REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

6 05 2017

The summer season means sequelitis with few exceptions. One of these outliers, to an extent, is James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It appears that after the surprising smash success of his series opener, Kevin Feige and the powers that be at Marvel decided to loosen his leash to continue pushing his aesthetic. Though the enormous potential of the irreverent “Guardians” series seems self-evident from our vantage point in the era of “Deadpool,” it was far from a sure thing when the studio greenlit the film in the heat of “The Avengers” universe-building craze. “Kick-Ass” hardly served as a reliable indicator that audiences were ready to follow the superhero genre into a parodic cycle.

From the outset, Gunn shows that he was far from operating at full throttle in the first film – and that he still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. The way he stages the opening battle sequence is pure subversive brilliance. Some mysterious octopus-like space creature drops out of the sky and onto a landing pad where Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord and the Guardians are waiting for it. We have no idea what it is or why it poses a threat, in typical Marvel fashion. Gunn capitalizes on that unfamiliarity, staging the fight out of focus in the background while an adorable Baby Groot dances to an Electric Light Orchestra jam in front of our eyes. He knows people operate on sensation and feeling more than linear plot development, and he crafts an ideal anti-action scene.

So it’s a little disappointing when, by the end, Gunn still has to direct in lockstep with the Marvel mold. We’ve still got to have the obligatory third act “blow everything up for 20 minutes” portion of the screenplay, unfortunately. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” at least imbues an otherwise mindless spectacle with deeper stakes. Every aspect of the film harkens back to its central themes of family, from the gold-hued eugenicist Sovereigns to Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). And, of course, there’s the match made in intertextual heaven: Star-Lord reuniting with his long-lost father, Kurt Russell’s Ego.

It’s too bad that anything relating to blood dynamics sounds like the notes from a family psychologist’s notepad. The dialogue sounds far too on-the-nose for a film so fluent in 13-year-old boy humor. (That’s not to knock the jokes, which would have gone over gangbusters with me 10 years ago. Some still do, to my reluctant chagrin.) But thankfully, Gunn still give us plenty of the franchise’s ragtag family, the Guardians themselves, rocking out to another awesome mixtape. B

REVIEW: Fast Five

5 04 2015

Generally speaking, I am very against walking out of – or turning off – movies (see Random Factoid #4, which still holds true nearly 6 years later).  But one movie that I can unashamedly say I stopped watching halfway through was the original “The Fast and the Furious” movie.  Rarely had I found myself so unengaged with the story and action of a film, so I just deleted it off my DVR after quickly hitting a wall.

A few years later, I don’t quite know what inspired me to watch its fourth sequel,  “Fast Five.”  (Though if I recall correctly, it was a 99¢ rental on Amazon Instant Video.)  I felt completely vindicated in my decision to turn off the original after watching it.  I didn’t turn it off like I did with the first film, but I think I tuned it out around the same time to do homework.

I can certainly understand why this series appeals to people, be it the diverse cast or the undeniably impressive car chase/action sequences.  I just need more from a movie, like a real story to tie those things together.  I don’t remember a single thing that happened in the film, and I don’t feel the need to go Wikipedia the plot summary to even offer the pretense of what I thought of the events.  See this movie if you have a pretty low standard for entertainment and do not require a lot of substance to satisfy you.  C / 2stars