‘The Last Jedi’ Strikes a Bland Note

Dans la catégorie: Écrits,Mind food — kwyxz le 20/12/17 à 0:53

The Force is with us but let’s try to keep our heads. These things are certifiable: “The Last Jedi”, the sequel to “The Force Awakens”, one of the biggest grossing motion pictures of all time, has opened. On the basis of the early receipts, “The Last Jedi” could make more money than any other movie in the franchise, except, maybe, “The Force Awakens”. It is the second film in a rebooted series that may last longer than the civilization that produced it. Confession: when I went to see “The Last Jedi” I found myself glancing at my watch almost as often as I did when I was sitting through a truly terrible movie called “The Island”.

“The Last Jedi” is not a truly terrible movie. It’s a nice movie. It’s not, by any means, as nice as “The Force Awakens”. It’s not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive and, in a way that no one associated with it need be ashamed of, it’s also silly. Attending to it is a lot like reading the middle of a comic book. It is amusing in fitful patches but you’re likely to find more beauty, suspense, discipline, craft and art when watching a New York harbor pilot bring the Queen Elizabeth 2 into her Hudson River berth, which is what “The Last Jedi” most reminds me of. It’s a big, expensive, time-consuming, essentially mechanical operation.

Gone from “The Last Jedi” are those associations that so enchanted us in the original “Star Wars”, reminders of everything from the stories of Beowulf and King Arthur to those of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the Oz books, Buck Rogers and Peanuts. Strictly speaking, “The Last Jedi” isn’t even a complete narrative. It has no beginning or end, being simply another chapter in a serial that appears to be continuing not onward and upward but sideways. How, then, to review it?

The fact that I am here at this minute facing a reproachful typewriter and attempting to get a fix on “The Last Jedi” is, perhaps, proof of something I’ve been suspecting for some time now. That is, that there is more nonsense being written, spoken and rumored about movies today than about any of the other so-called popular arts except rock music. The Force is with us, indeed, and a lot of it is hot air.

Ordinarily when one reviews a movie one attempts to tell a little something about the story. It’s a measure of my mixed feelings about “The Last Jedi” that I’m not at all sure that I understand the plot. That was actually one of the more charming conceits of “The Force Awakens” which began with a long, intensely complicated message about who was doing what to whom in the galactic confrontations we were about to witness and which, when we did see them, looked sort of like a game of neighborhood hide-and-seek at the Hayden (Christensen) Planetarium. One didn’t worry about its politics. One only had to distinguish the good persons from the bad. This is pretty much the way one is supposed to feel about “The Last Jedi,” but one’s impulse to know, to understand, cannot be arrested indefinitely without doing psychic damage or, worse, without risking boredom.

This much about “The Last Jedi” I do understand: When the movie begins, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and their gang are hanging out in a ship, carrying a bombing attack over the First Order’s fleet.

Under the command of General Hux, the forces of the First Order attack, employing planes, missiles and some awfully inefficient spaceships that have the shape of an H. Somehow Poe, Finn and General Leia escape. At that point Rey is off to find Luke, living alone like a guru who will teach her more about the Force, Luke being the successor to Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Alec Guinness), the “Star Wars” guru who was immolated in that movie but whose shade turns up from time to time in the later movies for what looks to have been about three weeks of work.

As Poe and General Leia wrestle with the forces of darkness but are helped by Finn, an unreliable fellow who has future sainthood written all over him, Rey finds her guru, Luke, an old, grumpy, hermit-like troll with a prosthetic hand. Eventually these two stories come together for still another blazing display of special effects that, after approximately two hours, leave Poe, Leia and Rey no better off than they were at the beginning.

I’m not as bothered by the film’s lack of resolution as I am about my suspicion that I really don’t care. After one has one’s fill of the special effects and after one identifies the source of the facetious banter that passes for wit between Rey and Kylo Renn (it’s straight out of B-picture comedies of the 30’s), there isn’t a great deal for the eye or the mind to focus on. Driver, as cheerfully nondescript as one could wish a comic strip hero to be, and Miss Riley, as sexlessly pretty as the base of a porcelain lamp, become (is it rude to say?) tiresome. One finally looks around them, even through them, at the decor. If Miss Riley does much more of this sort of thing, she’s going to wind up with the Vera Hruba Ralston Lifetime Achievement Award.

The other performers are no better or worse, being similarly limited by the not-super material. Driver may one day become a real movie star, an identifiable personality, but right now it’s difficult to remember what he looks like. Even the appeal of those immensely popular robots, C-3PO and BB-8, starts to run out.

In this context it’s no wonder that Oz’s contribution, the rubbery little Yoda with the pointy ears and his old-man’s frieze of wispy hair, is the hit of the movie. But even he can be taken only in small doses, possibly because the lines of wisdom he must speak sound as if they should be sung to a tune by Jimmy Van Heusen.

I’m also puzzled by the praise that some of my colleagues have heaped on the work of Rian Johnson, whom Abrams, who directed “The Force Awakens” and who is the executive producer of this one, hired to direct “The Last Jedi”. Perhaps my colleagues have information denied to those of us who have to judge the movie by what is on the screen. Did Johnson oversee the screenplay, too? Did he do the special effects? After working tirelessly with Miss Riley to get those special nuances of utter blandness, did he edit the film? Who, exactly, did what in this movie? I cannot tell, and even a certain knowledge of Johnson’s past work (“Looper”, “Brick”, “The Brothers Bloom”) gives me no hints about the extent of his contributions to this movie. “The Last Jedi” is about as personal as a Christmas card from a bank.

I assume that Abrams supervised the entire production and made the major decisions or, at least, approved of them. It looks like a movie that was directed at a distance. At this point the adventures of Rey, Poe, Finn and Rose appear to be a self-sustaining organism, beyond criticism except on a corporate level.

Or maybe this article was written a long time ago, about another familiar movie.

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