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quarta-feira, 16 de dezembro de 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens review: 'the magic is back'
Fun, fresh-faced leads; a terrifying, three-dimensional villain; a lightsaber battle for the ages. Fear not, Star Wars fans: JJ Abrams has made the sequel of your dreams
“This will begin to make things right,” mutters Max von Sydow gravely – and you cast Max von Sydow knowing that’s exactly how he’ll mutter it – in the first earthbound scene ofStar Wars: The Force Awakens.
The "this" in question is a star-map that reveals the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and you might say that during the events of the last 30 or so years, his presence has been sorely missed.
That’s certainly true in the world of The Force Awakens. The film’s familiar opening crawl of golden text reveals that Skywalker vanished shortly after the events of Return of the Jedi, while the power vacuum left by the vanquished Empire was filled by the fascistic First Order, with their fancy new TIE fighters and stormtrooper armour, and startlingly no-nonsense approach to interplanetary ethnic cleansing.
But it’s also plainly Disney’s own hope for their newly purchased $4.05 billion franchise. Couched in The Force Awakens’ title is the implication that the Force had at some point nodded off – arguably at some point between 1997, and the release of George Lucas’s uneasily re-worked "special editions" of the original trilogy, and 1999, when Jar Jar Binks first reared his unlovely head. From the off, JJ Abrams’s film sets out to shake Star Wars from its slumber, and reconnect the series with its much-pined-for past.
That it achieves this both immediately and joyously is perhaps the single greatest relief of the movie-going year. In the film’s first shot, the silhouette of a Star Destroyer slices across a pale planet as cleanly and evilly as the cloud does across the moon in the opening sequence of Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, and it’s a forearm-prickling sight – not only because the image is beautiful, but also because it very deliberately recalls the first, cinema-shaking appearance that same spacecraft made in the prologue of Lucas’s original Star Wars film in 1977.
As a director, Abrams has always been less of an auteur than an upholsterer. In his terrific 2009 reboot ofStar Trek, he got together a range of well-worn action scenes and plot manoeuvres – from the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones films as much as the Gene Roddenberry television series on which it was based – and re-sprung and re-covered them, giving a new generation something to bounce on.
His approach to Star Wars is much the same, although it seems to have paid even greater dividends. Unlike Lucas’s prequel trilogy, this is no bewildering science-fiction opus, but a punchy, personal fantasy adventure that connects to the three original films in much the same way as, say, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader does to CS Lewis’s original Lion-Witch-Wardrobe knockout combo.
There are moments of drama and excitement here that are pure late-Seventies vintage, although The Force Awakens’ new leads – a young woman and a young black man, neither one an obvious heir to the Skywalker Aryan farm-boy mantle – show that stories set a long time ago in faraway galaxies can still move with the times when it counts.
The new heroes of The Force Awakens are brightly drawn, occasionally surprising, and an endless pleasure to spend time with. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a scavenger from a far-flung junk-pile of a planet called Jakku, while Finn (John Boyega) – AKA stormtrooper FN-2187 – is a First Order conscript who goes AWOL after his squad puts a village to death in the search for the Skywalker star-map.
Both are brave, charming and funny, but in very different, complementary ways: Rey is testy, decisive and independently minded, while Finn only wants to be thought of as the daring freedom-fighter he’s not quite sure he’s cut out to be.
He’s partly inspired by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the Resistance’s best pilot, who, along with his (adorable) spherical astromech droid, BB-8, is responsible for bringing Rey and Finn together. Poe is a dashing, dry-humoured swashbuckler – in short, he’s like Han Solo was 40 years ago, and the likeness is all the more striking considering Han himself (Harrison Ford) is also in situ.
While Luke and General Leia (Carrie Fisher, still regal, if no longer a princess) are present mainly in a torch-passing capacity, Han and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) play central roles, Ford giving Solo a sardonic, rough-chinned world-weariness that’s perhaps not entirely down to acting, but brilliantly cuts across Boyega’s (very funny) half-brave, half-anxious, would-be-heroic schtick.
Among the other newcomers, Lupita Nyong’o fits in nicely as the space pirate Maz Kanata – think an orange Yoda with an in-house ska band – while Gwendoline Christie’s silver-armoured First Order stormtrooper Captain Phasma feels a little underplayed. Domhnall Gleeson, as the evil General Hux, gets to stride around snarling things like “use the ventral cannons”, while Andy Serkis’s Supreme Leader Snoke is a sepulchral horror with a face that makes the Emperor look like Zac Efron.
Yet crowded as the stage is, Abrams and his co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, keep the drama rivetingly clean-cut: for the most part, The Force Awakens is a four-person story. Three of them are Rey, Finn and Han. The fourth is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – a hot-headed, radicalised Dark Side jihadi, whose red lightsaber splutters and crackles as violently as his temper.
To describe Kylo Ren as this film’s Vader would be accurate in a sense (black cloak, polished headgear, husky voice). But it would also be to undersell the deep ingenuity with which this astonishing character has been crafted by Abrams, Kasdan and Arndt, and also the wells of emotional tumult Driver invests in him.
Kylo Ren is a genuinely scary presence (in a mostly family-friendly way) throughout: his Force levitations of unfortunate underlings, in particular, have the eerie abruptness of poltergeist activity. But there are a few scenes towards the climax of the film (no more details on these, because the red dot from a Lucasfilm sniper rifle is trained on my forehead) in which elements of Ren’s essential character are revealed, and the bottom suddenly drops out of the fun, turning the film into a kind of multi-coloured Jacobean blood tragedy.
I’ll avoid straying into spoiler territory, but if the original three Star Wars films were about young goodness triumphing over ingrained evil, The Force Awakens very cleverly turns this narrative back on itself.
It’s storytelling like this – addictively bold and wildly exciting – that sends The Force Awakens surging through your capillaries and straight to your heart, even more so than the beautifully styled planets (I loved the moss-draped, sylvan idyll of Takodana), the rubbery monsters, the measured pacing (characters actually talk to each other!), and the heavy dusting of nostalgia.
I’ll confess to crying three times during the film: once during Rey and Finn's escape from Jakku, when I realised that Star Wars was in safe hands, again during one particular Kylo Ren scene which I’ve gone out of my way not to describe above, and also during the climactic lightsaber duel, framed by frozen trees and illuminated by flares of red and blue electricity – which I suspect, on an initial watch, might be the most thrilling battle of its kind to date.
You wouldn’t describe the choreography as snazzy, but the dramatic stakes are dizzying. Never mind the spacecraft and explosions. Two beautiful faces in tight close up, dramatically lit and blazing with emotion? That’s what cinema is for.