Solo: A Star Wars Letdown

There aren’t a whole lot of films that could open to over $100 million at the box office and legitimately be considered a major disappointment. Those pictures generally belong in the Marvel Cinematic Universe or other massive franchises. For instance, if next month’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom only makes that figure, that would be bad news for Universal Pictures and the series long-term viability.

Of course, there is no franchise bigger than that of Star Wars. Spanning over four decades and now on its 10th feature, there had yet to be a true example of an entry coming in well below expectations. Until now. Solo: A Star Wars Story, just a week ago or so, was projected to set the Memorial Day weekend record by outpacing the $139 million earned in 2007 by another Disney property, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

It didn’t. Like… at all. The current four-day estimate (final numbers tomorrow) puts Solo at $103 million. I had pegged it at $151 million. Oops. That actually puts it at just #7 as far as the holiday goes. That’s not only behind Pirates, but after Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, XMen: The Last Stand, Fast & Furious 6, XMen: Days of Future Past, and even The Hangover Part II. Ouch.

So the natural question… why? Predicting where the money earned by moviegoers at the box office is a tricky proposition… I try to estimate it every week. Sometimes I’m great at it and sometimes not (this would obviously be a case of the latter). Solo is the second stand-alone effort in the franchise behind 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While they’re not expected to make the coin that the official episodes take in, Rogue debuted to $155 million in three days just a year and a half ago.

This latest entry focuses on an iconic character that has more name recognition than all the people (with a notable exception or two) in Rogue One put together. Sure there’s backlash about an actor other than Harrison Ford playing him, but that wasn’t expected to spark a hugely worrisome backlash as far as box office numbers.

Could it be the reviews? That might be a bit of it. Solo stands at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and that’s low for this franchise. Yet that rating isn’t terrible or anything. My own review used the word ambivalent for my overall reaction to it:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/05/27/solo-a-star-wars-story-movie-review/

And therein could lie the true key. Looking over the lengthy history of the series, Star Wars films have truly been Event Pictures. Ones that are breathlessly awaited and spawn endless speculation prior to their releases. The original trilogy saw three-year gaps between releases. It was then 16 years before the second and considerably less regarded trilogy arrived and they also saw three-year waits between servings. Those like me that remember the buildup to 1999’s The Phantom Menace (no matter how much it disappointed upon release) would argue it rivaled and probably exceeded that of The Force Awakens in 2015.

Since Disney took over the release reigns, we have been guaranteed a Star Wars pic a year. That tremendously dilutes the Event Picture status. Rogue One had the benefit of arriving a year after Force Awakens set every box office record. The Last Jedi didn’t match the grosses of Awakens… to the tune of $316 million less. That said, its $620 million haul is nothing to be too worried about.

Solo arriving only five months later and with so-so buzz left it as the least anticipated Star Wars experience to date. The barely nine figure gross out of the gate showed that audiences were a bit ambivalent about it.

Will that cause the Mouse Factory to rethink the release date pattern? It’s probably a good thing that Episode IX won’t be out until December 2019. The official episodes, by the way, will always have an anticipation factor that the stand-alone variety will not. And Disney might want to consider making those side projects feel a little more special or that ambivalence might continue to grow.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

I have an ambivalent feeling about this. And there I am with Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is competently directed and acted, has the impressive battle scenes you expect in this franchise, and manages to be underwhelming at the same time. It is the first occurrence of Disney’s resurgence of the forty-year plus series seeming inconsequential, a feeling that didn’t permeate Rogue One (2016’s first stand-alone entry in the galaxy far far away).

Here is a franchise, more than any other, that elicits strong emotions from its legions of fans both positively and negatively. After all, the original episodes IV-VI trilogy has inspired generations of filmmakers and other blockbusters. Episode I-III sparked a backlash where its multitude of detractors still foam at the mouth speaking of it. Even last year’s The Last Jedi had vigorous supporters and naysayers extolling its virtues or pitfalls.

Solo shouldn’t be picked part in that manner. Oh, it probably will. Yet my reaction is it doesn’t really deserve that much scrutiny. This is basically a breezy heist flick transplanted into a familiar cinematic universe. The backlash of casting a younger actor to fill the shoes of a role Harrison Ford made iconic? It’s not a disaster by any means, but Alden Ehrenreich isn’t memorable either. No surprise but when you hear the words Han Solo after viewing this, you’ll think of the older one with fondness.

The picture shows us a youthful Han wishing to become a pilot and willing to team up with unsavory characters to do so. He has an insubordinate streak that naturally rejects the evil ways of the Empire, but he hardly considers himself a hero. We know better. The love of his current life is Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), who he’s separated from and makes a vow to rescue from Imperial servitude from villainous Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). Han needs a ship to make that happen and that costs money. His mission leads him to partner with thief Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew. Oh and there’s a notable Wookie involved and a swagger filled Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). And that ship he finds… like you don’t know…

Han’s journeys take him to multiple galaxies with a second half that feels like one continuous action sequence. There are, of course, nods to the franchise lore. Solo, though, feels the most removed from everything we’ve seen before. If it often has the vibe of a cash grab to fill time between traditional episodes, that’s because it kind of is. Ron Howard took over the behind the camera duties after the well-publicized removal of Christopher Miller and Phil Lord months into production. I didn’t have a strange sense of competing visions while viewing it. If anything, Howard certainly seems like the filmmaker here with its workmanlike sensibilities and lack of genuine style.

The cast is filled with familiar faces putting in serviceable performances. Glover gets a couple of moments to shine, but my favorite supporting work came from the more unfamiliar Phoebe Waller-Bridge as the voice of sassy droid L3. Bettany is a decent villain in a series with previous monumental ones. As mentioned, the conventions of the heist genre are all present with double crosses aplenty.

The Star Wars series is one in which the fans rarely forget a detail. Solo: A Star Wars Story is ultimately rather forgettable. Sure it’s an easy watch, but focusing deeply on it seems like giving it too much credit.

**1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As you may have heard, there’s this movie coming out on Friday called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It’s the first spin-off in the heralded franchise (taking place between Episodes III and IV) and the eighth entry overall in the series.

At noon sharp, the review embargo on Rogue lapsed and we’ve seen a flood of critical reactions come in this afternoon. The verdict? Pretty darn good so far. It stands at 82% at press time on Rotten Tomatoes with several reviewers calling it an action-packed ride geared more towards adult and mega-fans. Not all write-ups have been totally positive. The bottom line is this: Rogue One will not get a Best Picture nomination at this year’s Academy Awards nor will its director, Gareth Edwards.

However, that wasn’t really expected. The real question is whether or not it receives any nominations. If it didn’t, Rogue One would the first Star Wars entry not to do so. Let’s take a trip down franchise lane, shall we?

1977’s Star Wars received a whopping nine nominations and won six. The three it missed out on were all biggies and they were all to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay. 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back was nominated for three and was victorious in Sound Mixing. The rest of the sequels and prequels – 1983’s Return of the Jedi, 1999’s The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones, 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, last year’s The Force Awakens – received a total of 14 nominations (all in technical and musical score races) and won zero.

My feeling is that Rogue One has little chance of breaking the no nomination streak. I’ve got it currently predicted for three categories: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. It also stands a shot at Original Score. Yet like the five pics before it, I would estimate it also will not win in those races.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Top 25 Highest Grossing Actresses of All Time (20-16)

Continuing on with the Top 25 Highest Grossing Actresses in box office history, today brings us to part two and numbers 20-16.

In case you missed part one, you can find here it here –

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/06/09/top-25-highest-grossing-actresses-of-all-time-25-21/

Here we go:

20. Meryl Streep

Career Earnings: $2 billion

Franchises: None

Highest Grossing Picture: Mamma Mia! (2008) – $144 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 6 (Mamma Mia!, Into the Woods, The Devil Wears Prada, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, It’s Complicated, Kramer vs. Kramer)

Lowest Grosser: Dark Matter (2008) – $30,000

Overall Rank: 94

19. Amy Adams

Career Earnings: $2 billion

Franchises: Current Superman/Batman films

Highest Grossing Picture: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) – $329 million

Number of $100M+ Earners: 7 (Batman v Superman, Man of Steel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Catch Me If You Can, American Hustle, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Enchanted)

Lowest Grosser: Standing Still (2006) – $30,000

Overall Rank: 93

18. Natalie Portman

Career Earnings: $2 billion

Franchises: Star Wars episodes I-III, Thor

Highest Grossing Picture: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) – $474 million

Numbers of $100M+ Earners: 6 (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Black Swan, Thor, Thor: The Dark World)

Lowest Grosser: The Other Woman (2011) – $25,000

Overall Rank: 85

17. Sally Field

Career Earnings: $2 billion

Franchises: Second Spider-Man series

Highest Grossing Picture: Forrest Gump (1994) – $330 million

Numbers of $100M+ Earners: Forrest Gump, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, Lincoln, Smokey and the Bandit

Lowest Grosser: Two Weeks (2006) – $47,000

Overall Rank: 94

16. Zoe Saldana

Career Earnings: $2 billion

Franchises: Star Trek (with Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy soon to follow)

Highest Grossing Picture: Avatar (2009) – $760 million

Numbers of $100M+ Earners: 4 (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness)

Lowest Grosser: The Skeptic (2009) – $1,000

Overall Rank: 82

I’ll bring you numbers 15-11 tomorrow!

Top 25 Best Movie Trailers (1990-2015): Nos. 10-6

This evening we arrive at part four of my personal top 25 best movie trailers of the last 25 years and that means we’ve reached the top ten! We’ve got numbers 10-6 tonight with the top five coming tomorrow. Here we go:

10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

This simple yet very effective teaser for Jim Cameron’s follow-up to his 1984 sci-fi hit shows Arnold’s famous Terminator being assembled with the money line at the end, “I’ll be back.” As good as teasers get.

9. Watchmen (2009)

With its Smashing Pumpkins track being used to great effect, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the famed graphic novel is an expertly edited and visually beautiful trailer that rightly got fan boys into a tizzy a few years back.

8. Independence Day (1996)

So Roland Emmerich’s smash hit was a bit underwhelming and too silly in my view, but this teaser showing the impending alien invasion was all kinds of awesome with its White House money shot to top it off.

7. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

Expectations were sky high for the sequel to 1999’s watershed science fiction pic and the trailer for Reloaded delivered on every front with its eye popping visuals, even if the film itself was seen as a letdown by many.

6. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menance (1999)

Yes, I could have listed the trailer for the upcoming Force Awakens here. Yet for those old enough to remember, whether the picture itself turned out well (and it really didn’t), this teaser for Episode 1 was and is probably the most breathlessly awaited teaser ever. It succeeded at stoking the anticipation for the world’s most famous franchise to return.

Tune in tomorrow to check out my top 5, ladies and gents!