Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Review 

Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn’t a great movie, though it is an entertaining one that seems to grasp it’s characters well.

Though it’s not without its problems, some of which I go into in the following video.

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Is Star Wars Too Massive To Fail?

No franchise is too big to fail, though typically a decline–the same logic applies to whether we’re discussing movie franchises or nations– comes before a fall.

And that’s important because if you pay attention to the signs you may be able to delay or even avert a worse-case scenario.

The Last Jedi is taking a bit of a bashing among a large amount of moviegoers–some have gone as far as starting petitions to have it removed from canon–yet despite this apparent animus the movie has earned almost $400 million domestically ($395,627,411) and a similar figure overseas (&396,061,433).

And that former figure is pretty amaxing when you take into account it has only been out eleven days domestically.

Part of its wellspring of profits has to do with–despite the anger it is generating in some quarters–that the same people who are doing the complaining are actually seeing the movie (and in some instances more than once).

Another important detail is that The Last Jedi may be angering some people but it’s doing so for all the right reasons, namely characters that many fans have literally grown up with have begun to change in ways that they don’t necessarily agree with.

But it is change, and proof Lucasfilm isn’t resting on their laurels (which likely had a lot to do with Transformers: The Last Knight underwhelming at the US box office.  After all, there is only so many times you can blow something up before it gets not only boring, but tedious).

Though change is a double-edged sword in that if it’s done too quickly or perceived as too radical–like how Warner Bros treated Superman in Man of Steel (and Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice–you’re going to start with underwhelming box office receipts, which if not addressed have the potential to ruin a franchise.

And as critical as I tend to be of Sony Pictures, they at least saw the writing was on the wall as far as their Spider-Man franchise was concerned, and let Marvel Studios shepherd the character on it’s third reboot, resulting in the most profitable outing for the character yet  (an arguable assertion since Spider-Man 3 came out in 2007 while Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017 and the value of the American Dollar was likely higher; though the budget of the former was $285 million versus $175 million for Homecoming; on top of It earning just over $10 million less than Spider-Man 3).

So perhaps The Last Jedi isn’t necessarily a good metric to determine if people are growing tired of the Star Wars universe, which is the path to the Dark Side.

That responsibility will likely be carried by the next film in the series–as well as the new trilogy Rian Johnson is working on–because while The Last Jedi has clearly divided audiences, if J.J. Abrams can’t unite them, Johnson may have done more damage than the Sith every could.

Lightning Strikes, Thor: Ragnarök Roars!

img_0536And Yes, ‘Ragnarök’ has an umlaut and it’s lazy not to include it.

Anyway, last week I made the audacious claim that Thor: Ragnarök would likely join the Billion Dollar Club, the hallowed ground where movies that earn at least a billion dollars go during their theatrical runs roam.

And profits matter because as much as some want to make it all about the quality and watchability of a movie–which are important–Hollywood isn’t a charity and if these expensive tentpoles aren’t going to bring adequate returns, they’re going to stop making them.

And it goes without saying that that’s a bit of a double-edged sword because what applies to the original Star Wars trilogy also applied to the Transformers movies 😭.

I mention this because Thor: Ragnarök has crossed the $500 million mark ($502.3 m) not even two weeks into its box office run though it has to be mentioned that it has done so with little in the way of competition–A Bad Mom’s Christmas is less a genuine alternative than cagey counter-programming–till Justice League comes out in about a week’s time.

It’s worth looking at where Thor: Ragnarök is making its money.  Over $350 million of the $503 million it has earned thus far has come from the international box office–$354 million versus $150 million domestically.

That domestic figure is problematic, though I suspect if it reaches $400 million on this end of the pond a billion dollar run is assured, and ironically Justice League could help as much as hinder that from happening.

Expect moviegoers to initially flock to the latest from Warner Bros and DC Entertainment (ironically enough, on the strength of Wonder Woman, a fortuitous accident because there’s no sign Warner Bros expected her to resonate with audiences as much as she did) but that should only slow Thor’s momentum, not stop it outright.

And if Justice League doesn’t meet audience expectations–all those rewrites and reshoots weren’t made out of overwhelming confidence–which has the side effect of increasing the budget to a rumored $300 million.

That’s problematic because if it makes anything under a billion it’s a well-intentioned failure, while Thor: Ragnarök at a budget of $180 million can reach $800 million and be comfortably profitable.

Though as I have written, I see it going higher.

Tomb Raider – Trailer

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I bet there’re a lot of people asking ‘Who asked for a Tomb Raider reboot?’

And the answer is ‘No one.’  Then again, who asked for new Star Wars films?  Star Trek?

The answer–while there are always people who would love to see more of these characters and the worlds they occupy–is also ‘No’ though the truth is Hollywood can care less what people ‘ask’ for and more what they’ll pay to see.

And Star Wars movies make gobs of money, no matter how plagued with difficulty they appear to be to actually produce.

Combine the tendency to tell people what it is they want to see with the profitability of Wonder Woman–also released by Warner Bros–with a new-found hunger for female-led action films and a reboot of Tomb Raider a no-brainer.

Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets – ‘Space Is MAGIC’ – Trailer

Luc Besson is nothing if not ambitious and Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets is his most ambitious feature yet, but I am concerned.

The movie, based on a French comic book written by Pierre Christin and illustrated by Jean-Claude Mézières, is likely unfamiliar to most Americans, which is likely why the director spends quite a bit of time in the trailer telling the viewer what it is they’re going to see, and what it’s  based on.

If I were promoting the movie in the United States I’d  bypass the origins of the characters–which domestic audiences are likely unaware –and instead concentrate on two things:

  • Spectacle

Valerian appears to be visually spectacular, as if Besson took the visual esthetic of The Fifth Element and combined it with Star Wars and Avatar.  Movies are all about diversion and this is an aspect that–in promotional materials–needs to be played up (it goes without saying that he movie itself will hopefully have a story that matches the visuals) even more than it is in this trailer.

Promise a visual experience like no other.  And sure, it’s likely not to be the case –I have seen few, if any, movies to actually live up to such hype–but it doesn’t stop movies from saying it, so Valerian might as well do the same.

  • Competition

Valerian cost somewhere between $170-200 million dollars to produce and while I expect it will perform strongest in Europe (where familiarity with the source material is likely greater) I wouldn’t discount it doing well in most international markets.

How well it does domestically depends upon when it is released, and perhaps more importantly, what it is released against.   It it performs (domestically) like Universal’s The Mummy, which had Wonder Woman to content with, then it had better do as well as that movie did internationally (despite not starring an actor with the international pull of a Tom Cruise) or there might be troubles for EuropaCorp (Besson’s production company, though the movie is released domestically via STX.).

Though if Valerian has a month or so alone (and there’s no Spider-Man: Homecoming waiting in ambush) competing with smaller releases it’s likely to do just fine.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Teaser Trailer

Screenshot 2017-04-14 12.35.54.pngRian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released a few hours ago, and looks… like a Star Wars movie.

Which is stating the obvious, though it also reveals a problem.  The last Star Wars movie, Rogue One, was what you get when you take Star Wars and remove the wonder, heart and engaging characters that made that made the series so well-loved by so many (even George Lucas’ much maligned–and deservedly so–prequel trilogy).

And sure, Rogue One made a gazillion dollars but it could easily be a case of diminishing returns, like in the case of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise.

Though to be fair it appears that The Last Jedi looks like it’s at least attempting to bring some of the aforementioned wonder and mystery central to prior entries, and that’s a good thing.

Will it work?  I have no idea, but it’s worth trying.

 

Rogue One Review Capsule

I’m in the process of editing my review of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS Story so check back for the full version!

Though I have to say that I really did not like this movie.  Say what you will about the prequels, at least they felt like Star Wars movies.

Rogue One?  Maybe the last 35-40 minutes felt like a Star Wars movie though the bulk of it felt like the worse kind of war movie, namely the type where you don’t give a damn about anyone. 

Such a lack of character development you can get away with in a three or four minute short, though when you’re talking about a movie that runs almost two hours and a half it’s near inexcusable.  

I honestly can’t tell if it’s the writing or the direction that’s at fault, but dealing with any sort of human emotion isn’t exactly director Gareth Edwards‘ strong suit (something’s that’s fairly obvious if you have seen either Monsters or Godzilla, though to be fair Rogue One makes Monsters feel almost pornographic in its displays of human emotion and relationships). 

Clearly people are seeing the movie, but I get the feeling that if there weren’t the connection to Star Wars, most wouldn’t give a damn.