The Mandalorian Review: The Mandalorian Needs to Drop the Mask

The Mandalorian Review: The Mandalorian Needs to Drop the Mask

I’ll say this of The Mandalorian: Disney+’s marquee new show gives its titular character a great entrance. The series opens with The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) tracking a target down to a saloon in a snowy nowhere town. Inside, Bearded Joe Rogan (Dominic Pace) and his gang are about to kill The Mandalorian’s target. But just as they raise a knife to the target’s blue neck, The Mandalorian walks in the automatic door, and the wind knocks over Bearded Joe Rogan’s beer. With Monco-like nonchalance, The Mandalorian goes on to order a drink of his own, ignoring the angry man’s screams. And then… it’s on. The Mandalorian kills everyone who’s after the same creature he’s after. He apprehends the target, and brings him to his ship alive. Boom, Star Wars!

But the show can’t all be bar fights in outer space. As the two fly through that iconic black starry galaxy, The Mandalorian settles into itself. The Mandalorian’s prisoner gets nervous and starts asking questions. He asks about The Mandalorian’s ship and how much The Mandalorian is being paid. And then he asks, “Is it true that you guys never take off your helmets?”

Like any television pilot, the first episode of The Mandalorian will leave you with a lot of questions (will it get darker? why is the Mandalorian after that guy?). But the last one that the prisoner asks was the one that got me almost as nervous as the prisoner himself. Though The Mandalorian is a stoic cowboy bounty hunter who doesn’t talk much, when he does speak, you can make out Pedro Pascal’s sandy voice, muffled as it is. And yet, throughout the episode, you never see The Mandalorian’s face. Another character asks about the helmet later on, but still The Mandalorian’s mask doesn’t budge.

What’s underneath the mask isn’t necessarily suspenseful—you know what Pedro Pascal looks like; you even know what his face looks like mangled. Rather, the helmet is emotionally concealing. There are other great faces in the first episode of the show—hello, Werner Herzog and Carl Weathers—but the one we’re supposed to follow and invest in is shielded. We get a tiny glimpse of his past through flashback (he says he was once a “foundling”). We get a sense of his skill with a pistol. And a sense of his confidence (taking on four storm troopers is good odds to him). But who he really is and what makes him tick remain veiled. Why, I wondered, is this Mandalorian The Mandalorian?

That’s a question that the show, created by Disney top gun Jon Favreau, will undoubtedly answer. But it’s one that, truth be told, I was asking apathetically. Favreau deftly brings cinematic techniques to the small screen, and The Mandalorian looks as grand as Rogue One or Solo. The score, by Ludwig Göransson, is understatedly mystical. And the noirish close-ups of Herzog (as The Client) are elegantly lit. It’s an achievement in itself that the show feels much more significant than Marvel’s recent attempts at television spin-offs.

But by the same token, The Mandalorian lacks the qualities that make cinema cinema to someone like Martin Scorsese. Through all the laser shooting and brushes with death, its protagonist is distant, and the show feels emotionally and spiritually vacant.

At least, those things are true after one episode. Unlike Apple—which is releasing three episodes of its shows at a time—or Netflix—which drops whole seasons in one fell swoop—Disney is releasing its shows the old-fashioned way: one episode each week. Maybe that strategy will help create a bigger conversation around The Mandalorian, but at the moment it’s just puzzling. There’s an attempt at a big reveal at the end of the pilot, but it lands with a thud. Like an idling Millennium Falcon, the machinery of the show hasn’t kicked into gear yet. The force around it isn’t strong, but it’s not weak either; it could just use some better Jedis to guide it.


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