Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

In 2014, we were treated to a new batch of heroes from Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was skeptical at first because I had never even heard of this comic book series before. It turns out, the Guardians go back to 1969, however the ones depicted in the film are from a “modern” reinvention, that goes back to the latter part of the 20th century. While there’s history there, this is a relatively new series. Nevertheless, my wariness for a new comic book franchise was diminished when I saw that James Gunn, formerly of TROMA, was attached to it. I’ve been a fan of his work dating back to his early days, and really enjoyed his later films such as “Slither”. When I saw the first “Guardians of the Galaxy”, whatever reservations I had were completely vanquished. I was thoroughly entertained by the characters: Star-Lord, or Peter (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). I actually couldn’t wait for their next adventure, having so much fun watching them in their first film.

Now, we’re treated to that next story; and once again, it was a pleasure. The cast is a bit bigger this time, including previous side characters (and somewhat villains) such as Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). While the core Guardians are still the main focus, there is an ample amount of time given to these other characters, especially Yondu.

The opening credit sequence alone is enough to fall in love with this film. We see a growing Baby Groot (only potted in the finale of the last film), dancing to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” while the Guardians fight a giant slimy creature as a favor to a group of people known as the Sovereign, who are condescending but open to rewarding them for protecting their (precious?) batteries. Nebula, Gamora’s sister, is being held by the Sovereign, and release her back to the Guardians once the task of destroying the creature (in another amusing sequence) is complete. However, Rocket steals some of these batteries, and the Sovereign goes after them. Their style of space battle resembles old Atari games for some reason. It’s inexplicable, but funny nonetheless.

We also open with another story, that becomes part of the bigger plot, that involves a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), young and dashing, charming a young woman. We later find out what the significance of this flashback is, and are re-introduced to Ego as an older man, who now claims to be Peter’s estranged father.

When the Guardians escape the grasp of the Sovereign, and other shenanigans, Peter and Gamora go with Ego to his home “planet”, along with his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a mysterious but intriguing character that catches Drax’s fancy (although he’s unwilling to admit it). We learn that Ego is known as a “Celestial”, a god-like being, and can control pretty much anything he wants, if he can share that power with someone. He wants that someone to be Peter, who is unsure whether to believe that this is his father.

Father and son relationships are extensively explored in this film–I almost wonder if this would have been better suited to be released around Father’s Day. You have the backstory of Peter and Ego, with Peter still holding onto his resentment that he watched his mother die without his father around. Then, there’s Peter and Yondu, who raised Peter to be a thief and stands by his reasoning: “he was skinny, and made it easy for thievin'” (paraphrased). Yondu, part of the Ravagers–a group of intergalactic smugglers–refuses to admit any other reasoning why he kept Peter around. But we find out why later in the film. It makes sense, and it’s actually quite touching.

That’s the other strength of the film. While it is funny–sometimes uproariously so–it’s also poignant at times. There’s a lot more to this film than just space battles and quick wit. And I think that, like Peter Jackson maturing into his calling for “Lord of the Rings”, James Gunn has found his calling in “Guardians”. It’s like he was made for this series. Yes, it strays from the original comic books and that’s partly why I credit him so much. He made this his own in a sense; and here, in this sequel, he’s really mastered it.

There was never a moment where I was bored, antsy, or frustrated. There are moments when Drax gets a little carried away, and a few awkward moments here and there–but for the most part, all of it works in the grand scheme. The film is almost two and a half hours long, and it really felt like it needed all of that to tell a complete story. Nothing is rushed or slapdash. Gunn takes his time building something and working it into a satisfying conclusion. Yes, there are some cliched, predictable plot twists and devices–I think that comes with the territory of a superhero film. They’re all, by design, franchised to be the same story structure. But there are some really nice surprises along the way, and you might want to keep a few Kleenex handy at a few points.

I know the future of this series ultimately will tie into The Avengers at some point–if the rumors are true–but as they stay in their own universe, I hope Gunn sticks with the series. To me, he’s the heart and soul and foundation of it. Yes, the characters are great–Peter and Gamora have excellent chemistry. Even Mantis and Drax share some nice screen time. Rocket is always a pleasure. And I can’t write this review without completely gushing over Baby Groot. He is adorable, and steals a lot of scenes.

But it’s everything that makes this sequel even bigger, and better than the original. It brings everything up a level, which is what sequels are supposed to do anyway. It’s a great way to start the blockbuster season; but more than that, it stands alone as probably the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year.

My rating: :D

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

July 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

I think it was around 2000 that I first took notice of a book called “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. I was working at amazon.com, and it was starting to gain popularity very quickly. It wasn’t long after that I saw more books with the name “Harry Potter”: “Chamber of Secrets” and “The Prisoner of Azkaban”. I thought, what’s the deal with these books? Well, the answer was…they had just become the most popular childrens’ books in circulation.

By the time the fourth book, “Goblet of Fire”, was being released, Harry Potter mania had taken full effect. In 2001, a film version was made of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”. My sister was ecstatic, and even went so far as to work out something with a local theatre to promote a kid-friendly showing of the movie, complete with a Sorting Hat and people dressing up. I went to this showing to support what she was doing, and I had finally taken interest in the books after she repeatedly inflected the highest praise I’ve seen her give a book since she had read Roald Dahl.

I enjoyed the first book, enough to continue with the series. I liked what J.K. Rowling was doing: Harry was a very special child, but he was severely underappreciated and abused by his adopted parents (his own were killed). Harry learns that he’s a wizard, and he can perform magic and all sorts of special things that he couldn’t do in the “Muggle World” (muggle being the word for regular human, or an English person). I was taken by the journey and wound up reading the entire series, getting the concluding book the day it came out and finishing it in a week (a record for me).

Meanwhile, I went and saw the movies. And I was less than impressed with most of them. While some of them (“Chamber of Secrets”, “Order of the Phoenix”) were OK, only two really stood out for me as well done films: “Prisoner of Azkaban” and “The Half-Blood Prince”. Finally, these movies provided some much needed character development that made the books so entertaining and endearing.

For the final adaptation, the money-grubbing producers I suppose thought it’d be better to split the book into two movies. Yeah, I’m sure it was for artistic purposes. See my review on “Part 1” to see if they succeeded. I had my doubts that it would serve well as a two part…mini-series, and I think I was right to be so dubious.

In Part 2, we’re taken right into the action from the start. Why we needed a long-winded 2 and a half hour long “intro” (Part 1), I have no idea. Well, I do have an idea. But in any event, I saw it, and I was just anticipating this film to see if they could conclude it in a satisfying manner, the way the book did.

Obviously, there’s always going to be a disconnect between the film and book, in any adaptation. Certain things cannot be filmed, and sometimes things are left out. The “Harry Potter” series was a frequent culprit of this, especially in “Goblet of Fire” (which was my favorite of the book series). In this adaptation, from what I remember, they do get pretty much all of it right. But something was still missing. And I think because of all of the short comings of previous installments, this film was never going to deliver for me what I had been starved for the entire time–and that’s actually…caring for these characters.

I’ve never thought of Daniel Radcliffe as a good actor, nor Emma Watson. But they’re not entirely at fault for their cardboard cutout characters–the screenwriting in this series has been dreadful in many of the installments, including this one. The film’s pace never seems quite right, especially in Part 1. But there’s just no sense of urgency other than spewing out the dazzling special effects. That’s always seemed to be the driving force of these films.

If aesthetics were all you could base your opinion on in this series, I’d say it was a smashing success. But that’s not what drew me into the books, and that’s not what drew me into liking Harry Potter asáa character, along with the other characters. I liked that Rowling gave them complexity and flaws. In the films, they just seem to go along with the story, not really offering any real emotion or showing pain or anguish. It all just seems like window dressing. And while it’s very nice to look at, it just doesn’t do anything for me.

And that’s basically what I thought of this conclusion. Everything is in its right place. But the puzzle itself doesn’t move me. Andáthere was even a conclusion missing, I thought, between Harry and Draco–two characters who were heated rivals throughout the series.áThere was nothing I felt throughout this film; not even in the last scene, where we finally see Harry as an adult and without the scar. It struck me as interesting that in the film, he does not rub his forehead as he does in the last line of the book. That line was used to show that Harry had finally gotten through everything, and his scar “healed” so that he was pretty much…born anew. In the film he doesn’t touch it–almost signifying that he just never felt anything. I know that’s kind of an insult, and a bit short sighted.

I do not think the film series has been bad, necessarily. It just hasn’t been what I thought it would be. I was hoping for something more meaningful, such as the “Lord of the Rings” adaptations. In that, they cut out a lot from the books but they retained the most important thing–the relationships. Harry Potter’s relationships in the film series just serve as plot devices more than anything else. And all of the films worked on a visual level. But not on any other level. And what made me like Harry Potter so much was that there were so many levels.

But I am relieved that it’s finally over. My scar’s gone, too. And all is well.

My rating: :?