Angel’s Egg (1985)

I’ve long been a champion of animation, if not here then on Stef’s Cave, where I have a history of expounding the supremacy of animation over live-action filmmaking. This is one of those films that proves that I am right. What live-action film is there that is like this in terms of strange brilliance, sense of adventure, and ambition? Only the Czechoslovakian rendition of Alice in Wonderland is comparable, but this is an even greater mystery. We have in our midst a film whose meaning can, no, must be deteremined by the viewer, as not even the film’s creator, the famed anime film director Mamoru Oshii, seemed to have any idea what the film was about.

Here’s what I can get out of the film. An unnamed girl is travelling a vast, decrepit gothic city searching for food and water, all while carrying a large egg, seemingly with an intent to look after it. She eventually crosses paths with a boy carrying a wooden cross, who accompanies her for the remainder of the film. Neither seem to have any clue of how the world got to the way it is, but while they’re together, they reflect on their amnesia and discuss the bizarre few things they recall seeing.

The film’s most obvious trait is that there is little if any dialogue. In fact, out of the film’s entire 71-minute runtime, there may as well only have been about a few minutes worth of dialogue. The rest of the film is tension building and ominous atmosphere, all seemingly without a linear plot. You would think that I would be repelled by such a prospect, but the director seems to have done a good job of creating a film that sucks you in despite the lack of a clear plot. It makes you wonder about the world the film explores, and you ask yourself how long it might have been around in the context of the film, wondering whether it has been around forever or is the product of someone’s imagination.

The characters, though they don’t talk much, still have you invested in them. You want to know if the girl will ever see the egg hatch, and you want to what the boy’s true intentions are. Some questions are answered, but the most obvious ones are left unanswered, adrift in a sea of religious symbolism. Speaking of which, Oshii left a number of surreal, evocative imagery throughout the film. Why is the soldier boy carrying a cross? Is he the messiah, or perhaps a false prophet? The boy recounted his own, fatalistic interpretation of Noah’s Ark, and later on the entire city is flooded. Is the film’s plot a surrealistic version of Noah’s Ark? It’s worth noting that Mamoru Oshii used to be a Christian, but lost his faith before the film was produced. This has been called Oshii’s most personal film, and by that token, is this perhaps a reflection of his lost faith? An allegory of belief?

Given the lack of a coherent plot and sparse dialogue, the film has been treated as a work of animated art rather than a conventional film, and that fits because the film is a triumph of animated art. The art style is distinct in its brilliance, with characters and illustrations by the one and only Yoshitaka Amano. The dark and dreary colours represent the ominous mood of the film, which is captured by a beautiful, spare music score. The film itself leaves a great deal of answered questions in its wake, and a shock ending, but it’s very much worth it as a piece of bold, avant-garde animation. If you insist on only watching anime films for your whole life, please make this one of them.

  • Score: 86%
  • Grade: A

Alice (1988)

I’ve been seeking out obscure films for a good long while now, and sometimes you find an obscure film that is so unbelievably bizarre that you have to compel yourself to watch it, and it was more spectacular that I was perhaps prepared for. This of course is the bizarre Czechoslovakian retelling of Alice in Wonderland, as written and directed by Jan Švankmajer. His vision of the story rejected the conventional fairytale style of previous adaptations, and instead offers an amoral, surreal adventure that defies logic at every turn, and it’s an artistic triumph.

The plot of this film loosely follows the plot of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, following a bored Alice narrating herself in what appears to be a series of events that she has no idea how to navigate. She chases a taxidermically stuffed rabbit that suddenly comes to life, and finds herself working her way through Wonderland and its perils. Not many of the familiar characters can be found here, but the white rabbit, Mad Hatter, and the King and Queen of Hearts are here, recreated with what appear to be common household items. It’s also worth noting that the little girl who plays the role of Alice is also voice for all other characters in the film.

There’s only one actor in the whole film, but she manages to deliver a good performance as someone genuinely baffled by her surroundings, though surprisingly clever. The entire him is in Czech (sadly, without subtitles), but I didn’t care, because I didn’t watch this film for the acting. The plot is a very bizarre rendition of the familiar story of Alice, noticeably darker than fans of the old Disney adaptation might be used to, but it’s this unvarnished, sometimes nightmarish slant that makes it superior to all other adaptations if I must be frank.

Adding to this surrealistic twist is the film’s captivating use of stop motion animation, which fluidly creates the impression of a world that is removed from ours, one that comes to life and is ready to pounce on you at any moment. I should note that Švankmajer did not use miniature models to portray the special effects, which is rare and impressive considering the dearth of stop-motion feature films during the time the film was made. The film’s overall style of presentation and production design were also brilliant. The whole film reads like somebody took the book upon which every retelling Alice and Wonderland is based, ripped up the pages and turned it into a kind of abstract art.

And art is pretty much the best word to describe it. The Disney version of Alice was basically a familiar, but almost camp fairy tale that was saccharine to the point one could argue that it’s superficial. This version, however, says “to Hell with all that”, freeing Alice from the hypnotic spell of family-friendly sweetness, taking her to new realms without necessarily deviating heavily from the source material. In summation, it’s a classic of experimental fantasy, and I personally recommend it instead of any other version of Alice in Wonderland.

  • Score: 87%
  • Grade: A

Westworld (1973)

westworld_ver2With the arrival of the Westworld TV series, I came across the original film, the quintessentially 70’s sci-fi gem that inspired it. I must lament the proclivity of our times for flashy, big budget reboots. After all, the Westworld TV series has barely even started, and the mainstream press treats it like the best thing since sliced bread, all while barely any credit is given where it’s due, which is such a shame because this film was one of the most innovative films in sci-fi before the genre give way to big budget braggadocio.

The premise is familiar, but nonetheless a curious one. The film is set in an adult-oriented luxury amusement park named Delos, known for its hyper-realistic simulation of themed environments – Roman World, Medieval World, and of course Westworld. Each world is populated by androids that bear an uncanny resemblance to humans, and are programmed to cater to the whims of Delos patrons. However, a computer virus begins to spread throughout the system, and the robots begin acting against their programming, and some even start killing patrons. All the while, two patrons find themselves being stalked by a robotic gunslinger (unofficially the film’s mascot).

At first the story seemed vapid and sluggish in pace, perhaps an apt representation of a Delos patron wallowing in a fantasy that comprises principally of chasing animatronic prostitutes aimlessly. Of course, this is just building suspense up to the point when things start going wrong in the park. Among a number of themes, the story addresses the kind of comfort humans have gotten used to thanks to advances in technology, and how that dependence will eventually come back to haunt them. That’s the most obvious theme, but also the most prevalent in Westworld, whose slowly paced yet multi-faceted plot seem to allow for the blending of elements from Western, sci-fi and thriller films.

The acting and characters aren’t necessarily the best part, but in a way the two patrons serving as the film’s two main protagonists illustrate the vapidity of instant leisure. One of them, played by James Brolin, seems chiefly concerned with satiating his own lusts, to the point where he would rather stay in a hotel than partake in a simulated gunfight, which I would argue would be more fun. The other one, played by Richard Benjamin, doesn’t seem at all fazed by the sex, and is more interested in the more hands-on pleasures that hyper-realistic simulation has to offer. The character stealing the show, of course, is Yul Brynner’s gunslinger, based on Brynner’s character in The Magnificent Seven. You first see him in much the same way as a typical Western gunslinger, but as the virus spreads, the gunslinger’s true nature as a cold, efficient mechanical assassin is revealed, and it becomes the driving force of the rest of the story. As the Terminator of the 1970’s, Brynner’s performance was brilliant, and he barely even talked.

For its time, Westworld looked impressive, and in terms of atmosphere, it had the feel of a classically chilled 70’s sci-fi film Alongside the old-fashioned practical effects, the film also made use of digital image processing, where the gunslinger’s point of view is represented as a pixellated world, and this adds to the cold atmosphere that Westworld conveys. A lot of older sci-fi films from the early 70’s might seem cheesy today, but not Westworld, with its uncanny realism and chilling pace. The TV series may yet take the original concept to places it hadn’t been before, but it will never replace the original classic. No reboot can or ever will.

  • Score: 85%
  • Grade: A

Coming to America (1988)

zamundaBefore I start this review I feel obligated to state that, because I’m starting university tomorrow, I’m taking a break from writing film reviews for an as yet undetermined amount of time, so that I can figure out how to balance this with life in uni. For now, I may as well pick a film that I’m very familiar with by now. I know I previously chided the film’s director because of the dreadful Spies Like Us, but his work tends to be hit or miss, with this film definitely being one of the hits.

Most of us know what Coming to America is about – the story of a young African prince who has grown weary of living a life where he has everything handed to him, and despises the thought of marrying a bride who has been chosen for him. Going against his father’s wishes, he decides to look for love in a poor part of America, hoping to meet someone who will love him for more than his money and status.

Essentially its a kind of pop fairy tale, but it’s told very well, and in the kind of light-hearted fashion that works best for it. The main thing that helped was that the story was backed with a riotously laugh-filled script. It also helps that the writers knew how to convey the kind of scenario that they wanted. At the beginning of the film, there’s a lot of emphasis on how grandiose the kingdom is. You get the impression that it’s pretty much paradise, if you’re prepared to have things done for you. Akeem had pretty much everything done for him at his home, in contrast to when he goes to Queens, New York, where he has most of his and his servant’s belongings stolen when they arrive. He does basically everything himself, and develops into an admirably affable character. Of course, towards the end is where the film resembles a more typical romance film, complete with a token happy ending, but it all worked well.

Coming to America’s main strength is its humorous acting, with Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall taking the lead, and donning multiple roles in a practice that, after the film’s success, would come to be a staple of Murphy’s films. Murphy and Hall play all of their roles with exuberance and charismatic enthusiasm. It’s not just the main players that do well here. There’s a whole host of colourful characters who I felt had magnetic personalities – particularly from James Earl Jones and John Amos – perhaps due to the film’s style of humour (the film, after all, did have good writers behind it).

As far as presentation goes, it looked and sounded great, and in a way I think the two different settings perfectly reflect the kind of world the film’s main character transitions to and fro, though in a manner that I think is pretty obvious. As I may have mentioned earlier, the vibrant royal palace of Zamunda represents the kind of opulence and wealth that Akeem was brought up in and is tired of, while the snow-drenched borough of Queens represents the exact opposite of that, a cold indifference place where you have to work hard for everything. The music, though perhaps typical for the time, also helps to convey a warmly jovial atmosphere. Of course, the actual comedy is what keeps the film afloat, along with Murphy’s often booming voice.

Sadly, however, the film is the last great film in Eddie Murphy’s career, but you could say it’s his royal flush. Enduringly hilarious, charmingly magnetic, teeming with personality and replete with great scenes, it’s a good example of a warm comedy film done right, very much unlike the dull, unoriginal, and painfully unfunny comedies of today.

  • Score: 92%
  • Grade: A

When the Wind Blows (1986)

When_the_Wind_Blows_1986Based on a graphic novel by Raymond Briggs, When the Wind Blows is one of the more interesting films of the 1980’s, both in terms of its concept and the way in which it had been executed. In a time when the threat of nuclear war loomed over our shoulders, this film, made with the same team that brought you The Snowman, offered a bleak, realistic portrayal of what might have happened if the nuclear bomb were dropped.

The film tells this story through the perspective of a retired English couple. Jim and Hilda Bloggs live in a tidy cottage in rural Sussex, while Jim keeps reading the newspapers and listening to the radio to keep track of the deteriorating international situation. Much to his wife’s dismay, he prepares for the worst as instructed by the famous Protect and Survive pamphlets. Even after the bomb strikes and the fallout takes effect, the Bloggs couple remain adamant that they will survive the war as they did four decades prior.

The story starts off on a fairly calm tone, but as the film progresses, it quickly becomes a picture of stoic British optimism gradually descending into bleak pessimism, for even as Jim and Hilda continue struggling to the bitter end, their efforts merely see them waiting for the inevitable. The ending leaves what happens next to your imagination. For all we know, they may well have survived, but it’s likely that they don’t.

The film certainly takes an uncompromising approach, and it captures not only the visceral horror of what was then the hypothetical worst-case scenario, but also the human drama that is there continued perseverance, with a healthy dose of that quintessentially British “keep calm and carry on” mentality. Interestingly enough, Jim and Hilda Bloggs are the only two characters with speaking roles, and they are fittingly placed in the centre of the story.

I honestly liked these characters a lot, and it’s not because of their idealism. That’s to be expected. What I liked about them was that, no matter how misguided they may have been, they kept going until the bitter end, and they kept their cool along the way. That, to me, demonstrates a lot of character that I feel sorely needs to be promoted more in our culture. I also liked the humour and lively character that the two characters often demonstrated, and I felt that I could empathise with Jim Bloggs in some way (namely the fact that he always keeps abreast of world affairs).

The film also demonstrates a very charming style of hand-drawn animation, but I would say that it’s the darker and more experimental counterpart to The Snowman. I say this because it combines traditional hand-drawn animation with stop-motion animation (the objects in the Bloggs’ home rarely move, but are animated with stop-motion techniques when the do), and sometimes including real life footage, which adds to the bleak, sometimes haunting atmosphere that the film evokes. To add to this, the film opens in a very positive tone, to the tune of David Bowie’s song of the name (“When the Wind Blows” is a Bowie track that remains one of my personal favourites), and slowly progressing towards the bleak futility of the Bloggs’ death throes.

There have been many films that expressed the futility and horror of nuclear war, some of which were apparently shocking enough to have given people nightmares when they were new, but this film conveyed is in a way that it remains emotionally resonant. It’s a powerful and brilliant work of art that I feel is sorely underappreciated.

  • Score: 85%
  • Grade: A

The Devils (1971)

THE DEVILS - American Poster 1When I first heard of the film, I somehow thought it was going to be one of those Satanic horror films, but after reading into it I found myself more interested, and then I actually got the chance to see it. If you came in thinking this was a horror film, you’ve probably come to the wrong film, but it’s an even better film than I thought it would be. Dismissed by some as “distasteful” and “offensive” in its time (to the point that it was actually banned in 17 local authorities in Britain), the film is now regarded as one of Ken Russell’s best films (behind Women in Love, which I have yet to see myself), and I’d say that reputation is well-deserved.

Set in 1634, this is essentially a historical film that tells the story of Urbain Grandier, a Catholic well-regarded priest who is apparently known for ignoring his vow of celibacy. However, he is the object of the obsessions of Sister Jeanne des Agnes, a neurotic abbess who suffers from severe scoliosis. Her jealousy winds up driving her insane, and when inadvertently accuses Grandier of withcraft, she invites the zealous intervention of opportunistic church and government officials, eventually bringing about the demise of the man she was so obsessed with.

At first, the story didn’t seem to go anywhere, but then as it unfolds, the true madness of the film unravels, and it made for a captivating tale of fanaticism, and the sweeping paranoia of the age it was set in. I find that this film is also a very effective demonstration of how paranoia can be exploited by those who want to advance their agendas of power. All the while, it also plays out a tale of frustrated desires, as demonstrated by Sister Jeanne and her convent’s descent into madness, and their apparent cooperation with a clearly perverted “witch hunter”.

The performances are what carry the film with great talent. Oliver Reed gives a somewhat villainous yet incredibly charismatic performance as Urbain Grandier. He has the strange ability to seem both sinister and honourable at the same time, but Reed’s hour of power is saved for the last moments of the film, as he stands up against the people judging him even if he knows there’s no hope for him. Vanessa Redgrave also gave a magnificent performance as the salaciously insane abbess, and the supporting cast all deserve a standing ovation for their performance.

The film also sports a peculiarly opulent visual style. Derek Jarman’s modernistic white-tiled city will undoubtedly seem like an odd choice for a film set in 17th century France, but I like the design choice. There’s also a number of props that stand out, like the wheel with a corpse chained to it, the archaic wheel mechanism used to chip at the wall in Loudun, and the opening dance scene. The film is as much a visual trip as it is a hysteric fiesta, though the music score, for the most part, is quite sombre. The music generally seems to blend into the background of the film itself.

In conclusion, I contend that The Devils is an artistic triumph, stretching the limits of what could be shown on film. Laden with symbolism and lurid expressions of zeal, the film is a brilliant expression of the extremes of belief, and how they feed into frenzied paranoia. I just wish that I could get my hands on the uncut version.

  • Score: 87%
  • Grade: A

Dredd (2012)

Dredd2012PosterThe idea of a new Judge Dredd movie was very promising back in 2012, because as far I knew, the last movie based on the comic book character apparently must have been so bad that they’ll almost never show it on TV (at least in the UK). That being said, Dredd is a very different kind of comic book adaptation, with none of the idiotic pretensions you’ll find in Marvel of DC. Instead, it’s a straightforward, focused, and hard-hitting action film, and the end result is a film so outstanding that 152,000 fans want a TV show based on it.

The story is based loosely on the 2000 A.D. comic strip, but a few new characters and concepts. At the very beginning and end of the film, Dredd himself narrates everything you need to know about the story, which plays out in a giant concrete metropolis riddled with crime, with the only force of order being the Judges, who act as judge, jury and executioner. In the film, Dredd accompanies a new recruit with psychic abilities on a homocide case in a 200-storey apartment building, and are forced to deal with the ruling drug lord Ma-Ma.

Clocking in at only 95 minutes, the film is refreshingly straightforward, with a plot that moves at a fast and violent pace. The premise is a bit like the original Die Hard film, except Dredd uses this to illustrate just how big of a criminal problem exists in the world that Judge Dredd inhabits. As the story is told from the perspective of Judge Dredd, the film also had the opportunity to delve into Dredd’s character, but it seems to me that Dredd does the total opposite of what a character should do in a film. Normally in a work of fiction, you have characters how grow and develop over the course of the story, but Dredd doesn’t to do that. Dredd’s character remains static for the whole film.

However, thanks to Karl Urban’s solid performance as Dredd, this is turned into an advantage rather than a liability. In fact, Urban’s performance perfectly conveys the kind of character Judge Dredd should be, a hard-edged, uncompromising law enforcer that no criminal wants to mess with. Olivia Thirlby also performs well as the new recruit. At times, she seems quite cold in terms of personality, but she’s an engaging character, and one with everything to prove. Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey also shines in the film, but I was kind of disappointed at the fact that she’s a pretty aloof antagonist, distant from her surroundings.

The world of Dredd immediately comes across as a different kind of futuristic setting. It presents a gritty, down-to-earth vision of the future, but a lot of it resembles a more contemporary setting. I guess the producers weren’t interesting in something too far-fetched, and to their credit, the world of Judge Drudd packs quite a visual punch. The special effects are also worth mentioning as well. Certain points of the story run in slow motion, perhaps to illustrate the effects of the fictional Slo-Mo drug, a plot device within the film. This tends to give those scenes a dreamlike quality that starkly contrasts the rest of the film.

If the film is notable for anything, its the copious level of violence on display. Dredd is so violent it puts some of the 80’s action films to shame, and it’s often taken to ridiculous levels (with some characters getting skinned by the film’s villain before being dropped off the top of a high-rise building). It’s certainly an intense film, but while the violence can be a bit much for some, I think it’s another way of illustrating the kind of world the film is set in, and Dredd as a character. It certainly delivers one hell of an action-packed experience.

All in all, I’d say this film was the perfect way to introduce Judge Dredd to a newer generation of cinemagoers, as well as it being an outstanding action film in general. With talk of a Judge Dredd TV series going around, I’d say Dredd makes an excellent candidate for a TV series, since there’s still a lot that the film could have expanded on, but regardless, Dredd is an amazing action film on its own.

  • Score: 85%
  • Grade: A

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_PosterWhen Disney bought Lucasfilm three years ago, a lot of people, myself included, were expecting terrible things to happen to Star Wars (I remember a lot of jokes about Mickey Mouse swinging a lightsaber). Then, when I heard J. J. Abrams was going to direct it, I thought that things couldn’t have looked worse. After all, that was the same director who ruined Star Trek. Who would have thought that this new direction would turn out to be exactly what Star Wars needed?

Rather than alienating the fanbase, as the prequel trilogy did, the producers thought it would be best to try and recapture the spirit of the classic Star Wars films, and not only did they do that, they brought new life to Star Wars with a cast of strong new characters. In essence, this film takes the best aspects of the first three films and brings new elements into the mix. It’s also good that the film uses Luke Skywalker as a plot element rather than making him the star yet again, otherwise he’d overshadow the newer characters. Besides, with this approach, the Star Wars narrative has never been stronger. In fact, I firmly believe that this film has the strongest narrative since The Empire Strikes Back. However, there are still a lot of unresolved questions that, to avoid giving away spoilers, I won’t mention here in this review.

As for the characters themselves, there’s a fresh mix of old characters and new characters, all of which blend in really well with each other. It’s very refreshing to see the older characters again, but on the hand, I’m far more interested in the newer characters, and what potential they have for the upcoming sequels. In fact, the newer characters tend to outshine the older characters in this film, complete with the introduction a better villain. At the beginning, it can seem like the newer characters are trying to imitate the roles of the previous characters, but as the film progresses, they emerge as brilliant characters worthy of a place alongside the most beloved of the original characters. What helps is that the producers seem to have done a very good job at finding worthy actors to play the newer characters, and it pays off spectacularly well.

The film also boasts magnificent, cutting-edge visuals that absolutely dwarf those of the older films. The film also boasts several stunning set pieces and superb special effects, and they work very well with not just the spectacularly choreographed fight scenes, but also the darker the tone of the film as a whole. To be very honest, the only real complaint I have about the film is its use of the old transition wipes, which I would have thought went out of style ages ago. Other than that, it looks as though the force has made a thunderous return, and given that this film is meant to set up the rest of a whole trilogy, I’m very much anticipating what’s coming next in what I suspect will be a strong Star Wars trilogy for the next generation.

  • Score: 94%
  • Grade: A

Return of the Jedi (1983)

ReturnOfTheJediPoster1983Although it’s generally considered the weakest of the original trilogy, it’s still very much a worthy and essential part of the Star Wars series, in part because it still has many of the qualities that made the two previous films so great, just that it no longer packed the same punch. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great film. In fact, it certainly delivered a better conclusion to the trilogy than Revenge of the Sith did for the prequel trilogy.

In the film, continuing directly from the where the previous film left off, Luke and comrades attempt to rescue Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hut, while the Galactic Empire had already begun preparing a new and more powerful Death Star, hoping to crush what’s left of the rebel forces. Because the Emperor himself is overseeing construction, the rebels aim to strike the unfinished Death Star directly, in the hopes of killing the Emperor and restoring peace to the galaxy.

The film seems to have shifted from the darker tone of the previous film to a more positive tone reminiscent of the first film, which I think this film might have been a little too dependent on in terms of its direction. It could be argued that the producers were trying to achieve the best of both worlds, but ended up repeating the tone of the first film. It always seems worse when compared to its predecessors, but on its own, it’s still very much a stand-out film, and of course, it builds to a satisfying conclusion.

Return of the Jedi introduced a number of characters to the mix, but although there are a few memorable new characters (like Jabba the Hut for example), the film seems to be stuffed with a slew of minor characters that I don’t really care for. The existing characters, meanwhile, give performances that are just as strong as ever, and it’s nice that we got to see Darth Vader as more than just the villain (a fact that is demonstrated towards the end of the film).

Of course, the film also delivers on the technically wonderful special effects and visuals. Most memorably, there’s the lush, thick forests of Endor, the home of the Ewoks. The film also uses a lot more special effects in some of the newer characters, at least that’s what it seems to me. The film’s magnificent visual effects definitely compliment a film as ambitious as this. After all, The Empire Strikes Back was an enormously difficult act to follow, and the writers were in the position of closing an already epically ambitious trilogy. If anything, the film’s action scenes (and the set-pieces associated with them) reflect this lofty goal, right up to the climactic duel with Vader. It may be longer and slower than the other films, and it may not have had the same impact as the previous films, but it’s still a great closer for the classic film trilogy, and a great film in general.

  • Score: 89%
  • Grade: A

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

SW_-_Empire_Strikes_BackThe first Star Wars film may have been a classic, but I think we all know that it was basically building up for one of the strongest film sequels in the history of the medium. It certainly earned the highest esteem of any Star Wars film, usually considered the best of the whole series, and they’re right. All the ingredients for a commandingly brilliant sequel are certainly there. It built on the first film’s mythology and characters, it raised the stakes in terms of narrative, and it took the characters and the viewers to exciting new places. It’s really the best sequel this side of Terminator 2, though even as part of something bigger, it stands out as an extremely memorable moment in cinematic history.

In this film, set three years after its predecessor, the Galactic Empire had apparently driven the rebel forces out of their former base, forcing them to hide in a new base on the ice planet Hoth. The empire subsequently scours the galaxy in search of them, with Darth Vader insistent on capturing Luke Skywalker, who eventually goes to learn the ways of the force. Unbeknownst to Luke, his adversary may have a trick up his sleeve.

Of course, this film is memorable for its plot twists, which I won’t mention because I’m sure everybody knows them by now. Coupled with the noticeably darker tone of the film, this presented a more powerful, more nuanced, and more sophisticated narrative than the previous film did, and if I sound like I’m just using this film as a stick to beat the first film with, then maybe I am, but I might feel quite justified in doing so. After all, you probably know what’s coming with the first Star Wars film (though it hasn’t really lost its power), but this one grips you every time.

The acting improves slightly in this film, as I’m sure the main cast of Star Wars had become more confident about their roles. A few new characters were introduced, and they each brought something new to the table (at least for the time, this technically being the second Star Wars film). All the characters were brilliant on screen. Their performances amp up the drama significantly, and the characters themselves benefited from confident direction and fantastic writing.

Of course, I can’t go without mentioning the visual spectacle. The visuals are noticeably sharper than in the first film, and you can see that in the new worlds introduced in the film, from the icy wastes of Hoth to the swampy lair where Yoda lives, and from there to the airy, utopian-esque Cloud City, all ripe for the film’s unbridled fantasy. The film also demonstrates remarkable use of practical special effects, as can be seen in Yoda’s design. I’m sure that I’m not alone in saying that the Yoda of this film looked far better than the Yoda of the prequel trilogy. Not that I’m putting down the film’s CGI-laden action scenes, which, as always, are stunning displays of technical splendour.

There’s not a whole lot more I can say about this film actually, perhaps because it tends to speak for itself. As much of a visual spectacle as it is a triumph of epic storytelling, this film builds upon its predecessor as much as it possibly can, and yet leaves the audience wanting more, and perhaps that’s what every good sequel should do. Indeed, many sequels have since tried to emulate that quality, and nearly all of them failed.

  • Score: 97%
  • Grade: S