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Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Slowly Satisfies with Busy Space Opera

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There’s a lot to unload from The Last Jedi, the intensely-awaited continuance of the new Star Wars trilogy. I went in with the intent of making a list of the film’s primary plot points to avoid writing any crucial spoilers in my review. That list turned out to be longer than I thought, occupying two pages of my reporter’s notebook. As you may have guessed from such a length, the film does answer many of the questions left hanging after The Force Awakens and even brings a handful of arcs to conclusions I was not anticipating. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s all scrunched into a 152-minute epic that hardly has time to breathe between dark discoveries, weird alien creatures, and booming space battles.

As the middle chapter of this latest Star Wars trilogy, director Rian Johnson has aimed to make The Last Jedi the familiar narrative of kicking the heroes down a hole to crawl out of, and it’s a mighty big hole this time. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), are now falling back after their successful destruction of the First Order’s Starkiller Base, the mega Death Star that could blow up multiple planets at a time. The First Order still has an armada with a massive battleship, The Dreadnought, that might not be able to blow up planets, but can make short work of a Resistance Base or an entire fleet. Even if that ship goes down, there’s no shortage of big cannons for blowing up rebel scum, from space and land.

Luke-Skywalker-Rey-Daisy-Ridley-Star-Wars-Last-Jedi-TV-Spot-Creatures-Ships

Facing their toughest hour, the Resistance needs all the help it can get from some unlikely heroes. Fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) continues to lead the Resistance fighters into battle but needs to learn to make better calls that don’t lead all his men towards kamikaze maneuvers (and there’s a lot of them in this film). Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-fighter Finn (John Boyega) believes he can use his First Order knowledge to save the day but will require some extra help from the plucky engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). Both will have to contend with the stern Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) that has her risky strategies as well.

Elsewhere, potential Jedi knight Rey (Daisy Ridley) has sought the tutelage of hermit Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), whose days of wielding the powers of the Force are behind him. Of course, there’s the obvious comparison to the similar trials Luke went through in The Empire Strikes Back with Master Yoda. History is repeating itself, but Luke is a far more notable curmudgeon for wanting to change all that this time. And after what he reveals about the First Order’s star Sith Lord Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), you start to understand his desire to cut himself off from the world. By that same token, the more we learn about Kylo Ren’s history, his plight is a little more sympathetic for his rage and bitterness for not appeasing the sinister Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

These characters and themes are enough to weave a brilliantly somber bridge picture but must struggle to share the screen with so much else going on in the plot. Even at over two hours, the film feels overstuffed with so much going on that some of the more strong emotional scenes don’t carry as massive an impact as they should. I liked the inclusion of Benicio del Toro as a shapeshifter, but his introduction requires a detour to a casino planet that feels criminally underexplored, even with the abundance of alien-looking patrons and weird horse creatures raced for sport. There’s an epic fight between Finn and his bitter former superior Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), but she arrives so late to the party that their confrontation doesn’t hold the same level of intensity that was present in the previous film. There’s a backstory to Rose and her mission but she is fighting for screen time so badly. There are so many character arcs, backstories, Jedi mythos, space battles, lightsaber duels, and technobabble of ship strategies that there’s enough material here for three whole movies. No wonder Rian Johnson is considering making an entire Star Wars trilogy of his very own.

There’s a lot to like about The Last Jedi, but so much great stuff is rushed towards the screen that there’s only enough time to see them as merely good stuff. I missed the more straightforward style of adventure from The Force Awakens where a handful of heroes are followed and developed. Now there are even more characters and splintering arcs that always kept the movie moving but only made me wish it would take the time to stop and smell the oddly-colored flowers. As a result, many of the film’s quieter and more psychological moments come off without as much depth. There’s no time for letting these scenes play out longer; not when there are cute little Porg creatures to latch onto the fuzzy Chewbacca like pesky puppies.

For cramming so much into this story, there’s no doubt this will be a very divisive film for the Star Wars fans, especially those with fan theories that will perhaps be dismayed all their predictions did not come true. Still, I have to give Rian Johnson credit for going a little bolder by attempting to defy convention and not leave too many loose threads hanging by the end of the picture. The humor is still there, the space battles are more epic, and there are enough twists to keep the story interesting with no guarantees about who will survive. At the very least, Hamill’s performance is a major highlight, portraying Luke as the most badass Jedi that ever lived. If The Force Awakens was a fitting salute to Han Solo and Rogue One a tribute to making Darth Vader a fearsome foe, this movie is Luke’s time to shine as the brightest spark of heroism in this saga. The Force is certainly still with him.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


Box Office

“The Grinch” Steals Box Office, “Overlord” and “Spider” Left With Scraps

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The holiday Christmas movie season starts early as it usually does in November. Just one week after The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, along comes Dr. Suess’ The Grinch, the theatrical animated adaptation of the classic children’s novel, helmed by Illumination Studios of Despicable Me fame. The animated comedy raked in $66 million for its first weekend, well on its way to conquering its $75 million budget as the holidays roll on. Given Illumination’s track record with comedy among kids, expect the film to stick around for the next two months.

The rather high box office of Grinch stole the thunder of the other two films debuting this weekend. Overlord, a Nazi zombie action/horror romp, debuted at #3 with a domestic gross of $10.1 million, which is not exactly a strong opening for a film with a $38 million budget. But it could’ve been worse as The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story, the action sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, premiered at #5 with a box office take of only $8 million on a $43 million budget. Don’t be surprised if you see these darker, violent films take a tumble coming into the holiday season that seeks more PG-13 genre films for the families to venture out to the theater for.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury and Queen biopic, is holding firm at #2 on its second weekend with a weekend gross of $30.8 million, bumping its domestic total up to $100 million. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, however, isn’t doing so well in its second weekend. The Disney fantasy adventure only made $9.5 million over the weekend, a 53% drop with a domestic total sitting at a meager $35 million. Not a very strong take for a Disney Christmas fantasy that cost $120 million.

It’s no surprise, however, that David Gordon Green’s Halloween took the biggest dip of the weekend at 64%. It’s surprising the horror film is even still here at #9 in the box office, the domestic total now sitting at a very pleasing $156 million. Also holding firm once again at #10 is The Hate U Give, having made $26 million for only being in 1,100 theaters.

View the full top 10 box office weekend results below.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($66,000,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($30,850,000)
Overlord ($10,100,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($9,565,000)
The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story ($8,015,000)
A Star is Born ($8,010,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($6,540,000)
Venom ($4,850,000)
Halloween ($3,840,000)
The Hate U Give ($2,070,000)

Next weekend will feature magical beasts versus dysfunctional families versus women robbers. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second film in the new Harry Potter spin-off series, will debut in 4,000 theaters. Instant Family, a family comedy starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg, will hit 3,000 theaters. Also debuting in 3,000 theaters will be Widows, the all-star heist picture directed by Steve McQueen and starring Viola Davis.


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Review: “Overlord” is a Gritty, Gory Genre Mash

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Overlord is one of those delicious genre blenders that delivers World War II action and viciously gruesome body horror into a beautifully bloody cocktail of entertainment. In the same way that From Dusk Till Dawn convinced you into watching one type of film before switching gears, so too does this war film that soon mutates into an equally as frightening tale of science experiments gone wrong. And although the subgenre of Nazi zombies is a fairly small one, this is by far one of the most fun.

Starting loud and explosive, making great use of IMAX, we’re quickly thrown into the action with an interesting ensemble of soldiers tasked with taking down a Nazi control tower in French territory. Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) is fearful of combat and reasonably so when everyone is shooting at you when making a rocky landing and losing more than half his comrades. His methods of choosing the least lethal options clashes greatly with the ruthless Captain Ford, played by a stellar Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell who has that same great level of grit in his performance. Meeting up with a handful of other soldiers, they secretly make their plans in a Nazi-occupied French village to assault the tower where the Nazis have established a base.

Though Boyce is prepared to take down the target, he’s not prepared for what he discovers underneath the base. The Nazis have a classic mad doctor hard at work on breeding the ultimate race of super soldiers. These monsters are not ready yet and Boyce, unfortunately, happens upon the stepping stones of mangled corpses, howling undead, and decapitated heads begging for death. Of course, this is all helmed by a nervous mad scientist, Dr. Schmidt (Erich Redman), and a sneeringly sinister overseeing Nazi Officer Wafner (Pilou Asbæk).

While the Nazi experiments are in desperate need of improvement, Overlord shoots straight for the guts with gusto when it comes to the action and terror. The US soldiers are portrayed as a lot of colorful characters, including the nasally joking Tibbet (John Magaro) that provides vital comic support. The Nazis are seen as unhinged evil, never wasting an opportunity to shoot a civilian in the streets or rape a woman when she is cornered. And the monsters all feel like brilliant works of terrifying body horror, where necks snap open and chunks of flesh fall off the face. Consider how when the French civilian of Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) gets in on the action; she quickly goes from fearful sister looking after her ailing aunt to a flamethrower-touting badass.

But what’s most remarkable about all this is how it never feels the need to blatantly wink with its theatrics, shying away from trying too hard to seem badass. This movie is badass and it knows enough not to amp up the humor when setting undead zombies aflame or watching someone’s body contort in unnatural ways. The tongue is buried firmly in cheek, chewing on its meaty set pieces of blood and explosions to stand firm without a knowing nod to the audience. Such earnest seems almost rare in films that want to replicate that grindhouse flavor of filmmaking.

Overlord more than earns its brutal showdown of fierce fights and abundance of firey blasts, putting in all the grunt work of a capable war and horror film. With the relatively fresh direction of Julius Avery, it’s a film that is smart enough to have faith in its grit of the disturbing elements from both genres that it never feels the need to spice it up too high with self-consciousness. And in its own weird way, it’s serious and subtle enough that we can buy into the fantasy of a Nazi zombie story told straight with character and cunning. After all, we’ve already had the over-the-top angle with Dead Snow. The time has finally come for this subgenre to be taken seriously. Or about as seriously as it can be taken.


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Big “Bohemian Rhapsody” Opening While “Nutcracker” Trails

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In weekend box office battle, it’s Queen who is king. Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddy Mercury and Queen biopic, came in at #1 making $50 million domestic. With a $52 million budget, this is a very successful opening for the film, despite the mixed critic reaction. Falling just behind it with less than half the take is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Disney’s latest fantasy adventure debuting early for the Christmas season. The film did poorly with critics and even poorer at the box office, bringing in only $20 million which is not a good debut at all for such an expensive epic. Also just behind is Tyler Perry’s new romantic comedy, Nobody’s Fool, taking in $14 million, strangely low for a Tyler Perry movie, especially when you consider that higher budget of $19 million.

Since Halloween is over, it’s natural to see that David Gordon Green’s Halloween would dip in the box office and it certainly fell the lowest this week with a 64% drop. Falling sharply from #1 to #5, the film made $11 million for the weekend but it’s not a huge concern given the film has already made $150 million on a budget of $10 million. Almost tying with the picture is A Star Is Born, the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga musical drama that has proven to be a box office darling, earning $11.1 million over the weekend with a $165 million domestic gross. And still sticking like goo to the box office is Venom, Sony’s solo villain picture starring Tom Hardy, making another $7.8 million for a domestic total nearly at $200 million.

Aside from A Star is Born being the smallest drop of the weekend, it also tied for the lowest drop with Smallfoot, Warner Bros animated comedy that is proving to have modest legs to stick around. The animated film with the voices of Channing Tatum and James Cordon made $3.8 million for a $77 million domestic gross. And The Hate U Give, the racial drama, is still hanging in there at #10 with a domestic total now sitting at $23 million, rather strong for a drama that slowly rose up over the course of October.

Bohemian Rhapsody ($50,000,000)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ($20,000,000)
Nobody’s Fool ($14,000,000)
A Star is Born ($11,100,000)
Halloween ($11,015,000)
Venom ($7,850,000)
Smallfoot ($3,805,000)
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween ($3,700,000)
Hunter Killer ($3,525,000)
The Hate U Give ($3,400,000)

We hope you’re ready for Christmas because those movies are going to start early. Next weekend will see the 4,000 theater debut of The Grinch, the latest animated comedy from Illumination Studios based on the classic Dr. Seuss book. But it’ll have some adult competition with The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story opening in 3,000 theaters (the sequel to 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and Overlord, a Nazi zombie action picture, opening in 2,500 theaters.


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