Sunday 8 January 2017

Rogue One by Weitz, Gilroy, Knoll and Whitta

(Warning: contains spoilers... and loads of negativity, man.) 

I fully expected Rogue One to be on my list of best films of 2016. Instead it's unquestionably the biggest cinematic disappointment of the year.

You know you're in trouble when the most engaging and appealing character in your movie is a reprogrammed Imperial android. Sadly, the delightful K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) gets shot to pieces at the end of the movie. Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, also ultimately proves impressive in a poorly conceived and underwritten role.

Which makes it even more invidious that Rogue One ends with the clear suggestion that she doesn't survive, either. Although on the other hand I was delighted that the blind samurai — sorry, Jedi — was obliterated, along with a bunch of other boring minor characters.

Sorry for the spoilers, folks, but I strongly advise you to either give this movie a miss, or put it very low on your priority list.

I can't believe that with the example of The Force Awakens so clearly before them the makers of Rogue One could have done such a terrible job. The Force Awakens was so good it gave me goose bumps. Rogue One was so dull I almost fell asleep,

Not that it's short of spectacle, or action. But the filmmakers haven't learned the basic lesson that spectacle and action are irrelevant if they don't make us care about the characters or what they're doing.

The movie looks great. The design, settings and effects are all dazzling. But the script is a complete failure. Which is astonishing, because among the four credited authors is Tony Gilroy, one of the finest screenwriters of his generation. But this screenplay fails on every level.

We don't care about the characters, they are passive, they are dull and bland, have no clear goals, the whole plot is a murky mess and the dialogue stinks. Perhaps Rogue One isn't as badly written as the Lucas prequels. But it shares some of their major script deficiencies — for a start there is no clear cut, compelling story.

There's lots of chasing around for McGuffins, or plot coupons. And there's always one more stupid thing to do. They have to get the plans of the Death Star, then they have to plug in the transmitter, then they have to throw the master switch, then they have to adjust the angle of the antenna, then they have to open the force field to let the transmission through...

You get the picture. And all of this involves a lot of exposition, and explaining, and shouting by the poor actors, who have been given nothing to work with. Instead of this crap, someone needed to come up with a story. One which properly challenged and tested the characters and emotionally engaged the audience.

The Force Awakens grabbed us and never let go. Rogue One never manages to grip us even for an instant. It is full of filler and exposition and somnolent nonsense. There's a big debate among the Rebel Council which is a boring and irrelevant as any of that parliamentary bilge in the Lucas prequels.

And, as with those films, the dialogue in Rogue One really is bad. Mostly it's just flat, dull, boring and doesn't advance the story or reveal character. But now and then it lets off a real stinker. Here are two lines that may not seem too invidious to you, but they really irked me:

"You can stand to see the Imperial flag reign across the galaxy?" Well, darling, a flag doesn't reign. It might flap or fly or hang or any number of other things. But it doesn't reign. And then there's "I couldn't face myself if I gave up now"... When was the last time you faced yourself? I suppose we do it in the mirror, but instead of facing themselves in the mirror the producers should have got someone who can actually write dialogue to fix the speeches in this terribly mediocre script.

There are other problems, too, beyond the script. We have some wonderful actors here who are utterly wasted. The magnificent Forrest Whittaker has been put in a wild space suit which looks like something out of David Lynch's Dune, and he seems to have been infected with the sort of overacting Lynch encourages, and so proceeds to eat the scenery. It doesn't help that he has a silly wig.

Ben Mendelsohn, another wonderful actor is given another stupid hairdo, and nothing but clich√© bad guy lines to bellow. Then there's the CGI revenant of the late Peter Cushing, a phantom menace if ever there was one. Is this thing convincing? 

No, it's way too deep in the uncanny valley to make anyone think it's Peter Cushing. Or indeed a human being.

And then the recently deceased Carrie Fisher turns up at the end, also CGI spawned to make her look youthful. In fact she looks like a sinister rubber faced automaton with grinning chipmunk cheeks. Like Cushing, she seems to have escaped from the Polar Express.

And on top of that, when Darth Vader first appears, he's supposed to make this big dramatic entrance. But he's so badly lit, and his costume looks so cheap and shabby, that the whole effect is just pitiful.

In fairness, when Vader turns up again near the end wielding a light sabre, he is considerably more impressive. But that doesn't save this movie. Nothing could. No doubt it will make gazillions of dollars and will be adored by fans. But I was a fan — utterly won over by The Force Awakens — and suddenly I'm not one any more.

(Image credits: all the posters are from Imp Awards.)

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