutal force of nature. After a nuclear catosphere at a plant and a time lapse the same concerning radioactive levels emerge and it becomes clear that Joe (Bryan Cranston) was right that something was wrong and it wasn’t just an oversight or government problem the first time around. It comes down to Godzilla making his way to America and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) amongst others, to try and prevent utter devastation to the city and lives.

SPOILER (if you hadn’t watched the second trailer like me): This film does include some Cloverfield style monsters that are the true villains and friendly neighbourhood Godzilla tries to help even if he does cause a huge mess at the same time.

Briefly I shall brush over a problem with the sound of the score which is unbelievably loud at times. It works when a scene is building to something huge but when there isn’t anything tense of note on the screen then the score doesn’t mirror and it feels too much. The music over the men jumping into the city from the plane is the same as the suspenseful sound in the trailer and that works really well. The opening title music is also great in providing that epic sense of doom but especially in IMAX the music doesn’t always hit the right spot whereas the mega roars of the monster do.

The movie is grand and epic and showcases moments of destruction to amazing effect but it doesn’t rely on that to lead the film astray. Sure Godzilla and burning, falling buildings is what will sell this film but at times this story reaches monstrous heights because it looks more at the human nature behind the fearful nature of the beast. Not to spoil anything but a moment of clear human error just shows the futility of our interaction with the goings on with Godzilla and it’s nice that it is kept in even if the choice made by officials serves no purpose to an end and actually destroys more in the long run. The interesting factor this movie seems to take is focusing on the innocent a fair few times, as their eyes see a world of confusion and awe. Children feature heavily in obviously building the dramatic scale of what might happen to them, a poor little dog gets caught up in the midst of it all too. Where other films may linger more on the punch em up style of Godzilla protecting the city from other threats this keeps switching back to shots of human reaction which gives us more to empathise with. If you’re wishing/hoping for a ‘Pacific Rim’ style smashy monster movie then you’re not much in luck. It’s better than that.

Johnson is good but then his character is pretty much drawn out of a cookie cut model that works for these types of films. The all American hero who is kind, nice and up for anything to save the day but he sells it well even if it’s damn obvious he’ll make it through just because he’s that guy. Cranston is a stronger element in conveying a large amount of emotion, it’s his welling up that brings sympathy and heart to the piece and you can’t help but feel for him when he’s upset or deranged crazy in finding the truth. It’s the female side of things where it does fall apart as they just don’t do much. It would be nice to see at least a scene or one side of events where a woman saves the day or helps in some way whereas here they do little of anything. Juliette Binoche is hardly in it and doesn’t really use much of her impressive acting talent anyway. Sally Hawkins is quiet throughout in a role that gives her nothing much to say. Elizabeth Olsen is good and she provides the caring worried mother/wife role well but apart from that cliched female persona she doesn’t do much. Ken Watanabe is the partnering scientist to Hawkins and after his shining moment to mention the name of the monster for the first time, he helps in his way to working out what could be going on, though after discovering another threat is wreaking havoc it becomes pretty evident of what the next step up will be.

The look of Godzilla is gigantic and he stands impressively in his ferocious scaly stature but it is surreal to see him at times looking into the eyes of humans for that human connection. It sort of works and sort of doesn’t if that makes sense. The times when you only see his ridged back either against backdrops of skyscrapers or cutting through the water provide chilling effect to the size of this thing and the scene, once again from the trailer and the jumping from the plane really holds one of the best moments of atmosphere and style. The shot of the skyline filled with red and smoky shapes is very moody and represents the kind of angle this film is aiming for in general.

The only other weaknesses aside from some links between Ford and Godzilla and the typical moulds of disaster movie characters is the drive to getting Godzilla about. It does become silly ridiculous after a while when it basically seems to stalk Ford going to every place that he is arriving at. That and a shot of Elvis that comes with a monster hitting Vegas harder than a group of lads on a stag night. The nuclear type message becomes a bit annoying after a while but thankfully with some balancing act between all out monster rage and human reaction the film springs back into life.

A smoky and moody scaled take on the legend of Godzilla with only a scattering of weaknesses to speak of. It’s fun, entertaining and holds enough human drama and story to counteract the growing spectacle of this protector from the deep.