Solo: A Star Wars Story: A Review

God, there’s too many colons.

When it was announced that Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, with the intention of making new films for a new generation, I reveled in the endless possibilities as to the stories that can be told. What happened after Return of the Jedi? What was Obi-Wan doing for all that time in Tattoine? What new characters are we going to meet? On top of that, I dreamed over the idea that new filmmakers were able to put their spin on a franchise of this magnitude. Names like Joss Whedon, Brad Bird, JJ Abrams, even David Fincher were at one point linked with a new Star Wars film. I never loved the idea of a Han Solo film, but to have Phil Lord and Christopher Lord (21 and 22 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) at the helm? Count me in.

Alas, amidst production drama, Lord and Miller got the boot and were replaced with the always reliable Ron Howard, and here we are. Solo: A Star Wars Story is out, and the final product is an adequate, if uninteresting film. I say adequate, because on a technical level, the film is perfectly fine. The special effects are stellar, as expected. The action scenes are very fun, and Howard does his absolute damnedest to prevent this from being a complete disaster. Not to mention, I am very relieved to say that the performances are good. Emilia Clarke and Woody Harrelson do what they can with the material given, turning stale characterizations into, at the very least, entertaining Star Wars characters. Childish Gambino himself, Donald Glover is effortlessly charming and joyous to watch as Lando Calrissian, perfectly complimenting the role Billy Dee Williams made iconic nearly four decades ago. He’s breezy, cool and relaxed as Lando. However, even if this film serviced Oscar winning performances, the failure of the title character would be the failure of the film entire. With the being said, Alden Ehrenreich is perfectly serviceable as the famed scruffy looking nerf herder. Ehrenreich doesn’t try a Harrison Ford impression, almost as if he played the part as if there was no precedence before, which is great. The worst thing that he could have done is change the register of his voice, or smirk at the end of every sentence like many impressionists do. In that respect, Ehrenreich gets the job done.

The predominant issue of this film, however, is its very existence. Han Solo is one of the most beloved and celebrated characters in cinema history, but mostly as a side character. To put him front and center should take heavy consideration and thought, since you’re running the risk of having too much of a good thing. Solo does not suffer from this, but it hardly does anything new, fresh or inventive with the title character. Han Solo is being Han Solo, which is better than bastardizing the character, but the film comes off as uneventful and at times, boring.

We will never see Lord and Miller’s intended vision for this film, but knowing their high energy, spontaneous and unpredictable tones that their films adopt, a Han Solo film would have benefited exponentially from their technique. Their films are chaotic, fast paced, and heartfelt: traits that encapsulate the character of Han Solo. I have favored the Disney Star Wars experiment thus far. Yes I liked The Last Jedi. Say what you will about TLJ, and there is a lot, but at it least it took chances with Star Wars lore and felt like an original piece of work, compared to the nostalgic pandering that the other films are, in some way, guilty of. If Lucasfilm wants their films to succeed, they must be comfortable with taking risks. Lord and Miller could have been that risk that paid off, but that discussion will always conclude within the realm of the hypothetical. There are young, hungry filmmakers that have the potential to make the next great Star Wars movie. The MCU have had a wealth of success because they instill trust within their filmmakers, like Joss Whedon, Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi, and James Gunn (Edgar Wright notwithstanding). Those films are changing the state of blockbuster cinema, and though Ron Howard does a perfectly adequate job at the helm, knowing that Solo could have been different, and potentially better film is a hard pill to swallow. There’s a line in the film, “Stick to the plan, and do NOT improvise”, which perfectly encapsulates this film, as it’s a standard, inconsequential affair that frights at the idea of becoming something better.

 

Grade: C+

God of War: A Review

843016I’ve got a confession to make: I liked God of War III. For all its graphical achievements, expert sense of scale, and perfectly refined gameplay, the story ultimately left me cold. After delivering what could be the greatest first boss battle in video game history, God of War III tells a convoluted, at times half assed tale of Kratos finally getting his revenge against literally all of the Greek Gods. It was wondrous, exciting, and filled to the brim with awe inspiring moments that still look mighty impressive for a game released nearly a decade ago. Alas, not many could see how the franchise could go on after such an emphatic conclusion with such finality.

It took a while, but Sony’s Santa Monica Studio has delivered something truly special. God of War is easily on of the best games I have ever played, delivering a story that is emotional, morally complex, and always compelling. It humanizes and humbles the god killing, machismo figure of Kratos into a vulnerable, damaged man who is endlessly regretful of his past. Topped off with gameplay that feels natural and oh-so right and perfect, the sequel no one asked for is the game everyone must absolutely play.

I dare not give away plot details or surprises, but God of War’s story is something of achievement. Taking place after the events of the third installment, Kratos now resides in Norse mythology, raising his son Atreus after his mother passes away. Her dying wish? To have her ashes scattered upon the highest peal of all the nine realms. And that’s essentially the gist of it. No personal vendettas, or bloodthirsty revenge quests. This is a deeply personal affair that is to be carried out by father and son, and the dynamic between Kratos and Atreus is the true heart of this game. Though it wouldn’t be the first time Kratos is looked at as a father figure, his relationship with Atreus is incredibly well realized with their naturally done interactions with each other. Predictably, Kratos is a stern, hardened parental figure who teaches discipline above aggression, a trait that he once lacked with reckless abandon. One might have a sense of déjà vu from The Last of Us, given the dominant father/child dynamic within both games, but where The Last of Us depicted a relationship done through circumstance, God of War’s father/son story depicts one made out of reluctance. Atreus is rambunctious and endlessly wonderous about the world he is seeing for the first time. His hefty and book-smart knowledge of Norse mythology is met with childlike awe and installment, seeing those fables in the flesh. The very character of Atreus gives the game a sense of wonder, something that I felt was sorely lacking in God of War III. There is an entire world to be explored in God of War, and it encourages you to lose yourself in its packed, detailed and gloriously beautiful open world.

This game is not without its faults, though. There is no such thing as a perfect games, especially when dealt the passage of time. There a few tedious puzzles that are essentially simplified to “place this here” or “push this lever until thing happens”. It is a little nitpicky, mind you, but for a game that prides itself in its realism and its organic means of storytelling, it can stick out like a sore thumb.

Other than that, God of War is a video game marvel in almost every sense. With pitch perfect gameplay and controls that feel like an extension of yourself, graphics that constantly amazes the player, and a story that is both intimate and spectacularly epic at once, this is the best game I’ve played since Breath of the Wild. God of War is that sequel/reboot that Halo 4 wished it was. It gives a gaming icon a purpose, something to strive for and protect, making this preposterous character of Kratos into a tangible, sympathetic tragedy of a man.

Score: 9.7/10