Tuesday 25 October 2016

'It's just depressingly… okay' - Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

Published 17/12/2015 | 12:27

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The good news is Star Wars: The Force Awakens is much, much better than George Lucas' bloodless prequels.

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The BAD news is that this wildly hyped follow-up to the original trilogy often feels more like a ride at a theme park than a movie  – a roller-coaster that traces each bend and switchback of 1977's A New Hope so robotically that it soon becomes clear no deviation from the formula will be tolerated.

It's loud and full of vim – but a little hollow and heartless.

In other words, a quintessential JJ Abrams film – a clockwork construct capable of thought and motion but which does not have a soul.

Strangely, the seams truly start to show only as the original cast members turn up. Han Solo's arrival is almost literally a bolt from the ether – one minute he isn't there, the next he is. Why? Because a Star Wars sequel demands his presence.

Ditto, Leia – apparently portrayed by a waxwork effigy of Carrie Fisher speaking a language vaguely related to English (even when she suffers a devastating person loss her face fails to register anything approximating human emotion). 

But the biggest flaw is the plot – which, sad to say, hugs the arc of George Lucas' original so tightly it begins to grow asphyxiating.

The internet has decreed all Star Wars chatter must be spoiler- free so I won't delve into details – suffice to say, an enemy mega weapon must be destroyed and it falls to a plucky team of pilots to deliver the killing dispatch….and, well, yes..you probably know where we're headed.

Why are reviews for the movie uniformly gushing? I have no idea - it may be that non-Star Wars fans think the originals amounted to nothing more than a bunch of people with weird names firing blasters and zipping about in space ships. But this quasi-official euphoria was not apparent at the midnight screening where I caught TFA.

As the final credits rolled and the audience slouched into the night the consensus, among those I canvased, was that The Force Awakens was okay… Not amazing, not terrible. Just depressingly, thuddingly…okay.

There is one major death and fans I have spoken to felt it a bit cheap and obvious - as did I.

Indeed,there were unfortunate echoes of JJ Abrams' last Star Trek movie which recreated the Spock-Kirk death sequence from Wrath Of Khan in a way that was chintzy and unearned – and seemed to completely miss the point of the scene in the first place. This felt likewise – glib and throwaway, pieced together by people who clearly cared little for the character (including, one is tempted to conclude, the actor playing him/her).

Look, it wasn't TERRIBLE. The end was kind of fantastic – it left me wanting to see the next chapter straight away. And the opening hour had its moments. But the guts of the film were unexpurgated JJ Abrams carnival show – all bams, pows and plot holes so huge you could fly an Imperial Star Destroyer through.

Also, some of the casting was way off – had Daisy Ridley taken a wrong turn at auditions for the new Harry Potter movie (her cut-glass accent was jarring and ridiculous).

Better was John Boyega, though he seemed to wish he was starring in a seventies buddy movie, while Oscar Isaac was wasted (can we clear up how Poe Dameron got from Jakku to the Resistance  HQ again?).

Read more: Star Wars: The Force Awakes review - ebullient reboot does not disappoint

I'm conflicted writing this. I wanted The Force Awakens to not suck – and mostly it doesn't. Yet it is so relentlessly and, yes cynically, bent on evoking nostalgia in the audience that it soon begins to feel less like a film than a cinematic cover version. That's the problem with JJ Abrams. His movies reminder me of one of those chain restaurants where everything on the menu tastes the same.

Read more: Star Wars: The Force Awakens first review: 'quite simply a masterpiece - and Skellig Michael looks epic on film'

The Force Awakens has the entirely laudable mission of saving Star Wars from Uncle George's CGI purgatory and resorting its strut and oomph. But in end, for all the hype and good-will and fanboy love and weak-at-the-knees critics...in the end, it's just another JJ Abrams film. 

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