Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

No film in Disney/Marvel’s massive gallery was as much of a surprise success as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film about a ragtag group of space anti-heroes transcended its lesser known source material to become a fun summer blockbuster full of exhilarating action and humor. But it’s hard to follow up a breakout hit with something better or even just as good. Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron showed us, that while the Marvel Cinematic Universe always keeps things entertaining, sometimes their sequels can’t quite live up to the hype.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of a group of intergalactic heroes for hire. Returning are Drax (Dave Bautista), a slow witted mustle man who lacks subtlety; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rude and violent talking raccoon; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a naive tree monster reduced to baby form following the first film’s climax; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) skiled assassin and daughter to a space tyrant, and Peter “Star Lord” Quill, (Chris Pratt), an Earthling with a human mother and an alien father he’s never met. After the crew makes enemies out of a society of genetic purists (led by Elizabeth Debicki), the Guardians encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), an antient, powerful being claiming to be Quill’s father, and his socially awkward aprentice, named Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Michael Rooker also returns as Quill’s former mentor Yondu, and Karen Gillan reprises her role as Gamora’s sister/hated rival, Nebula.

As it turns out, Guardians Vol. 2 has many of the same problems as Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron in that it seems more concerned with making the audience laugh and giving them shiny new CGI to gawk at than with forming a coherent narrative. As such, the plot to this film is all over the place for the majority of its seemingly lengthy runtime. There are far too many threads that are overly emphasized such as a subplot about Yondu’s connection to a former mentor (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his dismissal from the bounty hunting Ravagers. It isn’t until the admittedly exciting climax that things seem to actually come together, but the means hardly justifies the ends.

There’s still a great bit of humor throughout. Dave Bautista (who has greatly improved since his acting debut) is hilarious in every scene and most of the banter between the team is fun. But even here, things don’t feel as consistently organic as they did the first go round. Too much of the jokes are awkwardly raunchy (get ready for penis jokes… yes, penis jokes), and the cartoony slapstick is so abundant that it often undermines scenes that should probably be taken more seriously.

The film manages to add some weighty emotional moments to make the story feel grounded and a bit more necessary. A few scenes between Saldana’s Gamora and Gillan’s Nebula do a fantastic job of adding depth to both characters. In fact, most of the cast deserves credit for injecting likability into each of their characters. But with the story, much of the humor, and even the soundtrack all feeling like a step down, its hard to make a case that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is memorable. Not every follow up is going to be The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, but I can’t help but feel like characters this fun deserve an adventure that isn’t predominantly a throw away.

FINAL GRADE: C

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money

MY TOP TEN MOVIES OF 2014

As promised, here are my Top 10 favorite movies of 2014. Click on each one to read the full review. And remember, these are MY favorites, but feel free to comment below with your Top 10.

  1. JOHN WICK Keanu Reaves was cooler than he’s ever been. This B movie was as smooth and stylish as any action movie this year and it made me feel like I was watching a comic book. I wouldn’t mind a sequel.
  1. INTERSTELLAR Not exactly Christopher Nolan’s best work… and yet, he still provided a strong story filled with emotion while managing to maintain his trademark, spectacular scope.
  1. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY There may not have been a more fun film in 2014. Filled with unforgettable characters and some awesome action sequences, Guardians was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
  1. THE RAID 2 The sequel to one of the greatest action films ever made certainly lived up to the hype. The plot may have been a little too convoluted, but once again it delivered the same jaw dropping action scenes I’ve come to expect.
  1. TOP FIVE Ironically, Top Five just misses the Top Five. Still, Chris Rock gave us the best comedy of the year along with some thought provoking anecdotes about the nature of fame.
  1. GONE GIRL An intense thriller that left me on the edge of my seat. No other movie this year felt more unpredictable.
  1. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL Beautifully crafted and hilarious. Ralph Fiennes was at his very best in this murder mystery/ dark comedy that included the perfect dash of heart and soul.
  1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER A comic book movie that redefined the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie felt more like a spy-thriller than a superhero flick and was the best film in the MCU since the first Iron Man.
  1. X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST Bryan Singer made his triumphant return to the series by ingeniously crafting a story that united old and new. Well acted and well paced, this is arguably the best X-Men movie ever and one of my all time favorite superhero films.

  1. DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES Caesar will go down as one of the best characters of the decade. This movie had intense action, emotion, humor, and poignant political and social commentary. It also provided, to me, the best villain of the year in Koba. Simply put, the only flaw I could find was that the movie had no need to be in 3D.

HONORABLE MENTION: The Edge of Tomorrow, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Birdman, Dear White People, Into the Woods, The Maze Runner, The Equalizer

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

In basketball, there is something called a “Heat Check”. Many of my sports fans out there will be familiar with this term, but for those who aren’t, I’ll gladly explain. Let’s say a player comes out and hits his first ten shots. He makes the easy ones, and the hard ones. It seems like he can’t miss. So, the shooter then decides to test the limits of his hot streak with a “heat check” shot. This shot, is so crazy and so asinine that it can only lead to one of a few options: A) A horrible miss that sends the shooter into a cold streak. B) A horrible miss that will ultimately be a small blemish on an otherwise fantastic game. Or C) It goes in, and you begin to wonder if the shooter will ever miss again. Now that you understand that concept, let’s review Guardians of the Galaxy, a.k.a. Marvel/Disney’s “heat check”.

guardian-of-the-galaxy-posterMarvel has been on an absolute role ever since they launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s Iron Man (X-Men and Spider-Man aren’t included as they are owned by different studios). To date, they have made three Iron Man’s, two Thor’s, two Captain America’s and are about to release a second Avengers. So why not switch things up by doing something off the wall like a space adventure?

The story revolves around Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt), an earth-born abductee who makes a living as a space pirate. After he stumbles upon a dangerous weapon, he becomes wrapped up in a dangerous psychopath(Lee Pace)’s attempt to destroy planets. While trying to sell the weapon, he gets arrested and meets up with an evil tyrant’s assassin daughter, a muscled idiot out to avenge his family, and a pair of bounty hunters who happen to be a talking raccoon and a talking tree. Trust me, it’s no weirder than Star Wars is when you really think about it (think Chewbacca and Yoda). These band of misfits eventually join forces to stop the bad guys.

As on-screen teams go, the Guardians are pretty likable. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora may be a bit flat for some. She is pretty much your run of the mill sexy, bad ass woman with a soft heart (Catwoman, Black Widow, etc.). Dave Bautista’s Drax is the clear weak link. His acting makes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson look like Leonardo DiCaprio. But the other three main characters are the movie’s heart and soul. Chris Pratt plays Star Lord with the same swagger and zeal as Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. The sentient tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) will tug at your heart strings and make you chuckle with his puppy-like antics. And Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is just downright hilarious. He reminds me of the Chicken Hawk in those Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have the luxury of individual prequels like Avengers did. And with so many characters (many I won’t mention), character development and back story often take a backseat to spectacular action sequences. Exposition is often thrown at you without much time for it to resonate. And sometimes the film tries too hard to be funny (usually anytime Dave Bautista speaks). Luckily, the film does succeed in making us care about the main five heroes and their reluctant friendship.

Sure, some of Marvel’s movies (*cough Iron Man 2 & 3) weren’t spectacular, but none of them are as bad as these. So, make no mistake, this was a long shot for Marvel. Because you more than likely don’t know anything about the Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet, director James Gunn and the Marvel producers found a way to use that to their advantage. This is unlike anything you’ve ever seen (In fact, only Avengers and the post credit scene of Thor: The Dark World even connect to this movie). It’s Star Trek, meets Star Wars, meets Indiana Jones with a dash of Avengers. And it’s absolute summer fun. So yes, Marvel flung up a half court shot… it rattled around the rim for a bit, but ultimately… they nailed it again.

FINAL GRADE: B+

P.S. The post credits scene is NOT worth waiting on. It has nothing to do with anything relevant.

14 for 14 (The Most Anticipated films of 2014)

It’s 2014 and a new year means new movies to look forward to. Here are 14 movies that I’ll be anticipating (for better or worse) and that you should mark your calendars for this year!

14. Transcendence – April 17th

Starring: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Cillian Murphy

The film has an interesting premise centering around an Artificial Intelligence researcher having his mind infused with sentient technology. But the cast and the fact that the movie is being produced by Christopher Nolan is what draws my interest.

13. Transformers: Age of Extinction – June 27th

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammar, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor

Part 3 seemed like a decent enough end to the trilogy, but for some reason Michael Bay refuses to let the series die. I can’t help but be interested to see how he’ll keep this movie from being the worst of the bunch, especially without lead actor Shia Labeouf. Here’s hoping that he puts together a decent enough plot for once to go along with the machine on machine battles we’ve come to love.

12. Hobbit: There and Back Again – December 17th

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly

Image

Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies are always an acquired taste, but if you’re looking for more action, the final film in the Hobbit Trilogy will likely be right up your alley. Focusing on the Battle of Five Armies from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel, this film likely won’t disappoint even the casual fan.

11. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – May 2nd

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHann, Emma Stone, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field

Spidey kicks off the summer movie season with the sequel to 2012’s Amazing Spider-Man. The first movie was good even if it felt like something we’d already seen, but with different actors. Sony is upping the ante with the Spider-Man properties and is hoping to expand the movie universe much more than the original trilogy did (blame Avengers). Still, as much as I like Andrew Garfield better than Tobey McGuire, I can’t help but be nervous with the oversaturation of villains in the film. Even if they are being played by three amazing actors (Foxx, DeHann, and Giamatti), the last Spider-man movie with 3 villains didn’t go so well.

10. Edge of Tomorrow – June 6th

Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt

The last time Tom Cruise made a sci-fi summer movie, it was cinematic gold. Even last year’s Oblivion turned out to be better than expected. So, my hopes are high that this film about a futuristic soldier caught in a time loop on the last day of an apocalyptic battle, will be one of 2014’s best.

9. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – July 11th

Starring: Andy Serkis, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Jason Clarke

2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a sleeper hit. Andy Serkis reprising his role as lead ape, Caesar is reason enough to be excited for this sequel, but casting Gary Oldman as the leader of a human rebellion just adds to it.

8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – August 8th

Starring: Megan Fox, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg

Perhaps no movie on this list has had more negative press in pre-production then this one. Produced by Michael Bay, the original script was rumored to have involved the Turtles being aliens or something ridiculous like that. Regardless, as a life long fan of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael, I am predisposed to being intrigued about how this series can be reinvented.

7. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – August 22nd

Starring: Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Jamie Chung, Rosario Dawson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eva Green, Mickey Rourke, Jeremy Piven, Ray Liotta

Look at that cast… go ahead… look at it. Ridiculous. This sequel to the 2005 comic book noir has been in development hell for almost a decade. Finally, it is almost upon us. Hopefully all of that time getting it made was spent making sure it lives up to the spectacle of the original.

6. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – August 1st

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly, Bradley Cooper

For those who were perplexed by the mid-credit scene during Thor: The Dark World, it was in reference to this. There aren’t many people familiar with the source material (including your’s truly) so there is a lot of skepticism about Disney/Marvel’s last film before the release of 2015’s Avengers 2. Regardless of my lack of familiarity, Zoe Saldana, a space setting, and a talking raccoon with machine guns voiced by Bradley Cooper is enough to make me give it a chance.

5. Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – November 21st

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Julianne Moore, Jeffrey Wright

Mockingjay

I’m a big fan of the book series. Last November’s Caching Fire managed to up the ante of the series a tad better than the first movie did so my expectations for the first film installment of Book 3 are very high.

4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – April 4th

Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford

If you watched the 3D version of Thor: The Dark World and were lucky enough to experience the extended trailer for Winter Soldier then you probably understand my excitement for this one. I enjoyed the previous Captain America movie and I’m thoroughly convinced this one could be better if not the best Marvel movie since Iron Man. Plus there’s still the added factor of setting up Avengers 2, which this film will undoubtedly lead us into.

3. The Raid: Barendal – March 28th

Starring: Iko Uwais

Stop what you’re doing and go find The Raid: Redemption right now. It contains the best fight scenes ever conceived. Seriously… go watch it right now. I’m thoroughly convinced that there is no better action movie in existence. If the sequel is even half as good, it will thoroughly blow everyone’s mind like the first.

2. Interstellar – November 7th

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Bill Irwin, Topher Grace, Wes Bentley

Inception, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige, Memento… all proof that Christopher Nolan literally isn’t capable of making bad movies. He is keeping his latest masterpiece close to the chest, but with the cast he has assembled it is sure to be another critical and financial hit. All that is known is that the film will center around physicist Kip Thorne’s theories of wormholes. Interesting.

1. X-Men: Days of Future Past – May 23rd

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore

two-generations-unite-in-x-men-days-of-future-past-posters

If you saw the mid-credits scene in The Wolverine you can guess that this film should be epic. Fox was lucky enough to land the rights to X-Men long before Disney bought out Marvel. Now they are finally taking advantage of owning this property by expanding on the X-Men universe with tons of planned films in the near future. Bryan Singer, director of X-Men and X2, returns to direct this ambitious, time-travel ensemble film that reunites his original cast with the cast of 2011’s X-Men: First Class. If they can pull this off, it could amount to one of the best super-hero films of all time.