“I’ve Seen This Raw Strength Only Once Before. It Didn’t Scare Me Enough Then, It Does Now…”
Knocking every other big-screen release of 2017 out of the park in terms of mind-melting anticipation, Disney and Lucasfilm return with the eighth direct entry into the Star Wars universe with The Last Jedi, with it being a whole two years since the revival of the franchise with the scintillating revelation which was The Force Awakens. Dispatching with J. J. Abrams for the time being, with Abrams returning to directorial duty on Episode IX after the cancellation of Colin Trevorrow’s contractual duties, Looper director Rian Johnson takes charge of a release which continues on with the many dangling plot threads left over from its’ predecessor with a returning cast featuring the likes of Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and the final on-screen performance of Carrie Fisher as the ever-majestic Princess Leia. Whereas The Force Awakens realigned the critical consensus of a universe which had been somewhat tarnished thanks to the George Lucas directed trilogy released at the turn of the century, The Last Jedi has a somewhat blank slate to go where and which way it chooses, and whilst the latest entry within the Star Wars canon doesn’t exactly hit the lofty heights of its’ predecessor, with particular and crystal clear flaws affecting the final, overall product, Johnson’s movie is a spectacle fuelled adventure thrill ride which has enough twists, turns and eye-watering action to leave even the most casual of Star Wars fans gasping for more.
With a narrative which continues the many dangling plot threads left over from The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is primarily wrapped around the centre of an escape movie, with the hunted Rebel Alliance at front and centre of the movie’s action straight from the offset in which characters both old and new are are brought into the mould of a two and a half hour journey which moves from the darkness of space to the salt laden plains of an ice covered rebel retreat without ever really coming up to the surface for breath. With subplots which include Daisy Ridley’s Rey and her interaction with Mark Hamill’s aged and hermit-esque Luke Skywalker, the wandering temperament and conflicted heart of Adam Driver’s beefed up Kylo Ren, and John Boyega’s relationship with Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, The Last Jedi is a film which can’t be faulted for a lack of substance and plot, but with a sagging middle act in which we see one of our heroes venture to a casino-laden planet of riches coming off as the obvious editing misstep, sometimes Johnson’s movie does begin to feel incredibly heavy, and whilst there are comedic elements aplenty throughout the course of the action, the overall tone of the movie is much more darker and melancholic that one might have expected, with the notion of death and loss not exactly hiding away akin more to the sensibility of Rogue One than any other previous release in the series so far.
With particular elements which come across somewhat baffling and jarring, including a Guardians of the Galaxy moment for Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and a handful of wasted opportunities for particular underdeveloped characters, Johnson’s movie does ultimately make up for these missteps by being a fundamentally stunning and beautifully made movie, with cinematographer and Looper collaborator Steve Yedlin creating a wide range of jaw-dropping images and shots which made me want to stand up and applause in a manner similar to Roger Deakins’ outstanding work on Blade Runner 2049, a film which on some levels does share similarities with The Last Jedi with both movies focused primarily on their feel, look and emotive qualities above anything else, resulting in Johnson’s movie coming across as arguably the least relatable Star Wars movie to date thanks to a somewhat cold and unnerving spiritual tone. With a lightsaber battle which ranks up there with the best the series has produced thus far, a satisfying resolution for particular character arcs and an ambiguous conclusion which leads the Star Wars path onto a vast number of potential directions, The Last Jedi is a flawed but emotionally riveting and spectacular addition into the Star Wars universe, and whilst it may not be the best series offering, Johnson’s movie is undeniably the most beautifully crafted.
Overall Score: 8/10
“My Name Is Hercule Poirot And I am Probably The Greatest Detective In The World…”
Helmed by the steady of hand of theatre and screen aficionado, Kenneth Branagh, the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express comes eighty three years after the source material was first published and forty three years after the first cinematic venture of such a story, one directed by Sidney Lumet and featured an extensively impressive cast which included the likes of Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and the post-Bond presence of Sean Connery. Returning to the big screen once again with a similarly majestic group of actors, Branagh’s take on arguably Christie’s most iconic story is one which cranks up the absurdity in a manner which takes on board Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Noah, whilst being a film which too enjoys basking in the nostalgia factor of its’ early twentieth century setting, and whilst there is undeniable charm and enjoyment at the heart of Branagh’s project, the real lack of freshness and a wavering narrative hook results in the latest Murder on the Orient Express being just good enough to warrant another punt at the famous source material.
Whilst it seems everyone and their dog is aware of the story at the heart of Christie’s novel, Branagh’s movie utilises Blade Runner 2049 and Logan screenwriter Michael Green’s script to introduce a few minor character differences and narrative swings, of which some directly link back to the Sidney Lumet version of the story and some which are wholly original, with my personal favourite being a karate loving Count Andrenyi who is introduced with a simply baffling scene of him roundhousing a fellow passenger before boarding the titular medium of travel. With the added use of CGI to enhance the titular locomotive’s unplanned halt on the snow-filled tracks and some effectively crafted flashback scenes which both improve on the Lumet version and make things simple for even the most wavering audience mind, Branagh’s first attempt at a big-screen Christie tale passes the time rather harmfully, with the director’s portrayal of Belgium’s most famous export being a charming and suave interpretation, and with an concluding act which sets out a possible future franchise, Murder on the Orient Express is best served with a bourbon biscuit and a nice cup of Earl Grey. Put the kettle on love.