Tag Archives: film

It (2017)

It 2017 posterThe image of Tim Curry as Pennywise The Dancing Clown, the most famous visage of Stephen King’s famed horror creation It, is one that has been ever-present in the back of my mind as a pop culture avatar of fear, despite the fact I’ve never seen the mini-series (later edited into a film) he appeared or (entirely) read the book on which it was based.

Now director Andy Muschietti and a host of producers have brought the tale of Derry, Maine to the big screen with Bill Skarsgård in the Curry role. 

The story follows a group of junior high school kids over the summer of 1988 as a number of their classmates disappear and they begin to see strange things. While I’m sure many already know the story I won’t elaborate much more.

Anyone familiar with the original will know it was based in 1958 and, while I was sceptical about the update, it largely works well as it falls suitably before cell phones and the themes of growing up and ‘coming of age’ fit just as well to both eras, though there are a couple of moments that feel a little anachronistic.

The group of young actors who play the self-named ‘losers club’ are, once the film settles in, all excellent but it’s Jaeden Lieberher as Bill Denborough and Sophia Lillis as Beverly Marsh who really stand out finding some of the emotional depth that exists in King’s epic novel and making it come to life.

It - The Losers Club

The Losers Club

Meanwhile the other members of the club are somewhat relegated compared to their text selves, but this is understandable as part of the translation and all have enough to do to not feel like ‘red shirts’.

As well as this perennial bully Henry Bowers has an extra added quality on top of his physical brutality and nastiness that may be me seeing things but aren’t there but if not is a very nice touch.

What really makes the film work though is the atmosphere it creates. Across its first half we see Derry as a normal town but with something else creeping just below the surface and, through the youngsters view, it is a surprisingly sinister place.

Muschietti does a great job of creating this feeling mixing modern horror tropes with much of Kings’ source material, translated startlingly to the screen, along with something of the idea that when following young characters you keep everything shot at their level. Then in the second half we meet this sinister something face to face.

It - Pennywise - Bill Skarsgard

Skarsgard as Pennywise

Added to this is a Pennywise who treads the line between ridiculous and terrifying expertly.

Skarsgård’s performance occasionally raises a laugh but within it is more of that creeping sense of fear that the character needs, combined with enough well judged jump scares to keep you on your toes.

On top of this other aspects of It appear and are equally effective, making it clear that Pennywise is just one facet of the fear demon (or whatever It actually is) but like in the book he is the one who seems to cut through the most.

If I have one criticism of the film it’s that it seems to miss something of the more deep-seated ideas that exist within the book and are a strong part of King’s work in general, but this may be down to the fact that this film is only half the story so I’m hoping some of this gets dealt with when we meet the adult versions of our heroes.

It - The house on Neibolt street

The house on Neibolt street

To counter this though the film does build a very nice streak of ‘coming of age’ that feels far more well handled than I’ve seen in cinema for a long time, bringing to mind the works of John Hughes and films like The Goonies or (more recently) Stranger Things.

Andy Muschietti’s It, then, combines a nostalgic adventure film sensibility with the kind of creeping horror found in the best supernatural chillers and an iconic horror creation that could live on like Freddie, Jason, Michael Myers, et al, and I can’t wait for Chapter Two…

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The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club posterWidely considered one of the quintessential films of the 1980s, The Breakfast Club is John Hughes’ exploration of life in American high schools remains as fascinating now as ever.

While I have seen the film in the past its been a long time and to such a degree that my memory of it was vague at best, but somehow, as soon as that Simple Minds riff kicks in it feels like some kind of time warp is in action and we are thrown to that Saturday morning in Shermer, Illinois.

The plot of the film, what there is of it as this isn’t really about a plot, sees a group of teenagers in Saturday detention with, essentially, each representing one of the archetypal groups of high school kids.

So we have the brain (Anthony Michael Hall as Brian Johnson, the academic ‘geek’), the athlete (Emilio Estevez’s wrestling team member Andy Clark), the basket case (Ally Sheedy as eccentric loner Allison Reynolds), the princess (Hughes’ regular Molly Ringwald as spoilt rich kid Claire Standish) and the criminal (Judd Nelson’s aggressive, defensive bully, John Bender).

At the start the five all arrive in the school study hall at odds with one another and teacher Mr Vernon (Paul Gleason), one of only two adult characters in the main body of the film but, as the things go on, through a series of episodic incidents, the five begin to reveal more about themselves as they try to kill the eight hours they have in detention and gradually realise they are more than the stereotypes they all see each other as.

The Breakfast Club

Nelson, Estevez, Sheedy, Ringwald and Hall

This really is the story. While there is a thread of the five characters doing their best to subvert the power of the adult authority figure, what it really revolves around the five talking, antagonising one another, but ultimately revealing extra layers of themselves and coming out of the experience changed.

While this is set in the context of one day what it really feels like is a microcosm of the entire high school experience and, in this, feels in many ways pretty timeless, hence its ongoing reputation.

What really makes this work is how Hughes treads the line between a realistic world and a heightened one, something he demonstrated time and again with the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Here it takes a while to bed in as a viewer but Hughes works with this so the opening feels like a natural setting before the various episodes build to a point where it is something more than this.

Paul Gleason in The Breakfast Club

Gleason

While the film maybe isn’t as flawless as some would suggest, the episodic nature does feel a little bolted together in places (though in the end it becomes obvious this is part of the thematic intent), the ending is probably a little too cosy and the transformation of Allison is painful and really is the one moment where the film’s message runs into trouble, it is none-the-less genre defining and still stands up.

In a world where teen comedies descended into the likes of the later American Pies and really died a death after that, The Breakfast Club stands out as something defining and pretty well timeless with a generally good message in the end. It also shows Hughes as a master of taking what is in every sense a boring setting and filling it with characters and dialogue that create something with depth and purpose without resorting to the ridiculousness of what most who have tried to follow him have done.

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Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian posterThroughout his career it’s fair to say Luc Besson has often had the same criticism levelled against his work, that it is more style than substance. While his work is often visually high concept, in the likes of Leon aka The Professional and (more relevant here) The Fifth Element he has created films that are engrossing, energetic, eccentric but, above all, enjoyable… And now has come Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Fairly quickly this looks like it might inhabit similar territory to The Fifth Element as we are rapidly sent from the first meeting in space between the US and Soviets to the creation of Alpha, an enormous space station inhabited by species from around the galaxy heading off to explore the cosmos.

We also witness what at first appears to be an unrelated planetary apocalypse of a fairly psychedelic race’s home world getting destroyed by mysterious star ships leaving only handful of survivors.

We then meet our two leads, Dane DeHaan’s Valerian and Cara Delevingne’s Laureline, members of the military that controls Alpha on a mission to recover a mysterious artefact, while indulging in some of the most chemistry free romantic entanglements ever committed to celluloid.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in Valerian

Delevingne and DeHaan

From there the story is fairly episodic, giving the impression that Besson has taken a selection of ideas from the source comics and thrown them all into the movie script whether they fit or not.

This is particularly noticeable when the lead pair encounter an apparently xenophobic race who like a tasty human brain and, improbably, pop star Rhianna crops up to save the day for about five minutes and is then never mentioned again (its hard to avoid the feel of misjudged ‘stunt casting’ at this point).

Along with the slightly too episodic nature of the plot (the whole planetary apocalypse thing is present throughout but only really comes into focus again in the very end, by which point you’ll be at least one step ahead of everyone on-screen) the characters and performances have no sense of consistency or believability.

Rhianna in Valerian

Rhianna doing her best Sally Bowles

Now, I’m a fan of sci-fi so it’s not because of the setting or anything like that, but rather because they change entirely almost scene to scene giving particularly the leads and the main villain an almost schizophrenic edge that makes them impossible to get along with, care about or anything else.

Where the film does succeed is in its visuals, I don’t think there’s a single shot without some visual effect and in some cases entire scenes are entirely CGI but fit in with the live action elements (for the most part) excellently and the production design and costumes look, in their way, excellent (though what’s with Rhianna’s Cabaret moment?).

While the script and dialogue are never great it is in the closing scenes, where one might expect something to tidy up the various threads, it all just descends to into what is at best laughable and worst cringeworthy and, while it can be credited for not having a standard city destroying battle in its final act, what it does have just falls flat so, while the ending feels like it should be the beginning of the adventures of Valerien and Laureline, I honestly hope they are lost in space (though part of me was hoping for Roger Moore-era James Bond like final pay off gag).

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GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Glow dvd coverDespite my longstanding interest in professional wrestling and frequent investigations into its history the 1980s organisation GLOW had largely passed me by. Now, with the Netflix original drama based on the series having emerged, I thought I’d take a look back at its real life inspiration in the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

At only 73 minutes the film is somewhat superficial and has something of the feel of a Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends show, but without the leading investigator/presenter to ground it.

What we get instead are a series of fairly rapidly cut, loosely threaded, talking heads accompanied by archive footage of the original show alongside current footage of a few of the performers in their everyday lives.

Through this though a few interesting stories come to light, even if they aren’t fully explored.

First is how the show was put together, which somehow explains why it is often not included in the wider pro-wrestling canon.

The GLOW girls

‘The GLOW girls’ and their ring announcer

Rather than relying on already established female wrestling talent (who, while few and far between did exist) of the mid-80s the conspicuously male production and creative team relied on an open casting call to bring in young models and actresses to fill their roster of performers.

While some had an interest or natural aptitude for the wrestling, many didn’t and the product was more of a variety ‘real-life cartoon’ than a wrestling show. While WWE (then WWF) was certainly veering in the cartoony direction around the same time, GLOW turned this up to 11.

In this segment we hear from the man tasked with training the performers, Mondo Guerrero (of the legendary Mexican/Texan wrestling family; brother of Eddie and Chavo, son of Gory) who seems to express a level of disbelief at the job his was given.

GLOW girls - Moretti on the right

GLOW girls – Moretti on the right

We also hear from Tina Ferrari who would become Ivory in WWF in the late 90s (real name Lisa Moretti) who was one of the few who seemed to get the wrestling and she becomes an invaluable addition to the documentary as the story rolls on given her experience from the smallest to biggest shows in the industry.

While the film seems to choose to focus more on the sisterhood of the performers than anything else this is far from entirely coherent, but, as we find out more about the promotions two biggest (in both senses) stars, it does coalesce somewhat.

Matilda The Hun was an older and seemingly more experienced wrestler when the show began in something of the mould of British wrestling legend Klondyke Kate.

While we see here in her prime we also see her now, partially wheel chair bound due to back injuries, though she clearly remains very much the same woman she always has been, bedecked in full ring attire and make up and not regretting anything of her years in the ring.

GLOW - Mountain Fiji

Mountain Fiji

Somewhat more tragic is the story of Mountain Fiji, Matilda’s rival and GLOW’s top hero. A 350lb American-Samoan shot-putter in her heyday, she has since succumbed to injuries and diabetes leaving her permanently wheel chair bound.

Like her arch nemesis she doesn’t seem to regret the damage wrestling may have done to her body, but she also seems far more abandoned by her past life.

So, when Little Egypt organises a reunion at the encouragement of the film’s producers, Mountain Fiji is something of the guest of honour and the reaction of both her and the other ladies as she enters and they all perform the ‘rap’ that introduced them on the original show is genuinely moving.

While generally somewhat rushed GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is still interesting enough and as insight into women’s wrestling as WWE looks to distance itself from its seedier version of GLOW with the ‘Women’s Revolution’ and this summer’s Mae Young Classic tournament has a newly added dimension the producers couldn’t have known about when it was released back in 2012.

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Baby Driver

Baby Driver posterFrom the moment Edgar Wright’s latest film Baby Driver begins with a full volume blast of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion as we focus on Ansel Elgort’s ‘Baby’ sat in a high-powered car waiting for a heist to take place while rocking out to the sounds of his iPod it’s clear this isn’t going to be a normal crime thriller.

What this instantly sets up is something that has become a hallmark of Wright’s work, just taken to a new level, of combining two somewhat improbable genres at once. So, following the romcom/horror of Shaun Of The Dead, the teen movie/comic book movie of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World we get a musical comedy crime thriller.

A fairly simple plot device sets this up and is very well handled through the tale of Baby’s involvement with a criminal gang and his attempt to remove himself from this life.

While the part of Baby is fairly stoic Elgort brings a great presence and depth to his role and, as he in virtually every shot of the film, delivers a very impressive performance.

Ansel Elgort as Baby in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort as Baby

Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx meanwhile all look to be having a great time letting their villainous sides out and pitching it with a great deal of humour but really turning up the threat when needed (Foxx and Hamm switch to a scary level of intensity very impressively).

Like Wright’s other work though the director’s style really is the co-star as the camera flies and spins around to create some of the best driving sequences I’ve seen in along that never lose the point of the story or get lost in cgi and puts the increasingly overblown Fast & Furious movies to shame with its structural simplicity.

Along with this of course Wright adds a matching level of camera movement and action to the most mundane of tasks like making breakfast or buying coffee, making the whole film move seamlessly regardless of what’s going on and even the romantic sub-plot doesn’t feel forced.

Kevin Spacey and the gang in Baby Driver

Kevin Spacey and the gang

What all this does is create a film that takes Wright away from the ‘Cornetto trilogy’ much of his reputation is based on, and show he is more than capable of translating his style into a more action centric movie Hollywood prefers without losing the thing that makes his films what they are, leaving us with one of the most entertaining films I remember in sometime with a soundtrack to rival any in recent memory.

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Jackie

Jackie movie posterThe story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is one that has been told time and time again since it happened in November 1963 from documentaries to conspiracy thrillers to (somewhat surreally) Red Dwarf, so what more was there to say in the subject more than 50 years on?

Well judging by Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, quite a lot.

Taking the perspective of Jackie Kennedy, portrayed meticulously by Natalie Portman, it traces events through the medium of an interview with an anonymous journalist (Billy Crudup), from the First Couple’s arrival in Texas up until the president’s funeral. In focusing on this rather short period it allows a level of detail and intensity not usually seen in a conventional biopic which is very much a part of its strength.

This intensity is the film’s hallmark, shot with many more close-ups than you might expect, the grand vistas of such iconic locations as that stretch of road in Dallas, the White House, Arlington cemetery or others are almost entirely absent, making this far more personal than it might otherwise be.

Jackie - Natalie Portman

Portman as Kennedy

Along with this shooting style, Portman’s performance is, of course, what the film hinges on and it comes with a rarely seen sense of precise deliberateness which gives the feeling, I think intended, of Jackie Kennedy as a hugely guarded person.

As the film goes on and the guardedness is maintained but navigated by both Larrain and the journalist, to reveal her grand ambition; to create what has become the legend surrounding the Kennedy ‘dynasty’. In the film’s one slightly heavy-handed moment this is expressed as a kind of ‘modern Camelot’.

While this performance and cinematic style very much help tell the story there are moments where it makes it feel too detached and unemotional. However when the emotion does comes out, such as the scenes of Kennedy’s arrival back at the White House after Dallas and those where she is alone with Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), we get a sense of the state of shock she is operating in, very much in the public eye and there is a very genuine and real sense to this without a hint of the potential melodrama it could easily lapse into.

Peter Sarsgaard and Natalie Portman

Peter Sarsgaard and Portman

The film contains its share of subtly shocking moments as well, that again never feel overplayed but are just present as, I can only imagine, they would be in reality, this is most graphically noticeable when you first see a long shot of Kennedy still wearing the same outfit as she was in Dallas, complete with blood stains.

With amazing period detail and some excellently used sound design, Larraín’s film comes together to be a very impressive work that explores a mythologised event in a way that is genuinely unmythologising and given the situation, surprisingly down to earth, but with an intensity and tension that most mainstream thrillers could but dream of, just in a rather different genre.

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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman movie posterOver the last decade and a half DC have, for the most part, missed the target with their attempts to get a movie ‘universe’ off the ground. Superman Returns and Green Lantern were total misfires while Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice felt overburdened by a sense of their own importance while being overlong and just a little to ‘dark’ (Suicide Squad remains a bizarre anomaly that while far from successful at least tried to do something different).

Wonder Woman then follows on from these, in the same universe and MoS, BvS:DOJ and SS (as, possibly, no one is calling them), but once the brief modern-day prologue is done with we are launched into one of the most entirely enjoyable comic movies in some time (though Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel still top it).

The opening scene setting is a little laborious as we are introduced to Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) and said island paradise, it’s race of Amazon warrior women and Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the fact that we have flashed back to 1917. In this though there are some impressively flashy action beats and the design of Themyscira is excellent.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Gadot in Wonder Woman

From there though things soon pick up and we follow Diana And Steve as they, respectively, try to destroy the God of war Ares and foil a plot that would see Germany win the First World War.

While this is fairly standard and leads to the inevitable big battle scene (albeit a better staged one than any of the previous films in the series) two things set it apart.

First is that, unlike pretty much any other mainstream comic book so far, and certainly unlike any of the DC predecessors, Wonder Woman embraces the inherent ridiculousness of the form in the best of ways.

This leads to moments of humour in odd places but at no point did I feel like I was laughing at the film but more laughing with it, while in other movies similar moments either fell flat, got lost in cliché, or just felt laughable. This really begins with the first time we see Diana as Wonder Woman (though she’s never named as such) in ‘the real world’ and culminates in the big reveal of the main antagonist.

Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Pine and Gadot

Secondly is that, for the most part, the lead is Diana and its her who leads the action scenes and is the hero of them while the male characters are sidekicks or, in the case of Trevor, the love interest in the way the female character usually would be, though he gets to have his moments too.

While this does falter somewhat towards the end, with one moment in particular, it wasn’t so much that it spoilt the rest of it for me and fits the general conventions of the style, and I hope Diana’s position remains strong heading into the upcoming Justice League as she is so far, by a long way, the best leading hero of the current DC films which is also testament to Gadot’s excellently pitched performance.

Themyscira - Wonder Woman

Themyscira

While the film does have its flaws, mostly where the cliché goes a little too far or where it gets a little lost in cgi video game-style territory (though this is far less than in either MoS or BvS:DoJ), it has given me some hope for the future of the franchise, if Zack Snyder can take some of the stylistic notes laid out here by Patty Jenkins and roll it into his work (Watchman proved he’s more than capable of making a good comic book movie after all).

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Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant posterSeveral years ago, when Ridley Scott announced his prequel to his 1979 classic Alien, Prometheus, I wondered whether we really needed an explanation for events leading up to a film that already worked so efficiently and effectively.

Now, with the follow-up to that film, Alien: Covenant, that is also another precursor to the original, that question occurs once again.

From the off it ties the two threads of the story together with a prologue featuring Prometheus‘ replicant character David (Michael Fassbender) before we are sent to the colony ship Covenant and meet another replicant, Walter (also Fassbender).

From that point on we get a story that seems to be unsure quite what it wants to do and say. Certainly there are plenty of thrills and chills and a good dose of action and excitement as the crew of the Covenant (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the title) encounter a version of the Xenomorph Alien (apparently the ‘Neomorph’) seen in the past instalments of the series.

Katherine Waterston - Alien: Covenant - Daniels

Daniels (Waterston)

Along with the action, again much like Prometheus, the film seems to want to deal with some big questions, so we have Oram (Billy Crudup), thrust into the role of ship’s captain and a self expressed man of faith.

The fact this is self expressed is where the problem with this attempt at exploring something really comes to fore as anything Alien: Covenant might be trying to explore is just stated by the characters rather being genuinely explored through the film, so it falls a little flat.

As well as this there is a thread that, like the original Alien and its direct sequels, takes something of a feminist angle with crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) echoing original heroine Ripley as the film’s (comparatively) grounded heroic centre as chaos escalates.

Alien: Covenant - Walter - Michael Fassbender

Walter (Fassbender)

Unlike the original though this feels rather too heavy-handed, especially as it’s already an established trope of the series and it just never quite rings as honest and true, particularly when we reach a rather over gratuitous scene toward the film’s climax.

This might be for the very simple reason that, while Daniels is arguably the hero of this film’s story, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the series now belongs to Fassbender’s replicant characters.

It’s fair to say that, as David initially and then Walter, Fassbender has found a way to make these characters that, in the past were often sinister bit parts, into fascinating explorations of humanity and our place in the universe (as much as a big budget sci-fi blockbuster might).

The Neomorph - Alien: Covenant

The ‘Neomorph’ alien

Fassbender is undeniably the most engaging presence here and, as with Prometheus, his performance is phenomenal – to the point where his blankness is at times a little too convincing and genuinely creepy, and makes any outbursts all the more effective, but I may already have said too much.

As a whole though Alien: Covenant, while enjoyable, feels a little too much like a ‘best bits’ of the better past films thrown together, with the attempt at philosophy of Prometheus thrown in, and not quite coming out with an entirely satisfying whole and it’s hard to escape the fact that this is all somewhat unnecessary exposition for a pair of classic films that never needed it.

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Critics Choice at Beau Cinema: Silence

Silence movie posterAs pointed out by Wynter Tyson (one of the curators of the #CriticsChoice series at Beau Cinema) during his introduction to this screening of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the revered director has, throughout his career, often explored elements of faith in his work.

From the more obvious in the The Last a Temptation Of Christ to references in Gangs of New York to, arguably, a mirroring of a kind of corrupted faith in Wolf of Wall StreetSilence though follows Last Temptation in being a more direct take on the subject.

The film tells the story of a pair for Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) on a mission to Japan in the 17th century to continue the development of Christianity in the country and seek out the fate of their teacher, Padre Ferreira (Liam Neeson).

From the start, a fog shrouded scene featuring severed heads and a particularly unique and specific form of torture being administered to a group of Christian priests told from the point of view of Ferreira, it’s clear this is going to be a deep, dark journey and exploration of faith, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Silence movie - Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver

Garfield and Driver

While Scorsese is perfectly adept at everything from b-movie style fare to bright modern drama, here he more than proves why he is as regarded as he is as one of Hollywood’s best directors.

Every moment of Silence feels created with all aspects coming together to create something all-encompassing.

The sound design particularly stands out (as the title might suggest) being very low-key but highlighting what it needs to without resorting to the grand sweeping orchestrations or stereotypically ethnic sounds a lesser director might.

Silence - Liam Neeson

Neeson

This allows the visuals, which range from the rusticity beautiful to the genuinely brutal, to really stand out and strike in a way that is never melodramatic, giving the whole thing a sense of realism that is really absorbing.

While Liam Neeson’s appearance feels something like an extended cameo in the mould of his turns as Qui-Gon Jin in The Phantom Menace or Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins (just a little more serious) and Adam Driver brings an impressive intensity to Padre Francisco Garupe, it is Andrew Garfield who owns the film.

Garfield, as Padre Sebastião Rodrigues, is the film’s centre and really, despite the historical themes surrounding him, it is his journey that is the central plot.

We watch him struggle with his faith both physically and psychologically in a way that is (for the most part) brilliantly understated but gradually works its way into a truly effective and effecting place that shows a side to him I honestly never thought possible based on his pair of outings as Spider-Man (an unfair comparison I realise, but it makes the point).

Silence - Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson

Garfield and Neeson

While I’m not sure the film effected me on the spiritual level that it would Scorsese, or indeed anyone of a more religious or spiritual bent, Silence is a genuinely impressive piece of cinema.

It both manages to capture a period of history I knew not as much about and also allows space for a very real feeling story to be told without resorting to typical over the top cinematic tricks to manipulate its audience or rushing to explain every last thing, meaning it will likely sit in the back of my mind for a good while to come.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 posterWhen James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air in a rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that was already beginning to grow somewhat stale.

Now, three years later, its sequel has appeared with far more anticipation and again the hope that it would help add something new to the now apparently inescapable MCU juggernaut.

From the start Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much more of the same as Gunn, once again in the director’s chair, subverts standard action movie expectations as a big action scene takes place as the background to a dance sequence from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) accompanied by yet another nostalgia heavy musical choice.

While this is all fine and entertaining it sets up something that becomes a bit of a frustration, particularly in the first half of the film. The use of vintage pop songs and irreverent punchlines was a highlight of the first movie but here they often seem a bit too forced and it almost as if nothing can happen without a joke being thrown in at the end.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 - baby groot

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

Some of these are great but some miss the mark and it starts to feel like Gunn is feeling the need to live up what was most notable about the first film (something that looks to have spread to not only the new Thor film Ragnarok but also the upcoming DC superhero mash-up Justice League, judging by the trailers).

Because of this the first half of the film does drag somewhat, despite a few perfectly serviceable action sequences, as it takes a while for the story to really get going as we are reintroduced to the Guardians and their particular corner of the galaxy, along with a vague maguffin about stolen batteries.

Once Ego arrives though things do pick up.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell - Ego 2

Ego, The Living Planet (Kurt Russell)

Played by Kurt Russell in a way that is at once one of the film’s biggest 80s nostalgia trips and a genuinely effective character, Ego is something of a rare thing in Marvel’s films of feeling like something a bit different.

Known as ‘The Living Planet’ he expands on the more sci-fi end of the MCU in both visual and character terms and there are some genuinely impressive moments focussing on him that do a great job of translating comic book ‘splash page’ style imagery onto the big screen.

While this leads to a big smash bang action sequence as is the Marvel standard, the connections between the characters, old and new, give this something a little different to keep it interesting enough, if not truly ground breaking.

Much like the first film one of its strong points is in the design of the MCU extraterrestrial world.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - Chris Pratt

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt)

With ships clearly strongly influenced by artist Chris Foss and a somewhat psychedelic sense to its space-scapes it builds in what was set up first time round as well as in the Thor and Doctor Strange films and suggests the upcoming Avengers films that it would seem will focus on Thanos have the chance of some epic visuals.

Laced through with cameos and a strong sense of 1980s nostalgia Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be not feel as fresh as its predecessor and be hampered by trying to live up to its own hype, but is entertaining and really picks up in the second half to be one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think this is helped by still being totally separate to the ongoing Avengers saga it seems destined to collide with sooner rather than later and having a solid directorial vision from Gunn (who has already been announced as directing the third Guardians film) rather than the often slightly too homogenised feel of the rest of the series.

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