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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The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Released: April 14, 2017. Directed by: F. Gary Gray. Starring: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Charlize Theron. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

After being a series primarily about street racing, The Fast and the Furious franchise is now a different beast entirely – featuring heist films, revenge stories and everything in between.

The franchise keeps things fresh as they display huge action set pieces that defy logic and gravity – but they’re high-octane fun because they’re so ridiculous and it embraces the insanity.

When a mysterious woman seduces Dom into the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before.

The Fate of the Furious, though it pleases, is the weakest film since the franchise shifted direction after the fourth outing. Old characters are brought back that never felt super important, but others like Mia (Jordana Brewster) are left out. She’s off-the-grid with Bryan O’Conner (the late Paul Walker) raising their baby, as Bryan’s alive in the movie universe. They’re in retirement now after the beautiful tribute to Walker at the end of Furious 7. It’s just strange not to have Mia there since she’s actual family of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who’s always saying he doesn’t have friends – he has family.

A new female’s introduced in the form of Charlize Theron’s Cipher, the franchise’s first female villain. She’s a malicious hacker and mastermind who gives hacker Ramsay (Nathalie Emmanuel) a run for her money.

She’s generic in motivation in generally wanting to see the world burn. Everything she says is also a bit of a cliché. It’s totally fine because Theron gives the character such a presence, which makes her a good villain. She’s one of those enemies who does things from the comfort of her high-tech plane and has minions do her bidding, and gets peeved when she needs to leave the office. It doesn’t give her a lot to do, though.

The Fate of the Furious - Charlize, Vin

Charlize Theron and Vin Diesel in The Fate of the Furious. (Source)

She’s able to lure Dom to the dark side, make him betray his family and do her bidding. The story packs surprises in characterization, especially since it’s surprising he’d betray the people he loves. I won’t go further into that, because, spoilers.

Films in the franchise between Fast Five and Furious 7 have good stories, but the eighth offering is the most generic plot in recent years, as the villain endgame is so familiar. The story just feels slapped together to work as a frame for the amazing stunts and nutty action.

The story dissatisfies but it’s not the most important part. The big, glamorous action makes this worthwhile and it’s still a lot of fun. From a street race in Cuba that offers a short trip to the series’ roots, a getaway in Berlin, to a fists-flying prison break, the action is great. Hacking plays a cool role in a big action scene in New York City, the film’s main setting.

After things calm down after the New York action, the finale is where things get most exciting and the crew learn that in Soviet Russia, submarine chases you! The franchise also keeps things interesting with diverse settings, as the globe-trotting team spans three continents this go around.

The Fate of the Furious makes Dom feel fresh by giving a new look at the character, but other characters are becoming stale after eight outings – namely Letty. It makes me wonder if they’ll have enough gas left in the tank for two more films.

Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) returns and is good again, and a new character includes Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). Comic relief Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej (Ludacris) rip on him a lot and they’re generally funny, per usual. Jason Statham as Deckard Shaw is really awesome and even outshines Johnson’s Hobbs, who’s trying to fill the leader role of the good guy team.

Hobbs has memorable lines as talks in puns and silly dialogue. He sees something particularly gruesome at one point and his response is simply “Hmm, nasty.” When he often has such vivid threats and comments, you can’t help but feel disappointed because it’s such a perfect opportunity for a laugh or a pun. It’s almost like the writers stop trying.

Score: 65/100