JJ Abrams

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

21/12/19

In the early 70s, a young filmmaker called George Lucas had a vision. He wanted to make an epic space saga that would consist of nine episodes in total. (And one for which he would, naturally, retain all merchandising rights.) For reasons best known to himself, he decided to begin, in 1977, with episode four of what, for me, is one of the most overrated film franchises in history.

It began well enough – indeed, the first two films are great – but, from that point, it has descended into a whole series of misfires. There’s the one with the Ewoks. And those three awful prequels… oh God, those prequels!

Finally, here we are at episode nine: The Rise of Skywalker. After the bewildering cul de sac of The Last Jedi – and after the ignonimous departure of Skywalker’s original director, Colin Trevorrow – J J Abrams is back on board to bring the saga to an end. This seemed like a sensible decision when it was first announced. After all, his The Force Awakens was easily the best Star Wars movie in a very long time, a sort of lively ‘best of’ compilation. If anybody could offer a safe pair of hands, surely he was the man? So it’s sad to report that (for my money, at least) this final chapter provides a decidedly lacklustre conclusion.

The plot: a familiar voice from the past is threatening the rebel resistance, which is still being commanded by Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher, courtesy of some visual trickery). Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) head off on a quest to try to find where that pesky voice is coming from, accompanied by C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo). Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is still intent on ruling the universe. And then… ah, who cares? It’s all lumpen and – dare I say it? – dull. I find myself bored after just twenty minutes of viewing. And considering the film opens with an all-out action sequence, that’s a problem.

So what has gone wrong? Is it the unnecessarily complicated storyline that sinks it? The seemingly endless procession of people we think are dead, but aren’t any more? (Maybe even the ones who actually are dead but don’t seem to know it – and I’m not talking about Carrie Fisher here, but the fictional characters.)

Is it the series of hopelessly turgid lightsaber duels that drag it down? The fact that people talk in a series of fridge magnet quotes? Is it that characters still can’t decide if they’re good eggs or dark, demonic nasties? Or is it simply that not enough time has passed since Jedi to allow audiences to summon up enough enthusiasm for this nonsense? Whatever the reasons, by the time we hit the (ho hum) extended space battle climax, I’m looking at my watch and praying for it to be over.

I appreciate that the diehard fans will rally round to support the film, because, well, that’s what Star Wars freaks tend to do but, apart from a couple of scenes here and there, I can’t honestly say that I enjoy this. And that’s a shame because, despite the curse of diminishing returns, Star Wars has had a remarkably good run down the decades and I want it to go out on a high.

Of course, I’m not so dumb as to imagine it’s really going to end here. As long as there’s more money to be made, there will be spin-offs and prequels and homages and tie-ins.

But I seriously doubt I’ll be watching them.

2.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Overlord

26/11/18

War makes monsters of men.’ In Julius Avery’s Overlord, this adage is taken to its logical conclusion as a bunch of evil Nazis, occupying a small village in France, carry out a series of rather nasty experiments on the local population. This canny blend of war movie and 18 certificate body horror is undoubtedly a mash-up, but such beasts are rarely as well handled as this, or as downright entertaining. Indeed, here’s a movie that hits the ground running and goes galumphing gloriously along to its final blood-drenched moments.

Of course, because of the presence of JJ Abrams as executive producer, the film was widely expected to be a fourth instalment in the Cloverfield franchise, but I’m happy to say the C-word is never mentioned here and it’s just as well, since this has its own agenda and fulfils it very effectively.

It’s 1945, the eve of D Day, and we join Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) in a crowded transport plane, preparing to bale out over German-occupied France. Boyce and his fellow paratroopers have been tasked with an important mission. They are to destroy a church steeple in the aforementioned French village, which the Germans are currently using as a communications centre. The success of Operation Overlord depends on its timely destruction (so no pressure there). But within minutes of the film’s start, the plane is taking on fire and, in a totally immersive and nerve-shredding sequence, all hell breaks loose. Boyce barely escapes with his life.

A little later, approaching the village accompanied by a few other survivors, including hard-bitten veteran, Ford (Wyatt Russell), Boyce encounters Chloe (Mathilde Olivier), a young woman struggling to survive under the predations of the ruthless Nazi Commandant Wafner (Pilou Asbaek). She takes the American soldiers into hiding at her aunt’s house… but what exactly is happening in the compound that houses that all-important church tower? Why are so many prisoners being taken there? And why is Chloe’s aunt making all those strange noises in her room?

The gradual metamorphosis from action film to horror movie is effectively done, pushing the envelope a little further with each new revelation, until our disbelief is well and truly suspended – and the very real horrors of war seem to lend extra gravitas to the fantasy elements of the story. The presence of deadly explosive charges adds an extra layer of suspense to the final furlong. It’s breathless stuff. More squeamish viewers should be warned that there are scenes here that may test their resolve to the limit, but those who fancy a B-Movie plot married to A-Movie production values are going to have a whale of a time with this. I know I did.

That said, anyone scheduled to undergo a medical procedure in the near future might want to give this one a miss. It gets very messy.

4.3 stars

Philip Caveney