Thursday , 22 June 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy is 2 Awesome – review

“Welcome, everyone, to my world.”

Summer 2017 is here! OK, officially, it’s not until the 3rd week of June, but in the movie world, it starts the first week of May, and for the most part, since 2008, that start to the summer season has been owned by a little studio known as Marvel. Beginning with Iron Man, and continuing through Thor, Captain America and the ultimate superhero team-up in The Avengers, Marvel could do no wrong (2008’s The Incredible Hulk, ironically, the only film not to be a smash.) In 2014, Marvel took a chance on a rag-tag group of relatively unknown characters and set the movie in outer space. It turned out to be one giant leap for superhero kind, as James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy defied all expectations, becoming a massive worldwide hit, introducing audiences to a new collection of lovable heroes, and making a star (along with the following year’s Jurassic World) out of Chris Pratt. It was further proof that Marvel was firing on every cylinder they had under the hood, and it put the pressure on DC with their upcoming Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad films. Now, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot are back to save the day once again in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2.

A Tale of My Two Dads

Taking place a mere two months after the events of the first film, our misfit gang of galactic thieves once again find themselves the targets of various groups of nefarious alien races, ranging from the grungy Ravagers, led by Peter Quill’s kinda adoptive father,  Yondu (returning Michael Rooker), to the golden-skinned Sovereign people, led by Ayesha (newcomer Elizabeth Debicki). Along the way, Peter, aka, Star-Lord, comes face to face with his long lost father, Ego, a celestial being played by the one and only Kurt Russell. Now, it’s no secret that the Gore 4 are huge fans of Kurt – he starred in the greatest horror film of all-time, John Carpenter’s The Thing, played Snake Plissken in Carpenter’s Escape From New York and L.A., portrayed everyone from Elvis Presley to Wyatt Earp, began his career as a Disney child star, and more recently, had memorable roles in Tarantino’s Death Proof and The Hateful Eight, the acclaimed Bone Tomahawk, and has become an important part of the Fast & Furious franchise. Kurt Russell quite simply, rules, and is thus, perfectly suited for the role of an all-powerful heavenly being. As Peter and the gang learn more about his father and avoid pursuit from those out to get them, enemies turn into allies, family becomes foe and sacrifices are made as the Guardians must save the galaxy – again.

“We’re family. We leave nobody behind.”

Part of what made the first Guardians so successful was the teaming of a disparate group of individuals who didn’t always get along, but ultimately came to rely upon each other as they faced seemingly insurmountable odds. They became a family, and that is the theme that runs rampant throughout Vol. 2. Chris Pratt’s charisma and star power burn bright once again as his Peter must deal with a father he doesn’t know (the aforementioned awesome Kurt Russell) vs. the one who took advantage of him but still made him who he is (Rooker, really getting to shine here). Gamora (Zoe Saldana) struggles mightily in every way imaginable with her estranged sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who welcomely has a much larger role this time. Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is up to his little ears dealing with his buddy, the newly sprouted baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). (And more on the little twig later.) And Drax (the hilarious Dave Bautista), who speaks his mind and is unable to comprehend metaphors or irony, must come to terms with his lost love while interacting with another social misfit, Ego’s assistant, the empath, Mantis (played by newbie Pom Klementieff). Also, highly entertaining is the Ravager who goes by the name of Taserface (Chris Sullivan) and Yondu’s right-hand man, Kraglin, played by director James Gunn’s brother, Sean (The Belko Experiment). It’s in the spirit of the film’s theme of family that James would again cast his brother in this expanded role from that of the first film. Sean gives added dimension to what could have been a lesser role as his loyalties are torn, while infusing some additional comic relief as well. He also provides the amazing motion-capture movements for Rocket, ala Andy Serkis’ Gollum and Caesar. And, of course, Rooker goes all the way back with James Gunn to his directing debut, the 2007 horror comedy, Slither.

Writer/director James Gunn knocks it out of the spacepark yet again in crafting an enormously entertaining space adventure. With so many characters, intertwined relationships, creatures and planets, it could easily fall apart in less assured hands, but Gunn clearly has a vision, and it’s fully realized on screen. While there are definite ties to the overall Marvel Universe, Gunn pretty much has his hands free to do as he will with Peter Quill and company. In addition to the expected humor spread throughout the film, there are a number of strong emotional beats as well, from a Field of Dreams moment between Peter and his dad, to the sisterly feuding/bonding between Gamora and Nebula. And we’d be remiss in not mentioning that music plays just as big a part in this film as it did the first time, from the title to character motivations. With music from Fleetwood Mac to Sam Cooke (one of the greatest Earth singers of all-time), the aural landscape created brings a sense of familiarity to strange and exotic worlds. If there’s any disappointment with the movie, it’s that they excluded Sweet’s rollickin’Fox on the Run, used in trailers and TV spots, from the finished product. Certainly, it could have fit in with a Rocket Raccoon sequence. (It does, though, appear on the soundtrack.) And that brings us back to one of film’s most enjoyable creations, and also one of it’s greatest scenes.

“He’s too adorable to kill!”

Yes, Baby Groot is probably the most delightfully precious creature since E.T.’s titular alien or Gizmo in Gremlins. Brought to lovable life by Gunn and the f/x team, and Vin Diesel’s charming voice work, the shrubby little fella may be a novice in life, but he’s still an essential part of the team. While some may think it’s cuteness overload or cynically accuse Marvel of looking just to sell toys, Baby Groot is a pint-sized hoot. After a nostalgic prologue, the film gives us maybe the best opening credits sequence ever, as the little twiggy does his thing amidst an incredible battle featuring our heroes fighting a giant, multi-toothed, tentacled monstrosity, all to a rousing, other-worldly rock and roll tune. It’s the kind of scene that’s reminiscent of Quicksilver’s slo-motion extravaganza in X-Men: Days of Future Past in that you’ll want to see it over and over again. It’s a monumental movie achievement that almost makes it hard for the rest of the movie to live up to. Alas, as wonderful as Baby Groot is, we know that, being a plant, he must eventually grow. Perhaps Marvel can give us a Baby Groot short as a Blu-ray extra in the future or to precede an upcoming film? If you just can’t get enough of Baby Groot, may we suggest the delightful children’s book, Night Night, Groot, written by Brendan Deneen (The Ninth Circle, Flash Gordon graphic novels), with artwork by Cale Arkinson. It features a multitude of Marvel characters, along with fun Easter eggs on every page.

“That was awesome….yes!”

While it’s probably unnecessary to say, the special effects throughout the entire film are top notch (the first Guardians received Oscar noms for visual effects and makeup). From blue, green and gold-skinned beings to disgusting creatures to kaleidoscopic worlds, there’s galactic eye candy filling the screen at every instant. Of particular note is the absolutely astounding work done to youthanize Kurt Russell in the best makeup/CGI-enhanced result ever seen on screen. I mean, dude, seriously. And while this is clearly not a horror film, there are a great many brutal kills, with Yondu’s whistle-controlled, body-piercing arrow especially vicious.

Finally, it’s important to add how refreshing it is to see so many strong female characters appearing on screen in one movie. There’s Debicki’s powerful and regal performance as the golden high priestess. Klementieff’s Mantis may appear relatively timid, but she plays a vital role in the proceedings. Gillan’s Nebula is full of rage and vengeance, yet with an underlying sadness and regret. And the incredible Zoe Saldana (how amazing is it for her to star in this franchise, along with Star Trek and Avatar?) gives her Gamora character a forceful presence that’s vulnerable and remorseful also. Her scenes with ther sister are some of the best in the movie. The importance of family, whether you’re blood-related or not, reminds one of another Vin Diesel vehicle, that of the Fast & Furious films. That franchise’s enormous success is greatly due to the camaraderie and diversity of the characters, just as Guardians‘ popularity stems from the comradeship of Groot and his companions.

It’s already been announced that James Gunn will return to write and direct a 3rd Guardians of the Galaxy, so that is awesome news. And we can expect to see some or all of the Guardians meet up with The Avengers in perhaps Infinity War and/or beyond, as there is that whole Gamora/Nebula’s father, Thanos, and the Infinity Stones thing going on. Until then, see Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 as many times as you can on the big screen (for that opening credits sequence alone) and make sure you stay through ALL the end credits as the Marvel record for added credits scenes is surely broken.

— review by I Am Groot

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