Rogue One (2016)

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens, in a popcorn-tastic kind of a way, it was easy to see why the die-hard fans were rather disappointed: there was nothing really ‘new’ for those who’d followed the story and wanted to see a different part of the sprawling universe of Star Wars.

Rogue One, I suspect, is the film they were looking for. Rather than the stand-alone piece I was expecting, this is instead a direct prequel to the original movie (A New Hope, or episode 4, or however we refer to it!) filling in events that happen just before 1977, as mentioned in that famous text scrolling up the screen. And boy, what events! This is what people hoped for from a Star Wars prequel – not the politics of Naboo, but the running and shooting and bleeding of a rebellion making a come back.

We follow Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who, after a bit of a traumatic childhood, wants nothing to do with either side of the rebellion. But with a new ‘star killer’ weapon being spoken about in hushed tones, it seems that the rebellion might not be done with her – not when she’s the daughter of the Empire’s most noted weapons developer…

While I thoroughly enjoyed Rogue One, I would suggest that it is primarily a film for the fans – not in a bad way, but to be honest I was a tad disappointed with how much reference there was to the original film, given I remember so little of it. Enough to see that there was a lot of ‘clever’ tying in, but with that level of frustration that I just wasn’t appreciating enough of it all. I’d really like a clear ‘this is the story of it all, in one place, go read it’ kind of a thing – otherwise this is a universe that really pays to have that fanaticism about, or risk being left just a little in the cold. ymmv, of course.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy anyway. The movie is just gorgeous to look at, the action is fantastic, and the characters are all very non-annoying (a lesson that apparently took some learning through the six seven previous instalments ;)). I particularly loved new robot, K2, who has just all the best lines – the whole audience was laughing at/with him. On the other side, there are a few familiar faces, and a few ‘hmm’ uses of technology to make some of those tie-ins to the original. Plus, the whole tone is – rather unavoidably – rather dark.

Recommended? Yes, for fans and not-so-fantaticals alike. But be prepared to want to go watch eps. 4-6 (again), if only to ‘get’ some of the tie-ins and a sense of the darkness here only preceding that ‘new hope’.

Released: 15th December 2016
Viewed: 16th December 2016
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8/10 – it was good, but I slightly resent the push to go be a bigger fan! 😉

Jason Bourne (2016)

When we first met Jason Bourne (an amazing-to-think-it 14 years ago) he was dragged from the ocean, shot up and with no recollection of who he was or why his head was full of such handy information as several languages and super-fighting skills. Three films on, he remembers everything – but that doesn’t mean he knows everything.

When former CIA operative turned rogue, Nicky Parsons, uncovers files showing that the Treadstone-like black ops programs aren’t as dead in the water as they’d thought, she tracks down the thoroughly off-the-grid Bourne, assuming he’ll want to help stop it again. But Bourne is a shell of his former self, suffering from PTSD flashbacks and obsessed with staying unnoticed – something that Nicky has just endangered.

While a solid, if frantic, action movie, the fifth (if you include the much-derided The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner instead of Matt Damon) installment of the Bourne series was rather disappointing compared to the original trilogy, at least. Something is missing – a sense of intrigue, perhaps? Instead, we have a straight chase-fight-action plot, until a few twisty plot threads come in nearer the end. That Bourne has lost a bit of spark is a bit of a downer on the beginning of the movie, and only towards the end does he start to perk up and show an interest in ‘the game’ a little – but even then I couldn’t have cared less about the slightly forced-feeling father storyline, but your mileage may vary.

I did enjoy revisiting the character, and I found it really interesting to see both Bourne (Matt Damon) and Julia Stiles (Parsons) reprising their roles after so long, both having aged and no fake efforts to cover that up. With the new characters, Alicia Vikander always seems a little bland to me, losing much of the emotion to her dialogue with the American accent. She also seemed far too young to be head of any CIA department? Hmm. Tommy Lee Jones and Vincent Cassel round out the main cast, both doing their usual fine work, if nothing outstanding.

Plot-wise, we’ve got the very topical privacy in social network data collection, with both sides of a certain argument played out. It largely takes a back seat to the relentless action, meaning I’ll not whine too much about dialogue like, “Use SQL to break their database!” 😉

Biggest complaint from me is probably the camera work, which left me a little nauseous and headachy – not quite at Blair Witch hand-held wobble levels, but still unnecessary, imo.

Overall, though, the Bourne franchise remains fun. If this is a disappointing chapter in the series, I’d suggest that’s because the originals were actually Very Good movies, whereas this is just a good action movie.

Released: 27th July 2016
Viewed: 5th August 2016
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

Now You See Me 2 (2016)

What does a group of magicians do after pulling of some of the most successful illusions of all time, fooling the FBI, the nay-sayers, and serving up justice to the crooks? A year has passed, and the Four Horsemen are still in hiding, growing increasingly restless. So when the chance to out another huge conman with their tricky skills, they jump at the chance – only this time, the illusion is being pulled on them. Press ganged into pulling of a heist for a shadowy tech genius, which side is ultimately going to pull the bunny out of the hat?

The original Now You See Me (2013) was something of a surprise pleasure for me – I really enjoyed it, and even knowing the twists and turns, I still like watching it again. There’s something… offbeat, perhaps? Something a little quirky and different, and just fun.

And so, despite mediocre reviews, I was looking forward to seeing the second (of three) installment. Unfortunately, those mediocre reviews are pretty spot on. Away from the freshness of the original, there’s just a sense here of trying just that bit too hard, and it falls short of the sense of fun.

I was also deeply unsure about some of the new characters. Most obvious is the switch-out of Henley (actress Isla Fisher being a little too pregnant, although she’s due back for Act 3) for newbie Lula (Lizzy Caplan) who again is just trying that bit too hard, although she’s largely likeable. Adding a twin brother for one character, though – urm, no thank you. Really did not get or like that one! And while there is a smile to be had from Harry Potter himself (Daniel Radcliffe) playing in a movie about the ‘other’ kind of magic, he’s only so-so in the role, imo.

It’s not all bad, though, and it is a pleasure to see the 4H staging some impressive feats of prestidigitation and misdirection. I did think the card flicking scene was about twice as long as it needed to be, or just not showy enough for the ‘main’ scene, and while we’re shown the ‘how’ of most tricks, there is one that just seems impossible without movie magic – slightly annoying! 😉

Alas, the ending is a bit… hmm. Still, I will be buying my ticket for Act 3 when (if?) it appears, like magic!

Released: 4th July 2016
Viewed: 22nd July 2016
Running time: 129 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10