Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review


I’ve gone on record multiple times saying how much I dislike Jurassic World. It’s a mess of a movie (which isn’t unusual for a Jurassic Park sequel), but it’s also shockingly misogynistic and cruel, actively hates itself, and features the ugliest special effects of any Jurassic film. It’s just the worst.

Needless to say, I didn’t go into Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom with high expectations. New-to-the-franchise director J. A. Bayona was pretty much the only thing that got me to fork over 1,500 SCENE points and awkwardly place 3D glasses over my regular ones. Two hours later I was watching the credits roll with a big grin on my face, realizing that for the first time since The Lost World I’d enjoyed a Jurassic Park movie.

The sexism and mean-spiritedness are gone, and criticisms of corporate greed, which came off as pure self-loathing in Jurassic World, actually have some resonance here. This is the first film of the series to feature entirely villainous characters, and Toby Jones has a great time chewing the scenery as a Trump-like sleazeball who auctions off dinosaurs to cartoonishly evil billionaires. Chris Pratt is significantly less insufferable this time around, and Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, who was treated so horribly in the first one, is now every bit the hero that Pratt is. Zach and Gray, the truly awful kids from Jurassic World, are nowhere to be seen, and are replaced by Isabella Sermon giving a decent performance as a strange British child. Ted Levine gives a fun, Ted Levine-y performance, and Jeff Goldblum’s legendary Dr. Ian Malcolm has a line that made me quietly pump my fist and whisper “Yes.”

The special effects are a mostly excellent blend of practical and CG, and Bayona knows how to utilize them much better than Colin Trevorrow did in the previous film. He directs with the same stylish flair that elevated The Orphanage and A Monster Calls, and turns what could have been another creaky franchise entry into something more. The film’s biggest weakness is the script, which, unsurprisingly, was co-written by Colin Trevorrow. It actually works quite well from a plot perspective, but mostly fails when it comes to presenting main characters that are anything more than objects to get chased by dinosaurs. Luckily the dinosaur chasing is incredibly entertaining, and the film leaps from set piece to set piece with enough gusto that I was never all that put off by the lack of compelling protagonists.

The story this time around sees Howard’s Claire heading back to the island to rescue the dinosaurs before a newly re-active volcano wipes them out. She brings Owen along for this terrible idea because he loves a velociraptor on the island named Blue – a subplot that I think works a bit better this time around. They bring with them a tech wiz played by Justice Smith, and a dino-veterinarian played by Daniella Pineda, who has apparently never even seen a real dinosaur, let alone operated on one; as I said before, not a great script. Based on the rest of the series, I was expecting the entire movie to take place on Isla Nublar, but without spoiling too much, we don’t actually spend much time in a familiar setting. The entire second half of the film shifts gears fairly effortlessly into a Gothic horror inspired scare-fest that takes the franchise somewhere completely new, and then leaves it there, leaving me legitimately excited for the next entry.

Which I’m just learning is going to be directed by Trevorrow again.


Anyways, Fallen Kingdom is a really entertaining summer blockbuster that demands little from the audience except a willingness to come along for the ride. Bayona’s horror background is very much on display, and this movie makes the dinosaurs scarier than they have been since Spielberg was directing. You won’t care much about the characters, but watching them escape increasingly dire situations, all staged with inventive and suspenseful camera work and editing, and set to a bombastic score by Michael Giacchino, is some of the most fun I’ve had with a blockbuster all year.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Review


When I’m feeling down, there’s a video on YouTube that I like to watch. It’s Fred Rogers AKA Mr. Rogers speaking before the U.S Senate Subcommittee on Communication, asking them to reject Nixon’s proposal to slash funding for public television. Here, he explains exactly what he thinks his program offers:

“This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, ‘You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.’”

Ok, you just have to watch the video; it’s so great. Here it is:

Now that we’ve all had a good cry, can we acknowledge that something pretty magical happened there? I can hardly think of a more perfect example of kindness winning out over cynicism than the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator John Pastore, granting PBS the $20 million they were asking for before presumably standing up, stepping into the afternoon sun, and dancing off down the street.

This scene is shown in the wonderful documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, but in the context of the film, and the year 2018, that feeling of pure happiness I get watching the clip on YouTube becomes mixed with a much more sobering sentiment: what did that $20 million really buy?

This isn’t to imply Mr. Rogers wasted the money – good lord, no. As the documentary shows, Fred Rogers was a legitimately amazing human being. He poured his soul into his art, and every episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood showcases the work of a kind, thoughtful, and heart-wrenchingly genuine man. My question is, “What did we do with the money?”, and when I see where we’re at right now, I’m worried the answer may be, “Not a whole lot.”

But let’s let that darkness be for a bit, and talk about what a terrific movie this is. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a relentlessly engaging portrait of a man’s life, one that is unafraid to show us Mr. Rogers at his most vulnerable, his most doubtful, and his most misguided. Rogers’ unwillingness to let François Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on the show, come out as gay, reminds us that even the best of us can be completely wrong sometimes. As Clemmons reveals in interviews, Rogers was personally accepting of his sexuality, and his willingness to put a black man on television in the 60s, and have him play a police officer no less, displayed a lot of courage. Regardless, the fact that the documentary addresses and gives adequate time to this less-than-flattering detail about Mr. Rogers’ life is to be commended.

There are moments in the film that are laugh-out-loud hilarious. There’s a brilliant montage of clips showing how willing Mr. Rogers was to embrace slowness on TV – watching a timer count down a full minute, feeding fish, and of course, changing both his sweater and his shoes in every single episode. There are also some great anecdotes about the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that went on, and a delightful clip of Eddie Murphy’s Mr. Rogers send-up, Mr. Robinson.

And of course, the film has its share of moments that are purely heartwarming. Mr. Rogers talking with Jeff Erlanger, about his life and why he uses a wheelchair, and then singing It’s You I Like with him may be the most I’ve ever cried in a theatre. Erlanger would go on to become an advocate and activist for disability rights, and he presented when Mr. Rogers was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. That’s another video you have to watch:

Fred Rogers believed that everyone deserved to be treated with love and respect. Everyone. I’ve heard a lot of people say things like “We didn’t deserve him,” but that’s exactly the kind of thinking that Mr. Rogers spent his entire life peacefully opposing. To go back to what I was saying earlier, this movie really does make you wonder if Mr. Rogers’ philosophy worked. He would often try to explain the terrible things that go on in the world, in ways children could understand, but towards the end of his life, when he was asked to return to television to address the nation after 9/11, even he was having his doubts. No matter what he did, or how much kindness he broadcast to the world, terrible things keep happening.

When I go online, something I’ve been trying to avoid as much as possible lately, I see so much anger from every possible side that I genuinely wonder if there’s any coming back from this. Mr. Rogers spent his life trying to be kind, trying to spread kindness as far as he possibly could…and now he’s gone. And when the documentary shows footage of people protesting his funeral, forcing their kids to hold up signs saying “God Hates Mr. Rogers” because of how accepting he was, something in me broke a little bit. Our anger at the world doesn’t end with everything magically being fixed – it ends with everything inevitably being broken.

But then the documentary does something amazing. It pulls back, and spends a full minute (Mr. Rogers loved his full minutes) watching every person who was interviewed think about someone who helped them become who they are today, something Mr. Rogers would often encourage people to do. This minute also lets the audience think about those people who inspired us, who showed us love, and took care of us even when we thought we didn’t need it. It’s not a showy moment, but it’s one of the most powerful examples of healing I’ve ever seen on screen. Because we weren’t thinking of people at their worst; we were thinking of them at their absolute best. We were thinking of them at their Mr. Rogers. I’ve heard a million arguments as to why treating people with pure love won’t solve anything, but I just don’t buy it – and this movie doesn’t either. This is a movie that leaves you drained in the best possible way, that shows the world in all it’s beauty and ugliness, and then begs you to not give up on it. We deserved Mr. Rogers – we deserve Mr. Rogers.

Incredibles 2 Review


Let me preface this review by saying that it’s worth seeing Incredibles 2 just for Bao, the short film which precedes it. Bao is written and directed by Domee Shi, and tells the story of a woman who makes a bao bun that comes to life. I will tell you nothing more about it, except that its Pixar’s best short since Geri’s Game.

Incredibles 2, unfortunately, isn’t of the same caliber. The movie opens with an introduction from director Brad Bird and members of the cast assuring us that while the film may have taken a while -14 years – the results will be well worth it. I have no idea why they needed to include this, when literally every other film is content to just let us watch and decide if it was worth it or not. My dismay with this weird peek behind the curtain didn’t dissipate as the movie opens in earnest. Rick Dicker, the government agent who takes care of the Parr family, is erasing the memory of a boy, Tony, who saw Violet without her mask on. It’s a stilted, strange scene that only serves to set up a tiny side plot – not a great way to start your movie.

Finally, after five minutes of false starts, the film actually begins. We get to see the entire Parr family working together to stop the threat that arose at the end of The Incredibles – the Underminer! He’s a fun, goofy villain, and the chase that his plan to rob a bank leads to is masterfully executed. It made me wish that Marvel could conjure this much excitement with their superpowered action scenes. The sequence perfectly encapsulates the promise of the premise teased at the end of The Incredibles. Sadly, the movie has no idea what to do with the whole family as a superhero team, so it simply does what the first movie did: make superheroes illegal again.

It’s an incredibly frustrating reset, and one that only intensifies as Helen Parr gets hired to be Elastigirl by a rich benefactor, which just so happens to be exactly what happened to Bob Parr AKA Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles. This leaves Bob at home with the kids, playing out an episode straight out of a 90s sitcom where *gasp* a father has to take care of three kids alone. Both of these tired plot developments actually lead to some fun scenes – a great motorcycle chase and Jack-Jack vs a racoon come to mind – but there’s such a sense of sameness and lack of direction to the proceedings that it’s hard to get invested in anything that’s going on. Then there’s a small storyline involving Violet and the aforementioned Tony that never really goes anywhere, and a twist that will be painfully obvious to anyone who’s seen The Incredibles, or, you know, a movie. Characters also get possessed a lot, which is a trope that needs to end, unless your movie begins with the words The Exorcist. There is nothing interesting about watching a character do things they have no control over…nothing.

Then there are the politics. I hadn’t really thought about it much, but Brad Bird is pretty into objectivism. Every one of his movies, to some degree, is about being special. My favourites, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and The Iron Giant, deal with the public’s tendency to view the other as scary and something to be destroyed. Both these films, however, ultimately come down on the side of the everyman. The same cannot be said for Tomorrowland and The Incredibles, both of which display significantly more Ayn Randian views towards being special. These films, and Incredibles 2, have moments of unbridled contempt for the everyman, who is cursed to live out their days in mediocrity, attempting to drag those that are special down with them. Both Incredibles movies feature villains whose goal is to eradicate the world of superheroes simply because of the threat they pose to humanity’s independance – not the typical goals of supervillains. Of course, in the end, both films return to the status quo, with superheroes comfortably returned to their rightful place of physical and moral superiority.

Incredibles 2 is a movie that gets worse the more I think about it. I was reasonably entertained while in the theatre, but writing this review brought on more vitriol than I thought it would. There’s fun to be had, but on the whole Incredibles 2 is a less focused, and less fun, retread of The Incredibles, and one that continues to espouse that movie’s troubling philosophy. Bao though…Bao.

Speed Racer Review


I can scarcely think of a film more worthy of the title “underrated” than the Wachowski’s 2008 gem Speed Racer. “Speed Racer?” you say. “Wasn’t that the movie that everyone hated, lost a bunch of money, and currently holds 40% on Rotten Tomatoes?”

“The very same!” I reply jovially, with a twinkle in my eye.

You: “…I suppose you’re going to tell me why-”

Me: “I thought you’d never ask! Speed Racer is a hyperkinetic, visually sumptuous car movie, that delivers consistently interesting and exciting race sequences, all the while telling a remarkably coherent story about family, the evils of big business, and the power of following your dreams. It’s funny and weird, and wears it’s big ol’ heart proudly on its sleeve. It’s everything great about the Wachowskis crammed into a two hour cartoon epic that I could watch a million times and never tire of. It’s so great.”

You: “So why didn’t people like it?”

Me: “Great question! The main criticisms of the film were levelled at the visuals and the storyline. Now, I’ll agree that the visuals are out there. For one, the Wachowskis filmed the movie on high-definition film, which enabled them to keep everything in focus at all times. This isn’t unusual for an animated movie, but for live action it’s pretty jarring. Speed Racer is also one of the most ridiculously colourful movies ever made – seriously, it makes Suspiria look like the trailer for the Suspiria remake. The transitions are stylized even by cartoon standards, and the special effects never once approach anything resembling real life.

Then there’s the story. It’s somehow both really simple – Speed Racer wants to race and, with the help of his family, does – and really complicated. For example, there’s a great deal of screen time devoted to the complexities of stock market manipulation. Again, this is a jarring combination, especially when you also factor in a lot of sequences involving a kid and his pet monkey. There’s a scene where the villain explains how people get rich by devaluing their companies, which is intercut with the aforementioned monkey/kid duo trying to steal a bunch of candy. It’s bonkers. There are lines of dialogue like this:

‘He’s going to be the best…if they don’t destroy him first’


‘This isn’t a race…it’s a showdown!’

and of course:

‘You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn’t work like that!’

The characters have names like Speed, Pops, and Racer X. There’s a guy who dresses like a cobra. Christina Ricci says ‘Cool beans’ a lot.

But here’s the thing…none of this is bad. The story may be a startling mix of serious and silly, but it’s also incredibly well told. Literally every character has a satisfying arc (kid/monkey included), and the themes of the movie are all beautifully articulated in the text. ‘Big business is evil’ is a pretty common concept in stories, but rarely has it been shown to be so all-consuming and impossible to overcome as it is here. ‘Family is important’ is also an oft-visited idea but in Speed Racer it takes on the kind of mythic proportions that would make Vin Diesel cry. Seriously, if you think the Fast and Furious franchise is about cars and family you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The dialogue is simple and direct when it has to be, as in the opening sequence which sets up the central conflicts better than just about any opening I’ve ever seen. But then you get a scene between Speed and his racing idol where the dialogue is entirely realistic, enhancing the weight and emotion of the exchange. Every actor knows exactly what movie they are in, and they deliver their lines with the kind of aching sincerity only the Wachowskis can inspire.

The visuals are positively eye-popping, but I would argue they perfectly match the tone of every scene. The races are chaotic when they should be, but can also be crystal clear. Unlike, say, Michael Bay, the Wachowskis know when to utilize different kinds of cinematography so that it always serves the story. And the transitions, oh the transitions! Video essayist Patrick Willems has an awesome essay about scene transitions in The Matrix, and it really highlights just how great the Wachowskis are at them:

So why didn’t people like this movie? I think it has to do with audiences’ and critics’ aversion to anything ‘cheesy’. Cheesy really means something that’s inauthentic (like a salesperson’s smile or Jurassic World), but has also come to mean anything that is too authentic. I’ve heard people describe The Last Jedi as cheesy, when it’s leaps and bounds more sincere than the muddled nostalgia of The Force Awakens. Aversion to sincerity is a tendency that we’re all guilty of, especially when we’re living in cynical times; let’s not forget that Speed Racer was made after we’d endured eight years of the Bush administration. It’s understandable that people wouldn’t exactly be in the mood for a technicolour fable about love triumphing over evil.

And now here we are; on the tenth anniversary of Speed Racer we find ourselves caught up in another Republican nightmare. The President of the United States is a worse person than the villain of Speed Racer – at least that guy didn’t brag about sexually assaulting people. I think in times like these, when cynicism and fear are calling the shots, we need movies like Speed Racer more than ever. It’s a plea for people to stop being shitty to each other, to work together, and create something that isn’t money. It’s one of the Wachowskis’ purest expressions of their philosophy, one which believes in another, better world, where human decency can triumph over greed and the desire to control. And hey, it also features a really adorable monkey.”

You: “Alright, I’ll give it a shot. But you were definitely wrong about Infinity War being a masterpiece.”

Me: “Yes…yes I was.”


Hereditary Review


Hereditary is a marvellously acted family drama that also happens to be the scariest horror movie I’ve seen in ages. Unfortunately, the two genres never quite gel, and I left the theatre feeling more puzzled than shaken.

The film begins with an obituary; Annie Graham, a mother of two, has just lost her own mother. She attends the funeral with her husband and children, and delivers a eulogy which reveals that she and her mother were not particularly close. After the service the family returns home and everyday life resumes. Annie is an artist who works in miniatures, creating perfect replicas of scenes from her own life. Her son, Peter, is a fairly typical teenager, who smokes weed between classes, and is mainly concerned with working up the courage to talk to the girl who sits in front of him in English. Annie’s daughter, Charlie, is a different story. She has no friends, sleeps in a treehouse outside, and makes creepy dolls out of wire and bird heads. All of this is fairly standard horror fair, but where it goes is anything but. I’m not going to spoil what transpires, because watching this movie ramp up, and having no idea where it’s all going is the primary reason to see Hereditary.

As mentioned before, the acting is almost uniformly excellent, with the brilliant Toni Collette being the high water mark, and the just-OK Gabriel Byrne being the low. Toni Collette, who is no stranger to playing stressed out matriarchs (see The Sixth Sense, About a Boy, or Little Miss Sunshine), gives what may be her best performance. A moment that stuck out for me was a look she gives her son after he compliments his dad (Byrne) on the dinner he made; it tells us more about the resentment and frustration she feels towards Peter than dialogue ever could. Peter is played by Alex Wolff, and he has a scene early on that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. Milly Shapiro generates real pathos for Charlie, and finds the humanity in even her weirdest moments.

The first half of of Hereditary is a full on masterpiece that beautifully explores the horror of the everyday – family tensions, grief, and nut allergies (seriously, nut allergies are TERRIFYING). The second half is undeniably scary, but it leans too heavily on genre tropes, and writer/director Ari Aster never quite finds a way to fully integrate the scares into the story. Without spoiling anything, the film essentially changes genre twice. The first time it works, because it’s building on characters and family dynamics. This first shift starts to introduce more conventional horror setpieces, which are quite good, but a bit disappointing considering how truly shattering the first half of the film is. The second genre shift is considerably less effective – it essentially reduces everything that came before to a breadcrumb trail, and for a movie that starts with such a wide scope, it ties everything up in a depressingly neat bow. Character arcs fizzle, the scares become more and more cliche, and I couldn’t help noticing it all bears more than a few distinct similarities to a certain recent horror film that did the same thing, only better.

I would absolutely recommend Hereditary to horror fans; even at its worst it’s still damn good, and that first half is one for the ages. Perhaps another viewing will sit better with me, but for now I must confess that my most anticipated horror film of 2018 left me a little cold.


Manhunt Review


In 1986 John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow opened in Hong Kong theatres, and became a phenomenon. Its operatic story, impossibly cool gangsters, and slow-motion, duel-wielding gun fights went on to influence both Hong Kong and Hollywood action cinema for years to come. The film essentially invented a genre – heroic bloodshed – which Woo cemented in 1989 and 1992 by directing two of the best action films ever made: The Killer and Hard Boiled. The latter features an almost hour long action scene as the finale, the insanity of which has rarely been equaled.

In 1993 Woo made the jump to Hollywood. Though his wizardry with action sequences never let up, his English language films are largely disappointing. Of his six Hollywood features, only Face/Off comes close to living up to his legendary reputation. In 2008 Woo returned to Asia and directed two four-hour long epics – Red Cliff and The Crossing. I have yet to see The Crossing, but Red Cliff is a mostly successful historical war picture – swords replace guns, and armour takes the place of billowing trench coats, but Woo’s signature directorial style shines through, and reminds us that he still has what it takes to make an action film work.

Needless to say, when it was announced that Woo would be returning to the world of heroic bloodshed that he essentially created back in 1986, I immediately put Manhunt on my must-watch list. So, now that I’ve seen it, does Woo’s latest live up to my expectations? Kind of!

The film takes place in Japan, and follows Du Qiu, a lawyer who is framed for murder, and Satoshi Yamura, the detective tasked with tracking him down. This type of story has long been a fascination of Woo’s; A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Hard Boiled, and Face/Off all revolve around intimate relationships that develop between cops and criminals, with Face/Off taking that relationship to the absolute extreme. Swept up in the proceedings are Rain and Dawn, sister assassins who are hired to eliminate Du Qiu before he can prove himself innocent. The villains are a father-son duo that work as higher ups at a huge pharmaceutical company, an industry that seems to pump out more than its share of nefarious characters. Then we have Rika, Yamura’s partner, and Mayumi, a mysterious woman who can hopefully provide Du Qiu with an alibi. It’s all pulpy as hell, and, while it may be less interesting than any of Woo’s previously mentioned films, it’s certainly never boring. I found myself quite invested in Du Qiu, Yamura, Rika, and Mayumi’s stories, and the way they all weave together, for the most part, works. The same, unfortunately, can’t be said for Rain and Dawn, who despite a great introduction, just don’t work. Their storyline is ludicrous, and the acting from both performers is so over-the-top it’s impossible to connect to. The villainous pharmaceutical executives oscillate between twirling their mustaches and delivering surprisingly nuanced performances; the great Jun Kunimura, as the father, is particularly suited to his role.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a heroic bloodshed movie without a lot of heroic bloodshed. Pistols are fired endlessly, without the need of pesky reloading, slow motion debris fills the frame, and blood splatters on a plethora of white surfaces, from walls to tablecloths to a wedding dress. It’s all shot with Woo’s uncanny knack for geography – I always knew where everyone was, where they needed to go, and how many bad guys were going to try to stop them. There are also plenty of tongue-in-cheek references to Woo’s own oeuvre, from a dove appearing at the perfect time to create a distraction, to a samurai sword fight lifted almost verbatim from A Better Tomorrow II. These little nods are used sparingly, and make me think that Woo is pretty darn happy to be back in his old stomping ground.

The camera work ranges from bold, as in several scenes where the past and present intertwine in character’s minds, to soap opera, as in a bizarre sequence where Rain and Dawn reveal their drug addiction struggles. There are a lot of freeze frames – some that work, and some that are awkward and strangely edited. The slow-mo, too, can be jarring, showing up at random points before vanishing just as abruptly. The lighting ranges from rich to flat and boring.

I was certainly hoping for a little more from Manhunt, but I’m pleased to report that end result is a great deal of fun. The story has some surprising twists and turns, the characters are mostly likeable, and the action is classic Woo – just when you think it can’t top itself, it does. For those new to John Woo, The Killer and Hard Boiled are much better jumping off points. Fans, however, should find a lot to like in Manhunt – I sure did.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review


This is a tough review to write, because Solo is not a very interesting movie. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t, but unlike, say, Deadpool 2, it all just feels completely unnecessary.

Alden Ehrenreich plays Han Solo; I appreciate him not attempting a Harrison Ford impression, but I wish he’d tried harder to embody the essence of the character. Donald Glover, by comparison, is Lando Calrissian. Like most things he does, Glover took a risk and went all in, and the results speak for themselves. Ehrenreich plays it safe, and the results are unremarkable. I don’t really blame him though, because Solo plays it safer than any other Star Wars movie to date.

It’s easy to blame director Ron Howard for the general blandness of the proceedings, as he had the unenviable task of reshooting the majority of the film after comedy greats Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired, but that’s not entirely fair. Yes, the direction is largely uninspired, but the biggest problems with the movie lie in Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan’s flabby script. It has effective sequences (I enjoyed pretty much everything involving the infamous Kessel Run) but it also short changes most characters in the film, contains countless cringy references to Star Wars lore, and has about five jokes that work.

I’m going to attempt to avoid spoilers in this review, so it’s hard to talk about all the character arcs that fall flat. Suffice to say, some characters die, and their deaths are glossed over so quickly that they might as well never have existed. There are betrayals, but they are for vague reasons, and the underlying relationships haven’t been built up enough for us to care. Finally, Han Solo, who ends up a wonderfully jaded asshole by the time we get to Star Wars, has an arc that seems in direct contrast to where we know he ends up. If the intention of this movie is to show how Solo became Solo, it fails.

There are some elements that succeed, but just as many that don’t. Phoebe Waller-Bridge plays a weird, interesting robot, while Jon Favreau voices an alien that serves as a black hole of comedy. Lando is great – Han is not. There’s a fun cameo – there’s a baffling cameo. There are unexpected plot twists – and painfully expected moments of fan service.

I don’t know if Lord and Miller’s version would have been a great movie, but if their previous four films and TV show are any indication, I’m willing to bet it would have been a lot better. There are tiny bursts of inspiration in Solo that, instead of working as part of a whole, feel like fleeting reminders of what could have been. When Lando is interrupted recording a holo-diary called The Calrissian Chronicles, I laughed, but was disappointed that it didn’t add to his character in any way. He’s an egomaniac, but we already know this. Why not show us a different side of him while he’s alone? I have no doubt that Lord and Miller would have both integrated the joke deeper into the story, and called back to it at some point.

But this isn’t the Solo we got. The end result is a hodgepodge of nostalgia, an inessential piece of entertainment that feels like a second rate Extended Universe novel. It’s also a troubling reminder of the power of the studio system and the ultimate goal of profits over artistic success. I’m sure Star Wars can survive another few movies like this, but if this franchise hopes to continue and thrive, it needs to take risks. It needs people who don’t want to hear the odds; it needs more Solos and less Solos.