Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Disclaimer: I have tried but there are a few spoilers ahead, so be warned.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a surprising gem of a movie, with James Gunn bringing a smaller, more obscure Marvel team to the big screen and expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos. It’s among my favourites of the Marvel movies and so this follow up arrives with additional pressure the first didn’t.

Luckily it never allows this pressure to effect it’s performance and while a couple of gags are revisited, this strikes out into fresh territory.

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Having saved the universe Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovered his father was not of Earth. This mystery continues to bug him, but he pushes it awau as he leads the Guardians. We find them defeating a gigantic space beast to the backing of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, the action largely in the background as Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the child reincarnation of the team’s living tree, dances about happily.

The team has been hired to stop the monster by the Sovereign, led by High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). The Sovereign, a gold skinned race have bred their people to be the best they can be, and so view their citizens as too precious to risk. Their fee is the handover of Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) villainous adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who they plan to hand over to the Nova Corps.

All goes well and they leave. Aboard the ship Peter apologises to Gamora for having flirted with Ayesha, but she brushes this off. Drax (Dave Bautista) advises Peter that he has no chance with Gamora and should instead find someone “pathetic” like he is. Shortly after the Sovereign chase them as on their way out the gruff, gun toting raccoon Rocket  (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole valuable and powerful batteries from them.

Rocket and Peter argue about who is the better pilot and their struggle for control damages the ship. Luckily, the remote controlled pursuers are destroyed by a mysterious figure who arrives astride his own ship. The Guardians escape but crash land, their ship severely damaged.

Ayesha’s next move is to recruit Yondu (Michael Rooker), the alien who abducted Peter as a child to capture the Guardians. We learn that some of the crew think Yondu is going soft and that his team of Ravagers are outsiders to the other clans, with his old friend Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) who says he is an exile because he broke the code, and traded in children.

The Guardians meet Ego (Kurt Russell), who is Peter’s father and a Celestial, beings with great power who live for millions of years. Ego takes Peter, Gamora and the musclebound Drax to teach Peter more of his past.

Rocket and Baby Groot remain to fix the ship and keep an eye on Nebula. Unfortunately, the Ravagers arrive. Yondu announces he has no intention of handing over the Guardians, as there is more money to be made from taking the batteries and selling them on. The crew view this as proof he is too soft on Peter, and they mutiny. Nebula, released by Baby Groot, intervenes and Yondu and Rocket are imprisoned.

Nebula heads after Gamora for revenge, and Yondu and Rocket learn they will be sold to former enemies. Yondu is also not happy to learn that Peter has gone to Ego’s home world.

Ego’s planet is an idyll where he lives almost alone aside from Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who he treats almost as a pet and who has no social skills due to being alone for so long. Ego reveals he is the planet and that Peter shares his ability to create things, and Ego wants to teach him about his powers and his purpose.

Gamora, however, is suspicious which causes friction between her and Peter. After an argument she storms off alone where Nebula attacks, they fight and then discover something Ego has hidden from them.

Can they trust Ego? Can Yondu and Rocket escape? Will the Sovereign ever stop hunting them?

I loved this movie, which captures the same vibe of the original, with solid action sequences, likeable characters and a funny, clever script. The plot hooks you in because early on the characters win you over, particularly Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, who’s cocky swagger is still in place but mention of his father in an early scene obviously hits close to home. It’s a great performance with Pratt managing to make the character cool despite his buffoonery and the fact that he often trips himself up.

The rest of the Guardians are solid throughout, and it’s a nice touch bringing Nebula back as her relationship with Gamora is fleshed out slightly. Also, the “unspoken thing” between Star-Lord and Gamora develops nicely, and a lot is gained by underplaying it.

A lot of the publicity for the movie has focused on Baby Groot, and it’s easy to see why as he is straight up adorable and centre stage for some of the funniest moments of the film.

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For me, however, the film’s strongest asset is Michael Rooker as Yondu. Rooker is consistently dependable on screen (Cliffhanger, Mallrats, The Replacement Killers, The Walking Dead, Tombstone), and has far more to do this time round, which is good as he impressed me in the original. Here we learn more of Yondu’s past and it adds to the character, as does the development of his relationship with Star-Lord and Ego. The plot that sees him in exile from the other Ravagers gives him a certain vulnerability, and he’s brought low early on.

His comeback is impressive and one of the strongest parts of the film, and the sequence where he and Rocket escape, and he gets revenge on the crew who mutinied is a masterpiece, one of the most visually impressive, inventive and darkly funny action sequences I’ve seen in years, and worth the ticket price alone. And his “magic arrow” weapon is just badass.

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Rooker’s softening of the character doesn’t mean that Yondu loses anything, and in fact, the character’s slow acceptance of his softer side coincides with the film’s major theme, which is about creating our own families. Yondu and Star-Lord’s father and son vibe, is well handled and Yondu is thereby placed opposite Ego, who slowly reveals a more sinister, cynical nature.

Ego is brilliantly played by the legendary Kurt Russell, who brings an easy charm to his early scenes. His laidback, jokey manner is similar to Star-Lord’s character and their bonding over the music Peter’s late mother loved is gentle and sweet.

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Kurt Russell, legend

Of course, all is not as it seems. Having won over Peter, his facade slips and the invented history he has created is shown to have been romanticised, but the film holds back one more revelation which delivers a gut punch to Peter and the audience, and serves as the turning point for the film.

The action, set on strange new worlds is glorious, the fights have energy and verve, with moments of humour dotted between the blows. The visuals are striking, and there are some nice nods to other Marvel worlds throughout.

But more than just looking great and keeping the laughs flowing, this movie has a strong emotional core. Ego’s shocking statement leaves the audience reeling, but come the end of the movie the other characters and how they work together has you emotionally invested, and breaks your heart. I’m not ashamed to say that during a sequence soundtracked by Cat Stevens I found myself welling up.

Thanos, the villain Marvel have been hyping since the first Avengers movie still lurks in the background, but this serves less as a movie to move the MCU forward, and more a film to move the characters forward. The films pulls the team closer together and the promise at the end that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return” is one I’m very happy about.

A strong contender for the best Marvel film yet, and current frontrunner for film of the year.

Verdict: Builds well on the first movie, adding more to the characters and their relationships. It’s entertaining from start to finish, with superb action, humour and a decent plot. An utter gem. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Jurassic World

Despite it scaring the pants off me as a small child, the original Jurassic Park has become a personal favourite of mine, but I was left disappointed by the sequels, how would a fourth installment measure up? Excited and hopeful  after some cool trailers, MWG and I headed off to see it the first chance we got.

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Set over 20 years later the dinosaur theme park has been restarted and thrives on its island location. It’s all run by tense control freak Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), who takes a rather cold, dispassionate view of the beasts under her care.
In order to keep the park interesting and the customers coming the park needs new beasties, and having exhausted their dinosaur finds they’ve decided to create their own using dinosaur using gene splicing. CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) visits the new creature, named the Indominus Rex and has reservations, because he’s clearly the only person to have seen a sci-fi movie ever.
He tells Claire to consult Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), the velociraptor trainer who’s not happy with the fact shady military tech suit Hoskins (Vincent D’Onforio) is sniffing around his raptors, keen to use them as living drones.
Grady is not impressed with the gene splicing, or the way the Indominus has been raised in solitary confinement, and wants to know what, along with a T-Rex it’s been mixed with. This is classified.
The Indominus or I-Rex turns out to be smart and able to hide from thermal scans and busts loose, ditches its tracker and rampages across the island killing its way through anything it meets as, to quote Grady “it works out its place on the food chain”.
To make matters worse, Claire’s nephews Zach and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins respectively) are on the island and have wandered into the woods. While they try and stop the I-Rex, keep the customers safe she and Grady head off to track down the missing kids.

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Lost in the woods

Can they find and keep the kids safe? Can the I-Rex be stopped? What’s Hoskins planning? And why does nobody ask why the scientists would be this bloody stupid?
Here’s the thing, this is a solid, extremely entertaining blockbuster which ticks a lot of boxes. Sure, it can’t match the original but it leaves the other sequels in the dust.
The premise requires a leap of faith- it’s asking a lot for the audience to believe that despite the initial disaster that the park would reopen and go ahead, and even more of a stretch that the scientists would decide to breed a giant, intelligent dinosaur who can camouflage itself and hide from thermal scans. Seriously, a lot of films gave scientists making daft decisions that backfire but there’s usually an upshot. Here the risk outweighs any potential reward.
That being said, if you go with it, the movie rewards you.
The script fizzes along and it gets going pretty quickly and it doesn’t feel 2 hours long. There are some decent set pieces, even if one is a pretty blatant Aliens ripoff. The dinosaurs are impressive and there are more on the roster, not just the I-Rex. The raptors, villains of the first film are here changed to being Grady’s pack, joining him on the hunt for the I-Rex, although the film should be applauded for always having tension surround these beasts.

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Grady (Pratt) and the pack on the hunt

The finale is pretty impressive with a massive dinosaur battle royale, and its truly epic and gripping.
The film’s other trump card is the cast, which is pretty solid across the board. Pratt, continuing his rise, excels as the lead, with Grady being a tough, charismatic bloke who knows his animals and has a healthy suspicion for the corporate side of things.
Early on he voices concerns and warns others, and he’s proved right. Pratt’s easy charm makes him likeable and he handles the action sequences brilliantly. He has a few quips along the way, but Grady’s a more serious, jaded character than Star-Lord and it’s good to see Pratt build on his leading man potential.
Also on fine form is Bryce Dallas Howard, who captures Claire’s icy detachment perfectly and who does a great job of slowly revealing the person beneath, and the character develops nicely. She also has good chemistry with Pratt and it’s good to see her take charge and save the day a bit herself towards the end.

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Claire takes charge

The one weakness are the kids. Simpkins as the younger brother is rather annoying, and I found myself sympathising with his older brother, stuck babysitting him. Also the character feels uneven, giving the impression that things changed over different drafts. I found it hard to care about the kids, and their plotline seemed a bit obvious and under developed.
Luckily, the action moves along and everyone else does a good job, and the script has some clever, funny touches which slyly play on conventions.
All in all, a solid blockbuster and very good fun.
Verdict: Largely well done and hugely entertaining, its the strongest instalment of the sequels. The action is gripping and the performances strong, particularly Pratt and Howard. The kids are a bit weak, but on the whole a quality blockbuster. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Top 10 Films of 2014

My favourite movies of the year, in order.

10. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug/The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Peter Jackson brings his Middle Earth series to an end with two strong, engaging and entertaining fantasy epics. The decision to split a slim book in three may seem more commercial than artistic, but to his credit Jackson pulls it off with only a few short sections that drag. Full reviews here and here.

9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Chris Evans returns as the star spangled Avenger and does a cracking job as a man having to deal with his past and a changing world. In the age of drone warfare it addressed some key questions and at times was more conspiracy theory than superhero action flick. Great support from Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie and further proof of just how well Marvel have gone from page to screen. Full review.

8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

I know some folks were disappointed, and it lacks the action and intensity of the first two installments but I dug it immensely, especially Jennifer Lawrence’s performance and the bravery of actually giving Katniss’ PTSD time on screen rather than galloping through to the action, which will definitely come in the final movie. Full review.

Tough, but damaged: Lawrence as Katniss.

Tough, but damaged: Lawrence as Katniss.

7. 22 Jump Street

A surprising comedy sequel that manages to be just as funny as the original, thanks in part to great chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and a scene stealing performance from Ice Cube. Full review.

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

Ice Cube on scene-stealing form

6. X-Men: Days of Future Past

The best X-movie yet?

Time travelling superheroics allow two generations of heroes to be shown and features fantastic performances and a solid, engaging plot. Full review.

5. Gone Girl

David Fincher delivers a gripping, twisted thriller that’s a little schlocky in places but benefits from solid performances from Ben Affleck and a seriously creepy Rosamund Pike. Full Review.

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4. Chef

Jon Favreau delivers a sweet, charming movie about family, friendship and the simple things in life. It boasts a cracking soundtrack, but don’t watch it on an empty stomach as the food porn is strong. Full review.

3. Frozen

Okay, so we’re all getting a little sick of “Let It Go” now, but this is still a solid, top drawer Disney flick with some fantastic songs, brilliant gags and a captivating fairytale plot. One of the best in recent years and bound to be one that lives on. Full review.

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2. The Lego Movie

A cracking animated movie with wonderful voice casting, brilliant gags and a really dynamic, exciting look and feel to it. Also, “Everything Is Awesome” is the only thing that can challenge “Let It Go” for earwig of the year. Full review.

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1. Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel gambled by making a movie about unfamiliar characters on the other side of their cinematic universe but it paid off in one of their best movies yet. Featuring a fantastic band of misfits as the heroes this wasn’t just a sci-fi action adventure but one of the funniest films in years. Chris Pratt excelled as the roguish Star-Lord, but he had fantastic support from the rest of the cast.

Pratt in action as Quill

Pratt in action as Quill

Loved it in the cinema and loved it just as much on DVD. A belter of a movie, and already eagerly awaiting the sequel. An easy winner of my favourite film of the year. Review here.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Lego Movie

I actually saw this a while ago and planned to review it sooner, but it kept getting pushed back for different reasons, but I wanted to get the review in before the end of 2014 and the yearly Top 10 movies list.

There have been a couple of games based on toys and most have been lacklustre (I enjoyed the first Transformers movie, but the sequels were woeful and Battleship was just terrible), luckily there’s this movie to stand as the best example of the genre. It’s quite fitting that a movie based on Lego, a toy all about creativity and possibilities should provide a movie that crackles with imagination.

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The basic plot of a regular Joe having to realize their potential is standard fare, but it’s where the movie goes with it that shows genuine imagination, wit and ambition.

The movie follows Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a cheerful, dim-witted Lego man who lives a normal day-to-day life following the instructions that he’s provided with and never really thinking for himself. All seems good for Emmet, but one night he gets sucked into a rebel plan who don’t like that President Business (Will Ferrell), plans to use a weapon called the Kragle to stop the Lego world being different and inventive.

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Emmet

Emmet touches the “Piece of Resistance” a brick that grants the owner, the prophesied “the Special”, the power to stop the Kragle. The Piece was hunted by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), an ass-kicking master builder who works for Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who made the prophecy.

Wyldstyle kicking ass

Wyldstyle kicking ass

Wyldstyle is frustrated by Emmet’s stupidity and lack of imagination, and they doubt whether he is actually the Special. Aided by Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett) they travel across different Lego worlds and try to figure out how they can stop Lord Business from his evil plan, building to a climactic showdown.

I totally dug this movie, which is jam packed with wonderful graphics and a wealth of gags throughout. It’s a kids movie that truly works on two levels, with younger viewers loving the story and the visuals, but lots of jokes that might go over their head, the best example of this being the decision to have Will Arnett’s Batman being a bit of a douche, and the scene where he plays his band’s demo is a delight.

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The voice cast across the board are fantastic, especially Chris Pratt as the clueless Emmet, with this and Guardians of the Galaxy this year, and Jursassic World coming soon, Pratt seems to have arrived in a big way, and here he is on sensational form, with his vocal skills really bringing Emmet to life.

Morgan Freeman does his usual voice of wisdom thing as Vitruvius, and they have fun with this, especially when he makes his opening prophecy.

Freeman as Vitruvius

Freeman as Vitruvius

The movie makes little jokes about Lego’s history, with cameos from Lego’s Star Wars line and the plot having a slight dig at those Lego fans who just build once and keep them pristine, thanks to the live action section (also featuring Will Ferrell). The live action sequence is a bit cliche, but by that time the movie had built up such a feeling of good will in me I went for it.

From the start to the finish I was utterly charmed and it had me chuckling consistently, especially at daft gags like Liam Neeson’s split personality character Bad Cop/Good Cop. It’s a cheerful, vibrant and engaging movie that will work for all ages and is an utter gem.

Bad Cop/Good Cop

Bad Cop/Good Cop

One word of warning though, the cheesy song “Everything Is Awesome” from the movie will lodge in your head for a long time after, and recur frequently.

Verdict: An utter delight of a movie, filled to the brim with quality gags and strong vocal performances. It’s a fast based, fun and inventive movie and easily one of the better animated movies of recent years. Delightful. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s a sign of Marvel’s confidence in their cinematic universe that this, the tenth installment revolves around a lesser known title and is only loosely linked (so far) with the other movies. While the other films all built up to the Avengers team up and were Earth based this follows a separate team far across the cosmos.

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It’s a gamble but it pays off magnificently, resulting in a ridiculously entertaining sci-fi romp which is easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a while. Humour has been a key component in the Marvel movies, and I think is part of the reason for their success, but this is definitely the closest they’ve come to an all out comedy.

The plot revolves around Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who we see being abducted from Earth following the death of his mother in the late 80s. Twenty six years later and light years away, Quill operates as a petty thief and outlaw styling himself as Star-Lord. However, the theft of a mysterious orb lands him in higher stakes. Turning on his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) he decides to go alone in selling it.

The orb is actually sought by Ronan (Lee Pace), a fanatical Kree who wishes revenge on the Xandarians, a rival race. If he can give the orb to Thanos (Josh Brolin) then in exchange the Xandarians will be destroyed. Ronan is assisted by Thanos’ two adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), and sends Gamora to retrieve the orb.

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Gamora tracks down Quill and attempts to get the orb back. Her attempts are hindered as Quill is also the target of a pair of bounty hunters seeking the reward Yondu has offered- Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a cynical, sarcastic genetically engineered raccoon and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree. All four are arrested and transported to a maximum security prison space station.

At the prison Gamora’s association with Ronan makes her a target for many of the inmates, including Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a hulking brute who seeks revenge for the death of his family. Quill intervenes, saving Gamora by arguing that keeping her alive is probably a better way of getting to Ronan.

Gamora reveals that unable to go along with Ronan’s plan to murder billions she intended to betray Ronan and had found another buyer. She joins forces with Quill, Rocket and Groot to escape and get the orb away from Ronan and Thanos. They escape and Drax joins them.

Meeting the buyer they discover that the orb contains one of six infinity stones, immensely powerful and destructive objects that can only be wielded by the strongest beings and can destroy whole planets. Drax, drunk and desiring revenge gives away their position to Ronan, who discovers what the orb contains. After defeating Drax in one-on-one combat Ronan leaves.

Quill calls Yondu in order to be captured to save a stranded Gamora. Groot and a remorseful Drax want to rescue their comrades, and convince Rocket. When they reach Yondu’s ship, Quill’s fast talking has got him and Gamora out of trouble. The five are reunited and knowing that Ronan now knows about the infinity stone will head to destroy Xandar and other worlds, Quill suggests that they need to stop him, despite it being seemingly impossible.

Can Quill unite the misfits and rally them to make a stand? And will it be enough if they and Yondu’s ships do face down Ronan? And will the forces of law believe that Quill and the others are telling the truth and want to help?

I freaking loved this movie, the plot is a fairly standard sci-fi adventure, and the idea of misfits having to team up to save the day is hardly new, but it’s executed brilliantly. The script by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn is a delight filled with nice ideas and great touches, and Gunn (Slither) has serious comedic chops, but also handles the action brilliantly.

The characters are realized wonderfully, especially the CGI duo Groot and Rocket. Groot, despite only uttering three words (“I am Groot”) is strangely endearing and the sarky Rocket is a delight. This is the third Dave Bautista movie I’ve seen, and this is the best performance he’s given (underused in Riddick and just there as muscle in The Man with the Iron Fists),  but here not only does he bring the muscular presence to Drax but he’s gloriously deadpan as a character who inteperets everything literally. It’s a sign of the film’s class that despite these ridiculous characters you warm to them all and get genuinely invested in them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

Zoe Saldana also deserves praise for her role, capturing Gamora’s ferocity but also a bizarre naivety. Raised as a weapon she seems uncomfortable with emotions and experiences confused irritation towards Quill. Saldana does a good job of slowly allowing the character to develop and reveal her emotions and form relationship

As Quill, Chris Pratt is the stand out. Coupled with The Lego Movie (review coming soon) this is definitely his year, I’d been impressed with his work in the show Parks and Recreation and supporting roles like in The Five Year Engagement, but I was really surprised by how well he handled the leading man role here. Slimmed down and buffed up, Pratt looks the part but his winning quality is the way he marries Quill’s cocky swaggering with goofy failure. It could have made the character look utterly delusional, but Quill is just about talented enough to justify the confidence, even if he sometimes emerges victoriously by luck rather than judgement.

Pratt’s easy charm carries much of the film, he’s constantly out of his depth and his roguish facade, and “Star-Lord” posturing is blatantly a cover for a man who is lost and basically a decent bloke. When the chips are down he rises to the challenge, however long the odds, with a combination of fast talking, courage and fluke. He’s clearly cut in the Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Malcolm Reynolds mode but far goofier. There’s something almost childlike at times in the character, or at least adolescent, and this extends to his relationship with Yondu, who despite constant threats gives him a lot of slack and treats him like a favoured, indulged child.

Pratt in action as Quill

Pratt in action as Quill

The back story adds some mystery, (why was a small child abducted? And why is his father so shrouded in mystery?) but also gives the movie one of it’s nicest, most idiosyncratic touches, the soundtrack. When he’s abducted one of the few possessions Peter has is a walkman with an mix tape in, which includes a plethora of great, cheesy 60s and 70s hits, including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” which appeared in a trailer. During the opening robbery Peter dances and lip syncs with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”. It’s a hilarious sequence and sets up the movie’s quirky, fun tone and had the audience I was with laughing, which they continued to do throughout.

I know I’ve pushed the comedy side, but it’s still a rollicking adventure, with great fights an intimidating villain and a class supporting cast. I eagerly await the sequel, and seeing if they have a Guardians-Avengers crossover.

Verdict: A goofy triumph, Gunn mixes humour, action and sci-fi with great skill and the cast are sensational. A brilliant soundtrack and weird, but endearing characters makes this one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in a while and up there with the best of Marvel’s cinematic output, and in the mix for my favourite movie of the year. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.