‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Review

Director: Ron Howard

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan

Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Joonas Suotamo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Thandie Newton and Paul Bettany

Synopsis: During an adventure into a dark criminal underworld, Han Solo meets his future copilot Chewbacca and encounters Lando Calrissian years before joining the Rebellion.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story has had a troubled production to say the least. Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the duo behind the Jump Street movies and The LEGO Movie, were set to direct the movie and were almost finished with three weeks left. However, constant clashes with Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and writer Lawrence Kasdan throughout production finally hit a tipping point and they were fired, and replaced with Ron Howard. Then more reports came out, but I’ll let you search those on your own.

All that being said, the main question everyone had – after, Do we really need a Han Solo origin movie? – is whether or not Solo was going to be any good? Well, that all depends on whether or not you want to have some fun with the movie.

Solo opens on the planet Corellia, where we see Han (Alden Ehrenreich) getting into some trouble as he and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to get of the planet. Of course, they get separated, and Han swears to make it back, rescue her and live their lives far, far away. Cut years later, we see Han teaming up with a crew led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) to steal some a valuable mineral for a criminal boss named Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). The job eventually has them cross paths with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the charming and suave Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) with his droid L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), and a rival gang.

I have mixed feelings about Solo, I did not, not like it, but I also didn’t fully like it either. Against all odds, Solo is entertaining once you get pass the slow first act where it finally gets going and the action is picked up. Of course, it’s a prequel, so the sense of danger needs to be put on the backburner for the most part, like every other prequel out there, but at least the Kasdans tried to do some things to keep you on your feet.

When you look at it though, the movie rests on the shoulders of Alden Ehrenreich as young Han Solo, and surprisingly, he does a pretty decent job. Ehrenreich is relativity new to Hollywood as he broke onto the scene with now forgotten Beautiful Creatures, and had small roles in Stoker, Blue Jasmine and finally the Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar! which won him the role here. I really have nothing bad to say about his performance, Ehrenreich has the charm and the devil-may-care attitude you would expect from Han Solo.

Then there’s the much anticipated portray of young Lando Calrissian by Donald Glover, and yes, he’s great as Lando. Glover, to no surprise, brings a cool and confident attitude to Lando, and the clash of styles between Lando and Han is great to watch. Although, if you pay attention enough, it does at times sound like Glover is trying his best Bill Dee Williams impression. The other highlight of the cast is that of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s droid, L3-37. Droids always play a part in the Star Wars franchise, and most of the time it’s for comedy or a helping the main characters in a time of crisis. L3-37 definitely fits the bill here, but there’s something else with her character here, that I’m interested in seeing how people react to it.

The rest of the cast doesn’t leave too much of an impression sadly. Woody Harrelson’s Beckett is simply a man at the end of run as a criminal looking for that last big job. Paul Bettany’s Dryden is a lackluster villain, who is said to be vicious and deadly, and while one scene proves that and Bettany does his best with what he’s given, Dryden is rather forgettable in the pantheon of Star Wars villains.

Then there’s Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra, who for me, is an oddity. The relationship between her and Han is believable enough for the movie, but there’s more to her character that we find out near the end of the movie that kind of comes out of nowhere. Obviously, this is a spoiler-free review, but where they leave her character along with Han is both curious, and for me, a bit frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, as much as I was surprised by the movie’s entertainment value, Solo: A Star Wars Story is a tad frustrating when it comes other things it brings to the table. Again, removing the “is this movie really necessary?” from the table, Solo brings things we’ve heard about to the big screen, like the card game between Han and Lando, but for me the famous Kessel Run leaves a lot, and for me I mean a lot, to be desired. Moreover, the movie leaves some things too open for sequels for my liking, and yeah I know, sequels were bound to happen because it’s Star Wars, but I just couldn’t get behind it. Especially with that cameo that came out of nowhere.

All in all, Solo: A Star Wars Story is an entertaining movie once it really gets going. If you had any problems with The Last Jedi, you shouldn’t for Solo. Is a perfect or great movie? Not really. Will you be happy with the final outcome? Probably.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

3.5 out of 5

‘In the Heart of the Sea’ Review

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Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Charles Leavitt

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Frank Dillane, Joseph Mawie, Gary Beadle, Charlotte Riley, Donald Sumpter, Richard Bremmer, Jordi Molla, Michelle Fairley, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson

Synopsis: Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a giant whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home.

 

*Reviewer Note:  This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

Based on the book by Nathaniel Philbrick of the same name, Ron Howard takes the books basic premise about the whaling ship Essex in the 1820s that goes out to sea and encounters a massive whale that leaves some of the crew stranding at sea for 90 days and leaving them to fight for their lives against the elements, each other, and the massive whale that inspired Herman Melville’s classic epic Moby Dick. Now, the film – despite the ads – In the Heart of the Sea is not a film about Moby Dick, it’s about the inspiration behind Moby Dick. It’s also not so much about the whale itself, its more about the crew as they survive. So does In the Heart of the Sea stay aloft or does it sink hard? Well, it’s a give and take relationship.

The film has a nifty framing device as it starts in 1850 when author Herman Melville (Whishaw) goes to speak with Thomas Nickerson (Gleeson), the last living survivor of the Essex, to hear the story – which has become a somewhat myth and tale – of the Essex so that he can write his new book. Thomas is reluctant at first, but with a push from his wife (Fairley) he tells Melville the story. We then flashback to the 1820s and the focus changes to Owen Chase (Hemsworth), an experienced whaler who is eager to get his own ship, but has to serve as First Mate to Captain George Pollard (Walker), who is the son of a prestigious whaling family. Both men are eager to prove themselves and but their conflicting personalities and backgrounds have to be put to the side as their ship is attacked by a whale that they have never seen before. Left shipwrecked, the crew have to resort to anything they can to survive.

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In the Heart of the Sea is really more of a film about survivor, and what you are willing to do to survive. For those hoping for a big whale versus ship film will be slightly disappointed. Sure there is some great stuff with the giant whale, especially the much promoted attack of the ship, but after that the whale pops up only a few times after that. The story of survivor is essentially what this film is really about, and it’s a mixed bag. You definitely feel and see the despair of the crew that include Matthew Joy (Murphy), who happens to be Chase’s long time friend, young Thomas (Holland), Henry Coffin (Dillane), who is Pollard’s cousin, William Bond (Beadle), and Benjamin Lawrence (Mawle), among a few others.

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The problem is we don’t get to know too much about them as the primary focus in on Chase, Pollard and Thomas. Joy gets an interesting subplot, but it doesn’t really go anywhere in the film which is a shame because Murphy is always great in anything he tackles. Young Thomas has some great moments, but the older version played by Gleeson is much more developed and well-rounded character. In fact, the only real characters we really get to know are Gleeson’s Thomas and Ben Whishaw’s Herman Melville. Anytime the two are onscreen they are remarkable, and arguably the best scenes in the film are their scenes, including one that happens after the two reveal to each other their “secrets.” It’s a rather powerful scene that really puts things in perspective.

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However, the only thing that bothered me but at the same time I can see why they wouldn’t show it, is when Thomas does reveal what they had to do in order to survive. It isn’t heavily hinted at, the audience knows what they did, but it never takes that extra step and shows it. I’m not saying the film isn’t good because they didn’t show the action, but if you’re going to go there, maybe show it, or at least part of it. Gleeson and Whishaw’s performance are great when they reach that point, but for a film to drive – or sail in this case – to this point and not really show is a bit underwhelming.

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The rest of the cast fares well too with Hemsworth proving he can be more than just the God of Thunder, and Benjamin Walker has a great moment to shine in the latter half of the film. Tom Holland – future Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – also has his moments, but again, Gleeson’s Thomas is much more developed.

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All in all, In the Heart of the Sea has its big moments that work, but also has some parts that fall really flat that hurt the momentum going in. Whishaw and Gleeson help make the film more worthwhile and Chris Hemsworth with Cillian Murphy give great performances and bring the dread and lose of faith within the open sea.

 

In the Heart of the Sea

3.5 out of 5