‘Force Awakens’ mini-review from a reluctant non-fan who would rather see ‘Spotlight’

January 13, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

Expertly entertaining, because holy Jesus it had better be, right?

Fastidiously energetic. Artfully scaled (terrific, frequently gorgeous painterly backdrops). Blessed non-use of gratuitous CGI, but many many many gratuitous explosions. Zero spark or chemistry between the two young leads. Inscrutable character motivations and baffling blind spots coupled to a thuddingly dumb, disgracefully predictable good/evil plot-line without a single clever backflip or devious complication, thus reminding you that this is a viciously protected zillion-dollar franchise that was created, written and designed exclusively for 10-year-old boys (and now, they surely hope, a few girls, because of Rey, who is terrific, if lacking in discernible personality).

Rey! Daisy Ridley makes for an excellent heroine, badass and fierce. But she’s all surfaces. She gets nothing by way of truly marvelous lines or engaging personality tics, and she appears bafflingly clean and flawless in every shot she’s in, visually indistinguishable from one scene to the next (no hairstyle, outfit or gadget from this movie will become part of a Halloween costume in 2045, that’s for sure) despite years of living in the desert, being hurled around in spaceships, surviving multiple hand-to-hand battles and nearly dying and never, apparently, changing her clothes or taking a shower.

Rey never laughs. She never shrugs, or winks, or smirks. She has no trademark gesture, quirk, jewelry, flair of any kind whatsoever. She’s a feminist blank slate; strong and independent and a crazy-good fighter, but completely lacking in emotional or psychological complexity. Her sexuality is so completely muted, she might as well be a droid. She never gets to chew a scene like Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, whose protégé Rey is supposed to be. She’s only allowed to look tense and sweaty and scared and alarmed and fierce and confident, in turns and in combination. And John Boyega’s Finn, Rey’s supposed counterpart/love interest/whatever, doesn’t even have that range. He just pants a lot and looks frantic. Shame.

Han Solo makes far more than a cameo. He almost takes over the whole movie.

Han Solo makes far more than a cameo. He almost takes over the whole movie.

Partially memorable. The most docile, sanitized script imaginable. Terrific visuals, but not at all magical or extraordinary in any innovative way from what was already done nearly 40 years ago, save for the (completely desexualized) feminist heroine. Same old bipolar galaxy. Same old not-very-bright villains with inexplicable mask fetishes and plush ’70s haircuts (who are quite heavily sexualized, BTW, with their pulsing red light sabers, leather fetish masks and mystical powers of domination/submission).

Weird violence. Multiple, heavily populated planets are obliterated in a single 30-second scene of unimaginable horror, and no one much shrugs. Princess Leia clearly wishes she was in an entirely different movie, perhaps one involving cocktails. Surprising reliance on, and huge screen time for, Harrison Ford. Doubly true for a relentlessly cutesy robot that behaves exactly like a Golden Retriever puppy and which appears, often in flagrant counter-logic to the (laughably obvious) plot, in Every. Single. Scene.

Finale more predictable than Godzilla Meets Bambi. Bright spectacle, terrific pacing, a few good laughs, but little real fun and, with one notable exception, almost no emotional resonance. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) was, overall, a far better reimagining, due to the terrific variety of quirky characters he got to put into action (and interaction), even though Justin Lin now looks to have ruined that franchise by making Fast & Furious Goes to Outer Space. Watch for it. Or rather, don’t.

Force Awakens verdict: A lively enough distraction, has already made more money than God, but you can’t help wish they had taken a few real risks, interesting risks, besides the usual daddy issues and besides shoving in a weak mangling of Romeo & Juliet, AKA “the black Stormtrooper who apparently loves the Jedi white girl. Totally asexually, of course.”

As Chewbacca would say, “(Shrug).” Rating: Five stars. Out of 17. Can we go see Carol now?

Read more here:: ‘Force Awakens’ mini-review from a reluctant non-fan who would rather see ‘Spotlight’

Mark Morford

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