A Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – The Burden of Expectations

TITLE: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RUN-TIME: 152 min
RELEASED: December 15, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I had to sleep on this one. That’s partially why I waited a week before releasing my review. When I came out of The Last Jedi, I wasn’t sure what to think. That wasn’t the reaction I expected. When I walked out of The Force Awakens, I knew I loved it. When I left Rogue One, I knew I hated it. This one was in a weird “What did I just see?” zone.

In hindsight, the mountains of advance praise heaped on The Last Jedi harmed it in a way few seemed to anticipate. Not just praise from critics mind you, but from Disney themselves when they put director Rian Johnson in charge of the next Star Wars trilogy. That’s a hell of an endorsement. The biggest entertainment company in the world put this guy in the driver’s seat for the biggest movie franchise in the world. All signs pointed to: “Rian Johnson is great! The Last Jedi is going to be amazing and perfect in every way!” What else were we supposed to think?

Sometimes hype hinders. Just ask George Lucas. He learned that the hard way with a little movie called The Phantom Menace.

That’s actually an apt comparison, as The Last Jedi could be the most divisive Star Wars story since The Phantom Menace. Obviously, a portion of the adult Star Wars fanbase has been perpetually butthurt since before butthurt was even a thing. But even the even-tempered and reasonable among us have taken issue with the film.

So allow me to serve as a voice of the middle-ground. A life-long Star Wars buff who isn’t among those that creates petitions to make certain movies non-canon. For the sake of organization and simplicity, let’s make this a simple pro/con list…

Pro: Rey’s parentage
The Force Awakens left us with a lot of questions about Rey’s parents. There were plenty of candidates. Was she Han and Leia’s daughter? Was she Luke’s daughter? Was she somehow Ob-Wan’s daughter? Could she be Snoke’s daughter?

As it turns out, she’s nobody’s daughter. Nobody we know, anyway. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren (Or are we officially calling him Ben Solo now?) reveals that Rey is the child of junkers from Jakku who sold her off for “drinking money.” They’re almost trolling us with that one. The franchise with the most famous family revelation in cinematic history sets up another one, then gives us an anti-reveal.

But here’s the thing: It’s the right call. Not making Rey a descendent of Luke, Leia, or someone from the original trilogy gives her a refreshing independance. It makes her a self-made hero. I can also appreciate them not repeating the “I am your father” beat again.

Con: Snoke’s identity
Snoke was every bit the subject of speculation that Rey was, if not more. Who was this mysterious Force-wielder that taught Ben Solo the ways of the Dark Side? Why was his face so messed up? Was he even human? Was he the infamous Darth Plagueis?

The truth of Rey’s parentage may not have satisfied everybody, but at least we got an answer. With Snoke we got nothing. Nothing. Ben turns on him halfway through the movie, ultimately taking his spot at the top of the First Order food chain. While killing him off isn’t necessarily an issue, not addressing who he is, even if it’s just another non-reveal, is the movie’s biggest letdown.

You can make the argument we knew next to nothing about Palpatine in Empire and Jedi. Hell, they never even said his name. He was just the Emperor. But they then proceeded to make three movies chronicling his rise to power. Snoke’s identity is also wrapped up in the backstory of the First Order, of which we know so little.

I suppose there’s a chance we’ll learn a little more about who this guy was in Episode IX. But this was their big opportunity to explore him, and they missed it. That’s astounding. It’s not as if they didn’t know we were curious…

Pro: Mark Hamill as grumpy Luke.
There’s naturally a warm and fuzzy nostalgic quality to seeing Mark Hamill come back to Luke Skywalker. But he’s also perennially underrated as an actor. So to see him in a major motion picture again is very satisfying. He more than holds up his end of the bargain.

People have had mixed emotions about what they’ve done with Luke in these new movies. The execution hasn’t been perfect. But the idea itself isn’t bad. The events of Return of the Jedi happened more than 30 years ago. A hell of a lot can happen in three decades. People change. Luke has changed. I like that none of us were expecting grumpy old Luke Skywalker. It opened some interesting doors, and allowed Mark Hamill to turn in a different, more nuanced performance than he otherwise might have.

Con: Overstuffing the plot
The Last Jedi is so bloated that it may be the first Star Wars movie that overstays its welcome. It struggles to give both Finn and Poe Dameron something to do. As Rey, Finn, and Poe are supposed to have essentially the same level of importance, they all have their own plot threads. This leaves the story overinflated and less focused. As much as I like Oscar Isaac as Poe, he’s the one who needed to be scaled back.

While Finn and his new ally Rose are off on their big mission to a space casino, Leia is incapacitated. So Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) is put in charge of the Resistance. When Poe doesn’t like her more reserved and passive strategy, he stages a mutiny. We later learn Holdo is trying to be discreet while moving the Resistance to an old Rebel base on the planet Crait. She ends up sacrificing herself to buy them time.

While I enjoyed Laura Dern’s presence in the film, this whole subplot was unnecessary. I understand the lesson Poe is supposed to learn about seeing the bigger picture. But the movie already has so much going on, and they could have saved time by simply having Poe and Holdo work together in Leia’s absence. Then, inspired by her sacrifice, he can take charge and lead the Resistance forward into a new era.

Pro: New Planets
The planets in both The Force Awakens and Rogue One left something to be desired. None were particularly memorable other than Jakku, which is essentially the same world as Tatooine.

Crait isn’t a particularly interesting setting, at least not that we know of. But it does make for a unique visual during our climactic battle. You’ve got a thick layer of salt on the surface, with the red mineral content underneath. It’s a new kind of environment. That’s not an easy thing to give us after eight Star Wars movies.

The casino city of Canto Bight, which Finn and Rose travel to, is memorable as well. It doesn’t blow you away in terms of creatures or visual spectacle. But the novelty of basically seeing Star Wars characters go to Vegas is amusing.

Con: The Era
Here’s a little something Disney doesn’t want you to realize: We’re never going to get another universally beloved Star Wars movie ever again. Hell, we haven’t had once since The Empire Strikes Back, and even that’s debatable in some circles. The phrase “everyone’s a critic” has never been more true than it is in 2017. The advent of the internet, blogs, YouTube shows and the like have allowed for pop culture to be analyzed and re-analyzed to the point of absurdity. (And yes, I am indeed saying that on my own blog.) You can’t find something more heavily ingrained in our pop culture than Star Wars.

You also can’t find a more opinionated fandom. These movies and this universe connect with people on such a personal level. So something that’s perceived as wrong or harmful can spark a tidal wave of emotion. The prequels taught a generation of geeks (myself included) how to pick a movie apart and spit it back at its creators. We love Star Wars, but we are forever on guard from being burned again. As such, any and all future Star Wars films will be under a microscope as long as fans can access the internet. 

The Bottom Line
The Last Jedi does not live up to its hype. But that hype was so ridiculous that you almost can’t fault it for that.


There’s a lot to like in this movie, and I appreciate that they surprised us, and are trying to avoid doing the original trilogy over again. But the plain and simple truth is that they tried to do too much with too many characters. As such, the movie’s focus is spread too thin. It almost feels like they shot their wad, and won’t have anything left for Episode IX. We’ll find out in two years, when thankfully JJ Abrams will be back in the director’s chair.

Help us, JJ. You’re are only hope… (No pressure.)

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.


Talking Star Wars: Looking Back at The Force Awakens

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are going to see The Last Jedi tonight. So naturally, last night we sat down to watch The Force Awakens. It was her idea, actually. Ladies, if you’re husband is a geek, ask him if he’s up for sitting down with some chili and a Star Wars movie. See what happens.

Obviously I’ve seen it a number of times already. In addition to officially reviewing it two years ago, I’ve discussed numerous elements here and there. The Force Awakens rightfully got a lot of flack for mimicking the original film. But I still love it. I can’t help it. There’s just something about Star Wars that brings out the inner child in so many of us. The Force Awakens did that in a way the prequels didn’t.

Moreso, The Force Awakens was a hell of an accomplishment. It breathed so much new life into the franchise, by introducing new faces and telling new stories. It restored some of the magic of the original trilogy by incorporating more practical effects, and not leaning so heavily on CGI. We had yet another epic score from the incomparable John Williams. In the end, it set the bar pretty damn high for Disney’s foray into the Star Wars universe.

What follows are a some notes I jotted down during the movie. This was my last stop on the road to The Last Jedi. Sometimes in order to appreciate where we’re going, you must first remember where you’ve been…

Mere minutes into the movie, Mrs. Primary Ignition asks: “Who built BB-8?” A fair question, I suppose. It’s sometimes tough to wrap your head around the idea that these robots, who play such pivotal roles in these movies, were mass produced in a factory somewhere. Unless you’re C-3PO, of course.

What The Force Awakens suffers from more than anything is a lack of exposition. When we were last in this universe, the Empire was being dealt a fatal blow. The implication was that they were gone for good. Then in the opening title crawl we’re told the First Order has “risen from the ashes of the Empire.” So where did they come from, and when? How did they acquire all their resources? Has there been relative peace in the three decades since Return of the Jedi? I understand certain things had to be kept a mystery. But little tidbits here and there to fill in the gaps would have been helpful.

Captain Phasma has a great look. Her armor is a nice extension of the stormtrooper get-up, and works as a symbol of the unwavering strength of the First Order. It’s also perfect to base toys off of. That always helps.

On a similar note, I’ve never liked the blasters the First Order troopers use. The mix of white and black makes them look like toy guns.

You can pinpoint the moment the audience is supposed to understand Rey is a good guy. When she’s sitting there cleaning off the parts she found in the old Star Destroyer, she looks at a frail old lady across from her doing some cleaning of her own. We see sympathy and compassion on her face. Thus, we make a positive connection with her. Remember, t this point in the film Rey hasn’t spoken yet. So it’s a nice subtle move.

The Empire’s last stand took place on Jakku. That’s why we see the crashed Star Destroyer, the downed AT-AT that Rey lives in, etc. But no one else us this. Again, lack of exposition. It doesn’t make or break the film either way, but it would have helped.

There are a lot of little details that are meant to make your brain associate The Force Awakens with the original trilogy. The noise the mouse droids make. The placement of the gas masks on the Millennium Falcon. The belch noise from the rathtar monster. That’s to say nothing of the more overt stuff, like the chess board and remote on the Falcon.

The Mos Eisley Cantina has to be one of the most imitated settings in cinematic history. Even within in the Star Wars universe, creators can’t help but put their spin on the idea. We obviously get that here with Maz Kanata’s cantina. It was fine. But it was pretty obvious what they were doing.

Should Kylo Ren/Ben Solo have had a pale, worn face that hadn’t seen light in awhile? When he takes his helmet off, he just looks like a normal guy. But I picture him never wanting to be seen without it, much like Darth Vader.

There’s a great little moment with Leia that was cut from the movie. Now that Carrie Fisher is gone, I really wish they’d kept it in. Leia is talking to someone about contacting the Senate and insisting action be taking against the First Order.

“Not all the senators think I’m insane. Or maybe they do. I don’t care.”

That line, and the way she delivers it, are so great. Considering how open Carrie Fisher was about her own mental illness, I bet she loved that line. I don’t think the line between Carrie and Leia was ever thinner than during those three sentences.

My favorite exchange in the movie happens between Han and Finn while they’re trying to infiltrate the Starkiller Base.

“Solo, we’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!”

“That’s not how the Force works!”

Han’s death scene is still hard to watch. Even when you know it’s coming, it doesn’t help. That horrified roar from Chewie might be the worst part of it all.

There’s a fan theory that Han actually pointed the lightsaber at himself, allowing Ben to turn it on and kill him. The idea being that he knew Snoke would kill Ben if he failed to carry out the deed. It doesn’t make the most sense. But stranger things have happened.

I love the fight between Kylo Ren and Rey. There’s very little fancy fight choreography, and neither look like extremely polished fighters. They’re just wailing on each other. It’s also a different environment than we’ve ever seen a lightsaber fight, which is accentuated when Rey uses the snow to extinguish Ren’s weapon.

The music callback from A New Hope when Rey catches the lightsaber is a touching moment. We heard it when Luke accepted his call to adventure, and now Rey is accepting hers. A hero is born.

On paper, you’d think the ending to this movie would be infuriating. We finally find Luke Skywalker, and then the movie ends. But it works.

Despite only appearing on camera for a matter of seconds, Mark Hamill did not have an easy job. He had so much to covey in so little time. This is the first time we’ve seen the character in so many years, and so much has happened. So the audience is just staring at him, taking in all the details.

I’ve heard that Hamill steals the show in The Last Jedi. I hope that’s the case. It’s time for mainstream moviegoers to see what we in the geek community have known for a long time: This man is a gem.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.



A Justice League Review – Lessons Learned

TITLE: Justice League
STARRING: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment, Cruel and Unusual Films
 120 min
RELEASED: November 17, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Justice League is a standard superhero popcorn flick. It’s nowhere near as dark, dreary, and generally abysmal as Batman v Superman. But it also doesn’t accomplish anything remotely special. It’s about a team of heroes coming together to fight a villain with a doomsday plan. Been there, done that. Several times, actually. So what we get comes off completely and utterly average.

After all these years, the first Justice League feature film is just average. What an awful, heartbreaking waste…

The plot is basic enough to surmise from the advertising. As the world continues to mourn the death of Superman, we’ve got a new big bad in town. Steppenwolf, a tyrant from the hellscape world of Apokalips, has returned to Earth after thousands of years with his army of Parademons in tow. He aims to conquer the world using the immense power of three “Mother Boxes.” Batman and Wonder Woman prepare to meet this invasion head on by assembling a team of super-powered heroes. The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman are all called to action. But in the end, they won’t be enough. For this new team to triumph, Superman must return…

Trust me, it’s a lot more exciting on paper than it is on screen.

Justice League is the culmination of the years-long comedy of errors that is the “DC Extended Universe.” Man of Steel was an adequate start, flawed as it was with it’s dreary look and overindulgent third act. It was followed by the downright dour Batman v Superman, which robbed its characters of almost any charm, heart, or likability. Suicide Squad wasted arguably pop culture’s most iconic supervillain in the Joker, but managed to be fun in a mindless hot mess sort of way. Wonder Woman was the exception that made the rule. It felt like a single vision, with purpose, heart, and passion put into it.

And so, on one the most rickety foundations in cinematic history, Justice League was built. Like Suicide Squad before it, this movie feels like a melting pot of visions, voices, and priorities clumped together to form a viable commercial product. Our director is once again Zack Snyder. But with their confidence shaken from the backlash to Batman v Superman, Warner Bros. brought in Avengers director Joss Whedon to reshape the script. Thus, we have a Joss Whedon superhero movie taking place in Zack Snyder’s grim DC Universe, under the management of a studio desperate to compete with Marvel at the box office. Hot damn! Sign me up!

One of the major missteps in Justice League is it’s choice of villain. DC Comics lore is full of baddies worthy of challenging Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Darkseid is the obvious choice. But you’ve also got big cosmic villains like Brainiac, Mongul, and Despero. Professor Ivo and the Amazo android could have made for an interesting story. Hell, team Lex Luthor up with the Joker! It sure as hell beats Steppenwolf…

Yes, Steppenwolf. A second-rate, paper-thin, poorly rendered Darkseid stand-in with an army of space bugs, a silly name, and a generic doomsday plot. This is who they came up with to face the Justice League in their debut feature film. Strictly from a cynical marketing standpoint, how the hell to you pass up slapping Darkseid, Brainiac, or Lex Luthor on t-shirts and posters, and instead opt for someone called Steppenwolf?

Justice League cost a whopping $300 million to make. That’s astounding, considering our CGI-rendered Steppenwolf looks like he was done in the late ’90s. It’s not just him, either. It’s been well documented that reshoots were done with a mustached Henry Cavill. The movie’s opening sequence wasn’t even over before Mrs. Primary Ignition turned to me and asked, “What’s up with Superman’s mouth?” Certain shots in Batman’s introduction are also extremely fake looking. Makes you wonder what the hell happened to good old fashioned stunt doubles and prosthetic make up…

Superman has a certain aura of reverence in this movie. Had that been earned or established in Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, that would have been fantastic. I’ve always been a proponent of Superman being the center, or at least part of the center, of the DC Universe. He’s certainly its moral backbone. But all this mourning we see over Superman doesn’t match the controversial figure we saw in Batman v Superman. Yes, some people loved him. But he was also the subject of protests and a congressional hearing. Lois Lane, Batman, Wonder Woman, and those who knew Superman have a reason to miss him. But based on what we saw before, there’d be a large contingent of people who’d be glad Superman died.

So now that I’ve sufficiently ripped Justice League apart, what’s there to like? What did they get right? Believe it or not, all was not lost from the get go…

Unlike in Batman v. Superman, almost all of our heroes are likable. Superman knows how to smile. Wonder Woman is compassionate, but still fierce. I’ve never needed a lot of selling on Ben Affleck’s Batman. Joss Whedon’s influence in the movie is obvious when the Dark Knight gets in a quip or two. Ezra Miller plays a socially inept Flash, who provides much of the comic relief. His costume looks absolutely ridiculous. But there’s a certain charm to him. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is surprisingly okay as a dude bro. For a team flick, it works fine. Granted it’s not the approach I would have gone with, and they’ll obviously need to deepen his character for the Aquaman solo movie. Assuming that’s still in the pipeline after all this.

As much as this movie fell short of what it could have been, there is a certain warm and fuzzy quality to seeing these characters on the big screen together. Most of them aren’t true to the essence of the iconic characters they’re based on. But at the very least it’s cool on a superficial level to see Batman is standing next to Wonder Woman. Superman is running next to the Flash! Aquaman is in Atlantis! It’s a highly tarnished version of what we should be getting. But at least we’re getting it in some form. That counts for something.

And so, four years into the DC Extended Universe, what have we learned? What has the road to Justice League taught us? More than anything, it’s this: Darkness doesn’t equate to quality. At least not to larger audiences.

Some people point to darker tales like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen as the pinnacle of the superhero genre. But while they pushed the boundaries of how these stories and characters could work and be seen, they weren’t simply dark for the sake of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns isn’t just about an older and grittier Batman getting to punch Superman in the face. It’s about a hero returning to face a world that’s changed in his absence. Watchmen isn’t about Rorschach beating people up. It’s a look at superheroes from a different, more grounded angle. The dark tones fit the stories and the characters, not the other way around.

We also need to remember that at the end of the day these characters are meant for children. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them as adults. We don’t need to dumb them down for kids, but we can’t keep them all for ourselves either. If DC and Warner Bros. should have learned one thing from Disney and Marvel, it wasn’t the cinematic universe element. It’s that these movies can be accessible to viewers of all ages. They can be mature without being meant for mature audiences.

The blame Justice League‘s failures, creative and otherwise, falls primarily on the studio higher-ups. But the finger also needs to be pointed at Zack Snyder. He’s got a devoted fanbase that will filet me for saying so. But if Batman v Superman didn’t convince you, the fact that the first Justice League movie didn’t outperform the third Thor movie should say it all. Snyder must be kept far away from any and all future DC films. I shudder to think what this movie would have looked like without Joss Whedon’s influence. 

Superhero movies can be thrilling, emotional, and surprisingly versatile. But at their core, they aren’t complicated. Give us a hero worth rooting for, a villain worth rooting against, and a reason for them to fight. We don’t need to see a bad guy get his neck snapped, a bomb inside a jar of piss, or a city destroyed to compensate for a lack of emotional connection with the audience. 

Lessons learned. Six years and millions of dollars too late. But lessons learned…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.







A Logan Review – Old Man Stabby

Logan, 2017, Hugh Jackman, posterTITLE: Logan
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
STUDIOS: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, Kinberg Genere, Hutch Parker Entertainment, The Donners’ Company
RUN-TIME: 137 min
March 3, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a fan of the X-Men film series, Logan is in many ways a frustrating film. It’s very much the expressionistic, character-driven piece it sets out to be. But the Wolverine character is heavily defined by the world he’s in. A world filled with prejudice toward super-powered mutants. In Logan, that world has been heavily altered. While we all love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, what this movie really could have used was a little more world-building.

In the year 2029, mutantkind has been nearly eradicated. Logan, the man formerly known as Wolverine, is one of the last ones alive. In his care is a frail Charles Xavier, suffering from dementia and seizures. Logan isn’t exactly in great health himself. But danger once again finds our clawed hero, this time in the form of a young girl named Laura. Like Logan, she has adamantium claws, healing powers, and a deadly temper. She is hunted by Transigen, the group responsible for wiping out mutantkind. And if they have their way, Logan, Charles, and this mysterious girl are next.

Comic book fans know Logan is somewhat based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan book. That story features a gray-haired Logan in a world conquered by supervillains. The first lines in the very first panel are: “No one knows what happened on the night the heroes fell. All we know is that they disappeared and evil triumphed and the bad guys have been calling the shots ever since.”

logan-image-1-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenThere’s very little information like this in Logan. Information that helps us define the different world we see these familiar characters in. I’m not of the belief that absolutely everything needs to be spelled out for the audience. But the memory of the X-Men team is very much a part of this movie. It even implies that a new generation will pick up where Logan and the others left off. So wouldn’t it be helpful to tell us what happened to the X-Men? Were they all hunted down and killed by Transigen? Was there a big battle, like in Old Man Logan? We don’t have to comb through the roster one by one. But for instance, Logan loved Jean Grey. That could have been used to prompt a line or two about how she and some of the others died.

Instead, the film is chipped away at by these questions about how the established characters got to where they are, and who some of these new characters are. We do get allusions to a tragic event involving the widespread telepathic side-effects of one of Xavier’s seizes in Westchester, New York. To the uninitiated, Westchester was the home of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and home base to the X-Men. So it’s reasonable to assume that’s where many of them died. But casual moviegoers won’t know that. Hell, I’m fairly versed in X-Men lore and it took me awhile to put it together.

logan-image-2-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenHalf the potential of a story like this lies in exploring the dystopian future, and how we got there. Logan doesn’t do much of that, and the movie suffers for it.

Still, Logan is indeed the R-rated Wolverine flick many have waited for. The movie takes full advantage of its expanded parameters. We see severed limbs aplenty, gallons of spilled blood, claw shots through the face, and plenty of F-bombs. If this really is Hugh Jackman’s last go-around as Wolverine, he goes out in a blaze of bloody and cathartic glory.

Jackman’s claim that this is the last time he’ll pop the claws is a downer for sure. In 17 years, he’s played the character seven times. Nine if you count his brief uncredited appearances in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse. He’s left an indelible mark on the character and the X-Men franchise as a whole, bringing tremendous depth and likability in addition to the berserker rage that fans love. What’s more, I’m not ready to fully rule Jackman out of another appearance in the role. He’s publicly flirted with coming back for certain scenarios, and it’s not like he’s been typecast. He was Jean Valjean, for crying out loud. More importantly, he’s a proven and highly lucrative commodity in that role. It’s show business, folks. Anything is possible.

logan-hugh-jackman-patrick-stewartPerhaps less publicized is that Logan is perhaps Patrick Stewart’s last time playing Charles Xavier. Something else this movie has going for it is the novelty of ol’ Captain Picard dropping a few F-bombs. Why the hell not?

Dafne Keen makes her film debut here as Laura, a.k.a. X-23. Not a bad way to make your entrance, with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart at your side. She’s quite the find. Keen doesn’t speak for most of the movie, and has to convey a quiet rage beyond her years. She becomes the perfect mini-Wolverine.

There’s been a good amount of talk about Logan defying the genre of superhero movies. While I maintain this genre is more versatile than people give it credit for, Logan feels unlike most, if not any superhero movie you’ve ever seen. At one point, Xavier and Laura are watching Shane. That’s extremely fitting, given the movie’s clear influence on Logan. Mangold has also talked about The Cowboys starring John Wayne, and The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood. Oddly enough, he’s also mentioned Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler.

logan-image-3-hugh-jackmanLogan is hardly the most satisfying installment in the X-Men franchise. But it’s absolutely the most unique. There’s an undeniable thrill and catharsis to seeing Jackman rage out as Wolverine, potentially for the last time. From a performance standpoint, he absolutely sticks the landing here. Though that should come as surprise to absolutely no one.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Rogue One Review – A Force of Nostalgia

Rogue One posterTITLE: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker. 
DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
133 min
December 16, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was pretty obvious from the get-go that Rogue One was going to be a different kind of Star Wars movie. Less a space fantasy, more ground-level combat flick. A movie that puts the war in Star Wars. If we’re going to have one of these movies a year for the foreseeable future, the franchise needs to expand its boundaries. So different is fine. But what we get here is something that simultaneously does and does not feel like the Star Wars we know. That’s a double-edged sword. Or perhaps a double-bladed lightsaber.

Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance steals the Death Star plans before the events of A New Hope. Our main character is Jyn Erso, whose long lost father develops the plans for the battle station. She is recruited by the Rebellion’s Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to help locate her father, who has long been forced into service by the Empire. Along for the ride are Andor’s droid K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk), defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Together, this small band of rebels will win a crucial victory against the Empire. But the cost will be great.

star-wars-rogue-one-jyn-ersoThat all sound vaguely familiar? It should. Like The Force Awakens last year, Rogue One is in many ways a love letter to the original 1977 Star Wars film, and there are plenty of parallels to draw. In addition to the obvious characters and imagery, Rogue One is peppered with little details, cameos, and callbacks to firmly plant it in A New Hope territory. Certain shots from the film are even mimicked once we get inside the Death Star. The plot also has numerous parallels. Our rebels sneak into enemy territory to sabotage the Empire, they dress in Imperial uniforms, there’s a droid (K-2SO in this case) manipulating things from a control room, we get a big space battle, etc. Rogue One is definitely a retro movie just as The Force Awakens was, albeit with a darker tone.

But that darker tone doesn’t necessarily help things. For so many years, a subgroup of Star Wars geeks have lamented some of the lighter elements in the movies (the Ewoks come to mind), longing for the series to focus more on the serious, dramatic, and dare I say cool side of things. To an extent, Rogue One does just that. It feels like a Platoon or Saving Private Ryan sort of movie with Star Wars stuff pasted on to it. The movie misses that sense of awe and wonder that helped make the original trilogy (and even the prequel trilogy) distinct and special. There’s nothing wrong with expanding your boundaries. But you’ve also got to remember what universe you’re in.

Rogue One, cast photoWhat’s more, these characters aren’t exactly the most memorable the franchise has produced. We understand their motivations and what drives them. But once you get past that, they’re not particularly likable or distinct. Our ensemble consists of about six people, so there’s not a lot of room for little personal moments where we get to know them as people. Case in point: Han and Leia arguing in the early minutes of The Empire Strikes Back. Or Obi-Wan talking to Luke about his father in A New Hope. When it comes to our main character, Jyn, we know what happened to her when she was a child, and we get some vague information about what she’s done as a teenager and a young adult. But outside of her starting the story as a cynic, there’s not much to her.

Ironically, the most charming character in the movie is the K-2SO, who isn’t even human. He’s got an Alfred Pennyworth, sarcastic butler thing going for him. Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera, is the leader of an extremist group, and Jyn’s adopted father. His body is largely mechanical, and he needs the aid of a respirator. His dynamic with Jyn might have been interesting to explore as the movie progressed, but he’s only in the first half. Chirrut Imwe is fairly interesting. But again, we know so little about him.

rogue-one-darth-vaderBecause our main characters are fairly blasé, the classic Star Wars elements wind up serving as nostalgia boosters to keep us interested. Instead of being riveted by the story that’s unfolding, we’re looking at the stuff we recognize from that amazing movie from 40 years ago. It’s a nice recipe for warm fuzzies. Especially when we see some familiar Rebel faces, both at the base and in the space battle, two of which are played by actors from the prequels. In a perfect world, those nostalgia elements should be the garnish on top of an already compelling movie. But consider this: How appealing is Rogue One if you scale back Darth Vader’s involvement, and pluck out a few of those familiar faces?

Still, it’s fun to see Vader doing Vader stuff, especially when we get to the closing moments of the film. His entrance takes place on a planet from Episode III, which was a nice surprise. But here’s an opinion that might not be popular: The returning James Earl Jones sounds too kind. It’s like Mufasa is in the Darth Vader suit. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Jones had a fantastic growl in his voice, as if there was a rage constantly boiling under the surface. It was fitting, considering all that talk about anger, hate, and the dark side. In both Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels, he’s lost his edge. But you can’t have someone else do Vader’s voice, can you? Jones likely has the role as long as he wants it, which is how it should be. I just wish he’d release his anger…

Rogue One, image 4This is the first Star Wars movie that doesn’t have a John Williams score, which means Michael Giacchino has one of the most unenviable jobs in cinematic history. Imagine having to not only follow John Williams, but follow up on arguably his most iconic work. To his credit though, Giacchino pulls it off. He still has the classic Williams songs to work with, of course. But what he produces still feels authentic to the Star Wars universe. That’s a hell of an achievement, all things considered.

Peter Cushing returns to the role of Governor Tarkin in this movie. That was unexpected, considering he died in 1994. But through the magic of CGI, and the voice talents of Guy Henry, he’s back. It mostly works fine. Though I’d be curious to know what those who were close to Cushing think about this little trick. Also, does this mean the door is open for Alec Guinness to “return” as Obi-Wan Kenobi in future movies?

Rogue One makes for a decent viewing experience, with a lot of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. If you needed proof that the Star Wars Anthology idea can work from a creative standpoint, you now have it. But it may be the worst Star Wars film in terms of holding up to repeated viewings. All the best stuff in this movie was in A New Hope first. So given the choice, why not just watch A New Hope?

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A Suicide Squad In-Depth Review – Will Smith is in This Movie?

Suicide Squad, 2016 film posterTITLE: Suicide Squad
STARRING: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman
DIRECTOR: David Ayer
STUDIOS: Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Entertainment, RatPac Entertainment, Atlas Entertainment
RUN TIME: 123 min
RELEASED: August 5, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It’s not often you go to a movie and forget Will Smith is in it. He’s one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and is the focal point of the marketing for whatever film he’s in. But not Suicide Squad. From a publicity standpoint, this has been all Joker/Harley Quinn, and for good reason.

Based on the comic book series of the same title, Suicide Squad sees government official Amanda Waller assemble a task force of killers and criminals to send on covert missions. They serve as both agents and built-in patsies. Should they refuse an order, Waller detonates a nanite bomb in their bodies. Under the command of Colonel Rick Flag, “Task Force X” consists of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, El Diablo, and a metahuman called the Enchantress. But when the Enchantress loses control of her dual “witch” personality, Waller is forced to call in her team of villains.

So you’re Warner Bros., and you’re trying to match the success Marvel has had at the movies with their shared cinematic universe. You put out a Superman movie, then a Superman/Batman movie. Now third in line is…Suicide Squad? Not Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, or Justice League. But Suicide Squad? In terms of DC Comics, it’s always been a second-string book at best. So why make it part of the foundation of your cinematic universe? Marvel certainly didn’t do anything like that…

Suicide Squad, 2016, team shotThat last point is one of the keys to the vast amount of interest in Suicide Squad. There’s never been a big budget movie quite like this. It’s all about supervillains doing what they do. Who doesn’t love a good villain?

And there’s no better villain in all of pop culture than the Joker. Both superhero buffs and casual moviegoers are fascinated by him. More importantly, from a business perspective the Harlequin of Hate means big box office bucks. When Jack Nicholson played the character in Batman, the movie broke records and pulled in over $411 million. Heath Ledger won an Oscar when he played the part in The Dark Knight, which again broke records with over $1 billion. Even this year’s limited release of the animated version of The Killing Joke made over $3 million.

So in that sense, one can understand why Warner Bros. would want the Joker in Suicide Squad, a film about supervillains the general public has never heard of. What better way to compensate than with the one villain everyone knows?

Sadly, audiences expecting something akin to The Dark Knight will be disappointed. The Joker gets considerably less screen time than the other characters, as the movie isn’t really about him. He’s a supporting character, a role that would undoubtedly infuriate the Clown Prince himself.

Joker, Jared LetoJared Leto’s Joker is interesting to watch, and leaves you wanting more. But his performance lacks the complexity and depth of Ledger’s, or the sheer fun of Nicholson’s. He’s a tattooed Scarface in clown makeup. But it may be unfair to even compare Leto to his predecessors, as he doesn’t get the chance to dominate the film the way they did. But Leto has the chance to evolve his Joker over multiple films. He’s had the less screen time than Nicholson and Ledger. But that’s likely going to change.

Fans of Harley Quinn (and there are many) can rest easy. Margot Robbie performs the character very well. Though let’s be honest: She’s highly sexualized. I’ve never been a fan of sexy Harley Quinn, especially when she’s with the Joker. Her love for him isn’t prominently sexual. For her own twisted reasons, she’s entirely bought in. That’s what gives her the tragic element present in so many Batman villains. Harley is in an abusive relationship. Either she doesn’t realize it or she keeps returning to it, depending on where you are in her story. I’m not sure if she’s, as one reviewer put it, “damaged dolly jerk-off material.” But it unflatteringly simplifies her.

Then again, it looks like damaged dollies make box office bucks too.

Deadshot, Suicide Squad, Will SmithDid we mention Will Smith is in this movie? And it’s better for him being there. Floyd Lawton/Deadshot acts as the film’s moral and emotional compass. Smith is more than qualified to play that role, with his trademark charm to boot. He’s almost the Han Solo of this movie, bringing a much-needed down to Earth perspective and character-driven levity to the proceedings. Without him, the movie would have been as needlessly grim as Batman v Superman.

Suicide Squad has the unenviable task of introducing us to an entire team of supervillains, filling in their backstories, and making us care about them while still keeping its plot going. It accomplishes some of this by formally introducing its main protagonists from the get-go, framed by a dinner scene with Waller. Deadshot and Harley get the most emphasis, obviously. From there, we see flashback scenes as the movie progresses. This strategy is fine, but it negatively impacts part of the movie’s climax.

Diablo, played by Jay Hernandez, isn’t a main character. He’s a fire-starter with a conscience, and makes a big sacrifice during the final battle. But we don’t learn about Diablo’s past until the second half of the film. We’re invested in him, but not nearly as much as we’d have been if we’d gotten this information sooner. Whether this is the case or not, it feels like Diablo’s backstory was shoved in to make the climax more impactful.

El Diablo, Suicide Squad movie, 2016Also, Slipknot (the supervillain, not the band) is shoehorned into this thing for 10 minutes so he can get blown up by one of Waller’s nanite bombs. This was obviously done to establish she wasn’t bluffing. But Slipknot’s purpose in the story is immediately apparent, to the point where his death is almost an eye-roller.

Suicide Squad was clearly influenced by Guardians of the Galaxy, which also got us acquainted with a team of heroes and their world. Guardians used music from the ’60s and ’70s to make its main character quickly recognizable, likable, and familiar. Suicide Squad tries the same trick with music from Credence Clearwater Revival, Eminem, and other artists that go a long way in engaging the audience. After awhile, you can plainly see what they’re doing. But there’s something to be said for keeping things fun, and letting the audience rock out to music they know and love.

Critics haven’t been kind to Suicide Squad, and that’s very much justified. The movie gradually starts to come apart in the third act, before quickly snapping back together at the end. But the movie does deliver something that was sorely lacking from its predecessors, and that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has in spades: Fun. Suicide Squad is a flawed piece of work, and is guilty of objectifying its female lead. But it’s a fun summer popcorn flick that furthers the story of the DC Extended Universe. By and large, it delivers more than Man of Steel or Batman v Superman. That should serve as a lesson to Warner Bros. going forward.

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A Ghosbusters In-Depth Review – Good Enough

Ghostbusters, 2016 posterTITLE: Ghostbusters
STARRING: Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth
STUDIOS: Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, LStar Capital, Village Roadshow Pictures, The Montecito Picture Company, Pascal Pictures, Feigco Entertainment, Ghost Corps Production Company
RUN TIME: 116 min
July 15, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The verdict from a life-long ghosthead: It’s good. Not great, and certainly not the classic it’s based on. But pretty good. After everything this movie and the people who’ve made it have been subjected to, I’d say pretty good is good enough.

Who’d have thought such a beloved movie, such a cherished brand, could prompt such hate? Just the stuff that’s been thrown at Leslie Jones (#LoveForLeslieJ) is enough to make you want to shower for five days. But the metric ton of sexism, and general brattiness shoveled in this movie’s direction has been preposterous. I love Ghostbusters as much as anybody else on the planet. The original film was a perfect storm of improv, acting, special effects (as they existed then), music, and storytelling. It touched an emotional chord, and captured the world’s imagination like few movies are privileged to do. I hold it very close to my heart.

But it’s still just a movie. A movie co-produced by Ivan Reitman, who directed the original, as well as Dan Ackroyd himself. A movie that clearly adores its source material, to the point that it stops in its tracks multiple times to have scenes with original cast members. It even goes out of its way to use Slimer, and give the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man an appearance. Let’s keep this all in perspective.

Ghostbusters, image 1, 2016While you can’t excuse all the hate that’s been thrown at this movie, when it comes to ’80s kids I think a lot of it stems from the idea that these ladies are “not my Ghostbusters.” I get that. Some of this backlash likely could have been avoided if they’d gone with a Creed style sequel set decades after the original. Same cast as this movie, same creative team, with a cameo from the Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd characters. Obviously, that leaves you with the question of what happened to Egon Spengler. But it could have worked. That’s what I’d have preferred, perhaps selfishly.

To its credit, the remake tells its own story, albeit hitting some of the original’s bullet points. Erin Gilbert (Wiig) is fired from her university position when her belief in the paranormal is brought to light. She teams with childhood friend Abby Yates (McCarthy) and her associate Jilian Holtzman (McKinnon) to research the ghostly and the unknown. Their first case takes them to the New York City subway, where they meet MTA worker Patty Tolan (Jones). From there, a mystery unravels as to how and why the city is infested with ghosts. Like the original, the movie’s climax ends with a fight against a giant, pasty white monster.

While the ghosts and spooky stuff was important, the success of the 1984 film had more with the Ghostbusters themselves. The characters were fun, their interplay was strong (not to mention hysterical), and you were rooting for them. In making a new Ghostbusters movie, remake or not, half your battle is in the creation of new characters. On that front, the movie starts off shakily. But by the second act, we’ve got a good team on our hands. I can’t give enough credit to Feig, his co-writer Katie Dippold, and these ladies for creating characters that are new, yet with a dynamic that feels familiar.

Ghostbusters, McKinnon, WiigMcCarthy essentially fills the Dan Aykroyd role in this movie, becoming the chirpy heart of the team. She plays off the skeptical Wiig, whose more reserved role keep things grounded in the first act, and adds weight to the ghostly stuff once it takes off. I’ve always preferred Wiig in more dramatic roles, and she earns her keep here. Leslie Jones is, frankly, the sassy one. But her character has enough heart to round her out.

Here’s something that won’t earn me any friends: Kate McKinnon’s performance as Holtzman was grating at first. They were pushing her too hard as “the zany one,” which made me nervous for her. IIf Holtzman had been too flippant for too long, we’d have had…*gulp*…the Jar Jar Binks of Ghostbusters.

Thankfully, the character finds her groove. She becomes an intriguing balance of misfit and super genius. Critics have called this a breakout performance for McKinnon. I’m with them. But yeesh, don’t scare me like that…

Chris Hemsworth surprises with his comedic chops. He could have strictly been a hottie for Wiig to drool over. But he adds real value as yet another misfit, this one comedically out of touch with reality. Based on his role in the climactic sequence, had the Kevin character been tweaked a bit, he might have been okay as the villain.

Ghostbusters, 2016, us against themThere’s a syrupy “rise above ridicule” vibe to the movie that I didn’t expect. The ladies are all outcasts who must overcome the city’s perception of them and save the day. We’re reminded that these four aren’t just coworkers. They’re friends. We get little sentimental moments between Erin and Abby. Patty yells: “Get outta my friend, ghost!” Holtzman gives a little speech about how she finally has a family. You almost expect someone to shout “Friends Forever!” Even our villain is a former bullying victim striking back at society. This idea was present in the original. But they didn’t point right at it like this movie does, and it didn’t seem as personal in nature. How ironic. A movie trying to talk to kids about bullying gets bullied online by adults, many of whom were likely bullied as children.

You know what I’m sick of? “Spontaneous banter.” It’s present in a lot of modern comedies, Ghostbusters included. Characters will be proceeding in a scene. Suddenly, someone will either go off on an unrelated tangent or say something embarrassingly personal. A certain vulnerability or humanity will peek through. Then, as suddenly as they stopped, they’ll pick up where they left off. Sometimes it works. But often it’s inorganic, and kills tension in a scene.

For instance, about midway through the movie a ghost throws a character out a window at Ghostbusters HQ. The ladies end up talking to a cop about the incident, and he cracks: “You saw a ghost? Like the movie with Patrick Swayze?” Melissa McCarthy’s character has a comeback, then suddenly she and Wiig go on a tangent about Patrick Swayze movies. They’re in trouble with the cops because someone was thrown out their window. But the stakes suddenly disappear, then reappear, so we can have banter. StopDoingThat. Not every movie can afford to snip holes in the fabric of its reality so we can have pop culture references.


Like a a certain section of moviegoers, I’ve got CGI fatigue. In the ’80s, the Ghostbusters franchise was heralded for its special effects. So to see modern CGI in a Ghostbusters movie feels awkward. I’d wager part of this can be chalked up to the “not my Ghostbusters” factor. But there’s some legitimacy to it. You almost can’t look at these ghosts without being reminded of the live action Scooby Doo movie. But they should be fine for kids and the average moviegoer. Admittedly, our climactic monster looks pretty good. I also like that they added a little glisten to Slimer. He is made of slime, isn’t he?

To its credit, and my great surprise, this movie has one of the best credits sequences I’ve ever seen. They cut in and out of a dance scene, set to “Get Ghost” by Mark Ronson, Passion Pit, and A$AP Ferg. It’s infectiously catchy.

So in the end, was it all that bad? No, not really. It’s not the movie I wanted. But I’m okay with that. After all these years, we finally got a new Ghostbusters movie. And people in my theater were laughing and having fun. It’s tough not to like that.

Kristen Wiig, Ghostbusters premiereThen you have this picture. I absolutely adore this. Look at the faces on those kids! This captures what the new movie can mean to young girls around the world. For that matter, it captures what the old movie meant to so many of us. If you’re a child of the ’80s, swap in a childhood version of yourself and put Bill Murray in Kristen Wiig’s place. Different era, same scene.

Maybe, like the original Ghostbusters, we were meant to pass it on to a new generation.

Maybe we did get the right movie after all…

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