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

Top 40 Greatest Star Wars Moments, Part I

The 40th anniversary of Star Wars is upon us! It is hard to believe that a quirky sci-fi film that went on the change our cultural and celluloid landscape is 40 years old. In that time, Star Wars and all the films and TV shows that followed, boasted many important and awe-inspiring moments that continue to resonate with fans throughout our planet. As we celebrate Star Wars’ 40th anniversary let’s look at the series’ greatest moments.

Rey claims lightsaber

40. Rey Claims The Lightsaber From Kylo Ren (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens): Nobody was sure about who was the main hero in the new Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. That mystery was solved beyond a doubt when Rey used the Force to claim Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and battle Kylo Ren. Her eventual victory  cemented the fact that she is the best hope for the galaxy. 

pod race

39. The Pod Race (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace): As flawed as the first Star Wars prequel was, the exciting and breakneck pod race on Tatooine with all the weird pilots and their distinctive pod vehicles was one of that film’s best moments.

38. Anakin’s Spiritual Journey on Mortis (Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Ghosts of Mortis”):  On a distant world, Anakin Skywalker became corrupted by the dark side of the Force after encountering spiritual embodiments of the Force. Terrifying visions of his rise to Darth Vader highlighted this powerful story arc that better explored his fall from grace than the prequel films.

37. “These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For” (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope): Forget using the Force to do super acrobatics, wield lightsabers and levitate objects. When Ben Kenobi used a Jedi mind trick against stormtroopers interested in Luke Skywalker’s wanted droids, that scene displayed one of the most powerful aspects of the Force. Honorable mention goes to the bar scene in Episode II where a younger Kenobi tells a drug dealer to go home and rethink his life.

36. Darth Maul’s Final Duel (Star Wars Rebels “Twin Suns”): Darth Maul finally finds his ancient enemy Obi-Wan Kenobi in exile on Tatooine. The older Jedi isn’t interested in fighting Maul until the former Sith apprentice deduces that Kenobi is protecting someone (Luke Skywalker). The resulting lightsaber duel is brutally short and to the point with Maul quickly killed. It may have disappointed those waiting for a drawn-out sword fight, but the scene demonstrated that Kenobi was indeed a master. Plus, it cast Maul in a sympathetic light as he seemed to see the error of his ways in his last breath.

Ahsoka vs. Darth Vader

35. Ahsoka Tano Vs. Darth Vader (Star Wars Rebels “Twilight of the Apprentice”): Ever since Anakin’s apprentice Ahsoka left the Jedi Order near the end of The Clone Wars series and reappeared during Star Wars Rebels, fans have wondered how she would react to seeing her former master as a Sith. We got our answer in the second season finale where she faced off against Darth Vader and proved she was his equal.  What was more engaging than the duel was her coming to terms with her former master’s fall.

battle of geonosis

34. The Battle of Geonosis (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones): A Jedi force set out to rescue Anakin, Obi-Wan and Senator Padme Amidala from Separatist forces, but they weren’t enough. Enter the new clone army led by Jedi Master Yoda and before you know we witnessed a full-scale and chaotic ground war between clone troopers and droid soldiers. Seeing all the intense blaster fire and wild looking vehicles of all shapes and sizes engaged in battle was a spectacle and for Star Wars that is saying a lot.

33. Cassian Andor Murders an Informant (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story): It was a small scene in the first live-action Star Wars spinoff film. Cassian Andor gets vital intel from a Rebel spy who cannot keep up with him as stormtroopers close in on them. Instead of helping his comrade Andor unexpectedly kills him. This cold-blooded act drove home the point that Rogue One was a decidedly dark film that took risks by showcasing this morally gray character who goes to extremes for the Rebellion.

32. Anakin Pursues Obi-Wan’s Killer (Star Wars: The Clone Wars “Friends and Enemies”): One of the best arcs in the animated series featured Obi-Wan Kenobi faking his death and going undercover with bounty hunters. Anakin, believing his master to be dead, relentlessly pursues Obi-Wan’s killer, who is actually Obi-Wan in disguise. This development was an undeniable a high spot in this tense and captivating story arc.

31. The Grand Army of the Republic Sets Out For War (Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones): Following the climactic Battle of Geonosis in the film, the Galactic Republic unveils its mighty clone army to counter the Separatist threat. With much fanfare marching legions of white armored troops leave Coruscant in giant ships to engage the Separatist droid armies. While many celebrated this moment, others (and we) knew better than to hail these troopers because they foreshadowed the coming of the evil Empire. Continue reading

The Return of Mystery Science Theater 3000!

Fans of the the cult favorite TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 were justifiably upset when it was canceled back in 1999. But now they can rejoice as Netflix has revived the quirky, sci-fi satire for an eleventh season with fourteen new episodes that just started airing.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K) is one of those shows that cannot simply go quietly into the land of cancellation. Ever since it debut on a local TV station, KTMA, back in the late ’80s, the comedy has bounced around Comedy Central then the Sci-Fi Channel until it finally went dark. But its creator Joel Hodgson (who played the lead character Joel in the early seasons) would not let the show be forgotten and tried to revive it. He championed the show over the years and started a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $5 million to fund a revival. The result was that new episodes were produced in 2016 and are now available for hungry fans and those curious enough to see what the hoopla is about.

The new MST3K follows the same basic format of the old shows. An average Joe-character (this time it’s Jonah Heston played by Jonah Ray) is trapped in a spaceship by a mad scientist who wants to experiment on him by making him watch really bad genre films. What keeps Jonah Heston from going insane is that he has a group of wise-cracking robots who watch the films with him and together they heckle the films to shreds. As we watch the bad films we see the silhouettes of Jonah and the robots sitting in the front row on the bottom of the screen and we get to hear all their putdowns and puns.

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is one of those shows that is best enjoyed if you can appreciate the fact that it’s actually a celebration of the cheesy side of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. The jokes and commentary are non-stop; some hit, some miss. With that rapid pace, many jokes are topical or may go over the heads of some viewers, but that is part of the fun. Sure, some jokes may become dated (as seen in older episodes), but that’s the way it is.

The show follows the tradition of the previous incarnations in that it uses distinctly below average production values with sets and model effects that are clearly fake. But that is part of its charm and how it tributes the films Jonah and his robot friends make fun of. The only difference is that the villains in this version of MST3K are played by more recognizable actors. Felicia Day as Kinga Forrester (the daughter of the older show’s head villain) and the great Patton Oswalt as Max or TV’s son of TV’s Frank are terrific in their roles. You can tell they’re having a great time playing evildoers, and they have lots of fun torturing poor Jonah Heston. In fact, the ultimate torture for Jonah is that Kinga Forrester tries to force him to marry her in one episode.

Of course, the big draw of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are the films themselves. And boy did they pick a bunch of stinkers who deserve the ribbing! The choices this time are mostly newer films that came from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s like Starcrash, Reptillicus, Carnival Magic, Avalanche and those “classic” Dough McClure epics The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth’s Core. MST3K must be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ method of getting the last laugh on the last two films that adapted his works! And let me add that the choice of these films makes me feel old because I remember watching a couple of them in theaters back in the day.

The only thing lacking with the new episodes is that the original main heroes (Joel Robinson and Mike Nelson) are absent. But the new MST3K does feature guest appearances by former baddies like Pearl Forrester, Bobo and Observer. Of course, the robots and co-stars from the older episodes, Gypsy, Cambot, Crow and Tom Servo, are co-stars in the revival and pick up right when we last saw them in 1999.

Even though Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been gone for a good while, it’s fantastic that it has been able to pick up where it last left off and continue delivering the laughs. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish watching their skewering of At The Earth’s Core, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Waldermann Rivera

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Teaser Is Finally Unleashed

After much anticipation and wait, the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi is finally here and is about two minutes or so in length, longer than usual teasers. It starts with glimpses of Rey on an island being trained by Luke Skywalker similar to his own training from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back.  Not much happens for the first minute or so, besides a shot of General Leia (from behind), until the second minute when we see fast cuts of space battles which look very nice and shots of new landspeeder-type vehicles in a snow-covered desert environment. We also see Finn in some kind of stasis, but we don’t know why.  Maybe he’s still healing from the wounds he received from Kylo Ren.

 

We also see Poe Dameron in action with his custom black X-Wing caught in an explosion inside a hangar potentially putting him in harm’s way. The trailer finally leaves us with a tantalizing plot point at the very end of it when Luke Skywalker states that he knows that the Jedi must end. This is an interesting idea that maybe Luke is disillusioned from the seemingly endless battles between the light and dark side of the Force, which always leads to suffering for the whole galaxy. Perhaps seeing his nephew and former protégé Kylo Ren succumb to the dark side finally pushed him over the edge. This may lead to an inevitable confrontation with Ren as is hinted with the teaser poster showing both Luke and Ren divided by a lightsaber. How this will affect Luke’s relationship with Rey is to be seen and should be something to look out for.

rey the last jedi

Overall, this first look at Star Wars: The Last Jedi has some intriguing bits but was a bit lacking in action. Nevertheless, it should keep Star Wars fans satisfied until the next trailer surfaces in a few months. Hopefully some of the new characters  played by Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern will appear along with a clearer picture as to the plot of the movie. This is usually what full length theatrical trailers are for and should be something to look forward to. Take a look down below and leave a comment or two on your thoughts of the teaser for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

C.S. Link

The Expanse Pushes Beyond Its Horizon

As its second season draws to a close, it is very clear that The Expanse, arguably the flagship TV series on Syfy, has thrived and become must-see TV.

Based on James S.A. Corey’s series of novels, The Expanse tells several related stories that take place two centuries from now in our solar system as it has been colonized by humanity. From Earth to the the asteroid belt to Jupiter’s moons we see how life is for humans living under different conditions. People living in the Belt deal with harsh conditions and are stigmatized, while those on Mars appear war-like and disdainful of everyone else, especially Earthers. Meanwhile, life on Earth isn’t exactly a picnic from the few glimpses we’ve been shown as it seems that the citizens live under a severe dichotomy where most people are unemployed and destitute while the privileged few control the planet under luxurious conditions.

protomolecule julie mao and miller

The Expanse has many interesting characters with segments devoted to their diverse locales. Tying everything together is the mystery of the protomolecule. It’s an extra-terrestrial substance discovered on Saturn’s moon Phoebe by an Earth-based company called Protogen. It interacts with living tissue and radically alters it, and of course, the company tries to weaponize it. What happens is that the protomolecule is difficult to contain and quickly threatens humanity as it infects anyone that comes into contact with the substance.

Rocinante Crew

There are roughly three storylines devoted to the impact of the protomolecule. Out in the Belt and Jupiter’s moons, we follow the story of the crew of the Rocinante, who try to contain the spread of the protomolecule. The best way to think of them is to look at Firefly, meaning the characters are supposed to be your average joes who live in space in a hard-scrabble existence. The crew is made up of citizens from different planets such as the Rocinante’s Earth captain James Holden (Steven Strait), his lover and ship’s Belter engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Martian pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), the ship’s Earther mechanic. The four have distinct personalities ranging from easy going (Alex), to brutish (Amos). In the first season, the protomolecule overran a colony on Eros and nearly consumed the Rocinante crew. Now, they’re on an unsanctioned mission to hunt down all traces of the protomolecule elsewhere and to destroy it. Thanks to their likable nature and heroism the crew are effectively the heart of The Expanse.

Bobbie Draper

We also follow the story of a tough-as-nails Martian marine, Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). Introduced in the beginning of the second season, she came off as an unlikable thug who was itching for any opportunity to fight Earthers. But she saw firsthand the destructive nature of the protomolecule as a solider intentionally altered by the substance wiped out her team on Ganymede. This incident nearly starts a war between Earth and Mars as the two powers are bitter rivals. This experience has a profound impact on Draper and she starts to question her way of life. Out of all the characters in The Expanse, hers is the one that has grown the most and her development has made Draper a quick fan favorite.

Chrisjen Avarsarala

The other storyline is devoted to the United Nations assistant secretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who is trying to get to the bottom of the protomolecule and to prevent a war from breaking out between her planet and Mars. Aghdashloo easily provides the best acting in the show and presents a mature, regal presence that is so captivating to watch thanks in part to her husky, hypnotic voice that vaguely recalls Lauren Bacall. While the Rocinante crew are the show’s heart, and Draper the soul, Chrisjen Avarsarala represents its mind as her scintillating dialogue  with diplomats and corporate heads provide much needed food for thought.

The Expanse has another distinguishing element and that is its adherence to hard science. Although we still hear the sounds of spaceships flying about great pains are taken to show life under microgravity. We see the perils and fragility of life outside of Earth where being able to breath can be a life-or-death situation. There is time-delayed communications between colonies and Earth. One interesting segment had a group of Martians (including Bobbie Draper) arriving on Earth and having to deal with life under alien conditions. The gravity was hard on them, the sun was too bright for their eyes and they needed medication to be able to breath Earth’s air. These were nice, realistic touches. It’s not always accurate but kudos to the producers for trying their best.

martian marines on ganymede

Syfy should be applauded for championing The Expanse early on and allowing it to prosper in its second season. It has pushed the envelope in its story and given us fascinating characters. On a side note, it is regrettable that Thomas Jane’s hard-boiled detective Joseph Miller died this season but his final actions helped save Earth from being infected by the protomolecule. On the other hand, The Expanse’s second season has introduced interesting new characters that have kept its momentum. Add terrific scripts and superb production and special effects and it is easy to see why The Expanse is the best science fiction TV show airing right now.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto