[Early Review] Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung
Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Destin Daniel Cretton, Andrew Lanham
132 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and language.

There’s been a level of uncertainty surrounding the MCU following the finale of the Infinity Saga. As Avengers: Endgame came to rest, fans everywhere were overjoyed by this conclusion to the story, and a few of us were left wondering, “Where do we go from here?” It’s a fair question, of course. No cinematic universe has been more ambitious or successful as the MCU, but even so, how could they top that ending? As solid as Spider-Man: Far From Home was, it was seen as an epilogue to the story, instead of being a jump-start to the next film. Then, 2020 and COVID gave us the first year since 2009 without an MCU installment. Even 2021’s Black Widow was set during Phase 3 and acted more as a sendoff to a beloved character than a true starting point for what was next. We were fools, of course, not to trust Marvel, a studio that has consistently triumphed in spectacle and action and also seems to be consistently gaining speed in the general artistry of their epics. The newest installment, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, feels like a breath of fresh air and a reminder that this world is far from stale, and it’s indeed the best origin story the MCU has had in years.

Shaun (Simu Liu, Women Is Losers, TV’s Kim’s Convenience) and his friend Katy (Awkwafina, Ocean’s Eight, TV’s Awkwafina is Nora From Queens) are virtually inseparable. They both work together as valets during the day and spend their evenings hanging out, living in the moment, and trying to make ends meet, and it doesn’t seem like this cycle will break anytime soon. That is, until a group of trained killers board their bus, looking for Shaun and a necklace he’s wearing. After dispatching the foes with a blend of incredible martial artistry, Shaun is forced to reveal that his real name is Shang-Chi, and he’s a trained master of martial arts and son to a criminal mastermind, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung, In the Mood for Love, Europe Raiders), known as The Mandarin. Now, Shang-Chi and Katy are on a mission to reunite with his long-lost sister and foil his father’s dangerous plan. In doing so, Shang-Chi will be forced to confront a past he ran away from and a legacy he has tried to hide.

I’m very unfamiliar with Shang-Chi, the local bookstore where I would hunt down old comic books never had any back issues as far as I knew, but I knew just bits and pieces and hoped for the best here, and I was blown away by this film. It’s a classic action epic fantasy more so than any singular superhero tale, dealing with strange new environments, lots of mythology and mysticism, and spectacular creature design. If you removed the MCU connections, this movie could very much stand on its own and be just as entertaining, but know that Shang-Chi is stepping into a larger world only makes me more excited for where this character is headed, and all of that stems from an incredibly strong lead performance from Simu Liu. This is the first time I can recall seeing Liu perform, and I was enamored with his ability to flip between the serious emotional family drama on display and the playful Marvel tone so easily. He never stumbles, and none of the drama or comedy feels forced into the situation. When I’d heard that Marvel had cast the guy that tweeted them for the role, I was very uncertain, but Liu’s ability to hold his own against Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Boss Level) confirms to me that he has a long career ahead of him.

Another aspect of the film that concerned me on the outset was the decision to revamp the character of the Mandarin. I am a huge fan of Iron Man 3 and I actually loved how they pulled the rug out from under viewers, revealing that the Mandarin was really Trevor Slattery, a cheesy character actor playing up to the more stereotypical aspects of the villain, and he was used as a front for Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. The Mandarin is a tricky character in the comics, a very stereotyped character that plays to the offensive fairly often, so I found the Slattery reveal to be a high point of the Shane Black sequel, and when I heard that this film would retcon the Mandarin, I was pretty frustrated, but the combination of Tony Leung’s performance and the way he is incorporated into the already laid-out mythology of the MCU’s Mandarin is so classy and interesting without a hint of disrespect to what came before. In fact, they honor the previously-established mythology so well that I giggled with glee throughout most of Leung’s scenes. I’m a big fan of Leung’s work already, and I already knew he was going to knock his performance out of the park, but Xu Wenwu will likely go down as one of the stronger MCU villains, showing that the studio is again willing to learn from its villain problem and create a nuanced character antagonist. Part of that stems from the collaboration between director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy) and Leung in crafting the character, with Leung given more control than most to create the villain, and he’s a sympathetic, but never weak, villain that you can understand even if his actions cannot be condoned.

It also cannot be overstated how much Awkwafina adds to this movie. Almost more egregious than their villain problem is Marvel’s way of dealing with the romantic leads in their films, and though I wouldn’t state that Katy is a romantic lead even though there’s an obvious hint at something under the surface, she’s dealt with significantly better than Thor’s Natalie Portman or Doctor Strange’s Rachel McAdams, to name a few. For starters, Katy is given way more to do in the film, and there are several sequences, particularly in the film’s third act, where she is given the spotlight and it all works just as well. Her character arc still runs alongside Shang-Chi’s, but she consistently plays a part in the narrative and is never discarded or forgotten in the story, playing an integral role in the story, as well as a healthy dose of comedic relief and some of the best chemistry of all the MCU in her scenes with Liu.

I saw Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings after only catching the first trailer (one of the benefits of closed theaters for all of 2020 was not getting beaten over the head repeatedly with spoilery trailers), and I think it’s best to avoid ruining some of the many surprises in store for viewers, so I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say that the fight scenes are intense and beautifully shot, there are battle sequences that feel on par with other fantasy epics, and the creatures in the film vary from cute and cuddly to horrifying and monstrous, and I was never bored at all throughout the film. There’s always a worry when a filmmaker steps up to the blockbuster plate after being so successful at indies (while many are able to accomplish this feat, not all of them are able to), so I’m pleased that Cretton takes the independent film sensibilities he’s used all his career and applies it to a big budget studio tentpole, creating one of the most unique tones and experiences of the entire MCU. This one stands on its own two feet but leads to some interesting places for where the character and series can go from here.

I grew up watching a lot of movies that featured people that looked like me, and as I get older, I tend to find the more interesting stories tend to be the ones surrounding people who don’t look like me. Shang-Chi features a lot of amazing mythology that feels like a window into another world, and it’s also really important that the MCU, 25 films deep at this point, finally has an Asian Leading Superhero. Shang-Chi had many failed attempts to get to the screen stretching all the way back to the 1980s with an adaptation in the works that would’ve features Brandon Lee, and there was an attempt back in 2001 as well with numerous directors entering and exiting the project. It took a long time, but at least the film we’ve been waiting decades for is pretty much the best case scenario, a movie that expands on that classic Marvel storytelling formula but goes in some completely unexpected directions. I had loads of fun with this character and this world, and I’m so excited to go back to the theater when this opens to see it again. Much like DC’s The Suicide Squad, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings showcases a bright future for the MCU, and this film comes with my highest recommendation.

5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

  • For my review of Joe Johnston’s Captain America: The First Avenger, click here.
  • For my review of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s Captain Marvel, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.
  • For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.
  • For my review of Leythum’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.
  • For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.
  • For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.
  • For my review of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.
  • For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War, click here.
  • For my review of Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Endgame, click here.
  • For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, click here.

New Trailer for Vox Lux Provides Backstory and Leaves Out Context

Vox Lux is an interesting film. I know virtually nothing about it, most of the descriptions online don’t give much way in terms of plot unless you are trying to completely spoil the film, and the first trailer didn’t do much to make me understand the structure of the film. Still, I can’t help but be encapsulated by it.

Official Trailer #2 has been released for the film, which highlights a lot more of the backstory of Natalie Portman’s character, Celeste, as well as sprinkles of the relationship she has with The Manager, played by Jude Law.

What I really liked about the second trailer was how it ties the pain of Celeste in her youth with both the joys and pain of pop star life. The trailer is an odyssey of beautiful and strange moments, and this movie could really go either way.

So did this second trailer make me more excited to see the film? The answer is yes. After the first trailer, I didn’t know enough to sink my teeth into this movie. Now I feel as though I have that, and I want more.

So what do you think? Have you seen the second trailer for Vox Lux? Are you excited for the upcoming release? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

Vox Lux hits theaters on Friday.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] Annihilation (2018)

Director: Alex Garland

Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac

Screenplay: Alex Garland

115 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality.

 

Alex Garland (Ex Machina) is a director to keep an eye out for. He is mostly known for his writing on films like Dredd, Never Let Me Go, Sunshine, and 28 Days Later, but now that he is directing, his vision has never been more focused.

Annihilation is the story of Lena (Natalie Portman, Jackie, Song to Song), a biologist who signs up for a dangerous exploration of a mysterious area called The Shimmer to find out what happened to her missing husband Kane (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis, Star Wars: The Last Jedi). What she quickly discovers upon entering is that The Shimmer does not operate by the standard laws of nature, and there is something else alive inside.

Okay, so I just got home from Annihilation and there’s a lot more to unpack before I really understand. Don’t worry, no major spoilers here. In fact, I did a pretty good job tiptoeing around spoilers in the above description. Suffice to say, Annihilation is an impressively ambitious mind-bender. I was enthralled as the film’s chess pieces moved into place and the ending was strange, beautiful, haunting, and confusing in all the right ways.

As the film moves along, there are some tremendous set pieces and some truly disturbing imagery. One of the flaws of the film, though, is that it takes a bit before it starts rollicking along. There’s some heavy exposition chunked up at the beginning of the film, and it isn’t until they enter The Shimmer that the film really takes off.

Annihilation is bolstered by tremendous acting performances from Portman as expected. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Amityville: The Awakening) plays Dr. Ventress, the leader of the expedition. Leigh is cold and broken as Ventress, a haunting portrayal of a woman driven to discover. Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) is also brilliant as Josie, another member of the expedition.

Annihilation has a lot in common with other sci-fi fare on its surface, but what makes it different is the calculated pacing and the slow build of tension that is at times horrific and shockingly beautiful in equal measure. The questions it asks are not easily answered, some are not answered at all, but for all of its inquisition, Annihilation is a beautiful examination of ideas and thoughts. This one is likely to keep viewers dissecting and reassembling the piece long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Kyle’s Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2018

 

Since I’ve already seen one of 2018’s releases, I’m probably a little late on presenting my most anticipated list for 2018. Don’t worry, it hasn’t changed much. Let’s start off with a note:

  • This list is more anticipated, not what I think will be the best by any stretch. These are the films I’m most looking forward to as of right now, so there will be more blockbusters than indies because that’s just how it plays out. So, with that being said…

 

NOTE: THIS IS NOT A COUNTDOWN BUT A LIST.

 

Annihilation

-I thoroughly enjoyed director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina from 2015, and on that film alone, I cannot wait to see Annihilation. Garland has had a run of pretty solid work in the last few years, and getting top talent like Natalie Portman and Oscar Isaac involved is only making this more hyped for me. I don’t know much about the film’s plot outside of the lone trailer I’ve seen, but getting a chance to see a great storytelling weave a yarn in his own sandbox is always a great thing.

 

Pacific Rim: Uprising

-I’m very sad that Guillermo del Toro isn’t returning to helm the sequel to his underappreciated Pacific Rim, but that’s what it took to get The Shape of Water, so what can you do? At least he is staying on in a producer role and the franchise is continuing. I’m not sure how to feel about Uprising as the film looks drastically different from the original, but John Boyega playing Idris Elba’s son looks interesting enough, and genre favorite Steven S. DeKnight behind the camera is setting the film up for success. I’m very excited to see an expanding of this mythology and more Jaeger/Kaiju action.

 

Ready Player One

-I’m just starting the book right now, and the trailers for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One have been fascinating. I just don’t know how to feel but the film looks bonkers. There is absolutely no reason not to be excited for more Spielberg but this one feels so familiar and yet so different from what we’ve seen recently from the director. As long as there are enough weird Easter Eggs, I guess I will keep plenty busy at this one.

 

God Particle

-Yeah, this one was on my list for 2017, but it got bumped back. God Particle is all but confirmed to be the next Cloververse film after Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane. Since I loved both of its predecessors and I enjoy dissecting theories about this quasi-anthology, God Particle should be a fun and interesting ride.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

-What do I say that hasn’t already been said? Almost 20 films in and we are getting this massive film. I have no words. I doubted that this franchise could or would work, and I was wrong. Pop in Black Panther and Ant-Man & the Wasp (I didn’t want to have more than one franchise installment on this list but I’m stoked for all three) and this should prove to be another exciting year for the MCU.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

-All the drama behind-the-scenes has made me rather nervous for Solo, but I trust the minds at Lucasfilm because I’ve enjoyed all three Star Wars adventures since their acquisition by Disney, so I trust that they acted at the right time installing Ron Howard as the new director to fix this anthology film. What does make me nervous, though, is the lack of the trailer with only four months to go.

 

Deadpool 2

-I elected to pick Deadpool 2 over The New Mutants and Dark Phoenix because of how surprising the original Deadpool was in 2016. With the shuffling around behind the camera, the exit of Tim Miller, and the addition of David Leitch, it is interesting to see how this one plays out. If the teaser or short that were released are any indication, I think we are in good hands here.

 

The Predator

-Trust me when I say that all of my excitement for this film is riding on Shane Black. I always love a new Predator film, but Shane Black is the reason this is on the list. I love Black’s storytelling sensibilities from his writing of the greatest action film of all time (yeah, I’m calling it for Lethal Weapon) but also his work as a director with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, and The Nice Guys. Some people aren’t aware that Black even co-starred in the original Predator, so he has a good tie to this series.

 

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was quite a surprise. I love Harry Potter, but the idea to expand the mythology with an adaptation of a textbook was weird. Turns out, J.K. Rowling has a few more stories to tell. The flaw with the first film, though, was Johnny Depp’s cameo as Gellert Grindelwald. I didn’t like his appearance and I don’t have as much faith in him as an actor, so seeing him take on the second-biggest villain in the Harry Potter universe was an odd choice. With The Crimes of Grindelwald, Depp will be taking on a much larger role, so I’m interesting if a little nervous to see what comes of it.

 

Mortal Engines

-Though the trailer didn’t have much to offer (as the film is still about a year out), seeing Peter Jackson’s name onscreen again is always a welcome sight. He’s taking on a producer and screenwriter role this time with Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel series by Philip Reeve. Jackson and his team are incredible writers, so a nice foundation to this film is enough to spark my interest. We will have to wait for another trailer to see how it is all shaping up, but Mortal Engines has a lot on its plate.

 

So there it is. What film are you most excited for in 2018? Let me know/drop a comment below.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Your Highness (2011)

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Director: David Gordon Green

Cast: Danny McBride, James Franco, Natalie Portman, Zooey Deschanel

Screenplay: Danny McBride, Ben Best

102 mins. Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use.

 

Some movies are divisive, with praise and derision in equal measure. Your Highness isn’t even one of those. But I’m still going to watch it for you.

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Your Highness is the story of two brothers and a quest to end all others. One of them, Fabious (James Franco, TV’s 11.22.63, 127 Hours) is a rugged and valiant prince on his way to rescue his beloved Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel, TV’s New Girl, Elf) from a frightening and perverse warlock. The other brother is Thadeous (Danny McBride, This is the End, Sausage Party), a fat loathsome slob of a prince only interested in getting laid, a task not so easy for the failure of a son. The two set out to complete Thadeous’ first quest and gain his father’s respect. Along the way, they meet Isabel (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Jane Got a Gun), who also has reasons to defeat the wicked warlock.

The premise is rather simple and rather stupid. According to director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express, Our Brand is Crisis), the concept came from a game between him and McBride about coming up with hilarious titles and then making up a movie premise about them. Apparently, this was the best one. McBride then proceeded to write a draft, and then most of that was thrown out in favor of improv. How this movie even got made is a shock, and how it managed to bring on multiple Oscar nominees also confounds.

McBride cannot carry a movie, funny as he is. Franco (who did sword training and flew back and forth between set and his classes across the country) and Portman (who only signed on to get Black Swan financed) do capably enough to keep this flimsy story going.

All this is important as it creates a movie that doesn’t really want an audience. That being said…

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I laughed my ass off at a lot of this movie, and I have to applaud them for trying to craft a unique mixture of fantasy and raunchy comedy. Still not a great movie, but it isn’t the worst viewing experience I’ve ever had.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Star Wars Day] Return of the Jed-Five…Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Bakers, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup

 

As we continue the tradition of Star Wars Days, on Return of the Jed-Five (it is a term I coined so that I can continue celebrating well into Revenge of the Sixth tomorrow), we will look at Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars Saga that was released almost ten years ago. Fans have waited a decade for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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The Clone Wars have waged for three years, but the battle is far from over. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) is now a full-fledged Jedi Knight and, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been leading armies into battle against the Separatists and the tyrannical Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows). Anakin’s secret marriage to Padme (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) is further complicated when she discovers she is pregnant, and Anakin’s nightmares of her dying in childbirth lead him towards the dark side and a few revelations about his friends on the Jedi Council and those in the Galactic Senate.

If one were to look at the prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith is easily the best in the series. A nearly perfect entry in the Star Wars Saga, Episode III features some of the more incredible action sequences and emotional beats.

Hayden Christensen again continues to underwhelm as Skywalker. His performance is carried by Portman, McGregor, and Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. In fact, just about all the performances here with the exception of his are amazing.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) has learned from his previous mistakes here and gives fans exactly what they want here. Revenge of the Sith ties up the franchise with a nice little bow. The flow is great, and the opening sequence, in which our heroes attempt to save Palpatine from the mechanical General Grievous, is stunning, with special regards to the first shot of the film.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

For my review of Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, click here.

[Star Wars Day] May the Fourth Be With You…Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales

142 mins. Rated PG for sustained sequences of sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Visual Effects

 

Happy Star Wars Day, and May the Fourth Be With You. Today we will look back on Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, from director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138).

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Ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, Jumper, Vanishing on 7th Street) and his master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) have been called to Coruscant to protect the former Queen, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta, Knight of Cups) against those who wish to assassinate her. As Anakin and Padme grow closer, Obi-Wan finds himself getting closer to the truth as he encounters the sinister Count Dooku (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Dark Shadows) and an army of clone troops trained to be an Army of the Republic.

The second in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy fixes a lot of the problems that the first film had, though not all. I love the tone of the film as it shifts from mystery to romance to war to fantasy and back to mystery. The tonal shifts keep the film invigorated and interesting. McGregor and Portman turn in excellent work as Kenobi and Amidala, as do Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Chancellor Palpatine and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as the Jedi Master Mace Windu. New character Count Dooku is excellent and terrifying.

Hayden Christensen is a better Anakin than Jake Lloyd, but not by much. He is by far the biggest problem here.

As always, George Lucas presents us a stunning vision of his galaxy. The film is stitched together nicely and is beautifully scored. There are a lot to love here. Now the aging of the special effects is noticeable here and could have been avoided with a more practical touch. I miss the look of the original films, but I can deal with it.

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Attack of the Clones is a fantastic Star Wars event. It has a few detractors, but it is lovely nonetheless.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Director: George Lucas

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Pernilla August, Frank Oz

Screenplay: George Lucas

136 mins. Rated PG for sci-fi action/violence.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Sound
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects

 

Today we are going to look back on Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, a film that has truly polarized fans of perhaps the most-beloved sagas in motion picture history.

Jedi Knights Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List, Taken 3) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Mortdecai) are about to take part in trade negotiations with the insidious Trade Federation over trade disputes. When negotiations go south and the Trade Viceroy takes control of the peaceful planet of Naboo, the Jedi take refuge on the remote desert planet of Tattooine, where they meet young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, Jingle All the Way), a child who may just be the Chosen One, a Jedi who can bring balance to the Force.

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Director George Lucas (American Graffiti, THX 1138) returned to his beloved Star Wars franchise sixteen years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi to create one of the most discussed entries in the canon. Some love it; many loathe it. I find it to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed entry in the series.

Jake Lloyd absolutely destroys his role as Anakin by not understanding the characters and delivering his lines as though he is just reading them. His scenes can’t even be saved by Neeson and McGregor. Anthony Daniels (The Lego Movie, The Lord of the Rings) and Kenny Baker (The King and I, Willow) return as C-3PO and R2-D2 and help to tie this film to the others. Then there is Ian McDiarmid (Sleepy Hollow, Annie: A Royal Adventure!) as Senator Palpatine. I love his performance here. He is slippery like a politician should be with just a note of secrecy.

I want to say something about George Lucas. I might get flack or praise, not sure which, but George Lucas can direct just fine. He cannot write all that well. He should stick to storytelling but leave the screenplay work to others. Look back at The Empire Strikes Back. It is considered by many to be the best in the saga, but it is the only one not specifically written by Lucas. Just sayin’.

The flow of the film is nicely tied together. I enjoyed the time spent on Tattooine, and I felt like the Naboo sequences add something new to the series. I honestly didn’t care much for Jar Jar Binks, but I also accepted that galaxies far far away probably had annoying aliens. There just has to be some.

The effects are wildly well put together, from the podrace sequences to the battle for Naboo. The new Yoda (played by Frank Oz, Zathura, Monsters, Inc.) is more advanced than previously, though it doesn’t really look like Yoda.

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Looking back at the first chronological Star Wars adventure brings up a lot of questions. How has the film held up? Did the love or the hate soften? Will Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens have the same reception? I don’t have the answers to all those questions, but I can say that expectations are often the culprits for long-waited installments. I like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It is far from the perfect Star Wars film, but it is an enjoyable reintroduction to the galaxy and the time that we love so much.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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