Mission: Impossible and Feminism

It’s hard to imagine being able to use a spy-thriller series to talk about feminism. Even the most progressive James Bond films still have the women in distress or wanting to bed Bond, and more often both.

But Mission: Impossible is an interesting case study, because the series has consistent stars and producers, but it’s been going for 22 years.

What I’ll do here is break down the major female characters and see if there’s a trend to be found.

Mission: Impossible — There are really only two women of note in the film: Claire (Emmanuelle Beart) and Max (Vanessa Redgrave). Max comes off better, as a self-possessed arms dealer with an agenda and the means to bring it about. Claire, on the other hand, is a pawn of both Jim and Ethan as the story progresses, and her only moment of defiance is when she begs Jim not to kill Ethan (because, I guess, she loves him?) and gets killed for her trouble. This is clearly a mixed bag for the women.

Mission: Impossible II — This film has but one woman: Nyah (Thandie Newton). Her opening shows her to be a gifted thief who has no problem walking away from Ethan. But soon enough she’s mooney-eyed over him. Then she finds out she’s needed, not for any skills she has, but for her past relationship to Ambrose. She makes some noise about how that’s unfair, but she still does it. She manages one decent pickpocketing, but then screws up the return of the thing she stole. Her big moment is injecting herself with the virus, rather than handing it over to Ambrose. That feels like the character exercising her agency, but the only result is that she’s left as the damsel in distress for the third act. It’s starting to look a little better.

Mission: Impossible III — We’ve got a bunch of women in this one. One is a gung-ho agent named Linday (Keri Russell) who has some serious skills–and is then killed. Ethan’s new fiance is Julia (Michelle Monaghan). She gets to do some medical stuff and shoot a couple of people at the end. So that’s pretty good. Lastly, we have Zhen (Maggie Q) who is an actual female IMF agent who survives the film! (A first for the series.) Unfortunately, her job seems to be to wear a slinky dress to the Vatican that one time, and other than that she blows up a lot of stuff.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — For this film we have one woman who’s a good guy (Jane, played by Paula Patton) and one who’s a bad guy (Moreau, played by Lea Seydoux). Part of me thinks it great that Jane has an actual story arc. Then part of me is annoyed that her story arc is about the dude she thought was cute getting killed. Moreau is an effective antagonist, and the fight she has with Jane is brutal, and only involved their clothes getting ripped once. So that’s something. I guess.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — Now we introduce Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who breathes life into this franchise. The film has no problem showing off her body in slinky dresses and bathing suits, but it isn’t central to her purpose in the story. She’s an agent no less effective and lethal than Ethan, and she even gets to save Ethan in one pretty spectacular sequence. Her final fight with the lead henchman is hers and hers alone; Ethan is off doing something else. If only there were any other women of note, we might have had a truly feminist entry into the series.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout — Sadly, Ilsa doesn’t fare quite as well in the next film. She’s still a bad-ass with her own agenda. But she’s also largely defined by her attraction to Ethan. Every time there’s anything mentioning or showing Julia, there’s a cut to Ilsa looking sad. Julia comes off a little better, I’d say. She has a new husband and while she still has a connection to Ethan, it’s not like she defines herself by her relationship to him. White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) is basically a copy of the Max character from the first film, which is great. And they add Angela Bassett into the mix as the CIA Director (?).

All in all, I think there’s a clear trend line (at least after M:I2), from movie to movie, toward more feminist portrayals of women. An argument could be made that Fallout is a dip on that trend, but the sheer number of women, all of whom have something to do in the story, is worth valuing.

Anyway. There you go.

Advertisements

Mission: Impossible – Fallout

The latest installment of the little movie series that could is good, though not as great as the last one. (Rogue Nation was something special.)

In this one, Ethan (Tom Cruise) has to stop someone from blowing up some nuclear bombs at a water source that impacts over a billion people. So, that’s pretty dramatic. He’s got Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) in his crew, and before too long, Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) shows up. The new, and unwelcome, addition to the team is August Walker (Henry Cavill), a CIA operative there to make sure things don’t go sideways. I kind of enjoyed Walker’s blase attitude toward violence, and his eye-rolling reactions to some of the IMF’s most treasured toys, like their impersonation masks.

There’s all the action you would expect, with car, motorcycle and helicopter chases. And, of course, Ethan running. You got to have some Ethan running scenes. The big stunt in this one was Ethan jumping out of a plane at 20,000 feet. Which Tom Cruise really did. It’s impressive in theory, but doesn’t carry the same visual impact of him hanging onto the side of a plane in flight. (Another reason Rogue Nation was special.)

Also, and this is a nitpick, the HALO drop was filmed at sunset, but the story has the characters making the jump at 11:30 pm to interrupt a midnight rendezvous. That bugged me.

So, this is a good film, but certainly not the best of the series.

I’m going to dip into spoilers for this next bit, so be warned.

The other thing I found interesting about Fallout was how it felt like a Greatest Hits compilation. Let’s run it down:

Mission: Impossible — Ethan impersonates someone to get a meeting with an arms dealer (who is played by an actress named Vanessa) and he has a weird May-December flirtation with her. (Fun fact. Tom Cruise is just as much older than Vanessa Kirby as he is younger than Vanessa Redgrave.)

Mission: Impossible II — The bad guy is an agent who Ethan dislikes because he’s more interested in killing than he is in spying.

Mission: Impossible III — Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is in danger in the third act. Also, one of the bad guys is impersonated by a good guy.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol — After Ethan claims he’s not the bad guy, the IMF Secretary believes him, and then is quickly killed. Also, the bad guy wants to set off nukes to bring about peace. Somehow.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — The head of the CIA starts the film thinking that Ethan Hunt is a reckless fool, but is turned around by the end. Also, Ethan has a battle of wits with Ilsa because she won’t reveal her mission to him – until the second act, anyway.

Did I miss any?

X-Men: The Last Stand

I was going through some files on my computer, and I found this review I wrote some time ago. It was out of date when I wrote it, so it’s not significantly less relevant now. So, here you go…

 

Was TLS the best X-Men film? No. It falls short of X-Men and X2… but it’s miles better than either of the first two Wolverine films. Let’s just get that out of the way first.

So what, exactly, is so very wrong about TLS? I recently watched all three film of that trilogy inside of a week, and I have come to the conclusion that the fan-boys are just angry about what they perceive as a disservice to the source material.

I never read an X-Men comic book, and I don’t plan to. The genre of superhero comics is great fodder for Hollywood, but I don’t think anyone is fool enough to think they should serve as treatments for films. They are inspirations for, hopefully, the more grounded, more consistent, more realistic tales that you put on celluloid. (Or, you know, the digital version of celluloid.)

So my experience with the X-Men characters and their universe, when I saw TLS, was entirely bound up in the first two films by Bryan Singer. TLS was the capper to a trilogy, and the assumption is always that, when you finish up the trilogy, all bets are off. You can (spoiler alert!) kill Darth Vader, you can destroy the One Ring, you can even have Batman and Catwoman hook up.

There were a lot of those moments in TLS, moments that seemed to “break the rules”. But let’s review them and see if any of them are truly egregious in the story universe created by the Singer films:

The Death of Cyclops — I don’t know about you, but Cyclops is just barely above Storm as The Most Boring X-Man. His power is doofy, and the only drama he provides is that his limp romance with Jean is kind of (but not really) threatened by Wolverine. When “The Phoenix” kills him you not only create a tragic moment for Jean, you relieve us from sitting through any more scenes with such a useless character.

The Death of Professor X — Well, since he’s the Old Counselor, he kind of has to die. (See Obi-Wan Kenobi, Dumbledore.) But, since he’s a comic book character, they can use some crazy logic to bring him back to life. (See Gandalf.) And, if you watch the series carefully, you notice that the Professor is always taken out of commission before the third act. (By a sabotaged Cerebro in the first film, by kidnapping in the second.) So “killing” him (and mining that death for drama) is totally in keeping with the genre, and with the series.

Mystique Loses Her Powers — You can’t have a cure weapon without someone getting cured. The stakes have to be made plain. And having it be Magneto’s main squeeze, and then having him dis her? That’s what you want. You want your bad guy acting like a douche, but in a way that totally fits with his world view.

Rogue Loses Her Powers — This one really seems to set people off. Rogue was, apparently, supposed to become some sort of super bad-ass, stealing people’s powers right and left. But it was never actually made clear (or even indicated) in the first two films that if she sucked a mutant completely dry (i.e. dead) that she’d get the powers permanently. So why get all annoyed when something that wouldn’t necessarily ever really happen didn’t happen? Her arc was an important one to dramatize: the mutant who was actually happy there was a cure. Her power sucked (literally!) and she gets to have her happy ending without it. I thought that was a nice capper to her storyline. (Personally, I’m way more annoyed that her part was cut from Days of Future Past.)

Magneto Loses His Powers — This was a great third act surprise, and a fitting comeuppance for a guy who was so quick to dismiss Mystique early on. This was, of course, completely invalidated by a sly scene at the end, but at least we got a few moments of drama.

Wolverine Kills Jean — Not that I’ve ever heard anyone complain about this one. For all I know, this was exactly how it played out in the comics. But it was a strange and heartbreaking moment when this poor sap is forced to skewer his true love so that she doesn’t, I don’t know, rip the planet in half or something. I’d never seen anything quite like it, and it surprised the part of me that kept expecting Jean to “snap out of it”. It was a great ending.

Now, was TLS perfect. Oh, certainly not. The ridiculous goth treatments of the “bad” mutants? That guy who throws secreted spikes? The deaging effects in the opening scene? The strange parallel story about Angel that is literally its own five minute movie stuck inside a larger film? None of that worked. But none of that was annoying enough to really detract from what worked. Beast worked. Kitty worked. Storm’s hair worked (finally). The scene between Jean, Charles and Erik culminating in Charles getting vaporized? That really worked. It was amazing.

So, in conclusion, the fan-boys are wrong, I’m right.

MCU Villains

I’m far from the first to bang on this particular gong, but I’ve had a chance now to see Ant-Man and the Wasp, and since I’ve seen every other MCU film at least twice, so I feel like it’s time to do a ranking of the films’ villains.

I don’t subscribe to the common wisdom that the MCU has a “villain problem”. But there is definitely a differentiation of quality out there. So, let us begin at the bottom:

20) Yellowjacket; Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) — This is an exceedingly pointless villain. I feel like there was some shifting of the story, so his descent into madness was supposed to have been caused by his cut-rate shrinking tech, even though he doesn’t use it until the very end of the film. Messy.

19) Kaecillius; Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange) — “I am evil. I want evil to win.” Yeah, I guess he’s supposed desire “peace”. Whatever. He’s just there.

18) Ghost; Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp) — She gets surprisingly little screen time, but since she’s pretty boring, that’s okay. At least we get a rare villain who survives the film.

17) Ronan the Accuser; Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy) — The only scene of his that was interesting was watching his incredulity when Star-Lord started dancing at the end.

16) Malekith; Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World) — Most people put him at the bottom. I’ll give him a little credit for having an audacious plan: he want’s to turn off all light in the entire universe. I mean, come on. That’s…dark, I guess.

15) Loki; Tom Hiddleston (Thor) — Yes, he will be back, and yes, he will be better. But in this one he is a whiny a-hole. A charming one, though.

14) Iron Monger; Jeff Bridges (Iron Man) — A late-in-the-film villain reveal saps some of the power of this one. And it was somewhat random for him to just start fighting Tony with his own suit at the end.

13) Hela; Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok) — She’s all slithery menace, but not much personality. She didn’t have a plan so much as a desire for chaos. And she was kind of laughably overpowered.

12) Ultron; James Spader (Avengers: Age of Ultron) — He’s the only AI on the list, so there’s no physical performance. It’s all in the voice and in the plan. And it’s a crazy plan. I’ll give him that.

11) Killmonger; Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) — I’m bucking the trend here. Most people think he’s top-tier. I didn’t find him particularly menacing. He was overshadowed by Ulysses Klaue for much of the film, and his “black power” ideology was maybe a little too on the nose in the current political climate.

10) Aldrich Killian; Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) — We know from a One Shot that Killian was not actually “The Mandarin”. Which is fine. His fire-breathing army was pretty cool, and he was a great foil for Tony.

9) Abomination; Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk) — I think people dismiss this one too quickly. I enjoyed Emil Blonsky as a soldier, and also as a guy who desired Hulk-like power a little too much.

8) Ego; Kurt Russell (The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) — This is a film where the reveal of the villain later in the story works, partly because he’s so instantly mysterious. And he’s clearly the most evil villain on the list: he impregnated thousands of aliens and then killed all (but one) of his kids. That deserves points for insanity alone.

7) Whiplash; Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2) — This villain underscores, for the first time, that Tony’s dad wasn’t a saint. And he’s the best Tony Stark foil. His fate is tied to his dad, and he creates his initial suit from scratch, just like Tony did in the first film.

6) Alexander Pierce; Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) — It’s arguable that the villain of this film is really Bucky, but I choose to put the mantle on Pierce. There’s no redemption for him. He’s Hydra until the end. And it’s really enjoyable to watch him lose.

5) Vulture; Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming) — This is one of the villains who is better than the film he’s in. He’s relatable though still merciless. And the reveal that he is whatshername’s father is ridiculous…and awesome. Kudos for not killing him at the end, MCU.

4) Thanos; Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War) — Now we’re in the rarified atmosphere of villains who are all pretty great. I put Thanos down at number 4 because he’s a CG character, and is therefore at an emotional remove. That he’s so impactful anyway is the amazing part.

3) Helmut Zemo; Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War) — I love the fact that there’s a guy on this list who has no super powers, no money, no connections, no family heritage, nothing. All he has is smarts, patience and rage. And what he does with that is astounding.

2) Loki; Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) — It was a difficult call, who to put in which of the top two spots. Loki is the glue that holds The Avengers together. Every character has a notable moment with him on screen, and they are all the better for it. I think up until this film, the MCU still felt like a lucky streak. Afterward, it started to feel like it was all inevitable.

1) Red Skull; Hugo Weaving (Captain America: The First Avenger) — He’s the ur-villain of the series, historically speaking. He started Hydra (other subplots from the TV show notwithstanding). He introduces us to the Infinity Stones. And he may be the best example of an MCU villain as a dark mirror of the hero. He’s a joy to watch in every scene in this film.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

The best thing about Ant-Man and the Wasp is that the trailer lied to us. There was a line in the trailer about Ghost (the bad guy) wanting to take over the world. I don’t know why that was in there, but thankfully, Ghost’s motivations aren’t quite so dire. In fact, the stakes for everyone in this film are much more personal and relatable than anything we saw in Infinity War.

This movie takes place two years after Civil War, and only a short time before Infinity War. Scott (Paul Rudd) is finishing up a two-year sentence of house arrest. Watching how he interacts with his daughter when he can’t leave his home literally made me tear up. (I guess the fact that I have a daughter very nearly the same age has something to do with that.) Scott really wants to finish up his term and rejoin the world.

But Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank (Michael Douglas) have other ideas. They’re still on the run from the government. (Those pesky Sokovia Accords!) And they need some help from Scott to retrieve Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm. (She is Hank’s wife and Hope’s mom, in case you were curious.)

Ghost is just the nickname of Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), a young woman who has her sights set on stealing Hank’s quantum tunnel for personal reasons. She’s the closest thing we have to a “big bad” in the film, but really, there’s lots of antagonists to go around. There’s a rival scientist (Laurence Fishburne), an arms dealer (Walton Goggins), an FBI agent (Randall Park), not to mention Scott’s ex-con friends from the last film (Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian). Everyone wants something different, and collisions between the characters abound.

The Wasp is a nice addition to the franchise. Hope is clearly better at being a superhero than Scott, and pretty much steals the show during the action sequences.

It’s all funny and exciting and even, at times, heartwarming. It’s good to know that not every film in the MCU has to be about some potentially world-ending trial.

Terminator Timelines

I’ve seen some evidence of movement on a new Terminator film, bringing back Linda Hamilton as the once-central character Sarah Connor, the mother of the savior of mankind. Some people want this new movie to erase everything after Terminator 2: Judgement Day. I find this annoying. I don’t like uncomfortable parts of a movie series to be erased from the canon. I want them to be embraced, and hopefully given added value with additional context. And, come on, this is a series about time travel. You can reboot in-universe. (See Star Trek.)

So I hope this new movie carves itself a place in the mythology, all of the mythology.

But can it? Are the five extant films even logically self-consistent? (I’m going to ignore the TV show, largely because I barely watched it.)

The other thing about most time travel movies is that they present alterations to the timeline as if history is a chalkboard and the past is simply erased and rewritten. I find that approach more appealing than the “it’s all alternate history” explanation, which tends to remove a lot of the stakes. It doesn’t matter if this version of the character dies, since there’s another version over there in that timeline.

Another thing time travel stories love to do is create an unmotivated causal loop. (Chuck Berry learned how to rock from Marty McFly, who learned how to rock from Chuck Berry.) This kind of construction is cute and kind of mind-bendy, but it feels like a cheat.

With all of that in mind, can all five Terminator films be analyzed as a series of rewritten futures without the use of causal loops? Why yes, yes they can. Strap in. I’ll be describing six different timelines.

Timeline A

In 1984, Sarah Connor, a simple waitress living a simple life, meets a guy, gets pregnant, has the kid alone and names him John. At some point before 1997, someone invents Skynet. In 1997 Skynet becomes self-aware and tries to kill humanity. In the ensuing human resistance, John Connor becomes a key figure and comes to the attention of Skynet. Just before Skynet’s final defeat, it invents time travel and sends a T-800 terminator to 1984 to kill Sarah based on the best information it has about her whereabouts. John defeats Skynet, captures the time displacement device and learns about the plot to kill his mom. He enlists Kyle Reese to travel to 1984 to save her. [Note: Kyle’s flashbacks in The Terminator are from this timeline.]

Timeline B

In 1984, Sarah Connor is menaced by the T-800 and saved by Kyle Reese. She learns about her son’s destiny. But now Kyle is John’s dad. This is a completely different John from Timeline A, but his upbringing ensures that he will fulfill the destiny that Sarah assigns him. [These are the events of The Terminator.]

Afterwards, Cyberdyne gets the remains of the T-800 and Miles Dyson uses them to reverse engineer Skynet. Judgement Day occurs as in Timeline A. [It isn’t too similar. The date of Judgement Day isn’t given with much precision in the first film. In T2, the date is given very specifically, but that is a reference to Timeline B. The date for Judgement Day in Timeline A could be different.]

The new John follows his destiny in the resistance. Skynet now has enough information from history to understand that this is a new iteration, so it decides to double-down on the time-travelling-assassin plan, and sends two terminators into the past, to 1984 and 1994. When John captures the device, he sees the records of these transits, and so sends two protectors into the past.

Timeline C

The events of this timeline are identical to Timeline B until 1994, when the T-1000 and the fatherly T-800 arrive. Miles Dyson ensures that Cyberdyne will never create Skynet. [These are the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.] Enough of Dyson’s work remains that Robert Brewster develops a new Skynet, but on a delayed time-frame. This version of Skynet isn’t ready until 2004, but Judgement Day comes anyway. This John is once again instrumental in the resistance. Skynet, with more history to review, decides to triple-down on its plan, and sends three bad terminators into the past: to 1984, 1994, and 2004. John finds the records, and sends three protectors, this time adding a dickish T-800 to the mix for the 2004 trip.

Timeline D

As before, all events are identical until 2004, when the T-X and the dickish T-800 arrive from the future. Despite his best efforts, John cannot avoid Judgement Day, and we get to see it happen in the movie. [These are the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.]

This version of Skynet has even more information, knowing that not only is John Connor important, but also Kyle Reese. [It’s not clear from Terminator: Salvation if Skynet understands that Kyle is John’s father, but that’s not important. All that is important is that Kyle is important to John. That could be explained by John’s own fascination with the man, since he knows he’s his father. Skynet may simply have learned of John’s search for Kyle.]

Skynet tries a new method of attack, sending a terminator/human hybrid to infiltrate the resistance in the form of Marcus Wright. This backfires. [These are the events of Terminator: Salvation.]

John is, as before, successful in defeating Skynet.

For some reason, which is unclear, Skynet decides to reset the table and finish out this iteration by sending only one terminator to 1984 to kill Sarah. (More on this decision later.) John sends Kyle to 1984 to save her.

Timeline E

This iteration is identical to Timeline B. The only appearances from the future are the T-800 and Kyle Reese in 1984. After Judgement Day, a young Kyle Reese is saved from terminators by John Connor.

[The reason for me adding this diversion is that the situation that led to John meeting Kyle in Terminator: Salvation differed greatly from Kyle’s flashback in Terminator: Genisys. For both versions to be “real”, they have to be in different timelines, hence Skynet must have reset the table. There is more evidence below.]

Before its final defeat, Skynet creates a human-seeming mole to insert into the resistance forces after they capture the time displacement device. Skynet sends the T-800 to 1984. John captures the facility and prepares to send Kyle to save Sarah. [We can infer that in this Timeline Skynet did not send anything to 1994 or 2004, since the resistance person says the device was used only once. Since John is not surprised by this information, that’s what happened in his history. Hence we know how Timeline D ended. This is more evidence for the “resetting the table” explanation.]

While in transport, Kyle sees the mole capture John. This moment gives Kyle the ability to remember not only his original Timeline E memories, but also his Timeline F memories. (This is admittedly kind of silly.)

After Kyle departs, Skynet sends an unspecified terminator model to 1974 to kill young Sarah, and it sends a second terminator (a Korean T-1000) to 1984 to help kill adult Sarah and Kyle. Some unknown actor sends a curmudgeonly T-800 to 1974 to save Sarah. Skynet also converts John into a more effective human/terminator hybrid and sends him back to 2014 to reboot the Skynet project in a different way. [This could be considered an insurance policy. If the changes to the timeline cause by the 1974 terminator made Skynet not appear in 1997 (or 2004) on schedule, John would ensure it could happen at a later point in history.]

Timeline F

Now everything is in flux. Sarah’s parents are killed in 1974, and she’s saved from a terminator by curmudgeonly T-800. In 1984, Kyle, another T-800 and Korean T-1000 all arrive, and there is much mayhem, leading to the destruction of both “bad” terminators. Sarah and Kyle are transported to 2017 by curmudgeonly T-800.

In 2017, Kyle and Sarah, along with now aged curmudgeonly T-800, determine that Skynet has changed form in this timeline into a multi-platform operating system called Genisys. During their attempt to stop it, they are confronted by Evil John. Even more mayhem leads to Genisys being defeated and curmudgeonly T-800 being upgraded with T-1000 technology.

Why did Skynet reset the table at the end of Timeline D?

As I said, this isn’t clear. But one potential explanation ties to the two worst films in the franchise, and maybe gives them a little more resonance. In Terminator: Salvation, Skynet tries to create a human/terminator hybrid and it fails. The human wins out over the machine. Perhaps at the end of Timeline D, it tried its plan of capturing and altering John, but the process failed because of his transplanted heart. This meant that if Skynet wanted to specifically use John as its savior, it would need a pristine copy of him. Thus it reset the table.

How does Skynet learn from iteration to iteration of the timeline?

That could be explained by the internet. As events occur in the world, there are references–news reports, police reports, etc.–that could persist until after Judgement Day. Skynet could glean at least a little new information from these sources in every iteration, thus giving it the motivation to alter its plans each time.

Conclusion

Was this analysis worth the brain power to make it work? I don’t know, but I enjoy this film series, even the lesser quality ones. I like the idea that they are really of a piece, and not simply various riffs on a single theme.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

It seems like no one loves this movie. And no one hates it. In fact, I can’t even seem to find any consistency on what people love and hate about it. Simply talking to my brother, the things he found annoying and the things I found annoying were almost completely disjoint sets.

Weird.

But let’s break this down. Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is a street urchin in the misbegotten neighborhoods of Corellia, a ship-building world that’s mostly controlled by the Empire. His girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and he have a plan to get off this planet and build a new life for themselves. That doesn’t work and everything Han does from that point seems to be in service of getting back together with Qi’ra.

There are some odd tangents, but the meat of the story is a series of heists to get some sort of magic fuel for a gang leader, Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Coming along for the ride are a cape-wearing card hussler (Donald Glover), a cheeky robot (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a world-weary smuggler (Woody Harrelson) and his wife (Thandie Newton). Also, some aliens.

There are a few laughs, and some exciting sequences, but I left the theatre feeling like I hadn’t really seen anything. I liked the characters in theory, and I thought the story was okay, but the whole was definitely less than the sum of it’s mildly disjointed parts.

That’s my “if this wasn’t a Star Wars movie” review.

To to the “this is a Star Wars movie” side of the review justice, I’ll have to veer into what could be considered spoiler territory. Now I know everyone who is a Star Wars fan has long since made up their mind if they’re going to see this. Nothing I say will change anyone’s mind. But if you’re just a casual movie-goer, you might enjoy the spectacle, or you might find it all kind of pointless.

On to the spoilers…

The things I liked about the film were some of the bits that fleshed out aspects of the things we’ve already seen. I liked the fact that Han’s on-the-nose last name isn’t a coincidence. I liked the fact that Han’s friendship with Chewbacca was forged in a life-or-death — and yet still hilarious — situation. I liked Qi’ra’s line: “That is a lot of capes.” These feel like pretty much organic explorations of Han’s backstory.

What I found more trying were the lengths they went to “correct” the flaws in the original films. The explanation for why Billy Dee Williams didn’t pronounce Han’s name correctly was a little too cute. The origin of Han’s desire to “shoot first” is pure fan-boy service. And I suppose it was inevitable that they were going to retcon the “12 parsecs” line from A New Hope by making clear that Han’s achievement in the Kessel Run was a short cut, and had nothing to do with time.

(Side note: I understand that in the original screen play for Star Wars, the line was meant to be gibberish from an overeager Han, and Obi-Wan was supposed to respond to it as such. Which would have been such a better result over all.)

The film was filled with these little tidbits, most of which I didn’t care about one way or another. What did Chewbacca do the first time he played that little hologram board game? Where did Han get his blaster? What were Lando’s thoughts on mining colonies before he managed Bespin? Who first suggested the Han take a job with Jabba the Hutt?

Some of the fan service I liked. Some I didn’t. But I could forgive it all if the story was more interesting. The war sequence when Han was actually in the Empire were rushed and pointless. The heists weren’t sufficiently heisty. And the final confrontation had way too many reversals.

Let’s look at Qi’ra. To the uninitiated, she’s a romantic interest for Han. But we know he’ll have forgotten about her by the time he meets Obi-Wan and Luke on Tatooine. Which means she’s certain to die a heroically redemptive death at the end of the next film. (Assuming of course there is a next film.)

The only backstory piece that I found intriguing and unexpected was the fate of L3-37. She dies to save her fellow droids, but then her brain is downloaded into the Millenium Falcon. This makes for some interesting reinterpretation of the previous films. At least once, the Falcon deployed it’s gun to shoot stormtroopers when it was not clear anyone had told it too. On more than one occasion, the ship wouldn’t work and responded to an admonishing blow. Were these moments of seeming “life” from the Falcon manifestations of L3-37’s latent personality? Maybe. That alone makes me want to revisit the original trilogy.

I’ll finish by slotting Solo into my ranking of the extant Star Wars films. (Minus the animated one, which I never saw.)

  1. The Force Awakens
  2. A New Hope
  3. Attack of the Clones
  4. Return of the Jedi/The Empire Strikes Back (tie)
  5. The Last Jedi
  6. Solo
  7. Rogue One
  8. The Phantom Menace
  9. Revenge of the Sith