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.

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My Favourite Films #42: The Thing (1982)

My Dad introduced me to the films of John Carpenter, and this is one of my favourites, a tense, gripping sci-fi horror.

Set almost entirely on a remote Ameeican research base in the Arctic it deals with a group of scientists and their support team who must confront a shapeshifting alien beast that assumes the appearance and mannerisms of anything it devours.

The unease starts right at the top when a sled dog races across the icy wilderness, pursued by a helicopter. The pilot is killed in an accidental explosion and the passenger begins firing at the dog only to be shot by Garry (Donald Moffat) the commander. The dog is put in the kennels and after they ID the man as being from a Norwegian base they investigate.

Right away you have questions about what the hell is going on and why they wanted to kill that dog so badly, and then the plot thickens as they find the Norwegian base in disarray, with a burnt grotesque humanoid form outside in the ice.

It turns out the Norwegians found something in the ice and when it woke up it made short work of them and they tried stopping it. The alien being could change shape, hence the weird body, and escaped. Disguised as a dog.

At this point animal lovers might want to look away as the dog-Thing snacks on the dogs. It’s all pretty grizzly and they only stop it when one of the team blasts it with a flamethrower.

This member of the team, MacReady is played by Kurt Russell and that’s an indicator that this is going to be a good movie as the Russell and Carpenter team was dynamite (Escape from New York, Big Trouble I’m Little China). Russell is on great form here as the tough, quiet MacReady who is way out of his depth and not entirely sure how it all works, but who endures through grit and common sense.

“I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done”

It’s his simple reasoning that leads to the blood test that sets up one of the film’s best sequences. Working out that every tiny part of the creature can live separately he comes up with a test. Using blood samples and a hot piece of metal he will work out who’s human and who isn’t.

The whole scene is grippingly tense with the characters eyeballing each other and the unease growing. The final jump scare still gets me out of my seat after repeated viewings and it’s this, not the gleefully gory physical effects that I remember.

Trust breaks down quickly

That’s not to say the effects aren’t great. I’m a big fan of old school effects that look like you can reach out and touch, and the grizzly creations here are very well done, especially a scene where the chest of one opens up to sever the arms of the man trying to revive him. My Dad is not a fan of this scene, possibly because he’s a doctor himself. 
The alien is gory and with no distinct shape it appears as mutant, horrifying blends of the forms it has devoured.

Dude, you fugly.

While the creature has an ick factor that holds up the film’s real success is the atmosphere of claustrophobia and paranoia that Carpenter creates. Just as the characters aren’t sure of who they can trust, the audience is never sure of who’s still human. Even MacReady’s movements can’t be accounted for.
It means you never know who is going to turn on who and it keeps you on edge for long periods.

This all builds to what I think is one of the greatest endings of all time. With the base in ruins after a massive explosion MacReady sits alone in the snow. And then Childs (Keith David) appears. Childs went missing a short while earlier and the two sit opposite each other, neither trusting the other, when asked what are they going to do MacReady delivers the last line of the movie; “Why don’t we just wait here a while? See what happens.”

It’s a remarkably bleak ending, but works extremely well and leaves lots of questions. Is the beast really dead? Is Childs human? What will happen if/when a rescue team arrives?

It’s a great movie, with solid performances from all involved this is an unsettling thriller that sticks with you and rises above the gore to be a genuinely clever thriller. And it can be rewatched over and over without losing it’s appeal.

This is the first John Carpenter movie I’ve included on my favourites list, but it won’t be the last.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Hateful Eight

This is an OK movie that could have been great if the director’s excesses had been curtailed. The problem is that Quentin Tarantino is such a superstar director now that he has too much free rein, and here he hangs himself with it.

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For a director who started with the lean, tense Reservoir Dogs it’s sad to see that QT has reached this bloated excess. At around three hours long it’s in need if some pruning and despite the lengthy run time few of the characters truly engage.

The movie opens with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter, stranded in snowy Wyoming with three dead bounties. Warren is a former Union officer, still dressed in his coat. His horse dead he flags down a passing stage carrying fellow bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who has a live prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth takes him aboard but despite liking each other he insists Warren cuff himself.

The cuffs come off when Ruth reluctantly decides to partner with Warren when they pick up another passenger Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) a former rebel marauder and racist. Mannix claims to be the newly appointed sheriff of Red Rock, the town they are going to, but Ruth doesn’t believe him.

They arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the oncoming blizzard forces them to hunker down for a few days. Warren is suspicious as to where Minnie is and any she’s left a stranger, Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) in charge. Ruth is suspicious of the others at the store, who include an English hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy heading home (Michael Madsen) and an ageing Confederate general (Bruce Dern).

The general and Warren clash, and Ruth is convinced at least one other person there is planning to spring Daisy, who he is chained to. Is everyone who they say they are? Who can Ruth trust? And will they make it through the storm.

The idea is a good one and to his credit QT does make the Haberdashery a tense, claustrophobic setting and ramps up the unease and distrust. But as I stated it’s a little long winded.

The violence when it arrives is the typical OTT stuff of the director’s work since Kill Bill and is laughably hyperbolic in places. This excess doesn’t quite work as well as before- this isn’t genre parody/homage like Kill Bill, or daft overblown fare like Inglorious Basterds and you can’t even make the argument used for Django Unchained where the gun fight excess was almost a contrast to the nastier, more realistic violence dished out to the slaves.

It’s these lashings of gore that make it more QT and less a western. That and the dialogue which is the usual profanity laden stuff. There’s a couple of lines that really work and the plot works, but some feels unnecessary. And I worked out what kind of ending we were gonna get and a few plot points throughout.

The biggest disappointment is the character work, with many being rather under developed. Kurt Russell is exceptional as Ruth, a tough if not overly bright man with an odd code of honour. I’m admittedly a Russell fan but he’s watchable here and makes Ruth the most likeable character.

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Russell still has it

The other stand outs are Goggins as Mannix, as he is a capable performer with comedic skill and who manages to do a good job with the only character who appears to develop over the movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also entertaining as the prisoner Ruth describes as “peppery”.

The lead is probably SLJ’s Warren, and the actor is mesmerising as ever. He also gets the film’s major monologue, where he goads the general with a shocking story. No spoilers here, but it’s unlike anything QT or anyone else has done before and it’s sure to split audiences. I think it worked, if was overplayed and deliberately trying to shock.

Warren is an interesting character but far from likeable as the film progresses, SLJ is endlessly watchable and he is here, and it’s nice that they give him some Agatha Christie style sleuthing during the movie. But as for likeable or someone you warm to? He falls flat.

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Jackson in the lead

Dern, Madsen and Roth do well, but all are rather simply drawn and some of the twists fall flat.

This could have been a great movie, tense, claustrophobic and filled with colourful characters but it feels like a missed opportunity and the climax is rather unsatisfying. There are nice touches, but for me it’s one of the director’s weaker efforts, languishing in the bottom three with Death Proof and Inglorious.

A few interesting ideas and moments aren’t enough for the movie to work as a whole, although I was involved for most of it, even if aware if the time passing.

He clearly has ideas left in him, but it would be nice to see a restraining hand make him hold back on his excesses. A horror movie is apparently next up, and no genre is better served by brevity, so hopefully that will remind QT that you can tell a story in under 2 hours.

Verdict: Glimmers of QT’s greatness are in there and a few of the leads are very watchable, but it’s far too long, the gore is overdone and most of the characters are shallow. Generally a disappointing movie. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Picture Post: Dream Teams, Gifs and Idiots

Okay, so another post where I just post some pics I’ve saved which have amused or baffled me.

1. Best Team Ever?

I love Alan Moore’s comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where various fictional heroes are brought together to join forces in a darkly comic, clever book. So I really liked that someone had made this, an 80s version of the premise, uniting various 80s icons from film and TV. I also really love the pictures in the background which show previous members of the group, suggesting that the 70s team was even more awesome.

2. Dude, learn to spell

3. A Little Slow 

What I love is how long it takes for the penny to drop. Idiot.

Good work, Tom!

4. I want this shirt

When there’s no more room for floating coffins, the red will walk the earth

5. Just odd

This picture is just bizarre, I have no idea why anyone do this, I mean, without the caption I don’t think the picture would be that bad.

6. Why Chandler was my favourite character on Friends

Why aren’t these slogans in use?

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO