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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Logan (2017)

Released: March 3, 2017. Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen. Runtime: 2h 21 min.

In 2016, Deadpool really started to push the limits of the superhero subgenre, but with Logan, director James Mangold takes the envelope, slashes it apart and creates something that reinvents the idea of what a superhero film can be.

I love it when superhero films offer something different than we’re used to seeing. Mangold does just that with Logan, as he takes a beloved character and creates something so different and original.

The year’s 2029 and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is working as a limo driver and is taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a border town in Mexico. Logan’s aging and weary and is trying to hide from the world. His existence is upturned when young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives and is being pursued by mysterious forces.

Logan feels different because it’s so grounded in realism, and a limited use of CGI helps with that. The world created is fascinating: Everyone’s heard of the X-Men because they’re written about in comic books, and some characters are even Wolverine fans. The world feels real and it looks great. Its setting gives it a Western movie feel and its cinematography complements the story’s raw mood.

The atmosphere and style truly capture the story, and even the score feels like it becomes a character. The story is character-driven, and you feel everything these characters are going through, which makes it so human. It sends you on a roller coaster of emotions and it makes the experience gritty and unique.

Logan’s also raw because our heroes are so vulnerable. Logan has a vulnerability in his older age as he’s past his former glory and isn’t as invincible as he used to be. Even the villainous Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) notes, “Seeing you like this breaks my heart.”

It’s more heartbreaking seeing Charles Xavier in his state. I don’t want to spoil it but I’ll say his condition creates some compelling sequences. It’s enlightening seeing Charles in old age, to know that even the greatest mutants grow old, and Patrick Stewart delivers a striking and vulnerable performance.

His relationship with Logan features the usual tough-love and fatherly vibe, and Charles’ guidance creates great dialogue. Their chemistry’s endearing and their banter finds new life with an R-rating, because it’s so damn funny. Logan’s become self-loathing, and our anti-hero finds purpose with Laura. Logan’s relationship with Laura is great; their chemistry is entertaining to watch as it evolves. Their dynamic is cool where they eventually have to talk, and it’s not cliché banter. Laura is largely mute for the film and emotes distrust well and has a heartwarming curiosity.

Dafne Keen is charming and fiery as Laura, and it is such a good debut. Keen captures the character’s rage so well with a convincing ferocity. She’s great in action, and handles drama even better.

Logan

Hugh Jackman in his last hurrah as Wolverine in Logan. (Source)

Hugh Jackman effectively portrays Logan’s depression. The R-rating allows writers to explore adult themes like this as it reaches a level of sophistication rarely seen in a comic book film. In other X-Men films Logan does feel haunted, but with the mature storytelling, you truly feel and get a sense of how haunted he is at this point in his life.

Jackman is so great physically and moving emotionally. He’s so visceral in rage, and even though the character’s older now, he’s badass and still strong enough to break a shotgun over his knee. His last outing as Wolverine is easily his most remarkable.

Back to the writing. I can’t give enough kudos to writing team James Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green, who take X-Men storylines (namely “Old Man Logan”) and mix them into such an original story. They take time telling it, and there are intimate moments and poignant drama throughout.

A scene has our trio eating dinner with a family they’ve met and it’s funny and has great banter. The film has a great capability to slow down and show charming, human scenes like this that develop characters. It shows patience in storytelling, and it shows a comic book movie doesn’t need relentless, non-stop action to be supremely entertaining. The bursts of action are still amazingly directed. They’re bloody and brutal, and just a hell of a lot of fun.

With Logan, I’ll only complain about its villains. Boyd Holbrook is menacing, yet destructible, and has presence as Pierce, but there’s something to be desired since we don’t know who he works for as they make it mysterious in the beginning. Instead of feeling mysterious, it’s often confusing and frustrating. When we find out who they are and what they’re doing, it’s great and interesting, because it strengthens the story.

This gears up to a great finale that is well worth the wait for action junkies. It’s bloody and thrilling. It’s a bittersweet end to an era since Jackman’s been Wolverine for 17 years. As the credit rolls, a chapter of film history rolls with it. Logan is the best of the Wolverine trilogy and it’s just the fitting send-off that Hugh Jackman deserves.

Score: 95/100

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men Last StandReleased: May 26, 2006. Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry. Runtime: 104 min. 

I guess all mutants getting along was nice when it lasted. This time Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) X-Men face off against Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) Brotherhood. Stewart’s limited screen time helps prove that a presence will still be felt throughout the flick. In this film, a cure is introduced for mutants everywhere. Is mutation something that really needs to be cured? Do mutants really need to conform to what everyone else looks like? Is it cowardice if they choose to take the cure? This time, it touches on the idea that some mutants might benefit from the cure. This is basically in Rogue, who might benefit from it because if she holds onto someone too long, she could kill them. I learn that she is contributes a lot more in the comic books, when she’s felt sidelined to me in the films – at least in terms of battle. I think that’s awesomely touched on more intelligently with Mystique’s characterization in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

This film just doesn’t feel as smart as the first two films. Heck, it’s still fun – but there are a lot of frustrating occurrences, mainly because some are so unnecessary. Something this film is missing is Bryan Singer’s direction. He just brought such an intelligent style to it, and it just feels like it’s lacking. This time Brett Ratner directs the film, and it’s a bit of an odd choice. Prior to this he directed the Rush Hour franchise and the Hannibal Lecter flick Red Dragon. It was a cool attempt, but it’s only successful to some avail. The fighting for freedom just feels a bit too clichèd this time around under Ratner’s eye. 

Like the Rush Hour flicks show, his style of direction just feels a bit familiar, and not quite a memorable style you could recognize a single director for. Though, he does direct a phenomenal prison escape sequence and kudos to the cinematography department during it. The actors bring humour to the film, per usual, it just isn’t as strong because the story gets dark at times. The film handles heartbreaking aspects of characterization well to some degree, just not perfectly like the last two films. It does handle being a blockbuster pretty well, though, because this is all really fun. 

It’s cool how Jean is a new sort-of character this time around, found in her alter-ego Phoenix, who is much more aggressive and angry than the regular Jean. Professor X wants to contain it in a series of psychological barriers, while Magneto wants to let her out of her cage. What happens with that is an intense sequence. Janssen gives her most interesting performance of the franchise thus far. In Wolverine and her relationship, Hugh Jackman brings some power to his performance. 

There are some good other mutants. It seems that the Beast, a political representative for mutants, is replacing the blue good guy (Nightcrawler in the last film) this time around. I love Ben Foster as the Angel, even though I would have loved to see more from the character. Callisto (Dania Ramirez) on the villains side is a really cool villain, because she’s like a walking, talking Cerebro. She can sense when mutants are near, and also know their power level. There’s a sort-of porcupine blowfish villain named Kid Omega who’s kind-of fun. He’s portrayed by Ken Leung, and I think I subconsciously assumed he was a villain when I saw him on TV’s Lost because I recognized him from this villainous role. As a villain, Pyro (Aaron Stanford) is a bit of a bland idiot. I thought he was a lot more fun as an antagonizing hero. 

I think the title indicates that there might be a few losses from all ends. I think there’s a minor problem when the opening simulation fighting sequence is the same amount of fun as the finale, but that might be because it’s lacking a few fun characters who would be helpful. The finale should just stand out in memory more, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I like the finale and I like the film, but it’s just disappointingly not as character-driven as the previous two films.

Score: 65/100