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

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Out of the FurnaceReleased: December 6, 2013. Directed by: Scott Cooper. Starring: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Zoe Saldana. Runtime: 116 min.

“Out of the Furnace” starts around the same time frame as last year’s “Killing Them Softly,” which also came out around the same time. The time frame is 2008, before Barack Obama is elected – but during his campaign. They both involve mafia types, but this one focuses more on fight club aspects and debt politics within the mafia because of the economy crash. Though, it’s a bit more subtle – and were just a few vibes I picked up. The time frame isn’t as clear, either, because it starts out when Obama is campaigning, but seems to continue sometime during 2009 or 2010.

The plot follows Russell (Christian Bale) and his younger brother Rodney Baze Jr. (Casey Affleck) who live in the industry town of North Braddock, Pennsylvania. Rodney isn’t enjoying his life very much in this town, and while Russell is getting by, he crashes into the back of a woman’s car killing her and her son, and finds himself in prison. Once he gets out of prison (which I’d estimate is about eighteen months later?), Rodney has found himself deep in dangerous fight clubs. Once he’s released, he must choose between his own freedom or saving his brother.

This is a film about brotherhood, and what one might do for their sibling. I think the bond displayed between the two brothers is great. Rodney is willing to change and work for a living in the steel mill. Before he was in Iraq for four tours, and when he came back, he seemed shaken up from it. He just isn’t cut out for that sort-of life like his brother is, and he is a character that will appeal to many. He is performed well by Casey Affleck. Christian Bale is really good as Russell, as well, a character who is full of mercy on some things, but not on others – and has to make some difficult choices throughout. I thought he was a great character who represents protective older siblings everywhere.

The film, to me, is about brotherhood and how certain events in one’s life can change a person. It seems that Rodney is affected by both his mother’s death as an infant and his tours in Iraq – while Russell faced hardships like prison. I think “Furnace” in the title refers to those hardships, and you must overcome them. It’s also a film about justice and finding it, and that’s the second part of the film mostly.

It gets to it slowly but surely, so it makes me consider this a slow-boiling and intense drama. It seems to me a lot of films set in an industrial town are good, but have slow pacing. Anyway, John Petty (Willem Dafoe) is high up in the fighting rings in North Braddock, and the one to introduce Rodney to them. He also introduces him to Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) is a ruthless man high up in the fighting ring in his land, and he seems a bit more threatening with a lollipop in his mouth, something Rodney comments on jokingly. But DeGroat proves he should not be screwed with, as shown in the opening scene where he forcibly makes a woman deepthroat a hot dog (the food…). It expresses his cruelty, where he then proceeds to physically assault an onlooker who attempts to intervene, causing quite the scene at a local drive-in. DeGroat is a good antagonist, and this just reminds everyone of how great of a character actor Harrelson has the ability to consistently be.

This is better than one’s average crime thriller because it’s actually realistic and people receive consequences for their actions. It’s also more thought-provoking and has some compelling character depth, something I wasn’t expecting. The ending is good, and it leaves it up to the viewer to decide how they’d like it to end – morbidly or happily. I’m still deciding how I would have liked things conclude for the characters. It’s a good film and I may re-visit it in the future.

Score: 75/100

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness

Release Date: May 16, 2013

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Runtime: 132 min

Summer 2013 seems like a time for vulnerable heroes. First, Iron Man/Tony Stark of Iron Man 3 experienced anxiety after the events of The Avengers. Now, it’s Captain James Kirk’s time. After losing something he holds dear, he takes his U.S.S. Enterprise crew after a Enterprise agent turned war criminal, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), to settle a personal score. This mission is really bigger than any of them ever expected it to be.

It has become apparent that the plots for Star Trek movies are essentially spaceship wars, where the ship with the biggest guns wins, and it is practically always, the U.S.S. Enterprise. They are also traditional revenge stories; and they don’t elevate above that, because they stick to the formula. These stories are average, but this franchise makes them fun, maybe because it’s a revenge story set in space with big weapons on spaceships. The fun story-lines still don’t make me feel incredibly impressed. That is the reason why, while both of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films have been well-done, I am not so eager to seek out any of the Star Trek TV shows or movies with Shatner and Nimoy. I’m good with watching Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto rock their roles.

Simon Pegg’s Scotty and newcomer Alice Eve’s Carol become more primary characters of the Enterprise, as well as, of course, Kirk and Spock. However, there isn’t enough of a focus on Uhura (Zoe Saldana) or Bones (Karl Urban), and the mostly secondary characters of Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) become more secondary. While they have critical duties to fulfill, it feels like they have a very limited amount of screen time. Bones is usually the prime comic relief character, and while he does produce a few good yuks; Scotty’s the main comic relief in the movie. Will you hear many complaints about that? Probably not, because Simon Pegg is very funny. The whole crew still works as an ensemble, where Alice Eve makes this sci-fi fun a little more sexy. We are still able to become invested with these characters, where even Vulcans become human. The computer-esque, logical thinking Spock is very likeable; and Quinto is such a strong actor, that you might yearn for more of him in roles where he doesn’t have pointy ears and a bowl-shaped haircut. The layer of emotional vulnerability that is added to Kirk is creative, and so is the contrasting layer added to Spock; where he is afraid to portray specific, all-to-familiar, painful emotions.

Some of the best scenes are emotionally powerful ones, as well as some fun scenes where the crew mostly banters in a hilarious way. While that isn’t good for an action movie, the amusing banter is more than welcome. Some of the action sequences are stunning and usually thrilling. That’s the point, they’re bigger, they’re badder, they’re bolder; even if they don’t feel quite as magical as they did in 2009’s Star Trek. More than a few are forgettable, but some really special ones stand out. The story is mostly easy to follow, even if it has the tendency to be complex.

That is mainly thanks to the main villain, John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch is a booming on-screen presence. When Kirk relentlessly hits him, he just stands there without a scratch with a facial expression that asks, “What are you trying to do, puny man?” He’s savage, he’s deadly, he’s brilliant, he’s terrifying. He makes Eric Bana’s Nero look like a forgettable, little mouse. I think it further exemplifies the influence of The Dark Knight‘s Joker on blockbuster, good vs. evil action movies, where writers are now trying to find the next, big, brilliant terrorist mind. This guy just might be him. Cumberbatch is the most memorable part of the movie, and he absolutely dominates every scene. Even when he isn’t on-screen, the audience misses him. This isn’t Pine’s show, not Quinto’s, and not even Abrams’ any longer. He dominates it so well, in fact, it should hereby be known as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek Into Darkness.

In a nutshell: While I wouldn’t call this 2013’s best film, I will call it 2013’s best action and science fiction movie. There are memorable action scenes, good twists and turns, and amusing dialogue exchanges. The villain outdoes the villain of its predecessor; but I think the crew isn’t utilized as well. To Trekkies, the plot might feel reminiscent of a few prior movies; so contrary to one of the franchise’s most prominent taglines, it’ll feel like it is going where prior movies have gone before. Still, this is really fun summer entertainment.

83/100

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek

Release Date: May 8, 2009

Director: J.J. Abrams

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Leonard Nimoy

Runtime: 127 min

Throughout elementary school, my dad would turn on the TV at 5 P.M. to channel 50; the Space channel. That’s the time Star Trek: The Next Generation (or whichever Star Trek TV show it was) would play. I’d make a face and say, “Do we have to watch this?” My dad would reply, “Yes.” Suffice to say, I loathed the show. I comprehend why it has such a fan-base, but man, did it bore me to tears!

If a future me told me that, one day, I’d like, let alone love, a movie that had Star Trek in the title, I would call myself crazy. It looks like I should be calling every mental institution in town; because this Star Trek is freaking awesome!

The brash James T. Kirk tries to live up to his father’s legacy with Mr. Spock keeping him in check as a vengeful, time-traveling Romulan creates black holes to destroy the Federation one planet at a time.

Star Trek is built to introduce a great franchise to a younger generation, and I’m really glad that it’s so great. The viewer doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to understand what’s going on or even enjoy the hell out of it, for that matter. It’s fairly easy to follow, for a movie that has a lot of time-traveling. Even people with little brains who don’t understand science fiction so well would be able to follow this. To me, that’s very cool. Someone doesn’t have to be a Trekkie to enjoy what’s going on, mostly because it’s actually an amazing action movie.

There’s explosions, flying bullets, cool creatures, et cetera. All in space. Sweet! J.J. Abrams is able to bring excellent direction to the feature and some humour to the feature. This makes me want to re-watch all that I’ve seen of Abrams’ work, and re-assess my opinions of some of his movies (Cloverfield, Super 8). He truly brings everything to the table, here; and the movie has some great cinematography and visual effects, as well.

Whilst the film has an excellent pace, I don’t think the story is incredibly impressive. The story is very good for what it is, but it is limited and it doesn’t have much room to elevate itself above a mere revenge story. It has a lot of time travel, but I think the story is only slightly above average. There’s lots of action and some nice drama, and the witticism of it all is very awesome. I think the movie’s strongest aspect are its characters and its ensemble cast.

Chris Pine portrays James T. Kirk this time around, and he’s the great face of the franchise for a new generation. The character becomes suffocated by the shadow of his late father, because he wants to live up to everyone’s expectations. This doesn’t stop him from being very confident and having a good time while performing his duties on the U.S.S. Enterprise. The relationship between he and Spock is a fascinating one. Spock is the main target of the villain Nero (Eric Bana). The Romulan villain is out for vengeance of something Spock did or possibly didn’t do, and that’s what thirsts his anger. Bana is intimidating at the time, but truly forgettable.

Anyway, about Spock. Spock is faced with much emotional turmoil throughout the feature, and it hardly helps that he doesn’t know how to effectively portray – or put into words – what he’s feeling. He’s played awesomely by Zachary Quinto, and I think he and Pine are great to lead the Enterprise. It’s great to watch Quinto, because he reminds me why I spent my time watching every episode of TV’s Heroes (I did that task for Hayden Panettiere, too, though). The rest of the cast (Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Karl Urban, Bruce Greenwood, among many others) helps make the fantastic ensemble. They’re an ideal cast to lead the Enterprise. Simon Pegg is also part of the crew, and his role of Scotty reminds me why I enjoy watching him perform so damn much. He’s perfect for this role, and he brings the most wit to the feature. After he shows up, it becomes that much more entertaining and hilarious.

Star Trek isn’t able to elevate itself above a solid revenge story, but there’s hardly anything wrong with that. This enjoyable film will still appeal to both Trekkies and newbies to the franchise. This is immensely entertaining, a great space adventure, and an excellent action film.

88/100