*NEW* STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS REVIEW *NEW*

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Was the force strong with this one? Was this the sequel I was looking for?

In a nutshell, hype help it did NOT.

It was always going to be tough to follow on from such an iconic trilogy (Episodes IV, V and VI) BUT it was still an enthralling and promising effort from J.J. Abrams. After the successful Star Trek reboot, I had full confidence in the director to continue George Lucas’ legacy.

As soon as those infamous credits came up, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” and that iconic John Williams score boomed through the surround sound speaker system, this film nerd bellowed a Wookie cry in rejoice.

It was hard NOT to get that buzz and excitement as the plot scrolled up the screen into nothingness. Thankfully, there was no dense mumbo jumbo about taxation. *Cough* Phantom Menace *Cough*

Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

Don’t worry. I will do my utmost NOT to spoil anything. Promise.

I always went out of my way to avoid getting into the Star Wars films. BUT the force was too strong. I couldn’t resist the score, the characters, the very world that Lucas capitulated.

The humour, the action, the corny exchanges. Thankfully they were all still there. It probably helped that Abrams teamed up with Star Wars scribe Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back/The Return of the Jedi. Ugh. Those Ewoks. Man oh man).

The first hour I was hooked. Engrossed. Fantastic special effects. Frenetic energy. Great characters. SOLD.

The introduction of several new faces spiced up the mix. John Boyega (Attack the Block) and Daisy Ridley (Mr Selfridge) were worthy additions and certainly held their own.

Oscar Isaac’s (Ex Machina) Poe wasn’t in this enough. His quick witted one liners reminded me of a young Han Solo. BUT after making an impressionable introduction, he was largely absent. Shame.

Ridley was superb. It was a breath of fresh air to see a female heroine after following Luke and Anakin. She carried the film and was a likeable protagonist. Boyega was very good as troubled trooper Finn. Come a long way from Attack The Block.

We also had a new villain in the form of the mysterious Kylo Ren. Channelling his inner Vader. I was transfixed. That was until the chap took off his helmet. Sorry, Adam Driver (This is Where I Leave You). I can see why that Emo Kylo Ren Twitter account exists. His isolated conversation with Vader’s broken helmet was haunting.

Domnhall Gleeson (About Time) also delivered an underrated performance as General Hux. By the end, I was more entranced with him than Ren. Rivalling Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin as the creepy underling. His unsettling Hitler-esque speech made the hairs stand on the back of my neck.

However, the biggest scene stealer was the adorable android BB-8. Hilarious. I’m sure a lot of people will be wanting to buy one of these little bots. I know I want one.

 

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Of course, the heavily flogged trailers revealed the return of some old faces. It was great to see Han Solo and ol’ Chewie. They were fantastic and haven’t changed a bit. Perfect. Harrison Ford was on fine form. Showing the newbies how it’s done.

Believe it or not, this really will be down to how much of a Star Wars fan you are. Go figure. If you’re anything like me, you would have already had your Star Wars marathon. The Good (Episode V), The Bad (Episode II) and the Ugly (Episode I).

If you haven’t then I would highly recommend that you don’t. As much as Abrams and Kasdan changed a few things, introduced new faces and brought back the old ones, there was only so much you could do with the story arc.

The closing act felt like one enormous retread of Episode IV: A New Hope. Different characters doing the exact same thing with the same end result. Predictable and frankly a little disappointing.

It didn’t help that the pace got increasingly patchy as the film carried on. A drawn out bar sequence with Maz Kanata (voiced brilliantly by Lupita Nyong’o) certainly didn’t help matters. The force waffle went on too long and I couldn’t help but think of Madge from Benidorm while Kanata spoke. Anybody else see it? Nope?

 

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I knew that Episode VII was going to be a continuation BUT I was still expecting more. Maybe it was a case of hype being a hindrance after setting the bar so high. Don’t get me wrong, it was a vast improvement from Episodes I and II. I know some of you will say, “Well, that wouldn’t take much”.

BUT as much as Abrams and Kasdan tried to create a little mystery around the old faces as we wondered what had happened in 30 years, it was pretty easy to piece together.

Carrie Fisher was wasted in her role as Leia. Gutted. I couldn’t make head or tail of what Andy Serkis’ (The Lord of the Rings) Supreme Leader Snoke was supposed to be.

The pace tested. The plot was disappointing. BUT I was still happy to be taken back to that crazy universe and once I saw a particular piece of space junk take flight, I was beaming from ear to ear.

An enjoyable enough romp and a welcome return for a franchise. BUT if there is to be more, retread old ground we must NOT.

3.5/5 (Just)

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TOMORROWLAND – A WORLD BEYOND REVIEW

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To-bore-o-land?

Bound by a shared destiny, a teen (Britt Robertson) bursting with scientific curiosity and a former boy-genius inventor (George Clooney) embark on a mission to unearth the secrets of a place somewhere in time and space that exists in their collective memory.

Whaaaattt? Yeah, it’s a little dense. The Cloonster and Disney team up. To mixed results. At its best, an exhilarating action packed thrill ride. At its worst, a meandering, overlong piece that gets too bogged down with the timey wimey stuff.

Brought to you by the director of The Incredibles and one of the writers of LOST. For quite a few of you that might trigger mixed reactions. Brad Bird certainly knows how to deliver an action set piece. BUT Lindelof? He knows how to make a story so complex. Unnecessarily most of the time.

As soon as the film started with Clooney and Robertson’s characters bickering over how they should tell the story, I could feel my excitement dropping. The squabbling went on too long and wasn’t even that funny. Not a great opener.

BUT once the pair got over their storytelling techniques and the flashbacks began, I was strapped in. The complex premise slowly set up. Easygoing, charming and oh so frantic. Typical Brad Bird. We look back into Clooney’s past and see his younger counterpart attending the World Fair and getting introduced to the mysterious Tomorrowland.

Look, I know it’s a Disney film but how much merchandise and promotion did they want to flog in this? Seriously, it was hilarious. I won’t spoil anything. It is a small world after all 😉 Although nice try, Mr Bird. Keep a watchful eye on some sneaky Incredibles and Iron Giant memorabilia.

The special effects were outstanding. A visual feast for the eyes. Disney missed out on a trick by not letting this feature in 3D. There were moments where I actually flinched. Rockets and jet packs flying at you from the screen.

Raffey Cassidy delivered a sterling turn as Athena. The one who sets Clooney and Robertson on their destined paths. With an already impressive filmography; Snow White and the Huntsman, Dark Shadows and Mr Selfridge, she will be one to watch for the future.

It’s always tough for a child actor to make the right impression. Especially when their character is crucial to the story. If they don’t win you over, it’s hard to care what happens. Her delivery may have been a little shaky to start but it was still a good performance.

It took a good 45 minutes before Clooney was really introduced into the mix. Confidence in a young cast. Robertson didn’t do a bad job. I just found her character a little irritating. Her OTT optimistic attitude was a little too sugary sweet for my liking.

Clooney certainly got things going. He has proven before that he is up for a laugh and goes along with the ridiculousness without question. He plays the cliched bitter old man well.

The action set pieces were superb. Picking up the pace when things seemed to lull. The introduction of the robo-cops felt like something out of Terminator 2. No! Not that Robocop. The eerily white teethed Matthew MacCaull certainly added a creepy vibe to the timey teen pic. Their high tech gadgetry was crazy. Disintegrating people into matter without a second thought.

I wondered why this film was given a 12A certificate until half way through. The violence may have been OTT and the guards are robots BUT I didn’t expect to see Robertson bludgeoning one to death. Smashing his head in repeatedly for a good 30 seconds. Probably not suitable viewing for the little ‘uns.

This has teen viewing stamped all over it. A little bit violent and a little bit more going on but nowhere near as demented, apocalyptic and dark as it could have been. BUT come on, it’s Disney.

The closing 30 minutes seemed to meander off and went out with a whimper NOT a bang. After all the mystery and mad inter dimensional mumbo jumbo and a crazy shuttle launch sequence involving the Eiffel Tower, the payoff just wasn’t as complicated as it made out nor as rewarding. If anything it was quite simple and really predictable. I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case.

It was certainly watchable and for the majority of the screen time, I was engrossed. Hell, I got to see the ultimate stand off between two of the most iconic TV docs. ER’s Doug Ross vs. Gregory House. Hugh Laurie was good as Nix but his character was a bit nothingy and felt more like a panto villain. Dispensing his guards and then just waiting. Or scowling.

I won’t say too much about the plot but I’m glad that Lindelof and Bird got the balance right with Athena and Clooney’s relationship. Something that could have come off awkward and a little weird if delivered the wrong way.

Lindelof really needs to work on his endings. And no! That is NOT a angry swipe from a LOST fan. It isn’t! I swear. Just look at Prometheus. For all the timey wimey mystery and crazy theories, I was hoping for something a little more spectacular.

Also a quick question for Mr Bird. Was Judy Greer’s part cut? A talented actress reduced to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo? A waste of a talented supporting actress.

It’s frantic, action packed, riveting but also on far too long. I respect Disney for at least trying to do something original instead of another mindless remake or rehash.

It’s just a shame that the film got too caught up in the science stuff that it lost the fun and charm that had it kept it going.

Not bad but a little disappointing. Still not the worst way to kill two hours.

3/5