Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Its Similarities To The Empire Strikes Back

GOTGV2 as Empire Strikes Back

Many people who have seen Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (GOTGV2) have noted that the film, whether they enjoyed it or not, has a different tone than the original film. Some have even gone so far as to claim this sequel is to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film as The Empire Strikes Back was to the first Star Wars film. The reason for this opinion has to do with the more adult and darker mood oozing throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 despite all the jokes and action. Is this a valid way to look at the movie? Consider the following and it goes without saying that major spoilers will be revealed…

Separate Ways

In the second Guardians film, the title characters split up and go off on their own separate adventures in smaller groups and meet other people. Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord takes off with Gamora and Drax to join his newly found father Ego and later meets Mantis. When they leave with Peter’s father, Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot are left with Gamora’s sister Nebula (who is at this point a prisoner instead of a full-fledged Guardian). The remaining trio then meet up with Yondu and his Ravagers. This encounter leads to Yondu’s powerful story arc, while Peter learns about his heritage.

A similar plot device was used in The Empire Strikes Back where after abandoning the Rebel base on Hoth, Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 go to Dagobah and meet the Jedi Master Yoda. As this happens, Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, Chewbacca and C-3P0 spend most of the film evading Darth Vader and his imperial forces. Eventually they meet up with Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian. Both groups are changed forever by their separate adventures just like in GOTGV2.

Deeper Characters

Even though some people have issues with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, these critics agree with fans that the second film does a better job of exploring the characters. Writer and director James Gunn took time to delve deeper into what makes the core group and the supporting characters tick. By the time the film finishes we understand the Guardians and their associates much more than in the original film. They are no longer stock character types. Instead, they are more rounded and we know how and why they act and feel like they do. This leaves us with more relatable and believable characters who enhanced our enjoyment of the film.

The same thing occurs in The Empire Strikes Back. Everyone loves the second Star Wars film for its focus on the characters and making us care more about them. From joining Luke in his painful spiritual journey to understand the Force and the ways of the Jedi, to observing the growing love Han and Leia have for each other. In both films, while the dazzling special effects and sounds are out of this world, what we take away from the viewing experience is our love of the characters.

Fathers and Sons

The main character and story arc in GOTGV2 is Peter Quill’s relationship with Ego. Before meeting him, Peter and the audience did not have any idea of who his father was. When the two men meet it’s a joyful reunion as Ego fills in Peter about where he came from. Naturally, Star-Lord is excited to learn that he is a demigod. But sadly, the occasion turns sour when Peter and his friends discover Ego’s true nature and plans. The man is actually a monster who murdered not just his own children, but Peter’s mother. To make matters worse, Ego has plans to massacre countless people throughout the galaxy in order to spread his seeds.

Ego and Guardians

Continue reading

The Heart and Soul Of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2


GOTGV2 poster

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (GOTGV2) is exploding onto screens everywhere and kicks off the summer season with a big blast that goes for the heart. For those keeping count the sequel to the hit film Guardians of the Galaxy is the latest offering from Marvel Studios and its popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Like most sequels, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 tries to outdo the original, despite what writer and director James Gunn claims. It does not quite get there but like a true, notable sequel it sets out to be different and in that aspect Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 succeeds so overwhelmingly.

The film takes place shortly after the last film as the Guardians of the Galaxy are doing mercenary work for a galactic civilization called the Sovereign. The opening credits showcase the galactic misfits at their very best and reunite audiences with the loveable bunch. The team includes Earthling Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), former assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the too-literal Drax (Dave Bautista), the cybernetically enhanced Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the tiny plant being Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Right off the bat the adorable Baby Groot steals the spotlight with his oh-so-cute antics as the rest of the Guardians fight this gigantic monster squid thing. His scenes throughout the film will bring many “Awwws” and laughs and sure he is an obvious merchandising wonder, but Baby Groot is just so endearing that only truly embittered grouches will mind him.

baby groot and bomb

As with the previous film, GOTGV2 starts off with a toe-tapping soundtrack of oldies but goodies during the opening credits. The selection of songs is quite good, but unlike the original which featured some rousing classics, the songs for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are more reflective of the film’s themes.

This film is quite exciting and funny, in fact, many skits and jokes outperform the original. However, one drawback it has when compared to the original is that its main plot meanders at times. There is a story, and it deeply affects our heroes, but GOTGV2 focuses more on character. The plot isn’t as important to the film as is exploring the heart and soul of the Guardians.

Without revealing too much, the Guardians go on the run from the Sovereign because Rocket stole some batteries from them. The Sovereign are a snooty bunch of religious fanatics who are deeply offended that Rocket stole from them and start hunting down the Guardians.

Peter quill and ego

As our heroes evade the Sovereign they also have to deal with their old foes the space pirates called the Ravagers and Peter Quill meets his father, Ego (Kurt Russell). Encountering his father leads to Peter on a journey of self discovery as he learns about his true, half-alien heritage. Meanwhile, the other members of the team come to realize some truths about themselves and how they feel about others. During all this self-reflection the Guardians of the Galaxy stumble upon a terrible revelation that threatens the entire galaxy.

Rocket and baby Groot

Whereas, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a great big adventure that kept building up to a climax and had a clear villain, this sequel has a different approach. GOTGV2 starts off as another whacky day filled with thrills, jokes and putdowns, but the pace lets up in the middle. This sacrifice in momentum and pace was done to give the characters development that adds dimension to them. It may turn off some people expecting a retread of the first film, but others will appreciate the successful efforts to develop not just the main characters, but returning supporting characters.

The central theme Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 focuses heavily on is that of family and friendship. Peter Quill and the others are given time to reflect on family and what that concept means to them. Sometimes these ponderings and musings are too on the nose and are part of the reason the film’s pace slows, but in the end, they help us to care more about the characters. More importantly their growth as characters are more genuine and earned. On the whole, this different atmosphere gives the film a more mature tone with appropriate heart-tugging moments.

The one standout character who benefits from the film’s tone is the Ravager leader Yondu (well played by Michael Rooker). His character is unexpectedly more developed and he is allowed to show that underneath his tough exterior he has a heart that redeems him. The scenes with him and Rocket run the gamut from hysterically funny to poignant as their souls are laid bare to each other. They make a terrific team and are some of the film’s highlights.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-Yondu-and-Rocket

Even the film’s villain is given screen time to show different characteristics. Unlike the first film’s one-dimensional Ronan, the villain of GOTGV2, who is eventually revealed later in the film, is a more interesting character which allows the final confrontation with the heroes to feel more personal. The gradual unveiling of the villain is another reason for the sequel’s slower tone, whereas with Ronan it was clear he was the main foe and this kept the Guardians constantly on the edge. Here, the characters contend with lesser villains like the Sovereign, who are as monotone as their gold skin tone and Yondu’s Ravagers. As to how GOTGV2’s main villain measures up is hard to say. The MCU has been criticized for featuring relatively weak villains, but the one featured in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is more notorious and stands out more.

All told, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is not an inferior sequel. It stands up quite well to the original and is solidly in the upper echelons of the MCU films. It has so much to offer and though it tries a bit too hard to be something different and more introspective it is more heartfelt than the original. The worlds explored, especially Ego’s planet are truly stupendous and otherworldly. Each scene fills the eyes with bizarre colors and images and most of the jokes and sight gags come at the right moment with near-perfect timing. The action scenes are wild and dizzying with terrific special effects and are strengthened by the presence of the beloved characters. Without all the character development the big action pieces, particularly in the final act would have had less impact, and we would have been less emotionally invested in these endearing characters. Each of the main team members are allotted amble screentime to display many nuances from Peter’s insecurity over his attraction to Gamora to Rocket’s caustic act being used as a way to hide his inner pain. There is much more than can be listed here. This is why in the end, James Gunn is validated for spending more screen time on these quieter and pensive moments.

Even though, the film isn’t well connected to the Earth-based MCU, it is bursting with many Marvel Easter eggs and shows many potential stories that can be developed later. It will take more viewings to spot all of them. By the way, be sure to stick around during the credits; there are five post-credit scenes, a couple of which portend to some intriguing new directions for the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. The best throwaway gag involves Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee and his connection to the Marvel Universe.

The best way to think of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is to compare it to…yes, The Empire Strikes Back or Back to the Future, Part II. Both sequels were enjoyable but more serious in tone as is GOTGV2. In time, many have come to embrace both sequels with many feeling that Empire was superior to the first Star Wars. This could happen with Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, but that assessment will come in time and after many deserved repeat viewings of this wonderful and emotional film.

José Soto

Spider-Man’s Short-Lived Homecoming?

spider-man homecoming posters

Spider-Man fans have been in on an emotional rollercoaster in recent days with the increasing hype over the new film Spider-Man: Homecoming and with Sony Pictures’ plans for the Marvel Comics character with their own series of spinoff films. The reaction to the new film’s second trailer has been extremely positive, surpassing that of the initial trailer released last year. On the other side of the coin, the reception to Sony’s plan has been decidedly mixed. But the worst reaction has been to the speculation that Spider-Man will no longer be in the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) following a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming. What started the ruckus was a recent interview of Amy Pascal in Comic Book News. As the former head of Sony Pictures and now a producer of the Spider-Man films. She stated the following:

“One of the things that I think is so amazing about this experience is that you don’t have studios deciding to work together to make a film very often. In fact, it may never happen again–after we do the sequel.”

This has given many fans reasons to panic, especially given the recent announcements of Sony continuing to develop Spider-Man spinoff films about Venom and the Black Cat. The reason is due to the film studio’s mishandling of the beloved character. We all remember that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a creative disaster, micromanaged to death by Sony who only wanted to use the film to launch other films; none of which have come to fruition. Then there was the public flailing by the studio after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn’t perform as well as they hoped. The non-stop announcements of films starring the Sinister Six and even Aunt May (!) made fans cringe. These embarrassing PR releases were only rivaled by Warner Bros/DC’s constant notices about upcoming DC films and who has been cast years before a film has even entered pre-production. Everything came to a head with the hack of Sony in 2014/15, which revealed in emails that the studio wasn’t sure what to do with their superhero franchise. They learned, as other film studios have, that it is not easy to replicate the success of the MCU.

the amazing spider-man

Sensing correctly the disinterest in their spinoffs, the bad feelings from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, overall poor box office from all their films, and the embarrassing emails, Sony decided to cut a deal with Disney/Marvel Studios. The result was a revamped Spider-Man, now played by an actual teenager, and the breakout star of last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Most fans and critics loved the authentic portrayal of the eager and earnest young superhero. Now that he is officially part of the MCU, Spidey could interact with Marvel Comics’ other great superheroes. All seemed well, Spider-Man made a smashing re-introduction, his next solo film was firmly in the MCU, and the trailers were well received, so nothing could go wrong.

Venomous Reception

Sony probably felt that same way when they announced that a Venom film was not only being developed but that it is coming out in October 2018. Before this revelation, Sony scheduled an animated Spider-Man film to feature Miles Morales, and the news was well received since after all it’s just a cartoon. The Venom news, however, was a mixed bag. Those who have clamored for a hard-edged Venom solo film were excited, while others feared another mismanaged superhero film that would dilute Spider-Man. The slipshod way the character was handled in Spider-Man 3 was all the proof the fans needed that Sony would screw up again. Adding to this trepidation was the news that Venom would not be in the MCU and whether or not Spider-Man would even appear.

Perhaps Sony was emboldened by the success of Deadpool and Logan, two films that are not necessarily part of their shared universes and were hits despite being R-rated. They obviously feel they can learn from their mistakes and duplicate this formula. Maybe they can and maybe they will be successful with their announced Black Cat/Silver Sable film. The key has to do with who is hired to make the film. Continue reading

Logan & The Future Of The X-Men

Logan is the swan song for Hugh Jackman in his seventeen-year film portrayal of the iconic Wolverine superhero. The film is resonating with filmgoers and critics and especially fans of the X-Men films and comics. For 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Cinematic Universe (XCU), Logan’s success combined with last year’s Deadpool points to a bold and fresh direction for the cinematic universe.

X Men Films Roster

Ever since its debut in 2000 with X-Men, the X-Men film franchise has seen its share of ups and downs. Creative and commercial highs like X-Men: Days of Future Past or X-Men: First Class were quickly followed or preceded with disappointments such as X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. On the whole the XCU films are exciting and colorful but it seemed as if these superhero films had hit a creative wall as seen with X-Men: Apocalypse. By itself the film was fine, but it had a nagging feeling of déjà vu. We’ve seen these theatrics before; a big, bad mutant comes along and threatens the world while the superheroic mutants complain about how they’re ill treated by humanity, yet go out of their way to save it because, well, they’re the X-Men!

Along Came A Merc

As we all know that template changed with Deadpool. Funny, gross, self mocking and full of vigor and pizzazz, the film proved that something new can be created from the standard X-Men superhero formula with the Merc with the Mouth. Deadpool was a gamble for 20th Century Fox who resisted the idea of greenlighting the film in the first place. Executives worried about funding a superhero film that was vulgar, violent and comedic. After all, an R-rated superhero film is considered blasphemy to studio execs and marketing departments. They feared that the under-18 crowd wouldn’t be able to see, rather spend money to see the film. But to not allow that in a Deadpool film would betray the character.

Of course, Deadpool surprised the industry and delighted giddy fans who wanted an accurate film portrayal of this beloved character that stayed true to his violent, fourth-wall-breaking roots.

Deadpool’s success helped give Fox execs the confidence to allow Logan’s creators to take a creative gamble. This resulted in the film being an adult, hard-hitting, violent film that truly reflected the dark comic book story that inspired it, “Old Man Logan”.

Requiem For Logan

However, Logan’s creative success is not just due to its grim and violent tone. Rather this mature film is more than that, it is about facing mortality and Logan feels so poignant because of the nature of the title character. Logan aka Wolverine, played so skillfully by Hugh Jackman, is a broken, old man who realizes that the world has moved past him. Having long given up the good fight, Logan simply wants to be left alone and face his last days in peace with his mentor Charles Xavier.

Logan at his hideout

Like Logan, Xavier is grappling with the challenges of old age and both men know they are reaching their twilight. Having seen these two characters on film for nearly two decades, it is rather heartbreaking to see the indignities they face as we are reminded of our own mortality. Meanwhile, we have to admit that after seeing Jackman playing this iconic hero for 17 years, it is hard to see him go, but we must, which is why the film’s ending hits so hard.

Logan, Xavier and Laura

At the same time, Logan is looks at the issue of how an adult deals with a degenerating parent. It is a part of life that most will face and by taking care of an ailing Xavier, a man who is not his father makes Logan more heroic than he realizes. Further adding to his growth is the realization of how he has bonded with Laura, aka X-23, the young mutant he and Xavier are protecting. By the film’s end, he has come to not just feel responsible for her but to accept her as his child, which is a bittersweet conclusion to his emotional growth that Xavier urged him to explore earlier in the film.

Logan at hotelDiscovering these themes in a superhero film is actually surprising and gives Logan much more gravitas than the standard superhero film. In many ways, it seems more like a western thanks to its themes of the harsh consequences of violence and beautiful outdoor cinematography. That is why many are proclaiming it to be a film that has outgrown its genre and is now compared to The Dark Knight or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is needless to add that this modern classic is already considered by many to be the greatest X-Men film to date.

So now that Logan has reinforced the idea that an XCU film can be unexpectedly original, where does Fox go from there? Continue reading

Despite Controversy & Flaws Iron Fist Hits Its Mark

The latest Netflix/Marvel TV show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Iron Fist. The main character and his story are based on the Marvel Comics hero created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. As the final piece of the superhero puzzle that will make up this year’s Netflix mini-series, The Defenders, Iron Fist has been mired in controversy. Most of it having to do with charges of that the title character is just another white savior type since he emulates a stereotypical Asian monastic lifestyle. Other complaints about Iron Fist are that it is slow moving and uninvolving.

These criticisms levied at Iron Fist are unfortunate because it’s generally an enjoyable, well-produced entry of the MCU. It does have its share of problems and is not as engaging as Daredevil or Jessica Jones. On the other hand, after last year’s disappointingly dull and overacted Luke Cage, Iron Fist is a course correction for the Netflix/Marvel shows.

danny rand at kun lun

The TV show centers on Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a homeless heir to a multinational corporation who reappears in the company’s Manhattan headquarters after he was believed to have died fifteen years ago. In his backstory, he and his parents were in a plane crash in the Himalayas that killed his folks, but he survived and was rescued by monks. They take Danny to K’un-Lun, a mystical, extradimensional city that appears every fifteen years on Earth. Once there, Danny is raised by the monks, learns martial arts and eventually becomes the latest in the line of a mystical warrior called the Iron Fist, the Living Weapon. His duty was to protect K’un-Lun from an evil mystical group called the Hand but is shocked after his return that the Hand are on his native world.

It takes some time for him to convince the world that he actually is Danny Rand. What doesn’t help is that when we first see him he’s barefoot, unkempt and disheveled. He spends much of his energy trying to reconnect with two childhood friends, the siblings Joy and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup), who run Danny’s company and are a couple of corporate douchebags, especially Ward. They see him as either a fraud or worse a genuine threat to their hold on the company that was founded by their fathers. The twist is that Meachum’s father, Harold (David Wenham), who supposedly died years ago, is alive and in hiding. An amoral and abusive type himself, the father takes an interest in Danny Rand’s re-emergence. This is because he sees Rand as an opportunity to take on his enemy the Hand (featured in Daredevil), who have a hold on him. With this in mind, Harold forces Ward to allow Danny into the company. Once in place as a majority shareholder, Danny begins righting the wrongs done by the company.

Rand wing and night nurse

As this corporate plotline unfolds, Danny meets a downtrodden karate instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who operates a dojo, and the two connect. She becomes his partner as he tries to get behind the reason of the Hand’s purpose on Earth and how they are connected to his company.

Iron Fist may not be immediately engaging at first. The first couple of episodes are actually frustrating with drawn out flashbacks of the plane crash and Danny trying to convince people of his identity. While he is sympathetic, Rand comes off as being too naïve and trusting. This leads to a dull stretch where he is imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and the narrative injects a pointless notion that he may be insane. While this works so well in Legion, here the subplot is plodding. But in the end, after he exhibits his first manifestation of his superhuman martial arts the show picks up momentum.

iron fist attack

Speaking of martial arts, a major drawback to Iron Fist is that for a TV show about martial arts many of the fight scenes lack power and energy. They look too choreographed and listless. This is seen in the first few minutes of the first episode “Snow Gives Way” when Danny has a by-the-numbers fight with some guards as he tries to contact the Meachums. This is a dangerous flaw for a show of this type. We are supposed to be shown that he is a superhuman martial artist, but the show has a hard time showing this to viewers. There are some good fight sequences though, many of which involve Wing, who is one of the best characters on the show, but they pale when compared to Daredevil or even Arrow.

But take heart in knowing that whenever Danny’s hands start glowing, you will be treated to some climatic displays of raw power. One drawback to keeping this show in the gritty and grounded MCU shows from Netflix is that it prevents the more mystical aspects of Rand’s backstory from being shown. It might’ve lightened the show’s mood and better matched Danny’s persona.

Of all the heroes in these shows, he seems to be the most optimistic and exudes an inner calm. This presents a challenge in that it makes it difficult to showcase any of the inner turmoil and demons which plague the stars of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. In reality, this different kind of personality is a welcome change of pace from all the brooding and conflicted heroes, though it makes him a bit one dimensional. Danny just wants to do good for others during his return to our world. He just has to go through these hurdles to achieve this goal.

Once the show gets going after the early episodes, it picks up the pace and becomes more action-oriented as we want to see what happens next to these characters. The villains are not the greatest but there are attempts to give them some layering, which keeps things interesting. In Joy’s case, groundwork is laid for making her more amendable to Danny’s cause. While we try to figure out what is Harold’s ultimate agenda and though Ward comes off as one dimensional at first, there is more to him than being a corporate tool.

When compared to Daredevil (season one) or Jessica Jones, Iron Fist does not reach their levels of quality. Yet, it has its merits and is a welcome addition to the MCU. Frankly, much of the criticism is unfortunate because Iron Fist is being faithful to the source material, in the comic books he is a white man who grew up practicing martial arts in an Asian-inspired dimension. Although on the surface it may seem like it, he does not embody the white savior cliché in the comics or this show despite what some critics may want to believe.  Others may simply be tiring of the MCU and are looking for a reason to take it down a notch. Whatever the case may be, try to keep an open mind and sample this show. Iron Fist takes a while to engage you, but once it does it’s worth binge watching.

José Soto