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

Creed (Full Review)

Remember that twelve round Mayweather/Pacquiao fight so many of us found to be a dud, because by the end both fighters looked like they’d barely taken a slap to the face? Rocky movies might have had a lot to do with those gripes. In movies, fights involve bloodied noses and swollen faces. But these brutal, sensationalized onscreen battles aren’t the only reason the Rocky franchise has managed to survive nearly 40 years and six sequels. Likable characters and great stories have been an important factor in making not all, but most of the Rocky movies some of the most iconic in the genre.

Creed_posterIf you’re going to make a seventh Rocky movie, it helps if you can make things feel fresh. Rather than focus on Sylvester Stallone’s former Boxing Champion, Rocky Balboa, Creed centers on aspiring boxer, Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan). A former juvenile delinquent, Donnie is the illegitimate son of Balboa’s former rival/friend Apollo Creed. In a quest to make his own name as a boxer, young Donnie quits a good job and enlists an aging and widowed Balboa to become his trainer.

If there’s a gripe to be found with Creed, it is that the film follows a relatively predictable arc that is similar to the first Rocky, but that still won’t keep you from wanting to stand and cheer when all is said and done. This is due in large part to well rounded characters and a stellar cast to bring them to life. As expected, Michael B. Jordan is incredible in the lead role. Jordan is fierce, charismatic, and gives the perfect dose of heart to make audiences root for the underdog character as much as they did for Rocky Balboa.

Then there’s Stallone. Somewhere between the second and third Expendables movie, it got lost that Sylvester Stallone can be a really good actor when he wants to be. Stallone gives his best performance of his career as Donnie’s mentor and reluctant father figure. And the chemistry between Jordan and Stallone is electric. Every dramatic or humorous moment shared between the two actors feels so genuine that you almost want to believe that all of this is based on a true story.

The supporting cast also doesn’t disappoint. The always captivating Phylicia Rashad is heartwarming as Apollo Creed’s widow and Tessa Thompson strikes the perfect chord as Donnie’s songstress girlfriend. And although the cast is phenomenal, kudos should still be in order for Directort Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and the writers of Creed who managed to reinvent a classic underdog story and make the Rocky Balboa character as infectious as ever. Just when it seems as if the franchise should be put to rest, everyone involved in Creed manages to rise up and create arguably the best film in the franchise and one of my favorite films of 2015.

FINAL GRADE: A