Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie posterSynopsis
After a botched job, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians are being chased by the Sovereign. They are found by a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. They go to Ego’s planet to search for the truth behind Peter’s mysterious heritage.

Review
In 2014, Marvel put their blockbuster powers to the test, releasing Guardians of the Galaxy. It was filled with lesser known characters, even to some regular comic readers, who are unique unto themselves. It turned out to be one of Marvel’s best films and now comes the inevitable sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the qualities that made the first so much fun and enjoyable, albeit without the surprise of what to expect.

As I said, everything that made the first film so fun and enjoyable has returned. Everything and everyone are just as quirky and zany as you have come to expect. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is the main funny man, but Dave Bautista’s Drax get his fair share of comedic moments. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned bad-ass Gamora. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, is more adorable than ever and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, wants to get a hold of everyone’s prosthetics simply to see their reaction. All the while, it has a rocking soundtrack in the background.

Doctor Strange is probably Marvel’s most visually vibrant films to date, but this movie give that one a run for its money. The most notable is Ego’s planet. The moment the team sets foot on it, it just pops. The fauna are colorful, the buildings are shiny and bright, even the soil is a vibrant color unlike what you would expect. However, it’s not just Ego’s planet. The opening battle between the guardians and an interdimensional creature (a big part of the trailers) and scenes where Yondu’s ship is jumping through several wormholes are also vivid scenes worth mentioning. At the very least, your eyes won’t be disappointed.

One of this films best characteristics is its character development. Most of the second act is spent really diving into the characters and their relations with other members of the team. Some you would expect, like Peter and Gamora, but there are some that you wouldn’t, like Rocket and Yondu or Drax and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). These interactions do a great job of building the characters and lead to some strong, emotional moments.

Much to my surprise, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has one of the greatest arcs of the film. His moments with Rocket and their similar histories really tug at the heartstrings. As Peter’s adopted father, he had to deal with Peter finally meeting his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell). In the previous movie, he felt like a throwaway character; someone who was there when the plot needed it but didn’t feel like he had much importance. This time, he is front and center and gives the film’s most emotional scene. Speaking of Russell, he was a great as the living planet Ego. Like most villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he isn’t going to have any lasting presence, but Russell gave one of the more memorable villainous performances is the MCU. The relationship between Peter, Yondu, and Ego would make a great conversation starter between step-children and step-parents.

I wasn’t as in love with the soundtrack as I was with the first Guardians movie. It was still bouncy and fun and integrated into the movie well but it wasn’t as entrancing as before. Maybe it’s because I was unfamiliar with more of the songs this time around or maybe it was that I expected a rocking retro soundtrack and it wasn’t as much of a surprise. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t blown away but I still was rocking out nevertheless.

This might sound contradictory, but despite all the great character development throughout the second act, it also felt like the weakest part of the move. Weakest isn’t the right word but I’m not sure exactly what word I’m looking for. During this time, the team is split into two groups. The bouncing back and forth between the groups, as well as the balancing of those serious moments with the humorous ones gave it a really weird pacing. Whenever the movie slowed down to give the great character moments, it immediately went into a joke / gag or changed scenes. I liked that they managed to get as much development in as they did but the jumping around made my head spin after a while.

I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was GOOD πŸ™‚ This movie is a good example of a movie studio giving a director the freedom to do their movie their way. James Gunn brought as much heart and soul into Volume 2 as he did in Volume 1. A slow and somewhat oddly paced middle act does not deter from what this movie does well: great characterization, a fun soundtrack, and plenty of humor to rival any comedy film. It can feel like much of the same but if you liked it the first time, you’re going to like it here as well. Once again, I left the theater excited to see where these characters go next.

Favorite Quote
Yondu: He might be your father, but he ain’t your daddy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Gunn – Director / Writer
Tyler Bates – Composer

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Baby Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Michael Rooker – Yondu
Karen Gillan – Nebula
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Kurt Russell – Ego
Sean Gunn – Kraglin
Elizabeth Debicki – Ayesha
Chris Sullivan – Taserface

Doctor Strange Review

Doctor Strange movie posterSynopsis
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a highly skilled, but arrogant, neurosurgeon. After a car crash leaves him unable to perform surgeries again, he heads to Nepal seeking the Ancient One (Tilda Swinto) to help heal his hands. Strange gets drawn into a world of sorcery and mystic arts while under the Ancient One’s tutelage and must protect the world from being destroyed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

Review
I’ve heard people say that Doctor Strange is Marvel’s next big risk, introducing magic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as well as a relatively lesser known property. But really, from a film studio that has a talking raccoon, a hero who can communicate with ants, and Asgard, is magic really that big of a step? Is a film centered around a lesser known character really going to stop the juggernaut that is Marvel Studios?

I’ll be honest, when I heard Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Stephen Strange, I wasn’t one hundred percent behind the choice. I knew that he is a great and versatile actor but I had a hard time picturing him as Strange. However, knowing Marvel’s past casting history, and my usual willingness to give every casting choice the benefit of the doubt, I trusted Marvel to find the best Strange they could. Now, I’m not going to say that Cumberbatch fits Strange like a glove the same way Robert Downey, Jr. fits Tony Stark, but I am having trouble remembering why I was having doubts in the first place. He was absolutely fantastic.

Besides Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange contains some very good talent. Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One was surrounded by controversy but I think her casting worked really well. Swinton has this soft but authoritative aura about her that fits perfectly in the mentor role of the Ancient One. Rachel McAdams is sweet and funny as always but she doesn’t have much screen time. I’m interested to see more of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Strange’s fellow student under the Ancient One and ally against the film’s villain. The best surprise as was Benedict Wong as… Wong, the librarian of Kamar-Taj (the temple in Nepal where Strange learns about being a sorcerer). I was expecting the film to be humorous but several of his lines made me laugh the hardest.

Now fourteen movies in, Marvel Studios has established a formula for their films, whether you love it or hate it. One reason why they keep reusing a similar structure is because it works. We begin with our hero, they come by some tragedy and go in search of a way to heal themselves. They get gain powers and begin to use them for good, with the film ending in an outrageous fight scene between our hero and the villain. This structure can be seen from Iron Man to Thor to Ant-Man to Doctor Strange. How well this works for you depends on if you are tired of seeing this formula done or not. For me, it has worked so far and I still enjoy seeing the hero’s journey from human to superhuman so I like it. Especially since Marvel injects so much humor into it.

Like many of the previous MCU films, the laughs come naturally and organically. Never did I think β€œOh, I was supposed to laugh there.” Wong (the character) was the surprise comedic relief of the film. Every scene of his contained at least one moment that generated a laugh. McAdams even had a moment or two. It still remains refreshing how light Marvel Studios makes their movies, without compromising the maturity of the film, despite all of the destruction happening in them.

The easiest why to describe Strange’s magic appearance in the comics is β€œpsychedelic.” Many wondered if Marvel Studios would be able to bring that brand of oddness to the screen without feeling too odd. The effects in Doctor Strange feel they were brought straight off the page and onto the screen. Everything is gorgeous and stunning. The scenes when the sorcerers were fighting in the city and manipulating the architecture around them looked like they were straight out of Inception. The Dark Dimension puts some of the more β€œout there” visuals from the Thor films to shame. This is one of the few films that I would really recommend you see in 3D if possible.

Like many of the prior MCU films, this movie’s villain, Kaecilius, is not developed very deeply. Yes, he has his motivations, but they are as basic as many of the other villains that have been seen so far. He is not the worst but he is far from the best.

I thought Doctor Strange was GREAT :-D. I was first wary about Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange but in normal Marvel Studio’s fashion, they proved they know what they are doing when it comes to casting. Although the film doesn’t shake up the superhero movie formula they have created too much, Doctor Strange is very entertaining, finding itself as one of the better films of the MCU.

Trivia
In the comics, the Ancient One is an old man; in this film, the Ancient One is played by a woman. This was a deliberate decision as Scott Derrickson felt the Ancient One was a title rather than a person. -Via IMDB

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Scott Derrickson – Director / Writer
Jon Spaihts – Writer
C. Robert Cargill – Writer
Michael Giacchino – Composer

Benedict Cumberbatch – Dr. Stephen Strange
Tilda Swinton – The Ancient One
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Mordo
Benedict Wong – Wong
Mads Mikkelsen – Kaecilius
Rachel McAdams – Christine Palmer
Michael Stuhlbarg – Dr. Nicodemus West
Benjamin Bratt – Jonahtan Pangborn
Topo Wresniwiro – Hamir
Linda Louise Duan – Tina Minoru
Mark Anthony Brighton – Daniel Drumm

If you would like to join in on the group post I am putting together at the end of the month, you can find all the information here.

Captain America: Civil War Review

Captain America: Civil WarSynopsis
During a conflict in Lagos between the Avengers and Crossbones (Frank Grillo), an explosion takes the lives of many civilians. After this incident, the United Nations create the Sokovia Accords, which will put a UN board in charge of when and where the Avengers are deployed. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) feels that superpowered individuals should be held accountable for their own actions and the UN board will prevent the Avengers from helping the people that need it. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) thinks that the heroes need to be supervised. This difference of viewpoints creates a rift between the two friends and sends Steve on the run after his friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is accused of causing an explosion at a UN meeting.

Review
I think it is safe to say that Captain America: Civil War is probably the movie I have been looking forward to the most in the first half of 2016. Not only is it a Marvel movie but it is heavily influenced by my favorite comic event to date (and it introduces Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man). There was a lot for it to live up to and it passed with flying colors.

First, I want to address one of my fears going into this movie and it may be considered spoiler-ish, and is entirely based on my geeky side, so keep that in mind. When I heard that Frank Grillo would be returning as Crossbones and the movie would star Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo (aka Baron Zemo), I was really concerned. In the Civil War comic, there is no villain. The conflict is entirely between Tony and Steve and their two viewpoints. I was concerned that towards the end, the two heroes would make up, hold hands and fight the pair of villains. That’s not what the Civil War story was about. It is about the difference in ideologies and at the end of the comic, both Tony and Steve were left in very interesting places. So I didn’t want the film to turn into this team-up at the end and not have any sort of ramifications going forward. That did not happen at all. By the end, there were real consequences that will have a huge impact on the MCU going forward. Thank you so much Marvel for understanding what made the source material one of your best events.

Although this has β€œCaptain America” in the title, many superheroes made an appearance, it’s pretty much like a mini Avengers movie. However, since it does have β€œCaptain America” in the title, much of the focus was on him. Even having Tony (Robert Downey, Jr.), a headliner of his own franchise, Steve (Chris Evans) was still front and center the entire time. Many of the other heroes didn’t linger on screen longer than they needed to. They did their part to move the story forward then got out of the way to allow Steve to be in the spotlight once more.

Despite its more serious story, Civil War still manages to inject Marvel’s signature humor into the film. It helps when Paul Rudd and a Spider-Man are in it. But all the humor didn’t come from these two. RDJ has always had a quirky Tony Stark, who gets a several joke in (though not as many as previous movies) and even Evans garnered a few laughs. Some might be getting tired of Marvel’s humor but I like it and I think it prevents their films from becoming too dark.

Speaking of Spider-Man, I think we might have our best movie version yet. Both Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield were good Spider-Men but they didn’t have the humor quite right (although this is more on the writing than it is on them). Tom Holland is the youngest Peter Parker yet and does absolutely wonderful. His discussion with Tony about why he became Spider-Man is very emotional and when he is fighting the other heroes, he talks non-stop, geeking out about being around the other heroes and their powers and gear. I was excited for Spider-Man: Homecoming before but now I am even more excited which I didn’t think was possible!

Kicking off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the perfect time to make this movie. There aren’t any more Captain America movies on the horizon, nor are there any Iron Man movies happening anytime soon. Telling this story now gives a good perspective on how much these two characters have grown since we first met them eight years ago. This film builds off of the previous two Captain America, three Iron Man and two Avengers films. By the time Steve and Tony come to blows, we have a deep understanding of these characters, so their conflict has a ton of emotional weight behind it. Still being able to develop a character after about four movies is an amazing feat but doing it with two characters is truly impressive.

I thought Captain America: Civil War was GREAT :-D. Way back when, shortly after the release of The Avengers, I began thinking of story lines Marvel could adapt for their Avengers movies and Marvel’s Civil War was at the top of my list. However, I didn’t think It would happen because of the scale of the event (it literally touched every book Marvel published for months). But Marvel found a way to shrink down the event’s scale and still keep the core of the story, and what made it an engaging story, intact. The MCU is once again shaken up and leaves me excited to see what its future holds.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Anthony Russo – Director
Joe Russo – Director
Christopher Markus – Screenplay
Stephen McFeely – Screenplay
Henry Jackman – Composer

Chris Evans – Steve Rogers / Captain America
Robert Downey, Jr. – Tony Stark / Iron Man
Scarlett Johansson – Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Sevastian Stan – Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie – Sam Wilson / Falcon
Don Cheadle – Lieutenant James Rhodes / War Machine
Jeremy Renner – Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
Paul Bettany – Vision
Elizabeth Olsen – Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Paul Rudd – Scott Lang / Ant-Man
Emily VanCamp – Sharon Carter
Tom Holland – Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Daniel Bruhl – Helmut Zemo
Frank Grillo – Brock Rumlow / Crossbones
William Hurt – Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross
Martin Freeman – Everett K. Ross
Marisa Tomei – May Parker
John Kani – King T’Chaka
John Slattery – Howard Stark
Hope Davis – Maria Stark
Alfre Woodard – Miriam
Kerry Condon – FRIDAY (voice)