Tag Archives: Guardians of the Galaxy

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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Films of 2014

So, before I begin this will be short as I haven’t seen nearly as many new movies this year as I’d like, but none-the-less here are my thoughts on things based on what I have seen.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Prison1As seems to something that’s going to continue well into the next decade Marvel took a big chunk of the blockbuster release schedule this year, but, unlike the last few years they actually lived up to the hype.

Following on from the sugary but ultimately unsatisfying confections of The Avengers and Iron Man 3, and the frankly rubbish Thor: The Dark World, Marvel studios stepped up their game in 2014 with the thriller-like Captain America: Winter Soldier that re-established some sense of intrigue in the ongoing Avengers storyline and the massively enjoyable and fun Guardians of the Galaxy that was one of the most enjoyable things I saw all year, whether new or not.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

The X-Men also re-established themselves as a group of Marvel characters worth watching as Bryan Singer returned to the director’s chair for Days of Future Past which built on the great work Matthew Vaughan did in First Class to be a great action adventure and set up some exciting prospects for the future.

Sony’s other Marvel property, Spider-Man fared less well in the bland follow-up to the almost ironically named The Amazing Spider-Man.

WyldStyle and Batman

WyldStyle and Batman

Family films were broadly catered for from the usual places but for me the stand out was The Lego Movie.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy it was a massively entertaining ride with enough smart jokes to make it something far more than any pre-release talk could have suggested.

It also added another great take on Batman to the cinematic canon that looks set to get his own stand alone follow-up.

Interstellar - Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey

Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey

One of the most anticipated movies of the year was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I was very glad I had avoided most of the pre-release hype and bluster when I went to see it and enjoyed it hugely as it combined a sense of adventure with ideas and thoughts akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While it was divisive with audiences, for me it perfectly balanced the two kinds of sci-fi, with spectacle standing alongside science and including one of the best pieces of stand alone world building I’ve seen in a long time.

The Imitation GameSomething of a wild card entry for me was The Imitation Game as, while its subject (Alan Turing) was one that greatly interested me and it starred Benedict Cumberbatch, who is generally a great performer, it had something of the look of an Oscar-bait biopic come English costume drama to it.

Thankfully it avoided this and ended up being very entertaining while also tackling some serious issues and taking a look at an only recently revealed part of second world war history.

PrideIn the end though, my favourite film of the year has to go to Matthew Warchus’ Pride. With its story of gay rights campaigners in London supporting striking Welsh miners in the mid-80s it could have been a very worthy film, but, instead it took a huge load of exuberance and positivity, along with all the issues surrounding both sets of characters, and created the most all-round entertaining and engaging movie I saw all year.

At no point did it shy away from anything, but at the same time it didn’t preach or posture and, while it encouraged tears along with the laughter, Pride made for the best time I had in a cinema in 2014.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier posterFollowing the massive disappointment that is Thor: The Dark World and the massive sense of let down I felt on re-watching The Avengers it was going to take some work to get me back onside with Marvel Studios output.

Certainly Guardians of the Galaxy went someway to achieving that, but, with its irreverence and general lighthearted air, and the fact it exists mostly away from the main run of “the cinematic universe” there was still some work to be done.

Well, I’m very happy to say that, now I’ve caught up with Captain America: The Winter Soldier on Blu-ray, I am back onboard (if still a bit nervous about another big mess of Avengers: Age Of Ultron on the horizon).

Anyway, down to business of Cap 2.

Starting off with Captain America (aka Steve Rogers) in fish out of water mode, it isn’t long before the plot kicks off. There’s not a lot more that can be said about the plot without hitting some fairly massive spoilers, so, onto what really wins this film over, its delivery.

captain-america-winter-soldier-robert-redford-chris-evansRather than feeling like another cookie-cutter big action adventure the action scenes (which are still numerous and huge) are interspersed with a story of double-crossing and espionage that harks back to a glossy version of paranoia-rich 1970s cinema.

This part of the movie is centred around Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, the political leader of S.H.I.E.L.D, essentially Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) boss, and he does an excellent job in his role and really helps give this side of the movie the uncertain feeling that it seems the directors were going for.

Captain-America-The-Winter-Soldier-Sebastian-StanThe other side of the movie deals with the titular Winter Soldier (a long-standing on-off foe for Cap in the comic books, here played by Sebastian Stan). While he maybe doesn’t appear enough to warrant the sub-title of the whole film, this aspect, combined with the espionage angle, helps to make the character of Captain America (Chris Evans), who can be bland and clean-cut, into something more interesting, conflicted and questioning.

This combination of styles works very well, along with the inclusion of other characters like The Falcon, Black Widow and Fury and the American city setting, to actually make this movie feel like many of the Captain America comic books I’ve read where grand schemes mix with typical comic book action. Captain America: The Winter Soldier actually holds the plot together better than many of the comics as the film, by its nature, has something of an air of climax that is often lost in the monthly instalments.

Captain America and Black WidowWhile the final part of the film does head into the standard territory of a huge action set piece, the hand-held feel and the focus on the story within these scenes makes them far more engaging than the enormous but characterless battles seen in The Avengers, Thor 2 and even parts of Guardians.

In the end, where Captain America: The Winter Soldier really works is in adding a sense of drama and (relative) unpredictability back to the Marvel Cinematic Universe while also bringing it back down to earth – though I remain skeptical as to how this movie will fit in with Avengers 2.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy posterBefore I launch into this I’m going to make it clear that a sense of trepidation still remains lurking in the back of my mind due to the effect The Avengers had on me upon re-watching it… basically, I loved it in the cinema, as my review testified, but future re-watches (two so far and likely no more) have left me entirely cold to what charms I thought it had – so with that in the back of my mind, onto Marvel’s most risky movie to date… Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Starting off with a flashback to earth in 1988, as soon as the titles have rolled we thrown to 26 years (and countless light years) later to meet Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) on a daring, Indiana Jones style raid for the movie’s chief maguffin. That then leads to the coming together of a band of misfits and, as it is a Marvel movie, them saving the day in a big smash-bang-wallop of an action sequence in the final third.

Mention of Indiana Jones really does sum up the tone of this movie as that, along with the better parts of the Star Wars series (and other lesser 80s sci-fi), are clearly major touchstones that director James Gunn (and no doubt producer and overlord of all Marvel movies, Kevin Fiege) were going for.

Rocket Raccoon

Rocket Raccoon

So, yes things are a bit derivative, we have an edgier take on Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in Quill and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Han and Chewie’s place is filled by the excellently done Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and to mix things up a bit a hulking angry guy hell-bent on non-metaphorical revenge, Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista).

But, despite the derivative nature of this, and let’s be honest Lucas wasn’t the first to use these archetypes, the film barrels along at full force and in fine fun style that swept me along with it.

Also much like Star Wars it does a good job of setting up the breadth of its ‘galaxy’ with visits to a few less than reputable locales reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina, that make it clear this is a vibrantly populated universe only hinted at in the past Marvel movies.

Star-Lord

Star-Lord

Ok so, Star Wars comparisons out-of-the-way, what really made the story of Guardians work for me was that it didn’t dwell on its maguffins more than was necessary so we got what they were but I didn’t feel it was over done like it is in some similar movies (to be honest I was bored with the Tesseract before we even really saw what it could do) and, while we do have scenes that clearly set wheels in motion for the future (most noticeably our first proper introduction to Josh Brolin’s Thanos) these don’t over complicate things.

The performances are generally good and the CG characters fit in very well with the real life performers, so much so that soon after they appeared I stopped marveling (excuse the pun) at Rocket and Groot and just accepted them as characters, so huge credit to Framstore for a lot of that.

Ronan The Accuser

Ronan The Accuser

While I don’t think Dave Bautista should be pushed beyond this kind of role and Karen Gillan didn’t really show a lot of promise as cybernetic henchwoman Nebula, they still fitted the parts they were playing.

Chris Pratt on the other hand absolutely hit the nail on the head with his anti-heroic mix of well-meaning bad boy, cocky space hero and child of the 80s that while filling the Skywalker role, had plenty of Solo (and a bit of The Last Starfighter) to him to keep things interesting.

Ok, so far so much about what I enjoyed, what about the other side?

The approach to Knowhere

The approach to Knowhere

As with many of Marvel’s movies (worst of all The Avengers) there was little genuine sense of threat for the characters as despite a few happenings, I never really felt any of the antagonists were going to be enough of a threat to cause much bother.

While Thanos remained a distant threat the main ‘bad guy’ here was Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace). While he looked great (far better than Christopher Ecclestone’s Malakith in Thor 2, though with a similar vibe) he never really felt that threatening, despite his ‘Space Bin Laden’ style back story, and it was what I can only assume will be the maguffin for the next Guardians movie that thwarted him in surprisingly obvious fashion.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy_5It’s clear when you look at director James Gunn’s past work where the sense of fun comes from. He is a graduate of Troma films and, while much of their output is grotty and downright bad beyond belief, his work on Tromeo & Juliet is one of their high points and its kitschy irreverence is present here in spades, as well as a great little blink and you’ll miss it cameo that pays nicely pays tribute to this past.

So, in the end, Guardians Of The Galaxy may not be an excellent movie, but it is great fun, knows what it’s trying to be and do, and has restored something of my faith in Marvel after the The Avengers and frankly God-awful Thor 2 and some of the production design, courtesy of artist Chris Foss, is excellent and a bit different to other Marvel fare.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Prison1I just hope Guardians stands up to re-watching and Marvel can keep up this kind of mix of quirky and interesting while still fitting their formula – though Edgar Wright being dropped from Ant-Man isn’t too promising on that front… oh well, role on the inevitable Guardians 2 and hopefully another spin-off hinted at in the post credits sting (though I know that one’s wishful thinking more than anything else).

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