Two films came out last week. One was Cats, the adaptation of the iconic Andrew Lloyd Weber musical starring creatures that would likely haunt your come-down nightmares. The other is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the conclusion of the third trilogy of main movies in the popular franchise that, without fail, was going to piss somebody off no matter what the quality of them was.
Both are bad. Let’s talk about why!
Cats is a weird, audacious clusterfuck that is really difficult to justify in words. And it’s not like this was an easy property to adapt anyway-Cats does not have a plot so to speak. They just saunter out one by one and sing about themselves, ones does the breakaway pop hit, and another cat decides who gets to be reincarnated. It’s about as straightforward as that, but it makes it kind of difficult to make into a big screen adaptation without some changes. And there…are. But obviously that’s not the biggest sticking point against the film, that would lie with the effects.
It’s been revealed recently that the effects for the film were unfinished when it was released, and this much is apparent. Character designs look half-done, somehow managing to look more fake than the musical production of people in cat suits. The magic effects look off, the mice children are terrifying, it’s uncanny valley central! It’s hilarious that they rushed this out just to hit the Christmas/Awards season rather than waiting to let it gestate in a natural time period, but they’re already suffering the consequences of that as we’re getting another version with touched up visuals!
It’s not just the effects that are an issue production wise. The music is terribly implemented, either way too low or way too high for Memories. It just sounds like a jukebox version of muzak than an orchestral band. The production is off, it’s hard to grasp the proportions of the cats to the world they inhabit and, even for a musical as insular as this is, most of the sets are dead and dull. This isn’t a Broadway production-this kind of staging on film needs a bit more life or stylisation.
And I think that’s kind of a huge issue; Tom Hooper is not suited for this material. I’m assuming he was hired because of his work on Les Mis, but that musical is heavily grounded but dramatic, so it translated well to his downgraded style. Cats is just weird, by nature. It’s a plotless, heavily organised play focused more on the dancing and adapting T.S. Elliot’s poems into music, and Hooper really isn’t suited for this. The weird cat in the sky at the beginning and the attempts at colour correction just fall flat, as most of the film is told in such a typical, uninteresting matter. With dancing cockroaches and Idris Elba’s Nightcrawler powers to give jarring flavour.
So yeah. That was Cats. Let’s talk:
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
It’s difficult to separate The Rise of Skywalker from the rest of the franchise, but let’s just take it as its own film separate from the rest of this baggage. It’s a bloated mess of rushed plot points, a collectathon story structure, really bizarre moments that are poorly handled and some dreadful pacing. From the moment the opening crawl introduces our main villain things feel off, and after the opening scene he’s not in the movie until the end. Character arcs feel incomplete, the cast is extremely overstuffed and there’s some dismal tone whiplash with terrible attempts of humour that break the flow of the entire thing.
As a Star Wars movie, it feels like a reaction to other Star Wars movies in the worst possible way. It tries desperately to appease fans after the backlash the Sequel Trilogy has been getting by also catering to the expectations of closing this trilogy out. It tries to please everyone by pleasing no one, with awful fan service, ridiculous plot twists and a rushed, unfulfilling conclusion to their best character.
Even the action scenes, something Star Wars excels at, are lacking! They’re poorly set up, a lot of them involve an emotional investment in the characters or situation I just do not have, they’re heavily choppy because the movie is in such a hurry or just overstuffed because Busy Frame=Epic and the final confrontation is horribly lit! It just puts a dark mark on this trilogy, and makes me wonder what the point was in even following any of these films now. Like, I wasn’t a huge fan of Return of the Jedi, but it didn’t make me feel like watching and liking the two films before that were a massive waste of my time.
So now I’m making a list of shit I thought was stupid plot wise, this will contain spoilers. So I will box them in as such:
THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE FILM AND WISH TO GO IN UNSPOILED DO NOT READ FROM THIS POINT ON AND SKIP DOWN TO THE OTHER LARGE SPACE OF WRITING WHERE I CONCLUDE DISCUSSING SPOILERS!!!!!!!!
-Palpatine’s return is bad and it undoes the defining moment of Vader’s character arc in the Original Trilogy. I love Ian McDiarmid and he continues to be the best thing in this franchise, but his plan is nonsensical and it gets much, much worse when we get to the end. This film needed to excise him and rework the plot in order to make it remotely coherent.
-The opening fight with Kylo was kind of cool, and it took advantage of the choppy editing. Also the chase sequence in the desert is fun. That’s it for the action I liked, to be honest.
-The Vat of Snokes was certainly a thing. There, you got your fucking explanation, Snoke was made in a test tube by Palpatine. Does that make the movies better? Does this explanation add anything? Do you care more now?
-Leia’s inclusion is creepy, and bad, and has more to do with the production side because using old footage of Carrie Fisher and a body double is so thoroughly unconvincing I don’t think she’s on the same planet as the rest of the cast, never mind in the same shot. The dialogue is awkward and stilted just to match lines Fisher had recorded previously. Nothing about her usage here works, and while the crew were not in a happy situation with the actress’ unfortunate passing, they should have kept her out of the film if this was their best alternative.
-This is an additional issue to how overstuffed the cast is, but Rose is relegated to an extended cameo after being one of the main leads of the last film. This feels like catering to the disgusting fan backlash she received, it’s grossly insulting and a waste of the character.
-I can’t decide if Kylo putting his helmet back together is a dumb way to cater to people who hated The Last Jedi or a clever metaphor for how fractured his own view of himself is as the helmet is visibly cracked, so I’ll just meet them halfway and say I’ve never seen a better metaphor for the trilogy.
-Lando had a similar issue with Leia in that I never bought he was onscreen with any of the cast, except in this case I know Billy Dee Williams was actually there so I just think he’s checked out as hell. I never bought this was a aged version of the character from the Original Trilogy. Oh well, it makes me appreciate Glover’s performance in Solo more. And I hope Billy Dee got a nice paycheck.
-The Force healing doesn’t bother me-it feels like a natural extension of the lore around it-but it leads to one of the dumbest moments in the movie so I’m mentioning it here.
-THE FAKEOUTS!!!!! They do the Disney Death fake-out at least FOUR TIMES and it killed the tension completely because I never believed they had the balls to kill off somebody they didn’t have a choice in killing.
-The Force pulling of the cargo ship with Chewie was the dumbest fucking thing. It was even shot awkwardly and self-consciously after Rey attacks Kylo’s ship. And the eventual kicker with the lightning has no impact as they chicken out, as mentioned above, from actually killing Chewbacca. There’s no way there was more than one vessel there!
-That girl Poe has a history with was just there to no-homo him, and I goddamn see you Disney! Another underdeveloped character part of a fucking army in this.
-They treat C3PO like dogshit in this movie holy fuck. Also his mindwipe here is such a waste of time as it lasts about 10 minutes.
-What an weird, insulting way to write Hux out. Two films of building up the animosity between him and Kylo, and all that happens is that he acts as a mole and gets shot immediately after this revelation. No word as to why his loyalties changed that much outside of hating Kylo. Even if he was treated like a joke in the last film, he should have been built up as a main foil against Kylo for this film. Instead we get:
-Why was Richard E. Grant in this? Why did they waste him like that? He’s, like, a Palpatine loyalist and they mention his name with weird weighty emphasis, but I don’t recognise him. I don’t read your nerd books. Just a weak secondary antagonist.
-Rey being a Palpatine is a joke. What an insulting, boring twist that adds nothing interesting and takes everything intriguing about this Sequel Trilogy and throws it down a garbage chute. An absolutely terrible, laughable reveal that should have been cut at development stage.
-We have another sidekick for Finn now that he lost Rose. These two actually have a scene where they do develop a bond, conveniently they’re both First Order defectors, but her character does not do much else outside of back up Finn.
-Oh, right, there’s a secret Finn wanted to tell Rey as an awkward and confusing ship baiting move? Apparently it was that he’s Force sensitive. Glad they indicated that in the actual movie!
-Leia’s death is weird and awkward. She used up her last bit of energy, what?! She basically does a lesser version of what Luke did in the last movie and that was enough to kill her. This was absolutely limited by the actress’ passing, but it was lame and makes Ben do an entire 180.
-Kylo Ren does an entire 180 to Ben. All he needs is to lose Mommy and talk to Imaginary Daddy. It’s a nice idea conceptually-a repeat of Han and Ben’s final convo in The Force Awakens but with Ben giving up the Dark Side-but Harrison Ford is practically asleep and it redeems Ben way too easily.
-Backhanded compliment towards that scene where Finn and Poe decide to share leadership. It’s a sweet moment, but it doesn’t really come from Finn’s arc as all as he was nowhere near the leadership quality that Poe went through. Also MAKE THEM GAY, DISNEY!!!!!! COWARDS!!!!
-Palpatine’s ships have planet destroying guns, which makes you question why the fuck they bothered with Starkiller Base if they have that kind of tech.
-Palpatine’s got this cool mass clone worshippers set up with him connected to the machine looking like a bloated corpse. It’s got some nice fringe horror Star Wars never goes for. It’s a pity it’s never used for anything interesting.
-I actually think the Force connection with Rey and Ben is one of the more effective plot threads here. In isolation, Rey “passing” Ben the lightsaber like this was cool. Though:
-So Palpatine DOESN’T want Rey dead, he wants her to kill him so she can be the next Sith Lord, but then takes her and Ben’s Force powers and that revives him and…what? They were hinting at some kind of balance thing between the two of them, and that was their pay-off?!
-God, with the other ships coming to the final battle…they want to be Endgame. They want to be Endgame so, so much. I mean for one, it’s not even framed correctly and the build up with the “WE DON’T KNOW IF THEY’RE COMING!!!!” is way, way too pronounced for it to work.
-So Rey’s solution for not killing Palpatine and becoming evil (which is how the choice of being evil works now) is to…deflect his lightning against him so it’s…not her killing him? I guess? I don’t care. Also the Jedi voices is dumb fan service.
-Anyone else crack the fuck up when Ben died? What a weirdly shot, edited moment and I had to stop myself from howling in the cinema. What a terrible end to a potentially great character.
-EWOKS!!!!! CHEWIE GETS A MEDAL!!!!! Twowomenkiss ARE YOU HAPPY?!!?!? LOVE US, LOVE US WE ARE STAR WARS!!!!!!!!
-“Rey Skywalker” Fuck off. What was the point in coming back to Tatooine? It wasn’t even mentioned in the Sequel Trilogy. Oh, so we can have the twin suns image. Remember good movies you could be watching?!
OKAY WE’RE DONE WITH STAR WARS SPOILERS YOU MADE IT I’M PROUD OF YOU
So, Which was Better?
I mean it’s clear I have more to say about Rise of Skywalker, but that’s because a lot of its issues are plot related, where Cats, as mentioned, doesn’t really have one. Hell, the film even adds a character to give the story more weight! Both are pretty bad, I’m not going to lie, but truth comes to shove, I’d likely see Cats again.
Yes, it’s bad, and filled with terrible decisions. But it’s audacious and weird enought to have the potential to get Rocky Horror-levels of adoration. Rise of Skywalker is just cynical and filled with terrible, rushed decision that I cannot appreciate it ironically.
So, in this battle, Cats wins. What a hollow victory overall.
Cats gets 3/10 (7 for entertainment), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker also gets a 3/10