sci-fi

REVIEW: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

With Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) seemingly back from the dead, an old but deadly force threatens the galaxy. While Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) seeks him out, Rey (Daisy Ridley), under the guidance of Leia (Carrie Fisher), finishes her training.

The Rise of Skywalker is almost too much film. There is so much going on as Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) go on an adventure together, the Resistance prepares for battle and new (and old) characters are introduced. It goes by at a relentless pace but it works because seeing these characters interact, working together solving seemingly insurmountable problems, is still one of the highlights of these films.

The cast are still as charming as ever. Unfortunately some characters are pushed to the side (Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose being the biggest casualty of this) while some new characters don’t get too much to do at all. Adam Driver continues to be a standout in the series, giving a nuanced performance as Kylo Ren and his continuous struggles with his heritage.

The Rise of Skywalker continues the Star Wars tradition of having interesting and quirky alien creatures, brilliant set design and costuming, and great cinematography. Every planet the heroes (and villains) visit is different and the space battles and lightsaber fights are a way to show off different sides to a characters personality while still being engaging.

The final act of The Rise of Skywalker is pure spectacle and completely Star Wars. There’s the battle of good vs evil, inner conflict, hope, and more spaceships than you could shake a stick at. It’s exciting and is such a rush of space wizard magic – especially when John Williams’s wonderful score kicks in.

Some of the issues I have with The Rise of Skywalker comes from the issues I have with the new Star Wars trilogy film as a whole, like how some plot/character elements I feel are a wasted opportunity. As they can be applied to all the films and not just this one, it feels unfair to solely judge The Rise of Skywalker on the fact it didn’t capitalise on elements that the series hasn’t really revisited since The Force Awakens.

It’s a joy being with the characters of this new trilogy again and while some aspects of this saga are wrapped up too neatly while others aren’t wrapped up enough, The Rise of Skywalker is thrilling, action-packed and a lot of fun. 4/5.

EDIT: I wrote and scheduled this review after seeing The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday. Since then I’ve been seeing all the debates and thoughts (both positive and negative) about this film on social media. Some of it I agree with to an extent or understand, some of it I don’t. My opinion of this film may change when I see it again, or it may not. I just know I was so very happy to see Rey, Finn and Poe going on adventures together and working together that I can forget about or forgive some of the things I might not have liked as much.

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

My review from when I first saw The Last Jedi is here and as this is the first time I’ve watched this film since the cinema, and it’s been a few years, there’s probably going to be spoilers in this review.

As Rey (Daisy Ridley) urges Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Force, the Resistance is on the run from the First Order.

I’d not seen The Last Jedi since I saw it in the cinema, I did watch it twice then and was left feeling a bit meh about it. Over the past two years there’s been many people screaming about this film on the internet, both championing it and slating it, having problems with it that boil down to straight up misogyny or racism, or having genuine issues to do with characterisation and story. Honestly, the environment surrounding The Last Jedi online makes me somewhat hesitant to mention it, whether I had good things or bad things to say about it.

But after rewatching it now in preparation for The Rise of Skywalker, and just a day after I rewatched The Force Awakens which I love, I can safely say I don’t like The Last Jedi. There are some bits I enjoy, and the film looks great, but overall I just don’t like what happened to a lot of the characters or how (at least at the moment and The Rise of Skywalker could change this) it feels like a standalone film and the events of this film won’t have much of an effect on the next one.

My main problem with The Last Jedi is that it feels like a filler episode for a TV show. It is a very character-driven film. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it spends so much time focusing on its characters that the overall plot doesn’t really move forward. These characters do things, but often what they do is pointless because it doesn’t move the plot forward, or they don’t achieve anything and in fact more often than not what they do hinders the heroes in some way. Having characters fail isn’t a bad thing, it allows them to learn and grow and seeing characters fail can be interesting, but when their failures are for nothing, then there’s a problem.

Then there’s the characters and their characterisations. Firstly, I while I like Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) I do not like how Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Rey spend 95% of the film apart from one another. One of my favourite things about The Force Awakens was the relationships between Finn and Poe and Finn and Rey. Those characters instantly gelled and their chemistry was off the charts and I wanted to see more of that, and for Rey and Poe to finally interact. Instead there was a kit of stuff with Finn and Rose, which again I liked how their relationship developed but I wish it had done so when they were with the rest of the heroes.

Then there’s the characterisations. I think Rey and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) arcs were the most consistent with what was seen in The Force Awakens but Poe seemed like a completely different person which is even more weird when you consider the fact that The Last Jedi starts immediately where The Force Awakens finished. There’s a fine line between cockiness and arrogance and Poe just leaps over that line. Considering in The Force Awakens he very much cares about what happens to his fellow pilots and follows General Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) orders, it’s just unbelievable he’d be willing to sacrifice so many lives in order to blow up a ship. Over the course of The Last Jedi Poe learns humility, battle tactics and to trust his superiors – all things that someone who is a Commander in the Resistance should already know, considering they are an experienced pilot and Commander.

With Finn it feels like this was a waste of potential. Finn is an ex-Stormtrooper and that could lead to so many interesting things instead of him just casually being able to tell people plans for various First Order ships when needed. You could have members of the Resistance not trusting him, Finn not trusting himself, Finn having guilt over killing those who used to be his brothers in arms, Finn wanting to help other Stormtroopers defect, conflict between Finn and Poe when he realises Poe’s the one who killed his friend and thus helped snap him out of his brainwashing in The Force Awakens. A lot of the time in The Last Jedi it feels like Finn is a secondary character; to Rose, to Poe, to Rey, when he should be one of the leads.

I feel like I’ve just been talking about the problems I have with this film, but I do like some things about The Last Jedi. Even though he’s not in it much, I really like Benicio del Toro’s character, he’s a conman and a thief and not a nice guy but I do have a soft spot for that kind of character. I like the action sequences too. The fight in the throne room between Rey and Kylo Ren is fantastic to watch and it’s exciting to see these two enemies fight side by side if only for a moment. I also think the fight between Kylo Ren and Luke is clever and I like what it allows the rest of the heroes to do.

I also like the idea of Luke being ashamed for what he did – or didn’t – do when training Kylo Ren and how he failed him and his family. I like how resistant he was to train Rey and how scared he was of her strength. That all made sense to me, but I don’t have the nostalgia or strong love for the original Star Wars characters. Perhaps that’s why the choices made about the new characters I fell in love with in The Force Awakens hurt so much.

All in all, I found The Last Jedi to be rather disappointing on rewatch. In some ways it’s almost style over substance as it’s a very visually appealing film and there’s sequences that are entertaining in isolation but when you look at the broader story and how the characters act, it’s just not an enjoyable time. 2/5.

REVIEW: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

I reviewed The Force Awakens when it was released. You can read my original review here. As a good chunk of time has passed and I’m rewatching the sequel films on the run up to The Rise of Skywalker’s release, there may be more spoilers here than in a normal review – you’ve been warned.

Three decades after the Empire’s defeat, a new evil threatens the galaxy – the First Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). After meeting Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), defector Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) gets caught up in the fight against the First Order along with scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and they struggle to find the Resistance and help in the search for the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

I love The Force Awakens. I didn’t grow up watching Star Wars (I first watched all previous six films when I was at university) so there wasn’t the nostalgia or added fear and excitement that came with seeing a new Star Wars film when I went to see The Force Awakens. Still, I was blown away by the spectacle, the magic and the characters in this story that simultaneously felt new and exciting, and comforting because of how familiar the themes and the score were – because even if you’re not a huge Star Wars fan, some of those motifs are a part of popular culture.

The Force Awakens juggles the old and the new really well. It gives space for the original characters who everyone knows to be a part of this story, while also introducing us to new heroes and villains. The new trio of heroes; Rey, Finn and Poe are all wonderful. The immediate chemistry between Isaac and Boyega is palpable and how Poe and Finn meet and immediately put their lives in each other’s hands make their relationship so strong. With Rey and Finn, it takes them longer to really trust and understand one another, with each of them running away from different things. For Finn it’s his past while for Rey it’s the future and the unknown. It’s when the two of them start letting the other in that they relationship goes from annoying siblings to firm friends. Finn is the first person who ever came back for Rey, while for Finn, Rey is someone who makes him want to be brave.

The action in The Force Awakens is exciting and fun. The sound effects, the way things are shot, along with the score makes it all come together into these wonderful fun sequences. The aerial battles between the Millennium Flacon and TIE Fighters or between X-Wings and TIE Fighters are almost awe-inspiring to watch. It’s fun to see Finn and Rey or Finn and Poe work together to take down the bad guys. And it’s always great when after hearing a character is really talented at something, you actually see them do it. In this case it’s Poe being the Resistance’s best pilot. It’s even mentioned in the opening title crawl and you see how good he is multiple times.

Kylo Ren is an interesting character. He’s still feeling like he’s being pulled towards the light and he prays to a Darth Vader helmet to keep him on what he perceives to be the right track, but he’s also kind of scared and inexperienced. I love that he looks like such a normal guy when he takes off his helmet for the first time. Due to his costume and his actions, torturing Poe and killing villagers, he seems like such an imposing figure, but beneath it all he’s just pretending to be stronger and more in control than he is.

The lightsaber fights between Finn and Kylo Ren, and Rey and Kylo Ren are absolutely brutal. They tear chunks out of each other and cut down trees as they go at it. Finn is wholly unprepared and while he does get one hit in against Kylo Ren, ultimately, he is bested. It’s when Rey steps up, the lightsaber flies to her hand and the music swells that it’s really impactful, and once she lets the Force in, she is just as strong, if not stronger than Kylo Ren and it is beautiful to see her absolutely wreck him.

The thing I love the most about The Force Awakens is the characters – both the old ones and the new ones. The whole cast give such great performances (quick shout out to Harrison Ford for playing a believably world-weary Han Solo but still retaining that attitude) and their chemistry is wonderful. Even though you don’t see a lot of some characters or their relationships with one another, there’s enough hinted through the script and the actor’s performances that you can see the history between them. One such example is Poe and Leia (Carrie Fisher). It’s clear he’s told her all about Finn, that she trusts his judgement on Finn and his tactics, and that Poe is clearly relatively high up in the Resistance due to how easily he can talk to Leia and in a relatively familiar way.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just brilliant. It’s funny, thrilling, emotional and just a joy to watch. There’s so much to fit in but there’s never a dull moment or a moment wasted. The quieter, character driven moments are just as important and as engaging as the dogfights and action sequences. The Force Awakens is truly something special and I’ll always love it. 5/5.

REVIEW: Geostorm (2017)

When a network of satellites designed to control and prevent extreme weather patterns starts to malfunction, it’s a race against the clock for its creator Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler) to figure out what’s going on in the space station, while his younger brother Max (Jim Sturgess) tries to figure out a conspiracy on Earth, before a worldwide Geostorm wipes out everyone and everything on the planet.

Let’s get this out of the way. Depending on your taste in films and your definition of “good” Geostorm isn’t necessarily going to be classed as “good”. However, it is enjoyable. Geostorm is in the same vein as Roland Emmerich’s disaster films like The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, but unlike 2012 which has some truly awful characters that you don’t care about, Geostorm’s cast does well with what they’re given and for the most part portray likeable (yet often cliché) characters with decent chemistry.

The special effects are a bit of a mixed bag. The stuff in space looks great from the various high-tech satellites and rockets to the space station itself, but it’s the extreme weather that doesn’t always looks so great, from tsunami’s to large hail stones to tornadoes, there’s every kind of weather imaginable. It’s when sequence focuses on a character experiencing the disaster like Cheng (Daniel Wu) trying to outdrive molten lava exploding from the streets of Hong Kong, that are tense and exciting. The effects are most noticeable with a tsunami that hits Dubai, especially because the tsunami that hits New York in The Day After Tomorrow, a film released over 10 years earlier, still looks a lot better.

Geostorm is entertaining nonsense. The conspiracy in of why the technology is going wrong and who could be behind it and why, is predictable a lot of the time but the speed of which the reveals and action happen helps you forget about that. It’s the perfect film to watch when you don’t want to think too hard but there’s still some intrigue and some exciting moments. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. But Rosemary gets more than she bargains for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mismatch of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot to chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running. Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants. That is until the crew is offered the job of a lifetime; the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn a fortune… if the manage to survive the long and dangerous trip. Along the way Rosemary learns she isn’t the only one on board with secrets to hide, and that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is mostly a space road trip where not a lot of big plot things happen. Instead it’s a character driven story as Rosemary becomes a part of this crew that’s more like a family. The way exposition and character backstories are interwoven into the story is wonderful, as often it is from characters learning from one another or learning to open up and ask for help and support.

The book is told from all of the crew member’s point of view at least once, though characters like Rosemary, Sissix, Kizzy and the captain Ashby seem to get more focus. You still get a good feel of all the characters though and how they fit together. They each have their problems or secrets, some of which they don’t even know about themselves, but they still all mange to work together.

How space, and the many different species that live there, is beautiful and vivid. Humans are far from the dominant species which is a different take compared to the majority of sci-fi I’ve come across before. It’s also great to read about characters that are different species and are so different from humans – whether that’s by appearance, social norms or both. The political systems, and politics between different species, are intricate yet as the author has taken the time to sprinkle information throughout the story, when there’s tension between species, you can quickly understand why.

The world (or should that be universe) of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is full or rich detail as the crew stop off at different planets to restock their ship and even see friends. There’s so many different people and their technology is advanced yet not always working well, meaning the world feels lived in. This isn’t the shiny and sleek kind of sci-fi, instead it’s a dirty, lived in kind of sci-fi. The Wayfarer isn’t a new ship, things go wrong with it and it’s the crew that fixes it and makes it feel like a home.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a bit of a slow read but that doesn’t mean it’s not a compelling one. It has so much detail with its world building and it really gives the characters room to breathe. Every single member of the Wayfarer crew has their own unique personality and the author does a great job of not turning any of them into clichés.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a sweeping science-fiction novel that never forgets that humanity (though is that the right word when there’s characters who are not human?) is the most important thing. 4/5.

REVIEW: Sorry to Bother You (2018)

When Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield) gets a job as a telemarketer, he learns that the key to success is having a “white voice” but the road to success and fortune isn’t what it seems.

Sorry to Bother You is a scathing look at capitalism and racism and how the two interact. There is a lot going on in this film and it doesn’t always seem to give each thing the attention it deserves. The idea that having a “white voice” will make you more successful and respected is obviously terrible but people in the real world have experienced such double standards. There is also the idea of the power of protests and unionising, standing with your co-workers to demand better pay and rights – though the success of this is shown to be debatable as the capitalist machine may be too strong.

Sorry to Bother You is set in the present-day though everything is just a bit different or over-exaggerated. This makes every theme the film touches on more eerie and relevant. The choices of what kind of television shows to appear on in the background, or what kind of things trend online, is very close to our reality and it shows how they can be used for good or for bad.

The performances in this film are great, both the actors on screen, and those that do the voice work for the “white voices”. It’s weird and amusing to hear very different voices come out of a character’s mouth. Hearing David Cross’s voice from Stanfield’s mouth is strange but both the physical and vocal performance make you believe that is Green’s voice. Green’s girlfriend Detroit (Tess Thompson) is a great character as she uses her art to make a statement and believes in standing up for the everyday person. Her character was a more interesting character who was proactive in her story compared to Green who instead just seemed to be just wander through the story until the very end.

Sorry to Bother You is very weird and surreal. It’s billed as a comedy though it doesn’t really hit that button, instead it’s a unsettling fantasy that hold a mirror up to our world today. 3/5.

REVIEW: Battle Los Angeles (2011)

As a squad of U.S. Marines attempt to rescue a group of civilians during an extra-terrestrial invasion of Los Angeles, they become the last line of defence for the city.

There are a lot of characters in Battle Los Angeles and they spend most of their time in full tactical gear including a helmet, so it is often difficult to tell them apart. Plus, as there’s so many characters who have only the bare minimum of character traits to make them stand out, it’s hard to keep track of who has just been killed and who is still alive.

The squad is led by 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) but the real main character is Aaron Eckhart’s Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He’s the one that has more than a superficial backstory and has some dramatic moments too – he gets a rather good speech where everyone else looks at him with respect.

Michelle Rodriguez’s Tech Sergeant Elena Santos is one of the more memorable characters, that that could be because she’s one of two women in the main cast of characters. The actors all do as well as they can do with what they’re given. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional, the dialogue is full of military clichés and there’s expository dialogue every ten minutes or so.

While Battle Los Angeles is an alien invasion film it plays out more like a war film with the aliens attacking the squad from a distance, and each side taking cover, so you never really get a good look at them. When the aliens do become clearer, the creature design is not that imaginative or interesting.

There are some exciting shootouts in Battle Los Angeles but they’re unfortunately few and far between, and the slower, more serious moments seriously bog down the film. It’s also far too long and had at least three moments where you felt like it was coming to a conclusion but then things kept happening. 2/5.