Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – Movie Review

When a sequel is released following in the footsteps of a popular and well-loved movie the bar is set high by any and all going to see it. Expectations are high and if the follow up doesn’t equal that of the first film it could result in the end of a series or low box office figures. Termed the “sophomore slump” more than one second film has fallen prey to this occurring.

I’ve loved all of the Marvel Universe films (and Netflix series) to date, more so than any that DC has released where only WONDER WOMAN has succeeded. I enjoyed GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY immensely, a perfect combination of action, comic book love, special effects and humor. When the sequel, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 came out I was there the first week to see it. I left disappointed feeling it hadn’t lived up to my expectations. So I was anxious for it to come out on disc so I could watch it again and see it through different eyes, eyes not filled with expectations of the previous film. I’m glad I did.

The movie starts in the distant past as Peter Quill’s mother Meredith rides down the road in an open topped convertible singing “Brandy” as her handsome young beau (Kurt Russell) drives. They end up in a woods where he shows her something he has planted in the ground and both convey their love for one another. Fast forward to outer space.

The Guardians have been hired by the Sovereign to protect their all-important batteries from a marauding inter-dimensional monster. As it arrives the battle begins as does my favorite part of the film. Baby Groot hooks up a sound system to play music, something Peter aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) enjoys. With the tune “Mr. Blue Sky” blaring from the speakers baby Groot dances across the battlefield oblivious to the raging fight taking place around him. If it doesn’t make your heart dance with joy to see him you have no heart.

The team is victorious and get their reward – Nebula (Karen Gillan) Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) sister. Peter warns them to be cautious as the Sovereign are an easily offended group which of course results in Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) cracking wise at their expense. Heading out into space they are then attacked by the Sovereign, looking for the batteries stolen by Rocket which he failed to mention. As things appear to be at their worst another spaceship shows up with a man on top who obliterates the remaining Sovereign ships.

Crash landing and beginning repairs that same spaceship lands and out walks a man known as Ego who informs Peter that he is his father. Here before him is the man he’s been searching for all these years. A man who has been searching for Peter as well. While Rocket and Groot remain behind to fix the ship, with Nebula still a prisoner, the rest go with Ego to his planet at the far edge of the galaxy. But what is it that he really wants? This will become the problem all face eventually.

As this unfolds we also find out what has become of Yondu (Michael Rooker), Peter’s once father figure and the man who was tracking him down in the first film. We learn that his particular group of Ravagers were exiled because of his taking Peter years ago. At his lowest he is approached by the Sovereign to find the Guardians and retrieve their batteries.

Two themes run throughout this film. The first is that of family and fathers in particular. The Guardians are more than just a rag tag group of adventurers. Each has lost something or someone in their past and they have bonded together as a family in their time together. And each father figure has some flaw that makes them not the father they could have been but all attempt to redeem themselves for the most part save one. This presents a much deeper film than one would expect from a comic based movie.

The movie entertains on all levels from the stunning special effects visuals to the story telling itself. The acting is amazing when you consider that beneath the bluster and wise cracking heroics on display is that search for answers to familial matters. This includes not just fathers but sisters as well with Nebula and Gamora trying to find their own answers. In addition to that there are some belly busting funny moments as well, nearly all involving Drax (Dave Batista) who does a fantastic job with them.

On second viewing, without preconceived ideas in mind, I loved this movie. It might not be equal to the first but it is very close. The concepts that run through this film strike at the heart which is never a bad thing when handled well. Here it is handled exceptionally well. This is a movie to be added to any and all collections and watched more than once.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Movie Review

guardians of the galaxy

You might expect a movie studio at the top of its game to play it safe rather than strike out in new, bizarre directions. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine any other studio giving the greenlight to Guardians Of The Galaxy – a huge blockbuster movie based on a title unfamiliar to anyone who isn’t a comics aficionado, starring a relatively unknown actor playing a character most people have never heard of. And yet, Marvel scores once again with its willingness to head off the beaten track. GUARDIANS is a fun, fizzy delight, even as it mines some surprising depths of emotion from its ragtag group of anti-heroes.

Peter Quill (Pratt) – a human abducted from Earth as a child – has grown up into an intergalactic thief who has no idea what he’s getting into when he takes possession of a mysterious Orb. Little does he know that Ronan (Pace) – a genocidal Kree radical – will do just about anything to get his hands on said Orb, including sending alien assassin Gamora (Saldana) after it. Gamora, as it turns out, has an agenda of her own. Trapped in an intergalactic prison (long story), Peter and Gamora are forced into an uneasy alliance with three other misfits: a brainy, sarcastic raccoon-like creature named Rocket (voiced by Cooper), a giant tree by the name of Groot (Diesel), and the vengeance-minded Drax The Destroyer (Bautista).

The truth is that there’s almost too much going on in GUARDIANS. Not only do we meet a host of characters we’ve never met before, on a raft of new planets teeming with brightly coloured life and detail, we’re also introduced to several plot lines all stuffed somewhat awkwardly into the film. We have Ronan’s planet-destroying aspirations, which are somehow bound up with the evil plans of Thanos – that creepy purple- skinned dude who popped up at the end of The Avengers. Peter’s kidnappers turned surrogate ‘family’ are also on the trail of the Orb, turning up at moments both enormously convenient and inconvenient to the plot. It all makes sense in the end, but until it all clicks into place, it can make for a rushed, unsettling experience.

But, despite its occasionally unwieldy script, GUARDIANS triumphs because of the gang of scruffy losers (a term that will take on a different, more heartfelt meaning during the film) at its heart. Director James Gunn, who co-wrote the script, clearly feels a strong affinity for each one of these outcasts, all of whom are easily outlaws in some (if not all) parts of the solar system, each one battling – at least initially – to save his or her own skin rather than to save the world. It’s fascinating to watch the five members of this unlikely group slowly banter, bicker and batter their way into becoming a team.

Most joyfully of all, Gunn never loses sight of the prickly, selfish side of his characters. He gives them plenty of rich, emotional moments – whether it’s Peter and Gamora bonding over the loss of their parents, or Rocket’s ability to read a whole range of meaning into Groot’s extremely limited vocabulary (‘I am Groot’) – but never allows the film to descend into dangerously sentimental territory.

In fact, Gunn pumps up proceedings with a healthy, hearty dose of humour. Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) have always been more tongue-in-cheek than the likes of the considerably more dour Dark Knight franchise, but GUARDIANS is a heady trip of a different order. It practically delights in bursts of odd, subversive comedy, and actually dares to punctuate its most epic face-off with a sly homage to, of all things, Footloose.

Pratt – so winning in TV’s Parks And Recreation – holds the emotional core of the film together. He exudes an easy, rakish charm that makes Peter both dashingly arrogant and achingly vulnerable. He’s matched very well by Saldana, who is clearly delighting in the opportunity to play the world-weary, no-nonsense Gamora – bred into a killer, born a fighter. The rest of the cast does justice, too, to the film’s cheerful swing from drama to comedy and back again: Bautista brings unexpected pathos to Drax’s occasionally comical determination to avenge his family against Ronan, while Cooper sounds completely unlike himself – in a very good way – as a creature who hides a world of hurt beneath his mouthy exterior. Even Diesel manages to find a great deal of depth in a CGI character who only communicates via the same languid burst of three words.

If anything, GUARDIANS is let down by a trio of not particularly threatening villains. Pace snarls and spits in heavy make-up, but can’t quite rustle up much in the way of nuance or genuine menace. Ronan is a one-note madman, with so little in the way of backstory that he automatically becomes less interesting. Thanos, too, now voiced and performed in motion-capture by Brolin, doesn’t get much to do beyond lounge on his space throne. Only Gillan’s cyborg Nebula manages a smidgen of complexity; even then, she struggles to be half as fascinating as her conflicted “sister”, Gamora.

Before the film was even released in cinemas, Marvel announced that a sequel would be coming in 2017. It’s a no-brainer as to why. The film is smart, funny and quite wonderful on its own merits. But, even more crucially, GUARDIANS is a gamble that pays off handsomely for Marvel. It opens up the MCU in, quite literally, all directions. Don’t be surprised if you see our more earth-bound heroes heading into space sooner rather than later. The film also adds a new cast of lovable rogues to the MCU’s roster of characters: a gang who, one might say, are actually all the more heroic for being people who would ordinarily be running in the opposite direction from any galaxy-guarding duties. Frankly, we can’t wait to see what they get up to next.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Fast & Furious 6 – Movie Review

Let me preface this review by saying I haven’t seen the previous five installments of this franchise and had no intention of seeing this one, but was influenced by a desire to curry a little favor with my date for the evening, so off we went. It’s hard being male sometimes. That being said, I didn’t know that 1980s style action movies were still popular. Despite Stallone’s recent efforts, I thought we had thrown some dirt and perhaps passed some bodily fluid onto the coffin of this genre some time ago? No matter, if you are a fan this movie has all of the genre’s dated conventions firmly in place. A heavy dose of machismo (even from the female characters), a very thin plot, even thinner acting, superhuman effort by the protagonists, plot devices which are designed to justify the next action sequence, a three word catch phrase, explosions, car chases, a penultimate hand-to-hand combat scene and another bucket of machismo thrown in for good measure. If the main character was able to emote during action sequences like Stallone or Schwarzenegger, I’d consider this a nostalgic effort. It is, however, a reasonable representative of the genre and if you are a fan you’ll likely be entertained. If not and you are feeling adventurous enough to watch it anyway, prepare to be punched in the brain. Hard.

 

7 out of 10