As ever this is my personal ranking of the movies I saw this year.
Carried by the easy charisma of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, nobody could call this movie smart but it kept the laughs coming with an OTT plot and some nice touches. Read my full review here.
9. Kong: Skull Island
Glorious on the IMAX screen, this succeeded where Godzilla failed in succeding as a fun movie. The monster throwdowns are entertaining and the 1970s setting works. Sure, I didn’t quite buy Tom Hiddleston as an SAS badass, but other than that a solid blockbuster. Review here.
8. Wonder Woman
The strongest DC movie so far this gives us the background of Diana (Gal Gadot) coming to the world of men.
It’s a decent movie, but WW only gets a handful of fights with enemies equal to her own abilities and there is way too much slo-mo. Also, in a film which repeatedly talks about how wrong violence is, the Amazons fighting are clearly supposed to look cool. A decent movie, but I think some reviews were a bit hyperbolic. My own response is more measured.
7. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright produces a fun, fast paced action musical loaded with killer songs and a great cast. Slick and in touch with its genre roots. Here’s my quick review.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The first Spidey movie that for me truly got the character right with Tom Holland excelling inside and outside of the suit. It captures the struggles of Peter Parker both as a regular teen and with his new powers and responsibilities. Having Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark as a mentor figure is a nice touch and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a cracking villain, with layers the character has lacked.
Hugely entertaining, with some great action sequences and quality gags this was like a Spider-Man book come to life. I gush even more here.
5. Beauty and the Beast
Disney manage to give a live action spin to one of their best animated films. It works because it captures the original magic while also deepening and strengthening the story. I loved it.
Hugh Jackman has been playing everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant for almost two decades. This his ninth outing is the perfect way to hang up the role. With an end of the line feel this grim, gritty tale sees an aging, failing Wolverine looking after a dementia struck Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Content to hide out and lay low, he is forced back into action when a young girl very much like him crosses his path.
The dark tone works well, and the higher rating allows Logan to finally cut loose on screen, proving that he is the best he is at what he does, and it ain’t pretty. A great send off for Jackman and the character and the best X-movie of them all? I think so.
3. Thor: Ragnarok
Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the Asgardian Avenger is his best. Just fun from the jump with familiar faces alongside some cool new characters. I wrote about it here.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Marvel’s misfits return for a second adventure which matches their arrival. The wisecracking anti-heroes explore Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) past and evade numerous foes. Hugely entertaining, it also packs an emotional punch near the end and having rewatched on telly my admiration only growns. One of Marvel’s best, you can read my original thoughts here.
Christopher Nolan delivers a war movie which is amazingly tense and in many ways understated. There are no gung ho heroics, just regular men desperately trying to survive. The cast is superb and the chronological shuffling heightens the tension and allows us to see different aspects. It’s not fun, as it’s far too intense for that but it is excellent filmmaking. Review.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.