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Han Solo's Star Wars movie is entertaining but unremarkable by Ryan Hill

 
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After The Force Awakens, Rogue One and the upcoming Episode IX, it’s almost expected a new Star Wars film is going to have production issues. Expectations are always through the roof for a Star Wars film, and there’s simply too much money – via box office, merchandising, life – riding on each new entry to not get it right. Solo is no exception and may have been the most difficult of all, firing the directors in the middle of production.

First thing’s first. Most films that fire their director (or directors, in Solo’s case) during production don’t turn out well. Solo turned out just fine.

Solo finds the title character (played by Alden Ehrenreich) starting out on his journey toward full scoundrel, even introducing a younger Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and the famed Kessel Run that’s been mentioned throughout the series. This Solo isn’t on the run from Jabba the Hut; no, he’s lovelorn over being separated from his love Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) and wants nothing more than to reunite with her. That and be a pilot.

After directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the two Jump Street movies, The LEGO Movie) were let go, Ron Howard was brought in to right the ship. The Oscar-winning director shot around 70 percent of the finished product, but it’s unclear what shape Lord and Miller’s footage was in – at least the footage that wasn’t used. What’s there, like Howard’s is fine but unremarkable.

The combined work seen in Solo is fun, but it’s clear some scenes were rushed as Howard & Co. had less than a year to make that May 25, 2018 release date. Cinematography in some scenes, especially early in the film, are too smoky (hopefully watching Solo on Blu-ray or in 4K definition will clear that up), there’s very little in the way of insert shots or anything that resembles nuance. The filmmakers simply had no time. The most compelling character is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s equal-rights-for-all android, L3-37, probably due to the special effects crew being hard at work well before Howard took over.

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Ehrenreich (Hail Caesar!), given the awesome opportunity to play Han Solo but also the unenviable task of replacing Harrison Ford, is perfectly fine in the role. He doesn’t have Ford’s charisma, but it’s important to note that this iteration of Solo isn’t that Solo. The seeds are there, but he’s young, optimistic and a bit naïve. The main standout besides Waller-Bridge is, of course, Glover as Lando. Glover’s always had that “it” factor, but channeling Billy Dee Williams sends his charisma into the cosmos.

Get it? Cosmos? Because this is a review for a Star Wars movie?

If the powers-that-be had pushed Solo’s release back to, say, Christmas 2018, following in the pattern of every Star Wars film since The Force Awakens, Ron Howard maybe could’ve crafted something special. It’s amazing he pulled off what he did and yes, Solo is worth seeing. It’s broad, easily digestible and is better than Rogue One, which really lags in the middle. But this is Han freakin’ Solo. A movie bearing his name should be more than just worth seeing.

Maybe if there’s a sequel, they’ll hit it out of the park. But what would it be called? Solo 2: Flyin’ Solo? Solo 2 Solo? Solo 2: 2 Solo’s Make A Couple? Solo 2: The Chewie Connection? Solo 2: Time to Lando? Book of Shadows: Solo 2?

 

 

Spider-Man’s “Homecoming” is Pretty Amazing by Ryan Hill

 

There was a minute there when nobody cared about a Spider-Man movie anymore. After the disappointment of “Spider-Man 3” in 2007, the series was rebooted in 2012 to mixed results, and that reboot was scuttled after only two films. It seemed Spider-Man could no longer do whatever a spider could. The character was so downtrodden, Spidey’s parent studio worked out a deal with Marvel to use the character in their cinematic universe.

Now, after all these years, Spider-Man is finally home with “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

But does the world need a second reboot of Spider-Man, the sixth film featuring the web-slinger since 2001? In the hands of Marvel, the answer is hell yes.

“Captain America: Civil War” gave the world a glimpse at what Marvel could do with their most popular character. In short, they nailed Spider-Man. In the web-slinger’s limited screen time, Tom Holland portrayed the character with a perfect mix of wonder, amazement and snark. The Tobey Maguire trilogy was good but mopey, the Andrew Garfield films were, eh, whatever, but “Homecoming” is everything that makes Spider-Man so great.

“Homecoming” ignores Spider-Man’s origin story, but still focuses on Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s life in high school. He’s tormented by the bully Flash, crushing hard on his debate team colleague Liz, and wishing more than anything Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) would make him a full-time Avenger.

But the fifteen-year-old Parker has bigger fish to fry outside of the classroom, like stopping Vulture (Michael Keaton) from stealing weaponry left behind in the wake of battles fought by the Avengers.

Director Jon Watts, who made the Kevin Bacon indie “Cop Car,” also knows just how New York-centric Spider-Man is. Without the skyscrapers of that metropolis to swing from, Spidey is left to hitch rides on trains or run around, resulting in a great “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” homage. It’s one of many nods to the great John Hughes, which “Homecoming” takes most of its cues from. The film is very much in the vein of a Hughes film, just with … you know … a guy running around in red tights shooting webs from his wrists.

“Homecoming” is one of the most fun blockbusters – comic book or otherwise – out there. It rivals “Guardians of the Galaxy” for sheer joy and is as good as, if not better than, “Spider-Man 2,” which is considered one of the best superhero films ever made. It even has a solid villain in Vulture, something the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been missing outside of Loki, who even then hasn’t been fully utilized.

The key word for “Homecoming” is fun. By keeping the stakes lower – Spider-Man doesn’t have to save the world – the film avoids the underlying sadness of Ben Parker’s death, which anchored the original trilogy, and veer away from pretty much everything in the “Amazing Spider-Man” films. Marvel is free to embrace the Spider-Man character, relishing in Peter’s high school years, but without that pesky origin story.

It’s also one of the best Marvel films, and arguably the best Spider-Man film ever.