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

 

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

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6Release Date: May 24, 2013. Director: Justin Lin. Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Runtime: 130 min.

Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker) and co. are set for life with the $100 million they took from the last movie. However, they are still wanted criminals, so their family is not intact. Meanwhile, Hobbs (The Rock) has been tracking an organization of lethally skilled mercenary drivers across twelve countries, whose mastermind, Shaw (Luke Evans), is aided by second-in-command Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), the love Dom thought to be dead. Hobbs enlists the help of Dom and his legendary crew to match wits against the mastermind. The payment is pardons for all crew members, an offer no one can refuse.

The earlier additions to the Fast and Furious franchise are mostly just fun movies about criminals who steal merchandise, and enjoy a lifestyle of family, fine hunnies and, of course, fast cars. I think it started to lose steam at the second. Slowly, but surely, each movie improved in terms of quality. It was a change in pace for Fast Five, because it ended up being a great action movie. Since Fast Five is such a good movie, many believed it would be a hard movie to top, as the franchise did set the bar fairly high. That is precisely the one hundred million dollar question… Is this better than the fifth?

You bet your bottom dollar, it is. In fact, buckle up for the best of the franchise. If you weren’t a fan before, you certainly will be now. If Fast Five didn’t make you a salivating fan of this franchise, though, you’re probably just an action movie Scrooge. This has the necessary components that made the fifth such a good movie; and it’s all enhanced. Hobbs is back, and the action is somehow amped up. The fight choreography is more impressive. The film-makers surprisingly make a few scenes that are almost as awesome as the fantastic scene with the vault running through the streets of Rio de Janeiro. How exactly? Well, I mean, there are TWO scenes that feel like finale extravaganza’s!

Luke Evans as Shaw is the best villain of the franchise so far. He is a worthy, ruthless adversary for Dom and his crew. It’s his value of precision against Dom’s value of family. Frankly, no matter how awesome the antagonist is, it’s not such an impressive feat in this franchise. For me, none of the antagonists have really been so worthwhile or memorable. The cast is on-key. Paul Walker is improving. It’s nice to see Vin Diesel trying his hardest to remind an amnesia-stricken Letty of her past life. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has a blast with Dom’s crew, as well. He’s still the badass he’s always been, and everyone’s probably forgotten about Snitch, where it just felt like normal ole Dwayne Johnson. Han (Sung Kang) is still one of the best characters, because he’s so cool. The chemistry is becoming even better. Justin Lin brings equally good direction to this. I admire how this has equal amounts of fun, action, and its fair share of sheer intensity.

Previously in the series, the dialogue has been pretty silly, but funny. This time around, a lot of it is almost smart – and it has some downright hilarious lines and sequences (mostly with Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson). This is not only the best in the franchise, but it’s also the funniest. The plot is actually intelligent, as well, and not just a bunch of racing scenes strung together. It’s always intense, in a few scenes where you just think they’re certain to run out of road. Some of these guys are great drivers, and equally agile in a fistfight. This is an awesome movie, even it’s often entirely unrealistic. People go places without their cellular phones, and much like that, you’ll have to go to the movie without your brain. You’ll enjoy it so much more. Because this is just pure fun!

A sequel that ends on a cliff-hanger, one that makes me gain respect for earlier installments in the franchise, and a sequel that makes me giddy with excitement for the next one is a truly great movie in my book. This is not only the best in the franchise; but also the best action movie and (arguably) the best movie of the year thus far. This runs on Nos the whole way through; the action scenes rarely stop, and when they do, it’s for a funny scene. If people want a breather from fun, intense, beautifully filmed action scenes, there’s probably a screening of The Great Gatsby over in Theater #2. We fans like our action fast, and, you guessed it, furious!

Score90/100

Fast Five (2011)

Fast FiveReleased: April 29, 2011Director: Justin LinStars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne JohnsonRuntime: 130 min.

Fast Five fills up its gas tank and brings it all to the table. It’s a great heist movie, a great action movie, and lots of fun. It features the finest finale and stunt-work of any movie in the franchise thus far. The cast is ideal and everyone has a great chemistry. Paul Walker is becoming better with experience. I love this crew, and I love the way this crew of criminals are so likeable and human. They hold family dear to their hearts, just like everyone should. The plot is good, and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is a great character, even if he often has silly dialogue. The fight between he and Diesel has excellent fight choreography. The runtime feels long, one of the plot holes isn’t patched up until the very end, and the dialogue is often silly, but also often funny. It’s still a fast-paced, energetic, compelling ride throughout, and since I haven’t seen the sixth just yet, this is the best in the franchise so far. It’s not only fun, but a good movie, as well.

Score82/100

Fast & Furious (2009)

Fast & FuriousFast & Furious

Release Date: April 3, 2009

Director: Justin Lin

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster

Runtime: 107 min

Brian O’Conner, now working for the FBI in LA, teams up with Dominic Toretto to bring down a heroin importer by infiltrating his operation.

This tries hard to be intelligent, and it works to a certain extent. This is better than the first two sequels. I certainly don’t groan at this as much as I do with 2 Fast 2 Furious. It really shows that bringing the main cast back together returns the franchise to a fine form. This time around, Paul Walker is tolerable. Justin Lin is a really good director for this type of movie. The racing scenes are fun, and it’s an adequate revenge story. The filmmakers try to hard to give us a great one here, and they don’t quite succeed with that, this isn’t a bad movie by any means. The title is really the only lazy thing about the movie. For an action movie with lots of racing, there’s a lack of non-stop kinetic energy. The ending really does set up something special for the next movie.

65/100

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

The Fast and the FuriousThe Fast and the Furious

Release Date: June 22, 2001

Director: Rob Cohen

Stars: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez

Runtime: 106 min

This fast-paced action flick has a nice balance of fast cars, sexy girls, sexy girls in fast cars, and a fairly adequate mystery. It’s tons of fun. The police, a rival racing crew led by Johnny Tran, and another racing crew led by Hector are the main antagonists at play here. There’s rarely a real focus on any of the antagonists.

This is a movie where loyalties are truly tested. This also reminds us how truly bad Paul Walker can be. His excessive use of the word ‘bro’ might just make him an irritating presence for many. The point of the movie isn’t to have great performances (Walker is really the only bad actor among the memorable cast also including Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Michelle Rodriguez), the point of the movie is to be fun.

Only one character is unlikeable. Vincent is a real sour puss. The movie’s characterization isn’t bad. Their roles are practically just established, and there’s a little back-story for each character. For characters we don’t know so well, one could care for their safety. Even though they’re racers and they’re plunging themselves into dangerous situations. Thorough characterization isn’t required, however, because this is fun, fast entertainment. The care is implemented on the cool physical appearance of the cars, and there’s not as much care implemented on the intellectual level of the movie; but who really cares? It gets the adrenaline going, and that’s the movie’s intention.

74/100