Imagine you have all the money in the world. You can tell any story you want! Nobody to stop you. No one. And what you give a hypothetically eager audience is Ron Howard’s “Solo.” Think of it: if you had the largest barge load of the galaxy’s entertainment investment capital, why not sit down and have artists be artful with their crafting of commodities? Hit those beats, don’t shark those arcs, and let joy shine in, with a few shimmers of inexplicable poetry that lodge in minds worldwide! (Rian Johnson did well with “The Last Jedi.”)
A husk of a picture, Lucasfilm’s “Solo” shoots first for straightforwardness but lands as jostling incoherence. The production’s éminence grise, Lawrence Kasdan, wrote “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back,” two superior examples of movie genre simulacra. The script credited to Kasdan and his son Jonathan alternates between breathless and airless. I’m in the market for the eventual behind-the-scenes oral history of Lucasfilm’s recent rash of filmmaking upheavals, including the late-in-production firing of original co-directors Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (credited now only as co-executive producers) in favor of Ron Howard (“The Paper,” “Inferno”). Whatever fire was invested in that never-finished version, it’s banked now in speedy and sluggish scenes alike.
Cinematographer Bradford Young’s impressive work on films large and small includes “Arrival,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and “Pariah.” “Solo”’s dull dispatch is matched by an insistence on literal darkness: much of the movie, at night and in caverns and in secret spaces, looks like shadow on shit. It’s not just ugly and cloacal, the non-daylight action scenes are mostly indecipherable.
Why does “Solo” exist at all? That’s the essential existential question that rears its shaggy head early on. (That is, except to fill the annual “A Star Wars Story” release slot?) A lot of other questions get answered that should not have been asked. (How did Han get his surname? Only one guess… Nope. Worse.)
SOLO: Remember that scene in Josh Trank’s FANTASTIC FOUR (2015) when right at the end, The Thing looks out and says “It’s fantastic!” And that’s how the crew got their name? Remember how that felt?
SOLO is 2 hours and 15 minutes of that, continuously.
— David Chen (@davechensky) May 25, 2018
Drama dissipates when expositional dialogue gives Han powers like a young Jedi: while raised among the alley “scrumrats” on a crummy distant planet, he’s already a jack-of-all-trades, a flyer of all flying crates, who speaks multiple languages, including Wookiee. But Alden Ehrenreich indicates the young Harrison Ford without excessive mimicry, and his essential charm twinkles through in reaction shots where he’s allowed a few extra frames.
Woody Allen’s dramas, at least all the way back to “Match Point,” have been otherworldly in the range of performance, as if Allen left his actors to their own devices: “Only disconnect,” to paraphrase E.M. Forster. Late Howard is now in the same school as late Allen. Everyone’s trying. Hardly anyone connects. Among the weird mismatches between Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Paul Bettany, one discordant performance sings even as his scenes are written down to a level to amuse a small child. As young Lando Calrissian, Donald Glover’s in his own picture. Asked about Glover’s generous dosage of polymorphous luscious, co-screenwriter Jonathan Kasdan observed, “I would have loved to have gotten a more explicitly LGBT character into this movie. I think it’s time, certainly, for that, and I love the fluidity—sort of the spectrum of sexuality that Donald appeals to.” A keener point was made on Twitter by one “Aleister Meowley.”
Hot Take: pansexuality, or at least something like it, should be incredibly common and unsurprising in any space opera setting due to the insane variety of Things You Can Fuck https://t.co/jJBJ1D2AiH
— Aleister Meowley (@fourgigsofdurnk) May 17, 2018
But that would be a radically different “Star Wars Story.” “Solo” has dark-on-dark laughs, including inappropriate jokes during a droid slave revolt. The best refrain among too many refrains is a rule repeated again and again: “Don’t improvise!”; “You said never improvise!” A joke left in the litter by the directors of “The Lego Movie” and “22 Jump Street” or Kasdan-Howard snark toward their comedy style? The most memorable moment of charm is Ehrenreich’s own formidable grin as his Han attempts to say with a straight face, “I’m a terrible person!” No, not truly terrible, just perfunctory. Reviewed in Dolby Cinema, the premium format that promises adequate rather than everyday screen brightness. Even then, the look of “Solo” was dim, which suggests the 3D conversion will be worse. 143m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Solo” is all over the galaxy, including Denny’s.
Rev up your appetite and head to Denny’s for the new SOLO: A @StarWars Story Lightspeed Slam! Dine on egg whites, spinach and grape tomatoes, two turkey bacon strips, an English muffin and… you get the idea. Hurry, this item is only available for a limited time. #HanSolo pic.twitter.com/Fn3d9FCtCO
— Denny’s (@DennysDiner) May 21, 2018
Ray Pride is Newcity film critic and a contributing editor of Filmmaker magazine. He is also a photographer: his history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images is forthcoming. Previews on Twitter (twitter.com/chighostsigns) as well as daily photography on Instagram: instagram.com/raypride. Twitter: twitter.com/RayPride. (Photo: Jorge Colombo.)