Star Wars: Rogue One Review

By Erik Brandt
If you’re a geek or a fanboy/fangirl; you’re in a golden age of pop culture entertainment. Never mind just several comic book movies every year, but since George Lucas sold the rights to the Star Wars, it’s created a creative freedom for filmmakers from all over that wouldn’t have been possible under Lucas’ grasp of the IP.

Finally, a Star Wars film that doesn’t deal with the “force” or Jedis… well, almost. But for the most part, 99% of the movie does not have a light saber in it. For the 1% that it does, I promise you it is completely justified and kick-ass. And for a spin-off that adds to the universe of SW, it opens potential for new stories to emerge over the coming years and decades. What a time to be alive.

However, no movie is perfect and Rogue One certainly has some glaring flaws. It may be a far cry from the prequels, but it does setup for the original trilogy quite eloquently—while answering a question that has plagued SW fans since the release of the original trilogy for decades. So. I’m gonna try something different; start with the negatives and finish it off on a positive note. I like happy endings (pun intended), as that might imply to our more adventurous readers. Also, SPOILERS AHEAD.

Kung-fu legend Donnie Yen and Riz Ahmed join the Rogue cast and the Rogue mission. (via Lucasfilm)

Characters are a HUGE part of what makes Star Wars so great. And yes, that includes Jar Jar Binks—because as much as we hate him; he’s given us some of the best comedy material over the years. Rogue One’s characters didn’t feel as strong as in The Force Awakens, or in any of the other Star Wars movies. They each had quirks about them and something to tell them apart, but there’s nothing that made me care about them at the end of it all. And maybe that’s intentional, but I can’t help but think that if they received more attention, they could have be big heroes (like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo territory) for doing what they did to get the Death Star plans. There’s also a sudden change of heart with Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones). At first she’s a criminal who wants nothing to do with her father (played by Mads Mikkelsen), or the Rebels. But if anything is going to spur a full 180, leave it for the death of a father. Another character, Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), is basically useless in this movie. He’s supposedly based off the popular Clone Wars animated TV show, but he hardly does anything in this movie despite looking like he could take on the Empire with some cool sequences. And his accent… didn’t do anyone any favours.

Another thing I noticed from watching the trailers is that there are a few lines of dialogue and scenes that didn’t appear in the cut of the film. For example, in the first or second trailer, there’s a quick sequence that shows our female lead going toe-to-toe with a TIE Fighter (on what appears to be a high rise area of some sort). This sequence was nowhere to be found in the film (probably used for solely for marketing purposes). I’m just saying it would have been nice to see on a big screen; just to fathom at the scale of and elevate our hero to badass levels of awesome. You know, like legendary sci-fi babes such as Ripley from the Alien series or Sarah Connor from the Terminator movies. If I remember correctly, they had to do re-shoots and possibly hire a script doctor. That’s never good news on any kind of production.

And finally, the main villain in this is weak too. He should have been much more courageous and unpredictable. Instead, he’s overshadowed by a classic SW villain from a new hope that answered to Vader. I’ll spare you the reveal, but if you’ve seen it, you know who I’m talking about. Hell, it feels like he gets more screen time than any of the other major players on the Empire team.

But that’s it for the negatives. Where The Force Awakens relied on nostalgia for its action sequences, Rogue One truly feels like its own by delivering in such a way that it puts any of The Force Awakens action heavy sequences to shame. Especially the third act of Rogue One. That whole battle sequence in space reminded me of the original movies, but it didn’t try to re-create them frame-by-frame. Instead, it improvised effectively (which is how you use nostalgia properly). It was the truest depiction of a war zone out of any other Star Wars movie. The action was easy to see without relying on rapid cuts or obnoxious handheld camera shaking. There’s also a few easter eggs in the film that talk about Old Republic and Expanded Universe material. If the geek world is lucky, this will open up possibilities for spin-offs set in those universes. Moreover, I think it’s a pretty safe route to take if you don’t mention the main timeline. You have thousands of hours worth of stories from the canon you disregarded as soon as Lucas handed you the keys to the kingdom. Maybe it’s time to explore the canon again, Disney.

Your comedic relief through the film’s entirety; android “K-2SO”. (via Lucasfilm)

K-2SO, a new droid companion voiced by Firefly alumni Alan Tudyk, serves as the main source of comedic relief in this film. He can crack jokes with dry wit but also hold his own against Empire threats in the vicinity. In fact he’s my favourite character in this entire movie. It’s really weird that in each Star Wars movie, the droids have a much better personality than most of the human characters that appear on-screen. K-2SO as a teammate reminds me a lot of the character Legion from the Mass Effect games, made by Bioware. He had great comedic timing and I cared about him more than I did for my other squad mates. Naturally, seeing him go reminded me of that moment in Mass Effect 2 where I felt a great sadness for such a fantastic character.

And lastly, the special effects are really well done here; especially for the Death Star. ILM never ceases to amaze me. You can even do one Death Star effect in the sky with a little bit of Photoshop and After Effects tweaking. And you know how less is more? Well, that really applies here as Gareth Edwards shows us this. Not a lot of people liked this approach with the American Godzilla reboot, but I loved every second of it. We didn’t need to see him all the time, so that when we did, he was much more appreciated. The same applies to Rogue One for Vader’s last scene. He really stole the show before the movie ended and left me with a lasting impression. It was like getting the cherry on top of an already fully loaded, tasty ice cream sundae. He was more terrifying here than in any of the original movies and Revenge of the Sith. Gareth directed this stunt actor with class. It shows in Vader’s anger (whose force wasn’t held back on the rebels), because at the end of the day he has to answer to The Emperor for the screw up of letting the Death Star plans get stolen.

Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) doesn’t like when people make fun of his accent. (via Lucasfilm)

Whether you’re new to Star Wars or a long time fan, do yourself a favour and see this movie. It’s a great lead into 2017 after so many lows last year, and sets up nicely for the original trilogy; shining hope and optimism in any future Star Wars spin-offs bound to come. Happy New Year and May the Force be with You.

Dosage: 7/10 pills 💊💊💊💊💊💊💊

Doctor Strange: Movie Review

By Erik Brandt
Like any big blockbuster series that has its highs and lows, Marvel seems to be experiencing a golden age on the silver screen, and Doctor Strange is one of their most visually spectacular entries to date.

Benedict Cumberbatch has a visually-stunning outer body experience. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

They took a risk with Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and it’s still paying off with their latest movie, Doctor Strange. It’s like if Inception met Interstellar on a heavy dose of DMT. The best part is you don’t have to consume recreational substances to enjoy this—at least not on the first viewing. It gives you a visual acid trip just by watching it in 3D alone.  I wouldn’t even put it past the Academy board to nominate this film for best visual effects of the year, because it certainly deserves it.

My favourite thing about this is that it feels like its own standalone film. It’s still in the MCU, but it doesn’t rely on that to tell the story like the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor films did. It stands on its own two feet and it sets the stage for a new character to come into the mix; building its own mythology and lore like Guardians of the Galaxy did; all while paying respects to their comic book origins.

Marvel Studios Hall H Panel
Doctor Strange has a magical-studded cast. (via Collider)

English thoroughbred Benedict Cumberbatch, plays Doctor Strange with support from Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor. And while Benedict looks the part, he doesn’t really feel like it at times. For one, I don’t buy his Yankee accent that seems forced in some scenes and he borrows a lot of his characters wit from Hugh Laurie, on the popular drama House (House does it way better for the record).  Another thing that bothered me was how badly they were tethered to their Sling Ring. A device that helps them travel anywhere they please, provided they have that on them. It made for some great visual sequences, but when Strange lost it, it felt like a burden. He should be able to use his powers to travel and teleport without it.  Perhaps it might be a Doctor Strange 2 thing? And lastly, by the end of it, he’s still an arrogant prick. In fact, he’s more arrogant than Tony Stark. But after going through what he went through in the movie, he should be more of a humble person.  Perhaps that might be a Doctor Strange 2 thing as well…

Fortunately, that’s about all the bad and ugly I have to rant about. It doesn’t take away from all the good or distract that much from the visual effects sequences and the way they improvise their powers to avoid situations or fix them. But let’s give credit where it’s due, to the hard working post-production team at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and other studios, who’ve probably put in overtime and all-nighters to get each frame of the film to the tee of the director’s and Marvel’s vision. There’s an Oscar hope for this film deeply embedded within me.

Because capes are cool. (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

So with that, I highly recommend you watch this movie in IMAX 3D or at least AVX 3D (don’t be cheap) to really indulge those trippy visual effects and action sequences. If you decide to see it for a second time, consume a psychedelic drug of your choice or even the good ol’ Mary Jay.

Dosage: 8/10 pills 💊💊💊💊💊💊💊💊