BARE BONES: RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021)

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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021)

500 years ago the united peoples of the kingdom of Kumandra fell under attack by sinister beings known as the Druun. The Druun turned all they encountered into stone, till the dragons of Kumandra vanquished them at the cost of their own lives. Over the years, the people split into five kingdoms with only the magical dragon gem to keep the Druun away. When treachery splits the gem into five pieces and thus allows the Druun to return, Princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) of the Heart tribe must seek out the legendary last dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) to reunite the pieces of the gem and defeat the Druun once and for all. Standing in her way is bitter rival Namaari (Gemma Chan) of the Fang tribe and 500 years of mistrust between the peoples of this fragmented kingdom.

Film is directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López from a script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim (screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians) and is a fun and very colorful fantasy adventure. Raya is a noble and likable heroine, if not a bit cocky, and a good fit for Last Jedi/Rise of Skywalker’s Kelly Marie Tran, who voices her well. Awkwafina, is having a blast as the goofy, hyperactive and hopeful dragon, Sisu, who can transform into human form and back at will. They work well together and the characters are a nice balance to each other. There is also a colorful group of supporting characters, both good and bad, and the film movies quickly, as Raya seeks out Sisu and then needs to steal all five parts of the gem to reunite it. This is all done under the gun, as the Druun are quickly overtaking the five tribes and laying waste to all the land. There is adventure, escapes, betrayal and unexpected friendships and even if it is a bit predictable, it’s a lot of fun and has a lot of heart. The South Asian-centric design for both land and characters is visually sumptuous and imaginative and the animation is top notch. A really fun and engaging fantasy tale with endearing characters and a classic quest/adventure storyline that includes a nice emotional center. Fun for the whole family.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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REVIEW: STAR WARS-THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

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STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The Rise of Skywalker is the ninth and supposedly final chapter in the Star Wars saga, or at least the Skywalker family involvement in it. It takes place a year after The Last Jedi with the galaxy horrified at a signal sent out claiming to be that of the Emperor himself, Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). The Sith lord has amassed a fleet of Star Destroyers, all with Death Star-like cannons and plans to take over the galaxy once and for all. Now Rey (Daisy Ridley) must bring to bare all her Jedi powers and find a Sith device that will lead the rebels to where Palpatine and his doomsday fleet are hiding, to strike them before they can deploy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his Knights of Ren are in pursuit and rebellion heroes Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) along with General Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the legendary Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) must somehow unite a galaxy against this overwhelming threat.

This final chapter is written and directed by J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens, Star Trek) who co-wrote the script with Chris Terrio. As you can tell by the plot synopsis, this is an overloaded mess, but it’s an action-packed and entertaining one. It is still an improvement over the lackluster retread that was The Force Awakens and more fun than the moody Last Jedi. What will really irritate hardcore Star Wars fans is Abrams takes a lot of liberties here with the mythos, giving new force powers whenever he’s written himself into a corner, like Rey having healing powers and Palpatine able to drop fleets of ships out of the sky with his fingertips. We also have yet another doomsday weapon…or fleet of them…that can easily be stopped by blowing something up. Will the Empire ever learn? Speaking of which, when Palpatine re-emerges, the First Order seems to just disappear like a small company being absorbed out of existence in a corporate merger. Suddenly everyone, except for a vengeful Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), seems to now work for The Emperor. The flick also jumps from one place and adventure to another very quickly as Rey tries to find her way to a lair that Palpatine wants her to come to all along. Why not just send her an invite with a nice fruit basket? A lot of it seems to be made up as it goes along, though it’s not an unpleasant ride. First off, we are all pretty endeared to the new characters and Abrams does let us visit the classic characters one more time. Also, there is a lot of spectacular action and it might be the most visually impressive Star Wars flick yet, with so many worlds and characters to visit. It’s a fun 142 minutes, even if you will be scratching your head at times as to where it’s all headed and if you are inflexibly loyal to the classic canon, you might be in for a rough ride. At least the very last scene does sentimentally provide a nice farewell, yet also hints that maybe we haven’t seen the last of Rey, now that her involvement in the Skywalker saga is at an end.

There is a big cast here. Daisy Ridley has really grown into Rey and it would be fun to see her strike out in her own series of adventures now free of this storyline. Ridley is charming and likable and can exude a strength that make her ascension to powerful Jedi believable. Issac and Boyega are good as her rebel buds Poe and Finn and there is a bit of a rivalry between the three that was fun, though underdeveloped. Driver is once again good as the conflicted Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, though his story thread didn’t end with the impact it should have, especially during the very convoluted final confrontation. We get to see Carrie Fisher (unused footage from the previous installments), Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and even Billy Dee Williams again in various incarnations and it was nice to see the classics one more time. If one thing Rise of Skywalker gets right is all the nods to the previous films. We even get some Ewoks. As for new characters, most go underdeveloped and were unnecessary at this point…spin-offs maybe?…but at least Kelly Marie Tran got some better dialogue as Rose and seemed more sturdy in a somewhat abbreviated role. There are also some vocal cameos, see if you can catch them all.

Overall, chapter nine is a bloated mess of a series finale, though one that still manages to dazzle and entertain. The story is convoluted from the beginning and sometimes seems made up as it goes along. It is filled with some spectacular action and eye-popping visuals and it’s final frames are satisfying as a goodbye to this classic series. Now as Rey was one of the best things to come out of this sequel trilogy, maybe she can strike out with her own adventures, the character deserves more attention and Ridley could certainly carry her own flicks. As a whole, this trilogy disappointed and did not give us the send-off to the classic characters that we wanted, but there was some spectacular action along the way and we did get some new characters worthy of their own adventures, or at least a Disney streaming series.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 (out of 4) Millenium Falcons.

 

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