Looking around during a preview of The Last Jedi, I had a startling thought: most of the press people in the audience hadn’t yet been born when the first Star Wars film premiered 40 years ago. Soon after that film hit screens, I stood in line on East 86th Street in New York to see what critics were already calling a cultural phenomenon. The young lead actors (Carrie Fisher was only 19), suddenly found themselves thrust into the public eye, part of a juggernaut whose full impact had yet to be felt. Even today, enthusiasm for the Star Wars films continues, bringing in new generations of theater goers. During a time when other sequels fail, this new trilogy (forget about those disappointing prequels) not only meets, but exceeds expectations.
In a May 25, 1977 review for the New York Times, Vincent Canby, then the paper’s chief film critic, said about the first Star Wars film: “Actually, I may have to see it again.” That was the same comment made to me by the guest I brought to the preview of The Last Jedi. Repeat business is what makes studio executives happy, and those at Disney will certainly seize on this moment as the best holiday gift possible.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia
Like the first film in this new trilogy, The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi features characters from the past alongside a new youthful contingent. Mark Hamill, no longer the fresh-faced Luke Skywalker, is now a brooding and dark presence, holed up on a remote mountain, determined to avoid future battles. While the mountain is void of people, the non-human inhabitants are a delight to behold. These include: the adorable chirpy Porgs that resemble puffins; slug-like creatures large as dinosaurs; and servants with fish heads dressed like nuns who seem to perform the island’s daily chores. Luke’s sister, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher, whose appearance is bittersweet), still hopes Luke will return to help the rebels, now called the Resistance. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), the other member of the original trio, was killed off in The Force Awakens.
Oscar Isaac as Poe
The new trio consists of Rey (Daisy Ripley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Rather than joining together in the fight, however, each is on a separate mission. The film opens with Poe, one of the Resistance’s top pilots, leading an offensive against the First Order (formerly The Empire), which doesn’t end well.
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose and John Boyega as Finn
Finn, who has just recovered from injuries, is soon sent on a mission, along with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), to find a code breaker on a distant planet that bears a striking resemblance to Las Vegas. (Those customers gathered around the gaming tables remind us of the creatures Luke and Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi once encountered in a seedy intergalactic bar.) Daisy has perhaps the most difficult assigment: convincing a reluctant Luke to train her and then leave his retreat to help the Resistance.
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
Among all the allied fighters, Rey, whose parentage is in question, seems to be aligned with The Force, that mystical power possessed by the Jedi. While on the mountain, she keeps seeing images of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is connected to The Force since his parents are Han Solo and Princess Leia, but has gone over to the dark side. In these dream-like sequences, Kylo tries to entice Rey to join him, disparaging his uncle, Luke, who once was his mentor. This tug of war plays out through the film, teasing us with the question of who will be turned, Rey or Kylo.
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo
The First Order is now led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing his computer-generated thing, turning this villain into something truly reprehensible), and General Hux, (Domhnall Gleeson), whose postering is less threatening than it is humorous. A welcome new face among the rebels is Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. Then, of course, there are the favorite droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), truly going “solo” this time around.
Rian Johnson picks up the director’s job from J.J. Abrams, who is now executive producer. Rian, who had a cameo appearance in last year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, makes the leap to directing big time with this film and succeeds on all fronts. From the over-the-top battles (a Star Wars trademark), to the more intimate scenes between the characters, we feel we are in capable hands. Once again, John Williams’ score soars over the action, triggering our auditory memory of Star Wars films long, long ago.
The battle between good and evil is never really over, something the Star Wars films underscore. And it’s hard not to think of our current political climate when watching The Last Jedi. Particularly unsettling are those marching storm troopers that bring to mind Kim Jong-un’s robotic army, as well as those leaders of the First Order whose black uniforms resemble those worn by the Nazis. As the second film of this trilogy, The Last Jedi closes some plot lines, but leaves many more unresolved, sure to build the anticipation for that third installment.
Photos courtesy of Disney Studios
Top: Daisy Ridley as Rey and Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
The X-Men franchise has been one of the most highly sustained superhero films for 16 years now. Six movies later, and there’s still some awe involved. In comparison to other films of its genre, and to other superhero characters in general, the X-men are probably the most relatable. The fact that they’re mutants fighting for equality speaks to a lot of the social issues that are still very relevant today. However, as a film, X-Men: Apocalypse is not the weakest movie of the franchise (that place is still held by X3: X-Men United), but the magnitude and character journeys aren’t as potent as they have been with its predecessors. Apocalypse is still entertaining and has some pretty good developments, but it isn’t as exciting as it touts itself to be and Oscar Isaac’s talent is wasted on a mediocre villain.
It’s been ten years since the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past and most everyone has gone their separate ways. Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is now living the life of a normal man. He’s got a wife and daughter and works at a factory, his powers and hatred toward non-mutants seemingly set aside. Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) has opened up his home to serve as a school for mutants, Beast (Nicholas Hoult) still loyally by his side. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is working with other mutants, trying to help certain ones (like Nightcrawler, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) escape cruel treatment.
Aside from the old crew of mutants, there are new ones in the fold. Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) has just developed powers, and so his brother Alex (Lucas Till) takes him to Xavier’s school where he can hone them and be a part of a community that accepts him. There, he meets Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), a powerful, but developing, telepath. Everything seems fine, but when CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne) is investigating a long-dead and very, very powerful mutant called Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) in Egypt, things take a turn for the worse when he is reawakened. One of the first mutants and a man who can absorb and use the powers of others, Apocalypse wants a new world order and wishes to throw the Earth into chaos in order to create a better one. Recruiting four mutants he calls Horsemen–Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto–to help do his bidding, Xavier, Mystique and the rest must band together to try and stop him.
The film has a lot going on. There is the introduction of the new generation of mutants, the introduction of a new villain, and a reinstatement of Magneto as a character with motive. Some plot lines are wonderful, others eat up screen time without actually adding a whole lot to the overarching story. If you’ve been watching from the beginning, you know that Magneto (and his friendship with Xavier) has always been part of why the X-Men films worked. There was gravitas to his story, reason behind his actions, and a weight to his decisions. However, Apocalypse has almost formally renounced all of these things.
Having said that, several of the older generation of mutants (Mystique, Magneto, Beast) have tapped out in a way, and it’s easy to assume that they’ve all played their parts long enough and now’s the time to move forward with the new mutants and their stories. I don’t want to continue seeing a washed-up Magneto, as there’s no more interest and no more purpose to the story to present him in this way any longer. The X-Men films have always been strong on the whole. Apocalypse retains entertainment value, introduces us to interesting characters, and has some action-packed scenes that please (the fight in the midst of the astral plane is fantastic!). However, the pitfalls of the film lie with Apocalypse as a villain. He isn’t very enthralling and lacks the sinister-like traits that have been promoted in the trailers. It’s the end of the world when Apocalypse shows up, but everything he does, from recruiting the Four Horsemen, to causing chaos, falls short and is underwhelming. The role isn’t as multifaceted and it’s hard to ultimately care about Apocalypse’s actions when they aren’t very clearly tied to the other characters in a more personal way. Apocalypse is just kind of there and his presence never warrants any excitement.
This is not to say that every aspect of Apocalypse is underwhelming. There is still plenty to enjoy. The introduction of Scott, Jean, Nightcrawler, and Storm rings in a new era of mutants. Their background stories are given a bit more weight than they ever were given in the first round of films. Jean, in comparison to the older version we first meet in X-Men, is a much more powerful psychic, and the film teases the botched Phoenix story from X3. By the looks of it, it’s the beginning stages of this arc (although how well it’ll play on the big screen without involving certain other elements is yet to be seen). The new recruits are the best part of the film. Their potential as a team is touched upon here and definitely sets up their teamwork and further character development moving forward.
X-Men: Apocalypse isn’t the event many may expect it to be, but it does introduce enough new characters and possible story lines for the next adventure. As for this film, the action is fun, the astral plane fight wonderful, the new mutants great, but the villain (and his plan) ultimately falls flat. It is the weakest film since X-Men: First Class and there are a lot of moments that are meant to be poignant that don’t follow through in terms of emotional impact or investment. Bryan Singer has potential to make the next film better, but until then, Apocalypse settles at being average.
X-Men: Apocalypse opens nationwide May 27, 2016.
- (from left) Jennifer Lawrence as Raven / Mystique, Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert, James McAvoy as Charles / Professor X, Lucas Till as Alex Summers / Havok and Nicholas Hoult as Hank McCoy / Beast. Photo Credit: Alan Markfield.
- Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac). Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.
- Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean (Sophie Turner) Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.