Jason Bateman and Laura Linney star as a couple who are forced to work for a drug cartel.
SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free for Season 3)
Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) is a financial advisor who has been laundering money for a Mexican drug cartel. His partner Bruce (Josh Randall) is caught skimming millions of dollars. Facing his own execution, Marty tells the cartel that he has a plan to launder millions of dollars in the Ozarks. The cartel gives him a short time to replace all of the money that Bruce stole, so Marty moves with his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and his children Charlotte and Jonah (Sofia Hublitz and Skylar Gaertner) to the Ozarks and sets up buying properties to launder money. He hires local criminal family member Ruth Langmore (Julia Garner), is pursued by FBI agents Petty and Evans (Jason Butler Harner and McKinley Belcher III), and tries to work with local drug growers Jacob and Darlene Snell (Peter Mullan and Lisa Emery). Eventually Marty and Wendy set up a casino in the Ozarks to increase the amount they can launder.
I should start by saying that I was almost certainly going to like any show that included both Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in the cast. I think that they are both unbelievably good dramatic performers who also can deliver killer laughs when the occasion calls for it. Putting them together in a dark crime drama allows for a wide range of performances, including playing very strongly into Bateman’s deadpan comedy moments that he did so well on Arrested Development.
However, even though they are both amazing, the supporting cast in this show really brings it to another level. Julia Garner’s performance as the abused outcast of her redneck crime family is phenomenal, as is Janet McTeer’s performance as Helen Pierce, the cartel’s ruthless attorney who shows up in Season 2. Everyone has very well defined motives and watching all of them interact never ceases to create amazing scenes.
The writing and pacing of the show are both amazing. The show frequently escalates the stakes and changes the status of the characters, but it always feels appropriate and organic. Similar to Breaking Bad, we see the members of the Byrde family forced to take greater and greater measures to protect themselves from the cartel and the FBI, but we also see that they start to enjoy aspects of the dangerous lifestyle.
If you haven’t checked it out, I recommend it strongly.
Vin Diesel stars in an adaptation of a Valiant Comics superhero, and it deserves more credit.
Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a US Marine who successfully rescued a hostage from terrorists in Mombasa. He goes to Italy with his wife, Gina (Talulah Riley), where they both are abducted by terrorist Martin Axe (Toby Kebbell). Axe asks Ray who leaked the location of the Mombasa cell, but since Ray doesn’t know, Axe kills Gina. Ray vows to kill Axe, so Axe executes him as well.
Ray is resurrected by the company Rising Spirit Tech (RST), a company that develops cybernetic enhancements for people, mostly soldiers. Ray’s blood has been largely filled with a billion nanites, which repaired his dead tissue, effectively bringing him back from the dead. Additionally, any injury to him is fixed by the nanites, as long as they have power. The head of RST, Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), informs Ray that he is the first successfully resurrected person. Harting introduces Ray to other people at RST who were cybernetically revived: KT (Eiza Gonzales) who breathes through an artificial respirator, Dalton (Sam Heugen) who has artificial legs, and Tibbs (Alex Hernandez) who has cybernetic eyes. Ray realizes that, while his general memory is intact, he cannot remember any details of his life. However, he starts to have flashes of Axe and Gina and, together with a hacker named Wigans (Lamorne Morris), finds out that there may be more to his death than it seems.
This movie got absolutely trashed by critics, so I had not planned on watching it (particularly if I had to pay $12). However, someone advised me that there was actual merit to the movie, so I gave it a shot and I was not disappointed.
The thing that most of the critics complained about is that this movie is largely filled with “generic” superhero/supersoldier tropes and that’s completely fair. The first act of this movie is absolutely a cliche from the dialogue to the characters to the “discovering your powers” scene. It feels like they copied and pasted it from a half-dozen other films, except that it’s got Vin Diesel in the lead. Now, in fairness, Vin Diesel does give a pretty good performance, particularly watching his sly smile when he realizes that the nanites have given him enhanced strength, but it is still nothing new.
However, believe me when I say that the movie does do a decent job of justifying WHY the movie feels so generic at that point. The first act of this movie is intentionally made up of action and superhero film cliches because it sets up for the second act. Basically, once Wigans gets on-screen, the movie starts to progress. While you’re waiting, though, there are a number of solid, albeit a little-too-rapidly-cut, action sequences, and the scenes of Diesel fully embracing his new invincibility are pretty awesome to watch. If you aren’t happy with the ultimate justification, you probably won’t be happy with the movie, but it let me forgive it a bit.
The performances are all solid, although Diesel, Pearce, and Morris are the standouts. The fight scenes get progressively more creative as the film goes along and some of them are really entertaining. The visual effects of the nanites looked pretty great to me, too. Mostly, the movie has a lot of implications that are far heavier than just what’s presented on-screen. The film does handhold some of the reveals a little too much, wasting screen time with duplicated explanations, but they’re still mostly done well.
I do think the backlash against this film is a positive, in some ways. The reason people are against this movie now, though it would have been a revelation in 2005, is because superhero films have just gotten so much better over the last decade. We keep raising the bar, so this film pales in comparison to some of the other fare that has come out.
Overall, I liked this movie. There are a lot of better films to be sure, but I liked Vin Diesel’s characterization and I do hope this is the start of a Valiant Comics shared universe. Given the box office numbers (which were likely tanked by Coronavirus), that may not happen, but it would have been interesting. You may want to wait until this is at Redbox, but give it a try.
Netflix releases an anime set in a generic fantasy world.
A while ago, the gods descended from the heavens in order to have a fun time. They limited their powers so that they could experience the world more like mortals, but choose mortals to empower who join their groups, called “familias.” A number of them set up in the town of Oraria, located next to the entrance to an underground labyrinth creatively called the Dungeon. The goddess Hestia (Inori Minase/Luci Christian), unfortunately, only has one member of her familia, a young man named Bell Cranel (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka/Bryson Baugus). Despite being a level 1 adventurer (yes, they have levels), Bell falls in love with the powerful swordswoman Ais Wallenstein (Saori Onishi/Shelley Calene-Black). Unbeknownst to Bell, his crush actually causes him to develop the rare skill Learis Freese, which makes his strength grow rapidly. Bell soon tries to win Ais’s attention while making the Hestia Familia the best. He’s later joined by helper Lilliluka Arde (Maaya Uchida/Hilary Haag) and armor smith Welf Crezzo (Yoshimaasa Hosoya/David Wald).
Someone advised me to check this anime out and, as I’m a nerd, I get why. This show pretty much follows the classic RPG rules, including the characters actually having stat blocks involving their strength, dexterity, etc. You get experience from slaying monsters, which allows you to raise your stats, which allows you to slay bigger monsters, rinse and repeat. When you kill monsters, they release magical crystal shards (because why not?), which can be sold or used to craft magical items. Monsters get stronger the deeper you go in the dungeon with “bosses” every few floors. However, sometimes monsters can make their way closer to the surface, which means that it’s important to keep a supply of strong adventurers going deeper and deeper in order to keep the population of strong monsters lower. There are also “free levels” where there are no monsters, just to keep it fair. Like I said, it’s basically just a traditional JRPG.
The thing that’s supposed to make it interesting is that it is more of a character-driven comedy than an adventure series. Bell is extremely awkward when around Ais, which is sometimes amusing, but completely oblivious to the fact that a number of other women around the town are attracted to him. It’s a fairly typical harem structure that Anime has adopted since Ranma ½ and Tenchi Muyo helped popularize it. The problem is that most of the characters here are just way too generic to make it work. There’s nothing about their personalities or characters that really feel unique to this show. In Ranma ½, characters would have descriptions like “Martial Arts cross-dressing chef who fights with a giant spatula.” Here, the description is “protagonist with a crush and tragic backstory.” Yes, the idea of literal gods and goddesses roaming the Earth and having competing teams is fun, but there aren’t really any stakes to anything involving it, so it doesn’t help much.
Overall, the monster and world designs were fun, and the elements that involved actual dungeon-crawling were entertaining, but I just couldn’t get into it. If you are a big anime person, you might like this, but I just didn’t care about any of the people. The series is apparently based on a bunch of light novels, so maybe those are better.
Amy and Bender start dating and end up creating marriage equality legislation.
Bender (John DiMaggio) starts going on a vandalism spree, but gets caught and arrested. He calls Amy (Lauren Tom) to bail him out. She and Kif (Maurice LaMarche) go to the jail, but when Amy flirts with a convict, Kif gets fed up with her “Bad Boy” obsession and breaks up with her. To make her feel better, Fry (Billy West), Leela (Katey Sagal), and Bender take her out for the evening. When Bender won’t stop mocking her, she and Bender sleep together, ending up in a “robosexual” relationship. They try to hide it from the crew, but are revealed when they get caught sleeping together during a mission. The Professor (West) disapproves of robosexuality and alerts Amy’s parents Leo and Inez (West and Tom) as well as the Robot Pastor (Phil LaMarr).
Amy is taken back to Mars and Bender is sent to a camp to “cure” his robosexuality. Fry rescues Amy by pretending to be her boyfriend and Amy rescues Bender. Bender then proposes to Amy. The Professor reminds them that robosexual marriage is illegal, so Amy and Bender start a campaign to legalize it, called Proposition Infinity. In the lead-up to the election, the Proposition is set to fail, but Bender agrees to debate the Professor before the vote. Bender gives a powerful speech about love which resonates with the audience. The Professor tries to give a rebuttal, but ends up admitting that he objects to robosexual marriage because he was formerly in love with a robot who cheated on him. After this admission, he withdraws his objection to the Proposition and it passes. Upon realizing marriage is monogamous, Bender dumps Amy, who gets back together with Kif.
This one ages extremely well, but may age really badly in the future. When this episode aired in 2010, over 95% of America did not allow same-sex marriage, with 42 states having Defense of Marriage Act bans on it. The episode’s premise is a reference to California Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, which was part of a national series of laws banning it throughout the nation. However, this episode aired at the time when the nation’s opinion was turning. A few months later, Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional by Federal Courts. Within the next 4 years, 36 states and territories would legalize same-sex marriage before Obergefell v. Hodges effectively legalized it throughout the US in 2015. In other words, while this episode came out strongly in favor of same-sex marriage when the nation was turning against it, the nation quickly adopted the position and, in 25 years, young people hopefully won’t even understand the concept of opposing same-sex marriage.
Overall, it was a solid episode that took a bold stance on a controversial issue at the time, and history proved it right.
The parody commercial. In real life, there was a commercial that aired in 2009 called “The Gathering Storm.” It was put forth by the National Organization for marriage and it quickly gained notoriety for being one of the dumbest, worst-acted, and dishonest advertisements ever made. Here it is:
Futurama’s version is exaggerated even further. It includes a character explicitly saying “If robosexual marriage becomes legal, imagine the horrible things that will happen to our children, then imagine we said those things, since we couldn’t think of any. As a mother, those things worry me.” Since a common refrain against same-sex marriage was “how will we explain it to the children,” this calls it out by saying that most people advocating that just don’t have any idea how same-sex marriage works (Hint: It’s the same as straight marriage, except both people are the same sex). I just really like them taking the piss out of those assholes.
A new Sci-Fi Dystopian Prison film comes out of Spain and it’s brutally honest and honestly brutal.
Goreng (Iván Massagué) is an intellectual who volunteers to be sent to “The Pit,” an experimental prison, for 6 months. He brings a copy of Don Quixote with him and is told that, upon his release, he’ll be given a degree. Once inside, he finds out that the prison consists of a single vertical array of rooms with a large hole in the middle, with 2 prisoners in each room. His roommate, Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor), explains that food comes down from the top on a single platform and each floor of the prison eats off of it in order. Floor 1 eats ravenously, but the lower floors often don’t get anything. Moreover, everyone only gets randomly reassigned every month. Survival is king.
This was last year’s Midnight Madness winner at the Toronto International Film Festival, whose past winners include such films as The Raid, What We Do In the Shadows, and Seven Psychopaths, so that’s an award that’s usually worth looking into. This film is no exception. It mostly works for two reasons:
First, it’s incredibly minimalist, typically featuring no more than three characters on screen at any given time, and almost always just two. Because of this, the quality of the dialogue and the performances is crucial, since a lot of the film is just the characters talking. Fortunately, Massagué gives an amazing performance, going from naive to panicked to nihilist to messianic as the situation requires. Eguileor’s character is much more consistent, always seeming to be a polite, charming, even funny individual who nevertheless exudes an air of menace. Their interactions manage to carry much of the film.
Second, the premise is amazing. It’s extremely simple and basically begs to be implied intuitively as a metaphor. The movie repeatedly emphasizes that, if everyone only ate what they needed, there would be enough food for everyone. Additionally, every prisoner is aware that, at almost any time, they could be either at the top or at the bottom, completely at the whims of a seemingly random system that clearly has no concern for their welfare. Despite that, the people at the top take advantage of their position and gorge and the people at the bottom starve to death. So, a system where everyone could be equitable and live happily or a few people can thrive at the expense of the people below them. I’m not saying it’s a giant metaphor for society, but… well, it’s a giant metaphor for society.
I’ll warn you that the movie is a hard-R with nudity and a lot of gross stuff featured, but if that is something you can stomach, I really recommend this movie.
**** ENDING EXPLAINED (Spoilers) ****
So, quick recap:
After the first month, Goreng and Trimagasi end up on Floor 171, where Goreng and Miharu (Alexandra Masangkay) kill Trimagasi before he can eat Goreng. Goreng then ends up on Floor 33 with Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan), who worked for the company that made the Pit. She says there are 200 floors. They end up getting put on floor 202 next, where she kills herself so that Goreng can eat her body. Goreng then ends up on Floor 6 with Baharat (Emilio Buale Coka), a zealot who is trying to escape the prison, but is thwarted by the people on the above floors. Goreng convinces Baharat to ride the platform down to feed all of the people who would normally starve. On the way down, they encounter Sr. Brambang (Eric Goode, but not the one who made Tiger King) who advises them that feeding people will not change the system. First, they have to try and convince people to change, only enacting violence if they refuse to voluntarily change. Second, they need to realize that the administration will never change the system, but the people on floor 0, the ones who feed the prisoners, they could change it. Systems are cold and unfeeling, but people can be brought to empathize. So, they should send a dish back to level 0, untouched, to show that the people in the prison are, indeed, people, and not animals. That they have self-control and dignity. So, they select a Panna Cotta to send back up.
However, they discover that the prison is deeper than even Goreng had estimated, ending on floor 333 (halfway to 666, or Hell), where a small girl is found, despite Imoguiri saying that there were no children in the facility. It’s implied to be Miharu’s daughter who she kept riding down the platform for, although Imoguiri’s statement about her background contradicts it. Given that most of Imoguiri’s information was wrong, it’s very possible that the child was Miharu’s. As Miharu supposedly threw a body down the shaft and then rode the platform down every month, it’s possible that the only reason that the child survived was that Miharu rode down every month with a mostly full platform to feed her. Since Miharu died this time, she couldn’t get down. They end up feeding the girl the panna cotta then, after Baharat dies, Goreng puts her on the platform to return to Floor 0. He sees an image of Trimagasi and walks off into the darkness under the facility.
So, what happens at the end of the movie? Well, he sends the girl as the message, because proving that the people in the facility could keep a child alive shows that they are human better than the panna cotta could have. He doesn’t need to go with her, because sending him, particularly in the state that he is in and after all the things he did, will ruin the message. He’s no longer innocent or pure, unlike the child. While the child cannot convince the system to change, showing that such an innocent figure is being tormented by the system stands a high chance of reminding the people on Floor 0 to change things. The platform has to go past floor 333 first, allowing Goreng to walk off into the underground, implied to be his death as Trimagasi is no longer just a vision, but next to him.
Metaphorically, it means that Goreng realizes that you can’t fix things just by helping people within the system, and you can’t actually fight “The System” because it doesn’t have a conscious to be changed. Instead, the only way to make change is to appeal to the humanity in those who run it.
Overall, I appreciate that the film actually gives a solution, rather than just saying “things are really shitty.” As to whether I think it’s a real option, that’s a separate issue.
Seriously, this might be the best documentary I’ve ever seen.
Joe Exotic gained notoriety in 2016 when he was covered by John Oliver as a 3rd party candidate for President. His video introduction is below. I recommend it for everyone not at work.
Yes, there is Joe Exotic. The polygamous, polyamorous, broke, gay, kinky-sex loving, drug using, gun-toting, big-cat-raising redneck who wants to run the USA. If you skipped the video and just read that description, I bet you’re intrigued. Well, so was everyone else. Then, everyone was surprised… or not… by Joe Exotic being arrested for hiring a person to murder one of his rival big cat rescue owners. This story is ostensibly about Joe Exotic’s downfall, but it’s so much more than that.
I can only imagine that Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode, the filmmakers behind this must be the luckiest people in the industry. After the first series of conversations and interviews with the people involved in this story, the documentarians must have gone home, popped every bottle of wine, and toasted to finding the most absolutely insane group of people that were not just willing, but yearning, to confess their sins on camera.
When I started the series, I had imagined it would be a slow build up towards the presidential campaign and the eventual murder-for-hire trial that brought Joe Exotic to national news. I could not possibly have known that those are nowhere near the most insane stories contained in this documentary. While Joe is the focus of the show, it’s really the fact that everyone involved in his industry is, for lack of a better term, bat-sh*t crazy. Every episode just reveals another, more insane layer of the story. There is no slow build, it starts off with a heavy dose of eccentricity, quickly dives to madness, and swims around in the demented pool of the Big Cat culture until you’re almost questioning your own reality because you share it with these people.
This show is, hands down, the best documentary I’ve seen, because it features not only a cast of colorful characters, but an amount of archive footage and evidence that make you feel like you were living through all of the bombshells which have been detonated around Joe Exotic. I cannot stress how much you need to see this show if you have any interest in trashy television. I lost track of time watching it, because it just keeps drawing you deeper down this rabbit hole of Tigers, drugs, cults, murder, and depravity.
For my 500th Review, I’m doing the one movie I swore never to touch.
There are wars! In the stars!
Right after the end of the last film, the First Order attacks the Resistance base. General Leia Organa (Carrie “on, dear wayward space mom” Fisher) orders the base to evacuate. It turns out that the First Order can track them, so the evacuation doesn’t do much more than buy time. Leia gets shot into space, but manages to save herself through Force Pulling in Zero Gravity (any other explanation is terrible). Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura “I Kissed Ellen” Dern) takes over while she recovers. Running out of fuel, the rest of the fleet tries to outrun the First Order.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy “Not Peach” Ridley) attempts to talk Luke Skywalker (Hey Kids, It’s Mark Hamill) into helping the Resistance, but he declines to aid and believes that the Jedi Order needs to end. He ends up agreeing to give Rey some lessons in the Force. Rey finds herself communicating with Kylo Ren (Adam “I’m trying harder than everyone else” Driver) using the Force despite not really understanding how. It’s revealed that Kylo Ren betrayed Luke after Luke contemplated killing Kylo after Snoke (Andy “Bread and” Serkis) started speaking with Kylo (how close he actually came is debated). Rey thinks she can save Kylo from the dark side, so she leaves. Luke is counseled by the spirit of Yoda (Frank “Miss Piggy” Oz) to learn from his failure.
Meanwhile to the meanwhile, Poe Dameron (Oscar “The Grouch” Isaac) sends Finn (John “You ship them” Boyega), Rose the mechanic (Be nicer to Kelly Marie Tran, internet), and BB-8 to find a way to deactivate the First Order’s tracking device. They’re told that there is only one person in the Galaxy with the skills. They head to Canto Bight, the space Las Vegas, and don’t find that person, instead meeting a hacker who also has the skills in prison named DJ (Benecio Del Toro). Finn, Rose, and DJ infiltrate the First Order flagship and get captured by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), the only Stormtrooper with the budget for useful armor. Rey finds Kylo who brings her to Snoke, who claims he connected Rey and Kylo to find Luke.
Vice Admiral Holdo plans to evacuate the Resistance. Poe, thinking that’s the cowardly act, leads a mutiny that ends when Leia shoots him. Holdo stays on the main ship and tries to buy the evacuation time, but DJ betrays the people who he just met while in prison and tells the First Order what’s happening. The First Order blows up a bunch of the small ships that they’re using to evacuate. Snoke orders Kylo to kill Rey, but he kills Snoke instead. Rey and Kylo fight together, then against each other. Holdo sacrifices herself by accelerating to light speed and destroying the flagship, crippling the First Order fleet. Kylo takes over the First Order. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 kill Phasma then rejoin the Resistance survivors on planet Crait. Finn prepares to sacrifice himself to buy time, but Rose stops him.
Luke Skywalker appears before the First Order and confronts them, buying time for the Resistance to escape. Despite an army firing at him, Luke appears to be unscathed. Kylo Ren challenges him to a duel, but discovers that Luke is just a Force projection. Luke then passes away. On Canto Bight, a group of stablehands who helped Finn and Rose escape talk about the Resistance, and one uses the Force to move a broom. It never gets brought up again, but I’m sure the figurine for that kid sells for a lot.
So, I acknowledge that I was poisoned against this movie before I saw it. One of my family members called me after seeing the premiere and said “White. Ford. Bronco. Chase.” I knew it was a reference to the OJ Simpson police chase, but I didn’t understand what he meant at the time. Unfortunately, once I saw it, I couldn’t un-see it, because that’s what a lot of this movie is: a low-speed chase where the parties conveniently always maintain an enforced distance that doesn’t make sense. The focus on this element led me to join a bit of the crowd decrying this as a terrible film. However, I also disliked most of the groups of people that were crapping on the film, so I decided this would forever be the one film I would not give an opinion on.
Then, I had to think of something special to commemorate the 500th review, so congratulations to all of you for getting to hear my opinion about a movie that is now 3 years old and completely out of the zeitgeist. So, let’s get to it:
I once said that the closest thing I could get to my feelings on this film were contained in my review of the Breaking Bad episode “Fly.” That episode, also by Rian Johnson, is amazingly well-shot, contains some of the best interactions between the leads in the show, is perfectly performed, has some of the best dialogue in TV history, and completely destroys a lot of what the rest of the series built up. This movie is the same: It’s a great movie, but a terrible Star Wars film.
First, let’s say why this is a good movie.
Artistically, this is the best-shot Star Wars film. One of Rian Johnson’s strengths is his grasp of quality cinematography and this movie is no exception. Since its inspiration was in the Republic Serials of the 1930s and ‘40s, the franchise often had relied on the same kind of straight-forward camerawork with most of the beauty and art coming from the scenery and matte work. This film, instead, makes use of more dramatic framing and shot progression. Some of the scenes, particularly the fight scene in Snoke’s throne room and the silent shot following Holdo’s maneuver, are nothing short of beautiful. Even the scenes of the speeders on the salt plains are more visually stimulating than most of the settings of Star Wars.
In terms of dialogue, this film has a lot of great exchanges. The style is energetic, like The Force Awakens, but also has more willingness to play with itself. Rey and Kylo Ren’s exchanges are particularly well-done, with each using a linguistic style that represents their position. Rey uses emotional language while Kylo is blunter and more aggressive. It also has a lot of decent jokes that, if I wasn’t so blinded by rage during my first viewing, probably would have elicited a chuckle. Now, does it have any lines as good as The Empire Strikes Back? Well, no, but neither does most of the Criterion Collection and they’re still considered art.
In terms of performances… well, that’s tough. Star Wars is not Shakespeare and it’s not supposed to be (unless you read the Star Wars Shakespeare books). It always is meant to have a pulp feel, with characters who are more wildly expressive, like Han Solo. In that sense, everyone does a great job except for Adam Driver, who unfortunately thought he was in a much, much more sophisticated film. Seriously, he has a level of subtlety that is generally overlooked by these kinds of films, and while it’s impressive, it’s also somewhat jarring. However, that’s what Alec Guinness did for the original trilogy, so there’s precedent and therefore it’s okay.
Really, from a critic’s point of view so far, this movie has all of the basics down solidly. Unfortunately, we have to shift from my position as critic to my position as Star Wars fan.
Interestingly, one of the things that actually makes this a solid film is the exact thing that makes it bad as a franchise movie: Subversion of expectations. This movie thrives on trying to avoid giving the audience what they think they deserve and instead tries to give them something new and challenging. Since The Force Awakens was mostly a retread of something that even the movie pointed out had already been done twice, this really wasn’t a bad idea. The problem is that this film attempted to subvert EVERYTHING and it came off less as challenging the audience and more as profaning the franchise it was supposed to continue.
Some of the things this movie challenged really deserved to be subverted. Star Wars has always been a big example of a cultural submission to the “Great Man” theory of history and societal progress. In all of the original films, and even the prequels, great Galactic conflicts largely boil down to a few personalities that end up doing almost all of the work and they’re almost all from the same family. As opposed to saying “there are chosen ones in this lineage which basically decide the fate of the masses,” this movie takes the opposite position and says that the masses themselves ARE the power and that lineage means nothing. That’s why at the end of the movie they suggest that Force users can come from anywhere and that’s why it was so important for Rey to actually have parents who were nobodies (to be undone in the next film for reasons I’ll cover below). This is a great subversion that is representative of how Western society has shifted since the Republic Serials which inspired the original film and supports the more diverse casting in the film. The movie contains a number of scenes which debate whether the past should be destroyed in order to create something better and whether revering the past as an ideal leads to replicating the mistakes. This is a great theme that challenges the nature of a franchise and, if that were all the movie did, I think it would have made this the equal of every Star Wars film except maybe Empire.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that it did. Instead, Rian Johnson also decided to highlight some things that, while they may have been dumb, were parts of the franchise that everyone had already accepted. A large part of the film is dependent on the fact that the fleet is short on fuel, something that A) makes no sense considering they’re a rebellion that had long been based on the planet and B) has never really been an issue in Star Wars to begin with. This was likely supposed to be a shot at creating arbitrary new rules to heighten tension that seem illogical, like forcing the X-wings to do a trench run rather than just shooting at the Death Star from the outside. Similarly, Finn and Rose run into the single person who is capable of doing the job they need by complete coincidence, a shot at how characters in Star Wars will coincidentally be in the same place as the person they need to find (like Luke landing near Yoda despite only being told to go to the Dagobah System). Most famously, and perhaps insultingly, Holdo accelerates to lightspeed and, using relativistic physics, proves that to be an incredibly powerful attack that devastates larger enemies, something that apparently no one in Star Wars had ever thought of doing. These are all just exaggerations of elements that were already in the series, but they were elements that we had already accepted as part of our suspension of disbelief in this universe. By trying to subvert or attack them, this seemed less like a “commentary,” and instead more like an assault on the people who liked the previous films.
Then there’s how the film treated some of the previous characters. I’m willing to ignore Leia’s flying, because I refuse to acknowledge the difference between that and a Force pull or Force jump in zero gravity. However, I’m less willing to ignore the fact that when Leia awoke to find that Poe Dameron was literally leading a mutiny, that she basically just knocks him out and says “okay, well, lesson learned.” She’s a General and should know better than that how you handle failures to follow chains of command. It undermines her position as leader. Also, not telling Poe the plan in the first place is ridiculous and unnecessary. Luke Skywalker’s self-imposed exile is selfish and born out of his own shame, but that’s not actually crazy given that he spent an entire trilogy overcoming his anger and impulse issues only to falter and give in when facing Kylo’s power. While Luke denies the version of the night where he attacks Kylo first, the fact is that he may be deceiving himself, something that actually explores interesting new paths with the character. Unfortunately, at the end of the film, rather than see Luke actually try to correct his error, we instead see him play an elaborate game to buy time and then die from the effort… somehow. It undercut most of the progress that Luke made in the original trilogy and denied him another opportunity.
If the film had only done a few of these things, this would probably have been an amazing experience, having enough familiarity to feel loyal but also challenging the status quo. However, since it decided to do all of them, it felt like a rejection of the franchise and of the fans who support it. As someone who spent a LOT of their childhood, teen years, adulthood, and probably future on this franchise, that makes me naturally opposed to it. On the other other hand… This didn’t do midichlorians, so let’s not pretend it’s the worse thing.
If you made it all the way to this part of the review, thank you for reading and thank you for supporting me through 500 reviews.