Tag Archives: Vin Diesel

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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The Last Witch Hunter

The Last Witch HunterIt’s fairly easy to divide the films of Vin Diesel into two camps; there are the all out action blockbusters (i.e. The Fast and the Furious series) that are the modern-day definition of high concept cinema, and then there are the personal interest oddities.

Unlike many other actor/producers, rather than being small-scale indie style fare these seem to fall in the area of sci-fi and fantasy that could be equally as high concept as his other work.

With that in mind The Last Witch Hunter falls firmly into the latter camp and seems to build on some of what was attempted in The Chronicles of Riddick in terms of Diesel’s own interests in and around character and role-playing games, with this being loosely based on ideas from Dungeons & Dragons.

With the quality of the past official Dungeons & Dragons films that could easily be taken as a kind of warning, but thankfully that isn’t needed here quite so much.

The story revolves around Diesel’s titular hero and his attempts to rid the world of the Queen of Witches and her minions.

Vin Diesel in The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel

With this plot it takes a fairly standard idea but plays with it by setting it in the modern-day, giving it a hint of Blade and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, albeit without any of the inherent wit of the latter or all out martial arts action of the former.

The plot is reasonably well constructed and things move along at a decent pace although there are moments that get a bit bogged down in an over abundance of lore and therefore exposition that could certainly easily turn off anyone without a pre-existing interest.

While the dialogue is, at best, a bit on the laboured side and Diesel is typically wooden (though that suits his stoic hero, much as it does in The Fast and The Furious and other films) the rest of the cast do their best in a ‘we’re here for fun and a pay day’ kind of way.

The Last Witch Hunter

Leslie, Diesel and Wood

Michael Caine, Elijah Wood and Game of Throne’s Rose Lesley all do their admirable utmost not to come across as too ridiculous – though it’s hard to avoid the sense of ‘fantasy show’ typecasting around Lesley and Caine seems to be able to deliver these kind of ageing surrogate father figure type roles in his sleep.

With special effects that are certainly good enough (if unspectacular) and while it certainly has a straight to DVD quality about it, The Last Witch Hunter is a reasonably entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

Though its strongly hinted at sequel may not be as forthcoming as it seems the filmmakers would like, and I’m unlikely to revisit it this, with the right expectations in place there are far worse films of this style around (see In The Name Of The King and its ilk).

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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.



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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Fast & Furious 6

Fast & Furious 6 posterWith the only big full on action movie to have made me venture into the cinema so far this year being A Good Day To Die Hard, I headed into Fast & Furious 6 in the hope and expectation that, at the very least, it would be better than that.

Having followed the Fast & Furious movies since their inception they have been a mixed bag to say the least. Starting out as pretty much muscle headed car movies from number four (aka Fast & Furious) onwards they have developed into the more full on action movie genre with international locations and heist based storylines that balance straight up fast cars and action with enough knowing irony to make them genuinely entertaining, while providing the only effective vehicle for Vin Diesel since Pitch Black.

Fast & Furious 6 starts off where Fast 5 lets off with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his gang enjoying their new-found wealth and freedom (as long as they don’t try and go back to the USA) in their own unique ways, while Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs is back on duty investigating improbable car based heists in Russia.

fast & furious-6 - paul walker and vin dieselThis sets up our maguffin plot which draws the old team back together to thwart the plans of a rogue former British special forces type (Luke Evans as Owen Shaw) and his gang who are pretty much a direct mirror of Dom and co.

Along with this plot, which leads us through increasingly implausible but excellently delivered set pieces (you’ll believe Vin Diesel can fly and is actually a T-1000), we have the ever-present Fast & Furious family sub-plot, here increased by the fact that Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner is now a father and that Dom’s ex-girlfriend (who died in Fast & Furious) has somehow returned as part of Shaw’s gang.

Fast & Furious 6 - Michelle RodriquezIt’s this family subplot that, while as corny as they come, really gives the film a heart as we root for Dom and his team and genuinely feel an attachment to them and shows how it is superior to many other blockbusters and actioners as I, at least, genuinely did feel something for these characters when they live, die or are effected by the life of (good guy) crime they have all chosen and join with them in rooting for the rest of the gang as they battle against the odds to, hopefully, prevail.

Following a film like A Good Day To Die Hard, where the nearest to emotion anyone shows is Bruce Willis telling us the guy he’s with is his son, or the likes of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, where the humans are an expandable side-show, it is genuinely refreshing to actually root for the heroes in a movie.

Fast & Furious 6 - Dwayne Johnson The Rock and Gina CaranoOf course the ‘heart’ is only part of any movie and, while brains may not be high on the agenda of Fast & Furious 6, muscle sure is, and it has it in spades, almost as much as The Rock (sorry, Dwayne Johnson).

Things start off with a relatively straightforward car chase sequence through London that defies sense and geography in the most enjoyable of ways and sets up the fact that these two gangs of glorified carjackers are a match for each other.

Things then move to Spain (why not? As long as it’s not the USA it fits the plot as well as anywhere) where we get what feels like the movie’s climax as the two gangs destroy a motorway trying to claim possession of the movie’s physical maguffin, a part of a missile that I’m sure could destroy the world in the wrong hands – or something like that, like all the best macguffins it simply doesn’t matter.

Fast & Furious 6 - Flip car and Luke EvansFollowing this, any remaining credulity is thrown out of the window as we head to what must be the worlds longest airstrip, as Dom’s team chase down Shaw’s team (now boarding a cargo plane) and do their utmost to stop the plane taking off using cars, harpoons with tow cables and good old-fashioned hand to hand fighting, which is clearly designed to give The Rock the chance to show off his pro-wrestling chops – a Doomsday Device like attack from Diesel and The Rock on one of the henchman being the highlight of this.

Leaving things open for a sequel in genuinely shocking style, that has me wanting to see what’s next right now, Fast & Furious 6 continues the series recent run of knowing pure entertainment that, while not quite as all out fun as Fast 5 is very close – now if other action filmmakers would just learn some lessons from this we might get another heyday of the genre as existed in the mid to late 1980s.

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