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New Escapist Column! On “Cruella” and Overly Determined Origin Stories…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Cruella in theatres and on Disney+, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the trend towards overly deterministic origin stories.

The origin story has arguably always been around, even if the term itself only really entered the mainstream through comic books and then making the leap into film criticism with comic book movies. Nevertheless, the recent trend of overly-determined origin stories betrays something frustrating about the state of our collective imagination. One of the most disappointing aspects of Cruella is the way that the film takes a simple but weird figure and paints an origin that is completely and predictably by the numbers.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Solo – A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is perhaps remarkable in how it is unremarkable.

That is not exactly fair. Most obviously, despite being the tenth theatrical release with a Star Wars brand, Solo: A Star Wars Story is still something relatively novel for a franchise; it is a big-screen outing that consciously and overtly marginalises a lot of what audiences have come to expect from the franchise. There are a host of familiar elements here, but often in minuscule amounts; either token gestures or sly continuity nods. Without confirming any of these elements are present, Solo certainly has fewer Jedi, Death Stars, representatives of the Empire, officially designated rebels, or lightsabers than most Star Wars films.

The Wookie and the Rookie.

More than that, the film’s production was notably troubled, which is striking for a production company as efficient as Disney and Lucasfilm. Original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller finished shooting their version of the film, and were fired during the editing process. Reportedly, seventy percent of Solowas reshot by Ron Howard. Given the schedule demands of the actors involved, the complicated mechanics of the set pieces, and the budget of the film, this was no small undertaking. On paper, Solo would appear to have more in common with a film like Justice League or Suicide Squad than even the troubled Rogue One.

With all of that in mind, it is a credit to Howard that Solo turns out as well as it did. Howard is an efficient and often underrated director, one with a clean eye and with a clear storytelling style. Howard’s films tend to be unfussy and uncomplicated, a director who never gets in the way of the story being told. This is something of an underappreciated virtue, with Howard’s films often maintaining a firm grasp on the fundamentals of storytelling. Howard’s characters tend to have clear arcs and tangible motivations, with very little getting lost in the shuffle. Howard’s direction is unobtrusive, which likely made him such a good fit for this particular film in these particular circumstances.

On the cards…

Watching the film, there is little sense of competing tones or contrasting visions. There are moments over the course of the film when the cast are noticeably more playful, their banter a little more conversational and the comic rhythms a little more pronounced. However, Solo never misses a beat, never turns to sharply, never transitions too jarringly. There is a strange sense, watching Solo, that absolutely everything has ended up right where it was supposed to be with a minimum amount of fuss. There is absolutely nothing about the finished product screams “troubled production.”

At the same time, nothing about Solo screams anything at all.

Going Solo.

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