Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

 

Released: May 5, 2017. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to be as fun and original as its predecessor.

It feels fresh as it sets itself apart even in its opening action sequence as a space beast tries to take batteries the Guardians are protecting.

These batteries are a power source for the Sovereign, a race that’s hired the Guardians to kill the beast and in exchange they’ll release a thief to them: Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan).

We get a different perspective as Quill, Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) fight the behemoth in the background and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) does a dance to “Mr. Blue Sky” in the foreground. It’s creative as we watch his antics and it’s like a great opening act before the main event.

After they complete the job, Rocket steals the batteries and naturally, they want them back. The leader of the golden conceited douchebags, Ayesha (a statuesque Elizabeth Debicki) pursues the Guardians. Our heroes are helped from the situation by Ego (Kurt Russell), who ends up being Quill’s father and we learn about Peter’s familial lineage.

We learn the source of Peter’s charm and slight arrogance from Ego. He’s portrayed well by Russell, and the character takes superiority and egotism to the max – his name is literally Ego. Pratt plays Quill so well and has the charm for the role and gets some really good laughs. It’s intriguing learning about his background and their relationship is one of the many interesting dynamics and a focus of the film, and Pratt and Russell carry it well.

The narrative is fast-paced but it’s more complex than the first film’s simplistic story. It gets unfocused on the road to the end, but it finds its way back on track. It’s still a really entertaining story, and the same zany sense of humour and creativity in writing shine through. The characters themselves drive the action-packed space opera.

The dynamics between characters work well, especially as we learn more about the sister rivalry between Gamora and Nebula. Saldana and Karen Gillan play their respective characters well and are both kickass, and Nebula is a stronger character this go around. Gamora doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this sequel – at least compared to the first film.

Guardians

The Guardians of the Galaxy. (Source)

Rocket gets slightly serious as we understand him more, and his chemistry with Yondu (Michael Rooker) is good. Yondu has a bigger role and he’s a pleasant surprise as he becomes integral to the story. It’s delightful learning about his backstory, and he’s a memorable part of many scenes.

Dave Bautista is hilarious as Drax, though his growth as a character is stalled – most of his backstory was handled in the first movie, so we don’t go much further into his development and he’s mostly a source of humour here. He ribs on new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) a lot, and they’re fun together. She’s a good addition and the make-up is great considering she’s lovely outside the character. Drax points out multiple times Mantis is only beautiful on the inside.

Baby Groot is also great. He’s adorable and a joy whenever he’s on-screen. They’re able to create such a different character with the baby version since he’s aggressive instead of his calm, adult version of himself. This Groot is always up for a fight. Vin Diesel does the inflexions of “I am Groot” so well that it’s believable when Rocket translates for us.

I love that the characters are fractured in some way emotionally with their pasts, and it’s nice that they get through it together. The group’s closeness and how they create their own family makes the film surprisingly moving. The family dynamic enriches the chemistry, and it’s just so endearing because they’re all so different.

I just love the relationships director James Gunn and the cast bring to life. Gunn is such a good fit for the franchise and his comedy flows through the story well. This has so much heart and all the characters have a chance to shine, and it all leads up to a visually dazzling finale.

Plus, the soundtrack is great. I hadn’t heard a lot of the songs before the film – my favourite has to be Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” – but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack basically on repeat since seeing this. You probably will, too.

Score: 80/100

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Source: IMDb

Source: IMDb

Released: August 1, 2014. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel. Runtime: 2hr., 1 min.

If a time traveller had told me that the writer of Scooby-Doo, James Gunn, would co-write and direct one 2014’s most enjoyable films, I would be hesitant to believe them.

But with co-writer Nicole Perlman, he does so with Guardians of the Galaxy. And it hits a perfect strike in every aspect. The Marvel comic book films’ humour fits this film like a glove.

Its laugh-out-loud funny consistency suits the film’s easy-going tone. The humour is clever and often literal. The simplistic story follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), subject of a manhunt after he finds a powerful orb. The orb has caught the eye of Ronan the Accuser (a strong Lee Pace), who is to deliver it to the powerful Thanos.

Ronan, a Kree who takes the beliefs of his people very seriously, has been pillaging planets motivated after his people signed a Peace treaty with the planet Xandar. Djimon Hounsou portrays one of Ronan’s henchmen. His villainous side is fun to watch.

Also on Peter’s tail is Yondu, portrayed by The Walking Dead‘s Michael Rooker, leader of the Ravagers and the man who abducted Peter 26 years ago. His deadly power allows him to control a tiny spear with varying whistles.

Even with the two crews are after him, the film doesn’t feel over-crowded with multiple antagonists. Impressively, this introductory film has great pacing. The characters fit superbly into the Marvel universe, in between the characters of the Avengers group.

I prefer this crew over them, which surprises me because I don’t usually favour these space movies. Peter Quill is a great character and an outlaw who calls himself Star Lord. He’s an average hero with cool gadgets and a great sense of humour.

Chris Pratt brings his charisma and training to the role, after losing sixty pounds to take on the role. There is a familiar character arc with Quill where he has a letter and gift from his late mother that he doesn’t open. Though, he does like music from the 1970’s and 80’s, which enables this to be my favourite soundtrack from 2014.

Gamora, Zoe Saldana, is like a living weapon who works for Ronan. She is also the adopted daughter of Thanos, and her sister, the villainous Nebula, portrayed by Karen Gillan, is badass in her own right.

Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper who only vaguely sounds like himself, is a bounty hunter driven by money. The character is given poignancy through the fact that he is the only one of his kind – half-machine, half-raccoon, the result of an illegal experiment.

Vin Diesel portrays Raccoon’s best buddy Groot. “I am Groot” is a phrase he regularly says in varying volumes and emotions, actually recording the phrase about one thousand times. Groot is among a species of walking trees who could have just come out of Middle Earth. The quiet character is surprisingly funny. Rocket is like a translator of Groot’s tones. Diesel is just as effective as he was when he voiced the titular Iron Giant back in 1999, also a character of few words.

The final piece of the group is Drax the Destroyer, a great Dave Bautista, who is driven by vengeance for his wife and daughter. Ronan killed them. Money is the group’s main drive, but Groot seems like he’s just along for the ride. Their drives make them relatable, and they work so well because they’re an unlikely cast of characters.

The make-up specialists, in special effects and in general, outdo themselves, especially with Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Lee Pace and Karen Gillan. The story’s heart in such a compelling and easy-going film is just astounding. Due to the film’s great visuals, top-notch writing and its ability to surprise its audience, it just has to be seen.

Score100/100

Maleficent (2014)

Photo source: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2488531712/tt1587310?ref_=tt_ov_i

Maleficent (Source: IMDb)

Released: May 30, 2014. Directed by: Richard Stromberg. Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley. Runtime: 93 min.

In the fairy tale re-imagining sub-genre, this is the best addition yet, and it seems that first-time director Richard Stromberg learns from the mistakes of the the previous two films in the sub-genre.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” was too generic, and this has a great narrative. “Snow White and the Huntsman” was too morbidly dark tonally, but this is only dark when it has to be.

The story re-imagines Disney’s 1959 cartoon “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of the film’s titular protagonist, Maleficent; the original story’s villain. After experiencing the ugly greed of man, Maleficent seeks revenge on King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and she takes her anger out on is his baby daughter, Aurora. Stefan learns that if you’re going to take a fairy’s wings, you should kill her instead. And not only because she could sue for airfare costs.

Aurora is cursed to enter a deep sleep on the sunset of her sixteenth birthday, and can only be awaken by true love’s kiss. The story is written intelligently by Linda Woolverton (“The Lion King” and 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland”). The film’s sweetness and sincerity is a pleasant surprise. The film’s human and raw cinematic storytelling is also impressive. One of the film’s most realistic aspects is a teaching that anger is a curved blade.

Great performances and characterization help add emotional depth. Angelina Jolie is deliciously evil as the titular Maleficent. She handles the cruel grace and pain of Maleficent so well in one of her strongest performances in recent memory. In one adorable scene, Jolie’s real-life daughter Vivienne, as Aurora (5 Years Old),  goes up to her and hugs her around the waist and pulls at the prosthetic horns. It’s impressive that Jolie doesn’t break character.

Elle Fanning also bring layers to the character of Aurora. Fanning captures the kindness of the character because her smile and gentleness is radiant. The loving curiosity of the character is also appealing. Fanning was cast for her physical likeness to Aurora and for her capacity as an actress; and the fact that she gets to sleep on the job is definitely a pro of the role. I learn cast members were also cast for their physical likeness to the original characters. Some unimpressive stars include Sharlto Copley as King Stefan; he captures the depression of the character, but he’s boring. Sam Riley as Diaval is also not compelling, but that could be because of the boring character. He’s a lot better as a crow, acting as Maleficent’s eye in the sky.

There are many strange creatures in the film, many of which reside in the Mores (which is kind-of cruel as I thought it was S’mores at first), the bordering forest Maleficent rules. The creatures range from weird swamp creatures with ant-eater like noses to something that looks like Groot of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It gets so strange, that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those stone giants from “Noah.” Nonetheless, the visuals are great.

There are visuals reminiscent of other films, notably flying scenes (reminiscent of “Avatar”) and the visuals in a war scene that bring to mind “Snow White and the Huntsman.” Most of the time, the visual effects team make the visuals their own, except there are occasions where the visuals also look like “Oz the Great and Powerful” (mostly the colourful Mores creatures). It also seems that it is more difficult to differentiate style for director Robert Stromberg, because he is production designer on both “Avatar” and “Oz.”

Too creepy for my liking. (Source) http://www.awn.com/sites/default/files/styles/original/public/image/attached/1016753-bc1020ddlv1142.1104r-1200.jpg?itok=5g0b58kq

Too creepy for my liking. (Source

The three fairies that care for Aurora – Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistlewit (Juno Temple) – get sidelined in this version of the fairy tale. Even though they do have sporadic, amusing banter, the three actresses aren’t used to their potential. They’re a funny trio with strong costume design, but their pixie selves are visually strange. This is the film’s only poor visual effect.

They’re often in human form to make sure people see them as three women raising their child in a humble cottage. The set design for that is fun. The film flows improves on exhausting and overlong runtimes of “Snow White” (2hr., 7 min.) and “Oz” (2hr., 10 min.) and ensures that this film runs at a strong pace. Surely, this breezes by at one hour and 37 minutes, a perfect run-time for this well-told fairy tale.

Score: 85/100