What once seemed like a brave new era of adventure in a galaxy far far away has rather stewed of late. While there’s no denying a franchise so casually able to earn hundreds of millions, if not billions, at the box office still holds fond regard in hearts and minds across the globe, Disney’s reborn Star Wars all too quickly shed its early sparkle. If The Force Awakens took things to light speed on the power of nostalgia, an internal failure to configure a future for Star Wars beyond the past has rendered it all rather vanilla. Rogue One had it, Solo didn’t; as for The Last Jedi, that depends on who you ask. Now comes The Rise of Skywalker – grand finale to a nonology four decades in the making – less victory lap than MOT with longevity to prove.
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It is with much the same liberated creative abandon that saw him split the spine of one or two Star Wars mainstays that Rian Johnson now cuts into Christie and the classically camp whodunnit candle her novels lit way back in the thirties. Knives Out honours such tradition but wears alien debts to Hitchcock and The Fugitive with equal pride. Originality stabs through all with an flare for boundless wit and nose for the tension it sporadically breaks. The cast are sublime and gothic manor setting pitch perfect. It’s all very knowing, very smart and very deliberately subversive. All of that and a real crowd pleaser in the very best meaning of the phrase.
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Having been so successfully welcomed back to the jungle in Jack Kasdan’s 2017 Jumanji revival, audiences must surely have higher expectations for the director’s second stab. Lower them. Not by much but enough for some due tempering. The Next Level has its moments but fewer laughs, less momentum and a noticeably longer runtime – an admittedly harsh critique of four additional minutes. An improved second half ramps things up towards an enjoyable finale, promising at least one more sequel, but the weight of familiarity teeters of contempt when things drag prior.
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