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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

6 May

In 2014, Marvel took a gamble and released Guardians of the Galaxy, which featured a team of heroes that were way more under the radar than any of the Avengers. Since it’s release, everyone can confidently say who Star Lord or Groot are because the film was so much fun. It made a killing at the box office and stands as one of the MCU’s greatest entries. It was inevitable that a sequel would be made featuring the beloved intergalactic crew, and it was up to James Gunn to once again capture everything we love about the first film and make something new. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as excellent as the first film, this is still a worthy sequel that provides a lot of laughs, action, and heart.

Peter Qull (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are known far and wide as the Guardians of the Galaxy. After helping the Sovereign race to protect important batteries from a space monster, and robbing them soon after, the Guardians find themselves stranded on a planet with Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), as their captive. They are soon met by Ego (Kurt Russel) and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Ego informs Quill that he is his father and brings the Guardians back to his planet. As the team learns more, they begin to discover that this planet may not be what it seems, so they have to set aside their differences and team up with Yondu (Michael Rooker) to stop a force that threatens the entire galaxy.

There’s plenty to talk about with this movie because this is kind of an odd entry into the MCU. It has all of the energy that the original film did and it’s excellent to see the characters all together again, but the story in this one if very different than the first one, which is actually kind of a good thing. Let’s start with the negatives. For one thing, the pacing of this movie is really off. Things start off with a bang, but the team soon splits up and the story kind of loses track of itself. There’s what’s happening on Ego’s planet, but than there’s also a story involving Yondu, Rocket, Groot, and some Ravagers who hold a mutiny. Both of these stories seem equally important, so I was unsure where the movie was going. Luckily, the narrative finds itself again after some time and really makes up for some of the odd pacing. Another issue I had with this movie is the fact that it got a little mean spirited. Sure, the original movie had a lot of off color humor, but this one makes some of the characters (mostly Drax and Rocket) just come off as obnoxious and overly rude at times. It was a bit of a departure in tone, and I wasn’t really fond of it. Fortunately, this happens in just a few scenes and isn’t really a big deal for most of the movie.

Despite some weird narrative issues, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decides to let loose, it gets crazy. This movie has some really wild action that made me smile so hard I thought my head would rip in two. The best part of the movie features Yondu, Rocket, and Baby Groot getting the best of some mutineers. That scene alone was just blockbuster perfection and is the reason why these movies are so beloved by fans. For all of the action and humor, this movie also has a lot of heart to it that gives it the emotional weight these comic book movies really need to be taken seriously. Forget how Captain America: Civil War made you feel. This movie has some real drama that may not leave a dry eye in the theater. It’s one thing to make a major CGI fest that focuses on wowing you with the action and the spectacle, which Guardians does, but it has so much more to it than that.

Speaking of CGI, this movie has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. The ships whizzing through space engaging in over the top dogfights made it hard to blink. There’s so much happening in some of these set pieces, it’s hard to believe that actual humans created these scenes. What’s excellent about this movie, and this is no surprise knowing who James Gunn is, there are some really excellent practical effects and make up as well. The Sovereign race is painted gold, but it looks perfect. The same can be said about Gamora and Yondu’s make up. I spent some of the time just trying to find one flaw with the make up, but there were just none to be found.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as good or exciting as the first film. The first one was honestly just perfect. It was such an epic story it would’ve been hard to beat. Still, this is a really good sequel that captured the heart of the first film and reworks it to create something different. The story feels a bit smaller and disconnected from the rest of the workings of the MCU, but it also feels more personal to the Guardians. Any fan of this universe should have a blast with this movie. I know I sure did.

Final Grade: B+

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Mississippi Burning – Review

5 Jan

In 1964, 3 Civil Rights activists went missing in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Foul play was suspected, so the FBI made their presence known and an official investigation began. Over time, a handful of city officials and other citizens were ousted as members of the Ku Klux Klan and sentenced to prison for the murders of the activists. This story shows a very dark time in modern American history and is a perfect incident to be dramatized because all of the themes and hostilities that it could explore. This is where Alan Parker’s 1988 film Mississippi Burning comes in. Parker isn’t one to shy away from controversial topics, and this film did spark controversy, but it also works well as a piece of hard hitting entertainment. There is just one major flaw that stands in the way of this being a truly excellent movie.

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When three Civil Rights activists go missing in Jessup County, Mississippi, two FBI agents are sent to investigate. The investigation is headed by the young and hardheaded Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe), who is partnered up with the experienced yet brash Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman). Upon their arrival they are warned by multiple city officials that nobody wants them there and that whatever happens in their town is their business. This is unacceptable to the two investigators who call in more agents to help with the search. This causes an uproar in the Mississippi town, and causes the KKK to become even more hostile to the African American community in this town. With more lives being threatened every day, the town suddenly seems to be at war with itself which forces the agents to change their tactics in order to achieve justice.

The strongest thing that Mississippi Burning has going for it is its fantastic cast.  Other than Dafoe and Hackman, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif, R. Lee Ermey, and Michael Rooker all have supporting roles. This is one of the stronger casts I’ve seen in a movie in a long time and they all bring their best to the table. While everyone is great I have to focus the most on Gene Hackman. There are times when he really stands out and there are times where I don’t really remember him, but never is he bad. In this film he’s downright excellent and it may be my favorite performance of his I’ve ever seen. These performances work really well with getting me really into the story and into the time period, which is super important for any period piece.

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What also be remembered to get an audience into a time period are the production values and costume design. Mississippi Burning exceeds in these two areas. This is a fantastic looking movie and is well deserving of the Academy Award it won for Best Cinematography. There is a great juxtaposition of serenity in the film making mixed with much more harsh and unforgiving film making. This works great with the themes and story of the movie. The set design and costume design also looks very natural and very believable. Sometimes when a movie about the 1960s comes out, there can be some unnecessary flashiness like the film makers are trying to prove that it’s a different time period instead of trusting the audiences to see for themselves. This movie looks exactly what I’d expect a small Mississippi town to look like the mid-1960s. I wasn’t alive, of course, so this is just an assumption.

There is one major thing about Mississippi Burning that really gets under my skin and I didn’t really notice it as I was watching. It was only when I was thinking about it afterward did I realize that the representation of African Americans in this movie isn’t all that flattering. There’s mention of Martin Luther King and there are a couple of marches shown in the movie, but altogether they’re just portrayed as weak, helpless, and scared. Of course, that’s a part of history. It was a terrifying time to be alive for many people, but it was also a time to stand up for yourself and your basic human rights. There could have been more black main characters instead of just using them as mostly silent side characters. This isn’t something that made the movie any less entertaining as it was on, but it was something that kept eating at me afterwards.

Mississippi Burning is very close to being a great movie. The performances are amazing and the cinematography is worthy of the Academy Award that it won. The only issue is that there are no central black characters in a movie that is all about racism in the South during the 1960s. Even if there was just one main African American character to ground the film with that perspective, I would have been pleased. Still, Mississippi Burning is a very entertaining movie that is filled with tension, suspense, and realistic atmosphere.

Final Grade: B

Guardians of the Galaxy – Review

7 Aug

It almost feels like Christmas when a trailer for a new Marvel movie comes out. Following the first viewing comes months of speculation on how the movies going to be and what might possibly happen based on our knowledge of the universe, the comic books, and the characters. When I first saw the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, a title which I knew next to nothing about, I immediately began preparing and even went out and bought some of the graphic novels so I could learn the characters. My hopes were high going into this film and were raised even higher when I left the theater. This is a spot on Marvel film that nearly earns perfection.

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As a young boy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is abducted by an alien ship and turns into one of the more underestimated space pirates in the galaxy. After finding a priceless orb, Quill, now calling himself Star Lord, becomes the bounty if his former mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker). Not only is Yondu after him, but so is a trained assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who is apparently working for the evil Kree Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his bodyguard, a humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel). These unlikely future heroes soon collide and end up in a prison with the vengeful Drax (Dave Bautista), who is hell bent on finding Ronan and killing him for the atrocities done to Drax’s family. With the band of misfits finally formed, they begin to realize the power that the orb really has and who is the puppeteer who has his eyes on it as a weapon of macrocosmic destruction.

As soon as the trailer was first revealed, it was obvious that this was going to be a movie that isn’t even really in the same ball park as The Avengers. Yes, there are major connections to the previous films that are going to be important to the overall story, but the feeling of this movie is completely different. This is an excellent conglomeration of super hero action and science fiction wonder. There’s space travel, dogfights, aliens all in the universe of all the other Marvel heroes. Needless to say the universe that has been created already just got a whole lot bigger with Guardians of the Galaxy what with all the new characters and plots. This was a big project that was successful because of all the people that were involved and the intelligence with which it was produced.

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First of all, I have to commend the writing of this movie. Not only is it really cool science fiction, it’s also hilarious. The one liners in this movie are enough to make a Vulcan chuckle with mild delight. It’s mostly on point, but there were a few times where some of the jokes dragged on a little bit and lost the luster it never really had. It’s not good if a joke falls flat, but it’s bad if they keep running with the dead joke. This happens only once or twice in the movie so it isn’t even that big of a deal. But with the comedy and the action comes really good scenes of drama. The opening scene is dramatic enough to carry the entire movie, but when the Guardians are at their lowest, the audience feels it, and that’s due to the work of the writers, the director James Gunn, and the perfectly casted group of actors.

These characters are very distinct in their own way, and to nail them each perfectly isn’t an easy task. Pratt is the obvious choice for Peter Quill with both the way he looks and his personality, and anyone who saw The Iron Giant wouldn’t be surprised to see Diesel as the role of Groot. The only person who gets a little awkward at times is Saldana as Gamora, even though she evens it out with some terrific acting towards the end. The real scene stealers, however, are Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Dave Bautista as Drax. I was expecting Cooper to knock it out of the part as the wise cracking raccoon, and he did, but Bautista delivered some of my favorite lines in the movie. His completely serious attitude was perfect for Drax’s moments of being unintentionally hilarious.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a great looking movie, a well acted movie, and also expertly written and directed. Marvel took a gamble on this one. This isn’t the most popular comic book they ever created and it would’ve been easy to stick with the heroes they’re already using. Instead, they went out on a limb and made this film which has proved to be the definitive blockbuster film of the year, in my opinion. It has action, laughs, heart, and characters who are easy to love. This is an excellent film that I can’t wait to see again and again and again.