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: 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.


Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

J.J. Abrams is a brave dude, back in 2009 he risked annoying a world of Trekkies by rebooting the original line up with new actors in the iconic roles, luckily however he managed to pull it off rather well, creating an interesting spin which took likable, familiar characters and gave them a new spin and changed their universe slightly. I loved the first flick and so was keen to see if Abrams could expand on his success.

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The movie picks up Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) aboard the Enterprise, where he breaks the Prime Directive (a rule to stop interference in developing civilizations) to save a planet from a volcanic eruption and in the process reveals the presence of his ship to the locals in order to save the life of his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), who had told him to leave him behind, angering his partner Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Spock’s report lands Kirk in hot water and he is stripped of his command, but old friend Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the Enterprise’s new commanding officer, sorts it that he will serve as his first officer.

Meanwhile, a mysterious figure orchestrates a bomb attack on a Starfleet facility in London, killing several. This leads Kirk, Pike and Spock to attend a meeting with Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), where the culprit is revealed to be John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) a Starfleet agent gone rogue. Harrison attacks the meeting, killing Pike in the process before he flees to the Klingon home planet.

Kirk asks to pursue Harrison and is sent out with brand new long range torpedoes to destroy the uninhabited area that Harrison is hiding out in. The new payload causes a rift between Kirk and his chief engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), who resigns his commission and leaves the ship. Kirk is also arguing with Spock, who believes that the mission is not morally right and Harrison should stand trial.

Kirk also meets a new science officer, Carol Wallace (Alice Eve), who he finds attractive, but whom Spock regards with suspicion.

Kirk changes the mission and leads a small team onto the planet, risking war, and after saving them from Klingons, Harrison surrenders and is taken aboard.

Harrison (Cumberbatch) imprisoned aboard the Enterprise.

Harrison (Cumberbatch) imprisoned aboard the Enterprise.

Once aboard Kirk orders an investigation into the new missiles and begins to realize that all might not be as it seems, and that Harrison might be more than just an agent. Can Kirk expose the conspiracy and safeguard the lives of his crew?

I came out of this movie with a big grin on my face, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m a massive fan of the original Star Trek and it’s characters, but I think Abrams has done a great job in rebooting them and it’s lots of fun for older fans to see the new spin on old features of the universe (the new Klingons are badass) and the cast are fantastic.

Chris Pine in particular is great as Kirk, capturing the swaggering, womanizing aspects of the character, but also allowing signs of weakness and uncertainty to creep in, making him a far more human and fallible. Pine ticks all the right boxes as the heroic lead and does a brilliant job of bringing new intensity to the vengeance seeking Kirk as well as showing a more fragile side as he battles a crisis of confidence.

Pine as Kirk- crisis of confidence

Pine as Kirk- crisis of confidence

It’s a more mature Kirk than in the previous film and while still fun and reckless, as the film progresses the captain is forced to make tough choices and deal with the less pleasant aspects of command.

He’s ably supported by Quinto’s Spock, who’s a delight, bringing a lot of deadpan humour to proceedings and it’s nice to see the friendship between the two develop. Quinto also manages to allow little flashes of emotion to emerge before Spock’s self control locks them down and conveys a lot in small fluctuations in facial features.

The rest of the crew do well, even if several feel underused, although it’s nice to see Simon Pegg’s Scotty get a bit more to do this time around and Zoe Saldana does well with what she gets, continuing to make Uhura a more strong willed and vital part of the ship’s crew. Her scenes with Quinto as they play out the characters’ romance are done well, with Spock’s logical exterior causing problems for them, and there’s an adorable moment where Uhura goes up on her tiptoes to kiss him.

Karl Urban’s Bones could still be used more, but he does very well in capturing the character’s sarky, world weary side and is used to good comedic effect.

But the big story is the villain, played by man of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch does a brilliant job, playing the villain with quiet intensity that then explodes into flashes of intense savagery. He manages to bring menace to the character and plays it with a cool, enigmatic touch and detached arrogance. He doesn’t steal the film by any stretch but he definitely succeeds in holding the audience’s attention and presenting a realistic threat to the goodies.

The plot is handled well and the film’s pacing is on point, and for once the current trend of “going darker” for a sequel works, with cracks starting to appear in Gene Roddenberry’s idyllic vision of the future and the sign that despite technological advantages, mankind’s greatest threat comes from human failings and weakness.

But the film never loses it’s sense of fun and the script has some great, funny dialogue. Abrams executes the explosive action sequences with great aplomb, and keeps it moving along nicely.

There are a few flaws in the movie, with a few plot points being telegraphed fairly early on, and a couple of the twists are easy to see, and as I mentioned, several of the characters are underused, but on balance it’s a massive success and I personally think that Abrams might be better served sticking with Trek over Wars.

Verdict: A great sci-fi blockbuster which expands on the first film and benefits from a great villain. The cast are all on fine form and there’s a real sense of humour to proceedings. Captures the spirit of the old series while delving a little deeper. The plot is solid if slightly predictable, but it’s fantastically fun.  8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


DVD Round Up: The Losers, Conan the Barbarian and X- Men First Class

A while ago I wrote about my habit of constantly buying books leading to a backlog, well, I do the same thing with DVDs. I’ll pick up some flick that’s been recommended to me or I missed at the cinema and then they sit, unwatched on a shelf for a while.

Anyway, last week, with an evening to myself I decided to have a bit of a film fest and here are my thoughts on the three movies I watched.

First up is The Losers an action movie about a black ops team who are betrayed, framed and left for dead. They team up with a mysterious girl (Zoe Saldana) to get revenge on the shifty CIA spook responsible for their situation.

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I quite enjoyed this movie, the plot is standard action fare and its quite daft in places, but I really liked the absurd, OTT action sequences. There are some nice touches and fun scenes, the standout for me being a fight between Saldana’s enigmatic Aisha and the team’s leader played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Before the fight both limber up in seperate rooms and the fight is a scrappy, surprisingly violent brawl.

The team is pretty cool, with JDM and his right hand man, Idris Elba being badass. Chris Evans is almost unrecognisable as the group’s awkward, loudmouth tech, but the show is stolen by the sniper, Cougar (Oscar Jaenada) who says little but oozes badassery.

Loud, dumb fun with nice flourishes 6/10

I followed this up with the new version of Conan the Barbarian. I was apprehenive as I’m a Conan fan and love the old Arnie movie.

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Here Jason Momoa takes the role, with Conan on the vengeance trail for the murder of his entire people. Along the way he has to hack and slash his way through various enemies, rescue a princess and save the world.

Momoa definitely looks the part, being unbelievably ripped and he also is fairly charismatic, with Conan seeming to revel in his life of fighting, drinking and womanising, being a barbarian looks bloody good fun.

There are some great touches especially the way that Conan’s dad (played by the legendary Ron Perlman) is bumped off. Its a nasty, violent death that sets up the villain’s sadistic cruelty and Conan’s lust for revenge.

There’s also a brilliant early scene where we see that even as a kid Conan was one tough bastard.

I loved that quite a bit of the action was old school stunt work, avoiding an overdose of CGI.

The villains are hissable and Rose McGowan, completely transformed under make up seems to be having a ball playing a crazy witch.

While it will never replace the Arnie version in my heart this is probably the better movie, even though the Morgan Freeman voiceover is off putting, mainly as it always reminds me of Family Guy (“like a twinkie”).
Momoa does a good job, and its a fun, rollicking sword and sorcery yarn. 7/10
Last up, and most feted was X-Men: First Class the prequel to the X-movies. Being a geek I’m a little suprised I missed this on the big screen.

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The movie follows the meeting of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) against the back drop of the Cuban missile crisis, which is being escalated by the villainous Hellfire Club, and their leader Sebastien Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who is the nazi who tortured and experimented on Magneto when he was a boy in the concentration camps.
It sees Xavier and Magneto gather the first team and argue over methods and mutants’ relationship with normal humans.
Its quite a good film, with the two leads doing very good work. Fassbender is incredibly charismatic as Magneto, capturing the rage and bitterness within while also showing the charm and wit that McKellen had in the role (almost described his performance as “magnetic”, lucky I avoided that pun mine). McAvoy though also does wonderfully, showing us Xavier as a cocksure, charmer who isn’t quite up to his responsibility to start off with.
There are wonderful touches and some great big action scenes, but for me it felt a little flat.
I think though that this was down to what I took into the film.
Being a big geek I’ve never really warmed to the movies of the X-Men, they were the first comics I got into and I love the characters, and the movies, while entertaining have a knack for watering them down.
The best example of this is taking the strong, authoritative Storm and turning her into Halle Berry in a cheap wig.
A few of the characters suffer from this (Emma Frost and Banshee are pale shadows of their comic book selves) but the worst is Hank McCoy aka Beast played here by Nicholas Hoult. Hoult’s performance is okay, but its what the writers have done that grates. In this version McCoy is just your common or garden nerdy scientist- stammering, awkward, shy.

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Which sucks.
What makes the Beast such a good character is that rather than merely being the X-Men’s resident brain he’s also wonderfully larger than life- a joker and fast talker imbued with a natural swagger, he’s charming, witty and verbose. Like a furry Stephen Fry.
Still, these are geekboy whinings, and some of the film’s characterisations really work. I especially liked adding the Mystique-Xavier unrequited love thing, and Jennifer Lawrence is magnificent as the young, fragile shapeshifter, expressing the hurt she feels at Xavier’s offhand manner. The film shows why she ends up with Magneto, and Fassbender’s charm makes it seem like the right choice.
Bacon is also brilliant as the villain, never overplaying it.
All in all, a good movie, quite fun in places with strong performances.
Also, features a fantastic cameo from Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) that made me laugh out loud.
A good addition to the series, with Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence and Bacon giving good showings. Nice tweaks to some characters, but my inner angry geek can’t score it more than 7.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO