Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – review

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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.

Guardians of the Galaxy: release your geek

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“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?

Star Trekking Into Darkness – make it so!

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Space, the rebooted frontier. These are the voyages of Pine, Cumberbatch and Quinto. To boldly follow J.J. ‘lens flare’ Abrams where he’s – fairly impressively – been before. To seek out…OK, enough of that. You get the idea.

movies_startrekintodarkness1Following the somewhat surprisingly successful reboot/relaunch/re-whatever of the Star Trek franchise in 2009, the young, sexy cast return with the next instalment. In case you’ve forgotten the main lot include: Chris Pine as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Bones, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, John Cho as Sulu and Bruce Greenwood as Admiral Pike. A big cast you may say, but they make it work. Ultimately it’s the Kirk ‘n’ Spock show, as it should be.

Picking up largely where we left the characters in the first outing, the story starts with Kirk legging it away from a local tribe, on a mission to preserve their planet and way of life. Ultimately, he messes it up in terms of following procedure. movies-star-trek-into-darkness-4Spock files a report explaining how inept they were (despite Kirk’s actions saving his life) and Starfleet give him a slap on the wrist, taking away his precious ship; saying he’s wild, reckless and needs to learn to be a proper leader.

With big ship comes big responsibility

We know where this is going. Kirk needs to rise to the occasion, become the Captain that Admiral Pike believes he can be and form a closer bond with Spock by uniting against a common enemy: enter Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious John Harrison.

In terms of existing cast, they’re all settling in to their roles nicely in what is effectively the ‘difficult second album’. Star Trek Anton YelchinAs mentioned earlier, it’s the Kirk ‘n’ Spock show. The film lives or dies by Pine and Quinto’s chemistry. Happily, they pick up where they left off in the first one and build on it – their characters becoming closer as the story progresses. That said, I’d like to single out Anton Yelchin as Chekov, going toe-to-toe with Simon Pegg’s Scotty for the ‘Best comic relief’ award. Does Chekov take this one? Hard to say, Scotty does have a nice run down a corridor. Let’s call it a draw.

New crew addition Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus seemed to unbalance things. Pains me to say as I’m a big fan, but I think she was surplus to requirements. Too pretty, even for this cast?

As far as baddies go, Cumberbatch will have pleased his Cumberbitches no end; looking all tall and buffed and dark and moody, with speed, strength and fierce intelligence. Ladies love an evil megalomaniac right?

benedict-cumberbatch-star-trek-into-darkness-3Force is strong in, er, these two

What failed to float my intergalactic boat was the little references to the other space franchise due a reboot, Star Wars. Intentional or not, there were things you could not ignore. For example, at one point we have Kirk and the gang fleeing Klingons in a disc-shaped ship, escaping by flying sideways through a gap – Millenium Falcon anyone?

Also, if we rewind 30 years or so, Chris Pine now as Kirk is essentially how Han Solo was back in the day. Honestly, what’s the difference? Loveable, roguish, an eye for the ladies, charming, a reluctant leader. Starts as a selfish character, becomes more selfless and heroic as the films progress. Kirk sacrificing his life to save his crew versus Solo risking his life being frozen in carbonite to protect Leia. The characters are more and more alike the more you hold them up to each other. Hint of things to come for Star Wars perhaps? Recipe for franchise success: follow the Abrams blueprint.

All in all, Star Trek Into Darkness was an enjoyable second instalment and felt like the second half of an Abrams two-parter. Unless he’s got a trilogy in mind with this cast? There were references – and a short scene – involving Klingons after all. Would be surprising if the next one doesn’t have them front and centre. Could be a belter!

To finish, I’ll leave you with an expert lesson in blending old and new. Live long and prosper.