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

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

Doctor Strange (Full Review)

“Forget everything you think you know”. That’s what seasoned sorcerer Mordo (Chiwtel Ejiofor) tells Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) when he first encounters him. It’s a perfect mantra for Marvel’s latest addition to their vast, successful universe. A superhero film with a dash of Harry Potter and a sprinkle of Inception makes Doctor Strange unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

doctor_strange_posterThe film stars Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, the world’s best neurosurgeon whose ego makes Tony Stark seem humble. After a car accident leaves his hands damaged beyond medical repair, Strange pushes away his only friend (Rachel McAdams) and ventures out to Nepal in a last ditch effort to heal himself. There he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an ageless guru who trains Mordo, snarky librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), and many others to conjure up magic and defend the world from a former pupil (Mads Mikkelsen) keen on releasing an ancient evil. Strange must put aside his ego to not only heal himself, but also summon the hero within.

One thing that makes Marvel movies so inherently watchable is their ability to add humor and charisma to everything they make. Doctor Strange is no different. Fused with a phenomenal cast and snappy dialogue, there isn’t an ounce of stiffness to speak of, giving the film loads of personality that helps usher the audience into this trippy new universe.

But it’s that trippy universe that truly makes Doctor Strange a unique film. Remember that amazing hallway fight sequence in Inception. This film has that x 10. Stunning visuals made for 3D create sequences that are jaw dropping. From intricate CGI runes and shifting camera angles to scenery that literally twists and turns like a kaleidoscope, almost every action scene is compellingly unusual but never nauseating.

Being so different from anything else in the comic book genre, Doctor Strange manages to pace things well, explaining key information when needed but never overindulging with exposition. With Cumberbatch at the helm, there is a sense of tangibility that makes it all feel possible. Even the villain (usually Marvel’s biggest weak spot) has a slight wit and intelligence to him that makes his plot seem like an interesting perspective even if it’s the same as any stock megalomaniac.

Without the subtle references to other films in the MCU and the obvious post credit connections, Doctor Strange would manage to feel like its own entity. One that is rich in lure and fascinating characters. It almost makes you wish that it was its own franchise instead of just another precursor to an Avengers movie. But even if we never get a dose of Strange as good as this film, the mark has undoubtedly been set as an entertaining and memorable one.

FINAL GRADE: A

Doctor Strange (Full Review)

Captain America: Civil War (Full Review)

Just over a month ago, DC/Warner Bros. released a movie about superheroes fighting superheroes… sort of. Now, along comes the superhero film Goliath that is Marvel to one up them. Captain America: Civil War is an adaptation of one of the most popular comic storylines ever, pitting two of their most iconic heroes against each other. Loosely based on the source material, this cinematic version serves as a sequel to 2014’s phenomenal Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as being a quasi Avengers 2.5.

Captain_America_Civil_War_posterIt’s been a year since the Avengers stopped Ultron from destroying the earth and now Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a new team featuring assassin turned heroine, Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), intelligent android, Vision (Paul Bettany), sorceress, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), winged soldier, Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and Iron Man bestie, James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle). After a mission to stop a vengeful terrorist (Frank Grillo) goes horribly wrong, former Hulk adversary and current U.S. Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), brings down the Sokovia Accords: a doctrine forcing all heroes to adhere to the United Nations rather than act as an independent force. While guilt causes Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to support the new law, the ever weary Captain America refuses to serve a government agenda, causing things to get dicey when Cap’s former best friend turned brainwashed assassin resurfaces (Sebastian Stan). The conflict splits the Avengers in two, with half siding with Iron Man and the others with Captain America.

All of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films aren’t great, as some might have you believe. Some are mediocre (Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and others I just flat out don’t like (Any Iron Man movie after the first one). But the Captain America films have always stood out to me over the rest. This is due in large part to deeper subject matters and more intricate storytelling. Civil War is no different, in fact, it may be the MCU’s most earnest film yet.

Let’s start with the conflict, unlike with March’s Batman v Superman, this film’s budding rivalry has had several years to brew. So when things go downhill, it feels genuinely heartbreaking to see the two comrades and former friends warring against each other. An exceptional script that does a solid job sharing the two perspectives without condemning either one, makes this film feel more realistic than any Marvel movie to date. Both sides are right just as much as they are wrong, and this aspect drives the entire film and gives it more emotional weight than anything else in the MCU.

A stellar cast helps. Casting is perhaps the greatest strength of the MCU, and here everyone shines, even characters like Hawk Eye (Jermey Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who are only on screen for a few scenes. As for the newcomers, they make their mark and prove that they are worthy additions to an already impressive roster. Chadwick Boseman portrays vengeful Black Panther with a regal fervor while Tom Holland is perfectly witty and exuberant as the new Spider-Man. Both make you excited to see them in future films. And while the MCU hasn’t always given us the best villains, Daniel Bruhl is stellar as the film’s sneaky antagonist.

The film drags a bit in its final act, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo deserve a ton of credit simply for managing to effectively juggle the massive horde of characters involved. It never feels like too much or too little, and when the titular battle goes down, it feels like something out of nerd heaven for fans of the genre even in spite of a few noticeable patches of spotty CGI. But visuals are only one part of making a memorable film. Captain America: Civil War isn’t great simply because of its action. Its captivating subject matter and emotional core are what make it one of the best superhero film’s ever crafted. So regardless of whether you’re Team Cap or Team Iron Man, you’ll come out of Marvel’s latest film feeling like a winner.

FINAL GRADE: A

Captain America: Civil War (Full Review)

THOR: THE DARK WORLD Review (Spoiler Free!)

ImageEver since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel has raised the bar on the superhero film industry by creating a universe as extensive as a television series. Knowing this, don’t think you can just waltz into this film as an unfamiliar. Seeing both Thor and Avengers prior to this film is essential, because it picks up right where they left off. Now, let’s review Thor: The Dark World.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to his medieval-like home in Asgard where he protects all of the parallel worlds from monsters and such alongside his friends Sif (Jaime Alexander) and the Warriors Three. Still, he longs to return to Earth and be with his mortal physicist girlfriend, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Loki, meanwhile, is tucked away in an Asgardian prison where he spends his time hating everyone except his adopted mother Frigga (Renee Russo). Throw in some evil elves who want to find some energy weapon to destroy the universe, blah, blah, blah… and we have our movie.

I’m being vague on the villain and plot because they really don’t matter. This movie isn’t about story. It’s about action sequences, explosions, and characters. And it’s driven by the relationship between Thor and his step-brother Loki. Hiddleston’s performance as the God of mischief is once again what drives the movie. He is sinister, snarky, but also more vulnerable than ever before. The film didn’t fully gain its weight until their inevitable team-up.

The rest of the cast is sufficient. Natalie Portman returns to give her best scientist with a school-girl crush routine. Kat Dennings once again prattles alongside her as the film’s comic relief. Jamie Alexander plays a great Wonder Woman… I mean Sif, even if the subtle love triangle between her, Thor, and Jane falls flat. Idris Elba does the bad-ass bodyguard well as Heimdall. And Anthony Hopkins is more pig-headed than ever as Odin, father of Thor. Surprisingly, the standout supporting performance goes to Renee Russo as Frigga. She exudes the strength and love that any Queen is supposed to carry and even gets to show off her own fighting skills.

Overall… will we remember Thor: The Dark World amongst the great superhero movies? Probably Not. But it is as good or better than the first installment and carries much more emotional weight. So we will watch it, perhaps multiple times, if only to stay caught up and prepared for Avengers 2. And that’s the beauty of what Marvel has created in their intertwining film universe. Each piece is essential to the puzzle regardless of how good or bad the actual film is. 

FINAL GRADE: B

Sidenote: As always, there is extra stuff during and at the end of the credits. And if you can afford it, see the film in 3D. It contains a special preview of Captain America: The Winter Soldier

THOR: THE DARK WORLD Review (Spoiler Free!)