Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – review

Film

If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain… then you’ll have liked the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Which came out of leftfield at the time and was (yet another) risk for Marvel studios, banking on unknown characters that were not hugely connected to the existing Avengers universe.

And Chris Pratt, as a leading man, was also a gamble. A mostly funny, slightly tubby guy, not known as a big hunky heartthrob, suddenly turns up in an action film as… a big hunky heartthrob. Who would have thought? But, to be fair, Pratt was easy casting when you look at the other leaps of faith Marvel took. With characters that included a foul-mouthed raccoon, a tree that only says three words, a tough guy played by an ex-wrestler, and a purple bad guy that seemed to sit on a throne in space doing very little. (That’s Thanos by the way).

Anyway, the completely laboured point I’m trying to make is that, after Guardians became a huge – albeit unexpected – hit, a sequel was inevitable. It also turned out to be one of the funniest the studio had put out too, which gave the follow-up more license to play in the comedy sandpit.

Which, in a pleasing way, it really embraces. And in the same vein as Doctor Strange, this set of characters really helps expand the Marvel universe, adding more background to the Infinity Stones storyline and getting us, as an audience, thinking about space as a viable addition to the Marvel storytelling canvas. (Thor: Ragnarok, we’re looking at you.)

But that’s all strategic stuff.

In terms of Guardians alone and this film as a sequel, it picks up fairly soon after the first one, where the team have become somewhat of a unit for hire. We start with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) fighting a giant monster, whilst Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) dances joyfully front and centre. It’s fun, playful, ridiculous and will put a silly smile on your face. Ok, we can rest easy. This sequel will be good.

Story wise, first time round the plot touched on Peter Quill’s heritage. But here it’s expanded as the main arc and centres around Kurt Russell’s character (yes, you read that right, Kurt Russell is in this) and his link to Quill.

However, this tale also gives more moments to the rest of the gang as well. And whilst they play much the same beats they did first time round, each becomes more well-rounded. We see Drax’s sensitive side and a sort of bonding between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) get some rather unexpected scenes.

And then there’s Baby Groot.

Possibly the cutest thing in cinema since Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon. And the sheer inventiveness in terms of the ways they use this tinier, child-like version of Groot will warm your cockles. From his impossibly huge eyes – looking at you with wonder – to his infectious spirit, he lights up every scene he’s in. He’ll have you at the first ‘I am Groot.’

It’s also worth noting that most sequels cannot hold a candle to the original. This, however, might just be better. There, I said it. It’s funnier. It gives more of the characters more to do. The stakes are higher. It has Kurt Russell. It also has another famous movie star (don’t ruin it by looking it up if you don’t know, just go see it). And it’s really just a blast from start to finish.

Where it sits, in terms of the Marvel filmography, is hard to say. It has to be top five, definitely. Although, with the Thor: Ragnorok trailer looking pretty special, perhaps Marvel have found even more ways to delight us with their characters and their universe. By golly, DC have some catching up to do.

Best films of 2014: Haiku reviews

Best Of lists, Film

So here we go again. Will I never learn? As I did last year and the year before, here are my top films of the year in Haiku form. So, traditionally, that’s three lines. First with five syllables, then seven, then five. If you were convincing a studio to make your film, think of this as your elevator pitch.

It’s worth noting that, due to the tricky nature of these little things, they can occasionally head into spoiler territory.

Nightcrawler-Jake-Gyllenhaal-850x560Nightcrawler
An entrepreneur
with delusional issues
and a camcorder

The Wolf of Wall Street
After Wall Street crash
One guy rises to the top
Then loses it all

LIBRARY IMAGE OF GONE GIRLGone Girl
Amazing Amy
Frames her husband for murder
Gets away with it

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guy with a Walkman
Forms team of wacky heroes
to protect an orb

Herbensch
An oddball loner
Gets feelings for computer
She evolves, leaves him

Pride
Gays support miners
And build unlikely friendships
During strikes, AIDS, riotsTHE GUEST

The Imitation Game
Allies losing war
Turing cracks enigma code
Is gay and suffers

The Guest
Grieving family
welcome handsome stranger infilmz.ru
who then goes crazy

Interstellar
Earth almost ruined
Wormhole last chance to survive
Space and time confuse

Dallas Buyers Club
A cowboy gets AIDs
Sells drugs to fellow patients
A heartbreaking tale

Top 10 films of 2014

Best Of lists

It’s starting to feel like these lists come round unsettlingly fast. Too darn often for my liking. However, it’s been a good year for those that love cinema. Some great stuff has hit the silver (or, increasingly, digital) screen over the last twelve months. Here’s my pick, from my top ten (you have to be ruthless) to ones on my ‘to watch’ list.

K72A5164.CR2

THE TOP TEN
1. Nightcrawler
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. Gone Girl
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. Her
6. Pride
7. The Imitation Game
8. The Guest
9. Interstellar
10. Dallas Buyers Club

MY ‘TO WATCH’ LIST
Maps To The Stars
Two Faces of January
Chef
Cold In July
The Babadook
How To Train Your Dragon 2
The Raid 2
Starred Up
Only Lovers Left Alive
22 Jump Street
’71
Locke
12 Years a Slave
Under The Skin
Calvary
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Edge of Tomorrow
What We Do In The Shadows

under-the-skin

So there we have it.

What’s your favourite film of the year? And what’s on your ‘to watch’ list?

Guardians of the Galaxy: release your geek

Film

“Unruly geeks change the world” ― Alexandra Robbins, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School

In a world… That’s how those voiceover guys (and gals, occasionally) do it right? At least for the big blockbusters they tend to. Let’s start again, shall we?

In a world where big summer blockbusters dominate the box office throughout spring, summer and autumn; in a world where superheroes we’ve known for decades continually get rammed down our throat; in a world where studios get accused of playing it safe, trotting out sequel upon sequel… It’s so damn refreshing to see something different that’s been given a big budget, but also allowed the creative team behind it a lot of freedom to realise their vision.guardians-galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is doing great numbers at the box office. Audiences seem to be taking to it. Is it just the power of Marvel studios? Trot out any old half decent film and we’ll buy into it? I don’t think so. Modern audiences (especially comic books fans) are too savvy for that, their power to sway internet message forums is simply too strong.

To put it another way, Guardians is good. It’s entertaining, bright, breezy, moves along at a fair old pace but not an overwhelming one. Plot wise it’s solid. Not overly complicated, not too simple. And it’s funny, very funny.

Individual characters get some great lines, but when you team up this newly formed gang you don’t half get some zingers. Some of the best lines (or moments more accurately) come from a tree that can only say three words.Yondu-in-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy
The geeks shall inherit the earth. A phrase you’ve no doubt heard before. Well, with Marvel Studios and directors like Rian Johnson, Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, Guillermo del Toro and others, that happened a long time ago. Films like the Avengers gave us a team on earth. Some geeky (Bruce Banner), some cool (Tony Stark), all of them outsiders. And that’s probably a large part of why this film is doing well. It’s a ragtag bunch of outsiders. Loveable ones.

So where’s the next step after geeks inherit the earth? Space of course. If you’re not fully clued up on Guardians think of it this way: part Star Trek, part Galaxy Quest, part Star Wars. As a lead – the alpha male if you will – we have Chris Pratt, whose character is a kind of modern version of Han Solo, but a bit more of a goofball.

His performance really does drive the whole thing along. He’s practically in every scene and very compelling as a leading man. There’s no doubt he’ll be competing with Star Trek’s Chris Pine for future similar roles. God knows Hollywood is crying out for new leading men who are a bit different.
Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Star-Lord-Gamora-kiss
There’s also Rocket, a raccoon like creature voiced by Bradley Cooper. We all know Cooper can do comedy but he works wonders with this character and gives him genuine depth and believability (as far as you can believe a machine-gun-wielding raccoon outlaw has depth).

Groot, the walking tree voiced by Vin Diesel, was one of the true surprises of the film, proving that you don’t need dialogue to have a profound impact. Then there’s Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. Switching from Avatar blue to racy space green she fitted nicely into this motley crew of galactic losers, sorry guardians. She even managed to maintain an effective bit of chemistry with Pratt’s Star-Lord. Will they? Won’t they?guardians-of-the-galaxy-rocket-raccoon-what-did-we-learn-from-the-guardians-of-the-galaxy-preview
Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer made up the rest of the gang. Often acting as the dense one, taking comments as literally as you can for comic effect, his performance was, actually, surprisingly funny as a result. Not bad for a former wrestler. Where Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson leads, others will follow I suppose.

So, those geeks eh? Not content with inheriting earth, they’ve aimed their sights at space. Still, this is hardly news. Star Trek – one of the true original geek shows – has been doing this for years. Now that Marvel have got in on the act be prepared for more space adventures. Not just from them as a studio, but probably others too. I’m sure DC will eventually catch up with their roster of space heroes and villains.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as far as stepping in a new direction goes, Marvel has laid down the gauntlet pretty smartly with this film… And it’s paid off. Hurrah to them. And hurrah to the geeks and outsiders. We salute you.

Now where did I leave my light saber?

avengers natasha romanoff

Marvel – masters of the cinematic universe

My musings

For this posting I’d like to discuss the evolution of the Marvel universe. I recently – finally – got around to seeing The Avengers. Or, as it’s known in the UK, Avengers Assemble (damn you, Steed).

I have to say, having unavoidably seen and heard many reviews, I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy it and be expecting too much. Would it live up to the hype? Would it feel rushed/crowded with so many larger-than-life characters jostling for screen time? Well, much like everybody else, I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Great pacing, great action, great characters, great dialogue.

avengers natasha romanoffPlus all the Avengers were given – more or less – an equal amount to do, including the new characters: Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. The latter unsurprisingly well written, given writer/director Joss Whedon’s affinity for strong, female characters (Buffy et al).

So, before this becomes an Avengers review, back to the subject in question. I had a vague awareness of the fact there’s been quite a few films over recent years that have come out of the Marvel studio. However when you really look, it seems like an unstoppable wave. To name the live-action films we’ve had since 1998:

  • 5 X Men (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011)
  • 4 Spider Man (2002, 2004, 2007, 2012)
  • 3 Blade (1998, 2002, 2004)
  • 2 Iron Man (2008, 2010)
  • 2 Hulk (2003, 2008)
  • 2 Fantastic Four (2005, 2007)
  • 2 Ghost Rider (2007, 2012)
  • 1 Thor (2011)
  • 1 Captain America (2011)
  • 1 Avengers (2012)

I’ve left off the experiments that were Daredevil, Elektra and Man Thing, simply because they weren’t hugely successful and it’s unlikely there will be a follow up to any of these in the near future. Therefore I’m only including films where the characters have appeared more than once in the Marvel cinematic universe. So, from 1998 to 2012 (that’s 14 years, keep up), we’ve had 23 films. That’s 1.6 films a year! I’m not sure if what I’m expressing here is good shock or bad shock? Perhaps both.

snipes dorff bladeLooking ahead
I suppose, with this sort of prolific output, you’ll have successes and failures. In recent years, they’ve begun to have more of the former, both critically and commercially. For every mediocre Daredevil or Fantastic Four you’ll get a decent Spider Man or Blade.

Or, if you’re really lucky, strike complete gold and unearth Robert Downey Jr. A man born to play Tony Stark. Don’t believe me? Watch some of his early work, like Natural Born Killers. Check out this classic scene. For me, if you take his character there, throw in a little Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Tropic Thunder, you’ll get Tony Stark. Perhaps a leap but it makes sense to me!

Don’t stop us now
With recent successes of the Avengers’ characters, both in their ensemble film and stand-alone outings, the plan for Marvel films over the next few years is looking quite exciting. Next year we’ll get a second from the blonde Asgardian, Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3.  In 2014 we’ll have, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, plus – most intriguingly – a massive departure from the norm with Guardians of the Galaxy. A film which has a sentient tree and a raccoon with a gun as main characters.

I can’t say I’m excited about this one…yet. Although I do approve of the concept art above. What I like is that you cannot accuse Marvel of resting on their laurels or playing it too safe. That, in itself, is reason to be quietly optimistic. But I guess we’ll see. Oh, and there’s also a second Avengers due out 2015, just in case Guardians doesn’t go as planned.

Defenders of the universe
So, on the whole, I think it’s great Marvel are mixing it up. Yes, they’re putting out films for a lot of their mainstream superheroes, but they’re safer bets. Keeps the money coming in. They could just sit on that but, like any industry, if you’re not moving forward you’re doing the opposite.

So introducing a new host of characters is brave, yet wholly necessary. Eventually we’ll get sick of superhero films and want westerns or zombie films for a few years or something. But, if Marvel keep freshening things up, maybe we’ll stay a while longer. Maybe a character called Rocket Raccoon is just what’s called for – long live diversity!