Avengers: Infinity War

May 2, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

After 10 years of what we now nickname the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Univerrse), and nearly 20 films, we have come to the supposed culmination of what this was all about: the Avengers joining forces with others from other film franchises to defeat a common enemy, known as Thanos. Throughout these films, we’ve been thoroughly entertained by A-list actors portraying high end characters, cross-referencing story lines, and explosive special effects and fairly convincing CGI. Franchises include the “Avengers” movie series, the individual Avengers involved, and even the “Guardians of the Galaxy”. They now share billing in one of the biggest films of all time, “Avengers: Infinity War”. For about 130 minutes of its’ staggering 150 minute running time, it is an absolute hoot.

The Guardians provide most of the best humor, some of the biggest laughs, and the greatest on-screen presence. Maybe, too, their franchise has been the most satisfying; seeing some of these other, more familiar Avengers is a tad tiresome. Not that I’m tired of seeing them, but they’ve been thrown in so many films together that it’s kind of refreshing to see new faces. It’s hilarious when Drax (Dave Bautista) is impressed with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and when Thor continuously calls Rocket (Bradley Cooper) “Rabbit”. It works like a comedic family reunion sometimes, with a lot of quips and pot shots that really keep you smiling throughout.

But it’s not all fun and games and laughs and giggles. Thanos (Josh Brolin), a somewhat mysterious tyrant, is fiendishly collecting Infinity Stones that have been carefully protected by the Avengers, in order to possess all 6. He carries them on a conveniently designed gauntlet, and each has its own power that once forged, can make him the most powerful creature in the universe. He can basically do whatever he wants–and what he wants, is “balance”. That means, for him, to level the population of the world and cut it in half. He will destroy civilization, in his mind, for its’ own good.

Well, that’s obviously not going to set well with the Avengers, or anyone with a good head on their shoulders. However, the more this film reveals about Thanos, the more it becomes apparent that the filmmakers are trying something a bit ambitious:

This is more about Thanos than it is about the Avengers. The Avengers are trying, perhaps in vain, to stop a force that they cannot stop. Thanos already has a few of the stones to start the film out, and he’s already more powerful than any one Avenger–except possibly Thor, who is still without his Hammer. The film portrays Thanos as a “fallen angel” type. Maybe at one time, Thanos was bright-eyed and optimistic about the universe. But he’s older, more cynical, and beaten down by years of torment and self-reflection.

Or is he? We really, actually, never get to know the true Thanos. That’s a hard thing to accomplish anyway in one film, when all this time up until now we have been led to think that the Avengers are the best heroes to follow. Are we now to believe that Thanos is the real hero?

Probably not. But, we still aren’t given a lot to work with to look at it from Thanos’ point of view. We still want to believe that Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has the ability to thwart his plans with his stone. Or Vision (Paul Bettany), with his.

Much of the climax of this film is a lot of highwire acts by the Avengers to stop Thanos from his plan. Many Avengers striking poses, tossing out lasers and bright projectiles. We even get a nice cameo from Peter Dinklage as Thor’s new Hammer forger.

The last 10-15 minutes, though, are really what the whole movie boils down to. I can’t give away details, but my heart sank when I realized what I’m watching.

Part 1 of 2.

Like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1”, we are only getting half the story crammed into a nearly 3 hour movie. That means another nearly 3 hour movie still awaits, and will sum up what “Infinity War” is supposed to be about.

So, I cannot once again give a real definitive review of this film. Did I enjoy it? Well, some parts, absolutely. I was right there with these guys, cheering and applauding whenever they did something heroic or spectacular. When it looked like they were beating the bad guys, I was wholly engaged and almost felt like a kid again, when I was reading comics myself.

But it’s not over, and the way the ending leaves you…it just left me cold. Empty. Unfulfilled. I know they are going to resolve this, and it seems pretty predictable how. After all, can there really be “sacrifice” in a comic book movie? If you’ve ever read comic books, you know the answer to that.

So, my heart sank because as much as this film tries to be edgy and shocking–I think I know the outcome too well to either be disappointed by the resolution, or just expecting what looks to be inevitable.

It came off as arrogant to me, after all these years and films, to make audiences wait for an end to just…make them wait a little longer. Especially since other film franchises are going to go on in the meantime. We’re just supposed to suspend disbelief all that time, until Part 2 is released? That’s going to be awkward.

And for that, I can’t really recommend this…

…yet?

My rating: :?

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

Guardians of the Galaxy

August 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

I thought when I first saw ads for this film that Marvel Studios was really scraping the bottom of the barrel and trying to pluck anything out of their catalog to sell to kids so that they could rake in money and dominate another summer. Then I saw that James Gunn’s name was attached and I started to change my mind a bit. I had never heard of “Guardians of the Galaxy” before learning of the film’s release; after reading up a little bit on it, it actually looked like it could be a fun vehicle. Another thing I was hesitant to be excited about was the casting of Dave Bautista. He doesn’t ever come across as charismatic or endearing. Finally I stopped my preconceived notions like a nosebleed and decided to just go see the film and draw an opinion on what I saw on the screen.

What I saw was pure, absolute, 100% entertainment. This is what summer action movies are supposed to be like. While the first twenty minutes or so are quite a lot to take in–lot of backstory–once it settles in and our feet are firmly planted, it is a real treat. Gunn’s flair for humor permeates the whole film, which is a good thing. It’s funny to think a former Troma filmmaker could pull this off. But he does. And he even includes his old pal Lloyd Kaufman (former founder of Troma Films and director of “The Toxic Avenger” among other films) as a prison inmate in one scene.

The story involves a group of criminals in their own way thrust together by a nice MacGuffin (a little metal orb) that is worth a lot; but what it is, nobody really knows. We begin with the backstory of the main character, Peter Quill (very nicely played by Chris Pratt), as he’s a child tragically watching his mother die before him in a hospital. The only thing that seems to comfort him is his walkman (this is 1988), with an “Awesome Mix” playing. He is told he is going to be taken care of by his grandfather; but once he runs outside, tears streaming down his face, he is picked up by a large spacecraft. Decades later, he is a grown man and a thief working for the alien that abducted (and ultimately raised) him, Yondu (Michael Rooker, always a pleasure to see) and steals an orb that is meant for Yondu so he can sell it. Only Quill is attacked by a group led by someone named Korath (Djimon Hounsou), and escapes with the orb, enraging Yondu. It turns out Korath wanted the orb for a Kree alien named Ronan, whose assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is hired to track down Quill and take the orb from him. Meanwhile, there’s a price of Quill’s head that draws the attention of a scruffy raccoon-like being, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his companion, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and all parties converge on the planet Xandar, and are thrown in prison after some shenanigans take place.

There is a lot going on here, so I’ll just summarize: Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Quill, all pretty much team up to escape prison. They are helped by another inmate, Drax (who has a back story involving Gamora that’s too complicated to get into in this review), played by Bautista. They escape, and are wanted by just about everybody–but they discover that the orb is actually a casing for something called the Infinity Stone that–wait for it–can give you ultimate power. Ronan wants it, but he has someone to answer to as well–Thanos. Ronan turns out to be a rogue and wants it for himself, and Gamora’s half sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), fights for Ronan. The team basically has to save the planet Xandar from Ronan and his quest for the Infinity Stone.

So try to follow all that. Actually, even if you’re extremely confused, the film never gets bogged down too much with plot that it takes away from the action and adventure of the story. The film’s two hour length is perfect and timed and paced well so that it’s rarely a dull moment.

But it’s really the characters of the Guardians that shine. Quill is your everyman, someone we all can relate to, and his sense of humor is charming. Rocket is a loudmouth but also amusing; Gamora is stunning and of course her chemistry with Quill is palpable. The surprise to me is Bautista’s performance as Drax. While Drax is hardly charismatic by design, it is his droll demeanor that actually winds up being what’s appealing about him. He has no reflection, no identity for irony (he once is told something “went over his head” and he retorts: “Nothing goes over my head. I would catch it immediately.”) and he speaks with a ridiculous vernacular for someone of his brawny size. Bautista plays it totally straight, no winking at the camera, and that makes Drax one of the strongest presences on screen, regardless of his physical prowess.

There are also some very tender moments, and one of the most touching actually involves Drax and Rocket. I won’t give away what it is, because it’s a major plot point, but I will note that it tugged at the heart strings. Of course Quill’s tragic back story with his mother resonates, and he is always seen carrying his walkman, trying to impress anyone he can with his awesome music (which for me was hit or miss).

The film reminded me of “The Avengers” in its spirit and emphasis on character and humor. The camaraderie between the gang is fun, and even when they’re at odds (which happens occasionally), it’s still a hoot.

Even though it seems like Marvel reached for this one, it proves there are some gems even at the bottom of whatever barrel they are scraping at. And because Marvel believes religiously in sequels, I know we will see these characters again.

And I look very much forward to seeing them.

My rating::D