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

Advertisements

The Fate of the Furious (Full Review)

Hi, my name is Brady and I am not a fan of Fast and the Furious. I have my reasons: The action is often so over the top that it borders on dumb. Vin Diesel has the personality of a cardboard box. Tyrese’s character is just a useless clown. And the convoluted plots seem as if they were created by watching a kindergartner play with action figures. But, at its best, this franchise that has now spanned 16 years is young Expendables with eye popping action meant for mindless, “turn your brain off and watch” fun. So whether I like it or not, here we go again.

The_Fate_of_The_Furious_Theatrical_PosterThe Fate of the Furious takes place shortly after Furious 7 (If you are a newcomer to the series, you’ll need to have seen at least parts 5 through 7 to understand half of it). After marrying girlfriend Letty (Michele Rodriguez), crew leader Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is approached by a terrorist hacker named Cypher (Charlize Theron) who blackmails him into turning on his team. Kurt Russell returns as Mr. Nobody, a U.S. government agent who along with his new assistant (Scott Eastwood), assembles Toretto’s former team of thieves, cops, hackers and street racers, (Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Tyrese Gipson, Nathalie Emmanuel) to track him and Cypher down.

The first third of the film is almost gag inducing to anyone who shares my same sentiments about this franchise. As always, there’s a next to irrelevant and predictable street race to open the film, followed by rushed exposition, Dwayne Johnson being a real life version of The Hulk, and Tyrese’s Roman Pearce continuing to be one of the most useless characters in all of cinema. We get it. He’s comic relief, but what is his actual purpose on the team? In this film it takes him two hours to do anything worthwhile. When the cast isn’t shoving the constant concept of family down your throat (Hey guys, did you know they’re a family!), the characters are spitting out cliché line after line.

But about an hour in, things shockingly improve. This is due in large part to the presence of Charlize Theron who noticeably brings her A-game as the film’s villain. Her cunning and ominously intimidating character seems plucked right out of a James Bond movie and provides the fuel for all of the film’s most dramatic scenes. Her portrayal even lifts that of Vin Diesel who easily gives his most believable performance yet. That’s not to say things improve too much. There’s still a bunch of off the wall plot twists and ridiculous character arcs (Jason Statham’s a good guy now? Didn’t he kill one of their “family members”?) that keep things from being too likable.

Like with all of these movies, and most in the genre, things work best when everyone shuts the hell up and drives/fights. The action manages to ramp things up to even more ridiculous levels than in previous films and as such there are plenty of moments where logic and laws of physics be damned. But seeing as how making sense isn’t a prerequisite for entertainment, the action in Fate of the Furious is pretty exciting. Coupled with a worthy adversary that helps counterbalance some of the more useless additions (Looking at you Scott Eastwood), this movie manages to avoid being terrible and winds up landing on the more tolerable end of the Fast and Furious spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

Fast and Furious way too many (Full Review)

Saying I’m not a fan of the Fast and Furious franchise might be an understatement. I enjoyed the original back in 2001, but I’ve found each installment since to be either mediocre (Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6) or just plain bad (2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious). What started off as a series about street racing has slowly transformed into Expendables with a younger cast. Still, the films are fun for audiences, so once again we are treated to another sequel.

Furious_7_posterFurious 7 reunites the majority of the main cast from the previous 3 films in the series. Vin Diesel returns as crew leader Dominic Toretto. Paul Walker, in his final performance, is also back as ex-cop Brian O’Conner. Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges also return. The film’s plot revolves around a government agency (led by Kurt Russell) recruiting Toretto‘s team in the search for a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the brother of the previous films’ villain (Jason Statham) seeking revenge.

Furious 7 unsurprisingly contains every single element that I dislike about the film franchise; Cheesy one liners, gratuitous party sequences that seemed as if they’re ripped straight from late 90’s MTV, dumb cameos from people whose acting skills make the main actors look like academy award winners (Iggy Azalea, Ronda Rousey) and the inevitable shoe-horned street racing scene that has little to nothing to do with the plot. I found myself rolling my eyes during moments where most people will probably be laughing or fully attentive. I’ve also never been a fan of the always stoic Vin Diesel as a leading man.

But there are elements to these films that I can’t deny are absolutely exhilarating. The action sequences, as unbelievable as they are, are always intense and Furious 7 doesn’t disappoint there. From an intense rescue sequence that features cars dropping from an airplane to a couple of fight scenes that remind me why I enjoy Jason Statham so much, the action scenes are enough to keep you from noticing how sophomoric the script is. The action packed finale, which seems more like it belongs in a Pierce Brosnin James Bond movie, is ten times more enjoyable than the ludicrous (no pun intended) runway sequence from Fast and Furious 6.

I’ll never quite understand the hype when it comes to the Fast and Furious franchise. Sure they can be fun, but fun enough to warrant 6 sequels? This latest installment is loud, too long, and about as realistic as a leprechaun riding a unicorn. But it definitely can’t be called boring. And it certainly gets points for giving a heartfelt tribute to the late Paul Walker at its end. If only the franchise itself would ride off into the sunset too. I can’t imagine any sequels becoming more tolerable without him.

FINAL GRADE: C+

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.