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Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

“Sometimes, The Thing You’ve Been Looking For Your Whole Life, Is Right There Beside You All Along…”

Whilst the first Guardians of the Galaxy was perhaps the first entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which expectations were not exactly of the highest order, the finished product was ironically one of the best the franchise has had to offer so far, introducing expertly characterised leading heroes amongst a crowd-pleasing narrative which managed to balance the irregularity and oddness of the source material whilst serving up arguably the best jukebox soundtrack this side of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. With power comes increasing levels of responsibility however and a sequel to the biggest surprise of 2014 was downright inevitable, yet with James Gunn returning as director and the added involvement of iconic screen presences such as Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, Vol. 2 is indeed up there with the most excitable releases of the year and a movie which is lynch-pinned within a period of twelve months in which there are so many superb upcoming movies to look forward to and a year in which Vol. 2 begins the triage of MCU movies which are set to be released over the course of 2017. What we have with Vol. 2 however is a sequel which is indeed as inventive and magical as it’s predecessor, playing all the cards in all the right areas to keep its’ intended audience more than happy, but too a movie which suffers from the issue in which many sequels tend to have, with it not entirely being up to the critical level of the original but still being an excellent new addition into the MCU.

With the added input of Kurt Russell as Ego, the long lost father of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Vol. 2 thrives on the same sense of retro-loving freedom which encompassed the original, nodding its’ head at a wide range of nostalgic avenues alongside yet another successful jukebox soundtrack which ticks off everything from E.L.O to George Harrison across a two-hour plus runtime which does seem a tad too drawn out come the final act. Furthermore, in a similar vein to that of Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 attempts to differ slightly from its’ predecessor by sticking to a driving narrative which comes across as a much darker and melancholic tale, focusing upon a wide range of notions such as the meaning of family alongside a deeper sense of characterisation for each of the leading guardians who individually have enough substantial screen time between them to sway off arguments of favouritism from fans, even when the superbly managed inclusion of Baby Groot manages to steal every scene in which he is involved in. Whilst not setting up anything major in terms of the future of the MCU, Vol. 2 is a substantially entertaining blockbuster which although features arguably a higher dose of comedy than the first, is inevitably not as surprisingly awesome than one indeed hoped for, yet with a core character base in which you could happily spend an entire lifetime with, James Gunn’s second helping of galaxy saving guardians is entertainment galore.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Live By Night

“I Signed Up To Fight In The War. I Went Away a Soldier, I Came Home An Outlaw…”

In order to really make a substantial wave in the genre of gangster movies, one has to stand up upon the shoulders of giants, classic movies which act as the linchpin of cinematic history and are unanimously regarded as plain and simple masterpieces. Whilst the ones that spring to mind include the likes of The Godfather, Goodfellas and Casino, all movies which arrive at the top-end of their respective genre, recent portrayals of the well-worn gangster theme have somewhat added to the notion that the best will indeed never be matched in terms of their overall impact on cinematic history, particularly when you take the likes of Black Mass and Legend in recent years, cases of films which are executed in an overly solid fashion yet are undeniably forgettable in the context of the genre in which they are placed. With Live By Night, the latest pet project from Ben Affleck who follows in the footsteps of movies such as Argo and The Town by writing, directing and starring in the lead role, Affleck takes on the esteemed gangster genre and whilst parts of the film are reasonably commendable, like many have already pointed out already, Affleck’s latest does feel like a quickly jumbled together release, due in part to Affleck’s high-profile role in the DC Universe, resulting in a movie which can only be regarded as a resounding disappointment.

Focusing primarily and wholly generically within the era of prohibition, Live By Night feels too much of a sweeping cinematic slog, attempting to cram in as many narrative swings as possible and subsequently suffering from a wide range of issues such as two-dimensional characters, a laughably stereotypical lead villain and a concluding act which verges on the edge of storytelling at its’ most basic and immature. Whilst Affleck tries to do his best in both a directorial capacity and in the leading role, the overtly familiar feel of the script doesn’t do the film any sense of justice whatsoever, a resounding shame when considering the book on which it was based on, written by Mystic River and Shutter Island author Dennis Lehane. Star of the show belongs entirely to Chris Cooper as the conflicted Sheriff Irving Figgis, whilst Elle Fanning follows on from her superb performance in The Neon Demon by producing a solid, believable performance as Figgis’s daughter with the time she manages to bag on-screen. With previous successes with both Argo and The Town, Affleck’s latest is unfortunately in a completely different ball park in terms of critical success, and whilst I enjoy a good gangster flick as much as the next guy, Live By Night makes Legend look like The Godfather. 

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Star Trek: Beyond

“We’ve Got No Ship, No Crew, How’re We Going To Get Out Of This One…?

Taking the helm as only producer this time around, it is resoundingly safe to say that J. J. Abrams is the all-round geek saviour of the 20th century where long before breaking box office records and smashing countless other cinematic achievements with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mr. Abrams lit the fuse once again in regards to the nations’ love of Star Trek, with a brand new team of space explorers being offset with a brand new timeline, expanding the stories of the crew upon the Enterprise to new and exciting limits. Now, six years since the first Star Trek reboot, Star Trek: Beyond continues the blockbuster success of the franchise, where although it could be regarded as the weakest of the three so far, Justin Lin’s directorial space debut is solid and sometimes spectacular summer popcorn fun featuring everything you would expect from an array of actors each used to their own talents on and off-screen in the six years from which they first began their voyage into deep space, albeit if the series itself is beginning to feel ever so slightly formulaic.

Beginning with a portrayal of a day in the life of our beloved Enterprise crew, Star Trek: Beyond begins rather slowly and then ascends into a two-hour survival mission against the ominous yet dedicated figure of main antagonist Krall, played expertly by everyone’s favourite Bond hopeful, Idris Elba, and his pack of cronies, hell bent on bringing destruction to those who wronged them in the past. If anything, Krall’s role in Beyond is all too small, where although Elba’s performance is enough to make him an effective bad guy, the script just doesn’t allow his character to become complex enough to make him memorable. Of course, the one-two of Pine and Quinto brings the bromance factor to the table, sidelined by the cling-on (no pun intended) of third wheeler Bones, whilst the bad-ass duo of Zoe Saldana and Sofia Boutella gives the female characters an extensive role to bring to life. Of course, overshadowing the release of Beyond is the deeply saddening loss of Anton Yelchin, an actor lost too young and an actor whose roles in films such as Green Room and the Star Trek franchise means he will not swiftly be forgotten. Beyond is Star Trek to the T. A classic adventure with some great thrills, if not entirely up to the mark of its’ predecessors within the 21st century revival trilogy.

Overall Score: 7/10

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Review – SPOILERS

GOTG 1As some of you may have already noticed, I was a little worried about Guardians of the Galaxy. The trailers made it feel as if it was more of a comedy rather than a gritty and action packed thrill ride like Winter Soldier was. Having not read the comics, I can’t compare them to the film version so had little understanding of the world I was about to enter. Upon watching the movie, I’m elated. The movie has very few issues and those that exist are mere in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re like myself, you’ve never read the Marvel comic book series about the Guardians of the Galaxy. “In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.” – IMDB. Ronan’s desire for this orb is to give it to Thanos (Josh Brolin) who we see at the very end of The Avengers movie. Once Ronan (Lee Pace) delivers the orb to Thanos, the deal is that Thanos will destroy Ronan’s enemy planet. However, not everything goes to plan when Star Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) steals the orb and lands a bounty on his head, thus drawing the attention of a pair of bounty hunters, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) and Ronan’s supervisor – supplied by Thanos – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Eventually the group end up together in prison and learn of the true power of the orb and try to shut down Ronan for good with the help of another prisoner, Drax (Dave Bautista) they embark on an adventure to vanquish this foe. In true Marvel fashion, the ending is absolutely incredible. Things turn quickly and we really don’t know how it’ll pan out with such a devastating blow. In reality, the basis of the movie is very reminiscent of the recent Thor movie just with a few little tweaks but stands very much on its own.

As with every Marvel film, capturing the right actor for the role is very important. Being able to act is usually a good start. Chris Pratt is a man I’ve never really come into contact with apart from his vocal contribution to the Lego movie and a host of Parks and Recs memes that cycle round like the Tour de France. Taking his comedy background and general stature into consideration, I personally couldn’t see a better man playing him. Quill was a fun character who still lived in the past with his tape player trucking on further than the half-life of a prostitute in the Ripper era. Dancing his way through life since the day he was taken from Earth, he is very much “a player”. With Zoe Saldana’s track record, acting is no worry. Being the colour of Kermit the Frog, you would suspect it to be quite unflattering (Just wait until you see the bright pink folk, you’ll see what I mean) but she doesn’t look bad. The 3rd live actor is Bautista. With his WWE/F past, acting isn’t really is his forte even though a lot of it is faked. However, in this, I actually liked Bautista. Sure he was the blunt instrument but the character was practically written for him. A giant tattooed alien with anger issues, little emotion and a love for action has Bautista written all over it. Now to the 2 vocal additions to the group, Rocket and Groot. GOTG 3For Rocket, Bradley Cooper was actually a really good fit. The trailers did little justice but he does a damn fine job at conveying the emotions of a raccoon that doesn’t have many facial expression. My issue lie with Groot. An awesome character whose vocabulary only includes 4 words. With his limited vocab, he is like a pet and is adored by many. The problem is Vin Diesel. Very rarely could you distinctly hear his voice and its such a huge waste of money when someone could easily replicate it without the price tag. But as ever, the investment in him as a brand is what is most likely the reason he was selected for the role. Alongside the issue of the use of a brand rather than a more efficient actor, I felt that the character development was a little dry. With 5 characters sharing the screen I can see that being difficult but the only real character development is shouted between each other when characters are emotional or angry. The lack of the normal bonding between characters meant that we still don’t know much about any of the characters we follow apart from the basics. Quill’s mum died and he was abducted by aliens the same day, Gamora is the “daughter” of Thanos who killed her real family, Drax’s family was killed by Ronan, Rocket is a genetic experiment and Groot is a tree. A talking, walking tree. Yet there is a huge cast of actors also supporting the movie such as the Walking Dead’s Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker).

Visually flawless, the movie stands at the pinnacle of finesse that they have dominated for many years. The music is also something that catches the attention. Like Iron Man’s AC/DC soundtrack, Guardians has a whole mix of music from the 60’s ending with Jackson 5’s “I want you back” in an amazing scene that is guaranteed to make anyone smile and laugh. We all know Iron Man movies to be very funny, but never have I seen such an audible response to jokes with eruptions of laughter and momentary gasps.

Defined as one of the greatest Marvel movies to date, I have to agree. The huge successive launch and rave reviews give credit to this claim. With confirmation that there will be a second Guardians of the Galaxy and a potential cross-over with the Avengers (It will have to be the 3rd rumoured for 2018) we may see Thanos eat dust in the 3rd outing of both groups. Albeit predictions, it seems the most logical approach after Age of Ultron. Now we simply have to wait for more information to surface and marvel at this Marvel. 9/10 for Guardians and stands to be the biggest blockbuster this year! Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

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