Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

★★

It’s Star Wars, probably everyone reading this is going to see it no matter what. This second installment of the sequel trilogy includes the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for the series. Rian Johnson made a decisive sequel to the near-universally loved J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens (2015) and decided the take a risk as far as how the story was handled. The audience score (as of right now) on Rotten Tomatoes sits at a surprisingly low 57% (making it tied for the lowest out of all the main-series Star Wars films). What a time to be alive.

Just a heads up, any paragraph below this one is crossing into spoiler territory.

Luke Skywalker is not playing Luke at all. Instead, it is just Mark Hamill playing Mark Hamill. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) uses the force in the dumbest way possible. Puppet-Force-Ghost Yoda appears and it’s a surreal experience that also is kind of unintentionally funny. The Last Jedi is a movie that is inconsistent. It takes a bit for the film to get interesting but when it does, it can feel just like classic Star Wars. There are also some interesting, new world-building ideas as well as some not-so-interesting ones (like those freakin’ Porgs). Overall it is a mixed bag where the positives just narrowly outweigh the negatives.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still a character without flaw. Everything comes easy to Rey, she learns the force with little struggle and with pretty much no training from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The only interesting thing that could have been done with her character in The Last Jedi. Which, would have been teaming up with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and joining the dark side. Which is instead thrown away for a fight sequence after the rejection of Ren’s offer. Here’s to hoping that by the time Episode IX comes around in 2019, they will finally give Rey some character that consists of things other than being a prodigy at everything.

Why was Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) killed off? What was the purpose of that character? He was pretty much was given the “Darth Maul Treatment” and not just because they were both sliced in half. Both characters had very little time to do anything meaningful and ended up just looking, instead of being interesting. Also was a golden Gucci bathrobe the most threatening thing that Snoke could have been wearing before his death? Despite his detractors, I still firmly believe that Adam Driver’s portrayal of Kylo Ren is the best thing that the sequel trilogy has going for itself. Ren is what Anakin Skywalker should have been. A bratty, whiny, and childish accomplice to a dark lord that is also a loose cannon. But now, with no leader to follow, this could bring the story in many different, interesting directions.

The most popular criticism that I heard from people about The Force Awakens was that it was just a rehash of A New Hope (1977). Well, for all the people that were afraid that this one would just be a remake of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) it isn’t. However, that doesn’t immediately make one film better than the other. While The Force Awakens was immediately good, like a warm cookie straight from the oven. The Last Jedi may be like a bottle of Merlot, that in two years could be better than it is right now. Or, maybe I could just be in denial, and if I am, at least the space battles make it worth revisiting.  

 

 

 

 

War For the Planet of the Apes (2017)

★★★

While watching  Matt Reeves’ War for the Planet of the Apes, the conclusion to this prequel trilogy, I felt like it was missing something. Yes, the film is well made. It has some terrific action and possibly the best motion-capture ever done in a movie. But it lacked the other ingredients that made the other two installments more enjoyable.

It may have been because, the film’s villain, The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) in War, is a little to “cartoonishly evil” for my tastes. A fascist character who is not afraid to kill anyone and everything who even disagrees with his opinions on dealing with the Simian Flu that has consumed the world population. The problem with Harrelson’s character is that, it would be much more powerful for him to continue to act ruthless rather than tell Caesar why is is like this. It ruins the allure of his character, as someone who wouldn’t need to justify what he is doing because he doesn’t need to answer to anyone. But with that gripe aside, the only other major issue character-wise was the inclusion of Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who is used as comic relief mostly which is odd, as both Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) were played pretty much all seriously. I found his inclusion to not work too well because of this.

Andy Serkis’ portrayal of Caesar is still the best part of this franchise. With each installment we have seen the character grow mentally and in War he talks in pretty much all grammatically correct English. Serkis once again, creates a character that feels and looks authentic.

A discussion about the environments the apes travel through can also not be avoided. The snowy environments of British Columbia blanket many scenes in their beauty. A nice change from the environment of San Francisco of the previous installments.

This trilogy can not only be seen as showing the advancement of apes over man throught the years but also the advancement of excellent visual effects in blockbuster movies. The attention to detail is incredible. I noticed that the eyes of the apes especially, had differing amounts of color in them and at one time one of Caesar’s eyes were even bloodshot. It’s just some really amazing stuff to see.

“The beginning and the end” is spray-painted on the side of an oil tank in this movie. Telling us that the trilogy may be finished, but Planet of the Apes (1968) is just on the horizon.