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

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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

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

Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2016

For 2016, superheroes continue to reign in film and TV, while other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror and related combos offered refreshing alternatives. Many of the best films and TV shows on this list were very profound and pushed the envelope, while others were just plain fun to watch.

Films

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10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: The spiritual sequel to Cloverfield was a tense and suspenseful thriller with a great performance by John Goodman as a doomsday prepper.

xsuicideTIE: 9. Suicide Squad/X-Men: Apocalypse: Despite their flaws both superhero (and supervillain) films were enjoyable romps with unforgettable characters (Harley Quinn, the Joker, Deadshot, Magneto, Quicksilver, and more) and eye popping action-packed moments.

8. Doctor Strange: With the big-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to remind us why their superhero films are currently the best of the crop compared to Fox’s X-Men Universe films (Deadpool aside, of course) and the DC Extended Universe movies.

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7. Zootopia: The best animated film of the year dazzled us with eye raising animation and a clever script that highlighted important social messages about tolerance and prejudice.

kirk trio

6. Star Trek: Beyond: The film’s back-to-basics approach with Star Trek’s iconic characters paid proper homage to the TV show while having a genuine adventurous tone.

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5. The Jungle Book: Even though the CG-created animals and environment were flawless and stunning, the film to its merit emphasized story and characters, which left a bigger impression.

deadpool

4. Deadpool: As a faithful adaptation of the irrelevant and violent comic book, Deadpool proves that it’s possible to be true to comic book source material and still be an entertaining film.

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3. Arrival: A provocative, well-acted and beautifully shot film about first contact with aliens smartly emphasized the communications hurdles humanity would face. The film’s ending was a true surprise and was just one of Arrival’s highlights.

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Star Wars spinoff not only neatly ties in with Episode IV but is a great and exciting film in its own right with more nuanced characters and situations than seen in a typical Star Wars film.

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1. Captain America: Civil War: The Avengers are torn apart from within as Captain America and Iron Man philosophically, then violently disagreed over allowing the government to supervise their team. Featuring strong performances and the best superhero fight scenes ever filmed, the film was an emotional ride for viewers.

TV Shows

ash-vs-evil-dead

10. Ash Vs Evil Dead: Grossly fun and action-packed as everyone’s favorite deadite fighter Ash Williams and his gang continue delighting horror fans.

redhats invade9. Colony: Unexpectedly well done look at life under alien domination and that “big, beautiful wall” separating American cities is a chilling portent of what lies ahead.12 Monkeys Cole time travels8. 12 Monkeys: Of the many time travel themed TV shows out there, this is the best of them as many episodes explored the convoluted nature of time travel.

dareflashTIE: 7. The Flash/Daredevil: The two best superhero TV shows were on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. The Flash is pure Silver Age awesomeness, while Daredevil reflects a more gritty and grounded mood, especially with the introduction of the brutal vigilante, the Punisher. Both shows  featured intense and enjoyable comic book adventures thanks to well written scripts and engaging lead actors, plus supporting characters/actors.

6. The Walking Dead: The megahit series about brutal life after the undead destroy civilization has  hit a creative wall and is past its peak according to many fans. Yet, for the most part The Walking Dead is still delivering more than adequate thrills, gross out moments and entertainment, even if the show went to far in Negan’s introduction and certain character deaths.

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5. Black Mirror: A dark anthology series about the downside of technology offered many disquieting episodes about technology’s impact in our lives today and tomorrow.

El confronts monster Stranger Things4. Stranger Things: A wonderful ode to ’80s sci-fi movies featured terrific child performances, geeky Easter eggs and an intriguing mystery revolving around a missing child and an interdimensional monster.

expanse cast

3. The Expanse: This well-crafted series about a brewing war among human colonies in our solar system during the next century could wind up being the next great TV space opera.

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2. Westworld: HBO’s potential successor to Game of Thrones went way beyond the original Michael Crichton movie about theme park robots running amok by presenting a thought-provoking series about existentialism and ethics.

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1. Game of Thrones: Even though the fantasy series is drawing to a close, the sprawling epic continues to captivate viewers with its visceral tale of power struggles among kingdoms. One of the highlights was the epic episode  “Battle of the Bastards” that put rival films to shame with its gut wrenching fight scenes.

 

Comic-Con 2016 Highlights

The San Diego Comic-Con for 2016 has come and gone and we’re all the more hyped up after the event. Unlike previous Comic-Cons most of the film studios were all too eager to share the trailers for their upcoming films and TV shows. That is except for 20th Century Fox who took their marbles and went home…actually didn’t even present. They wanted to avoid having their presentations pirated. Nice way to promote Alien: Covenant and the third Wolverine flick, people. Result: DC and Marvel ruled the event by bringing their A game.

Justice League

TV Stuff

The other studios made their announcements and presentations. For TV shows, the third season teaser for The Flash got everyone up in arms in anticipation at seeing the live-action version of Flashpoint. For those in the dark, that’s the comic book event where the Flash saved his mom in the past and created a dark reality. This adaptation won’t be literal but more like what we saw with the Marvel Comics Civil War event in Captain America: Civil War. But it still looks awesome. The other DC shows on the CW also had interesting presentations and announcement, the best of those being that the Legends of Tomorrow will be facing the Legion of Doom and meet the rest of the Justice Society of America.

Marvel Studios raised some eyebrows with the revelation that Ghost Rider will be appearing in the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and this should be interesting. As for their Netflix stuff, we got teasers of The Defenders (check out our Twitter account with a link to it), Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. The last show looked undeniably badass and thankfully we only have to wait a couple more months.

The biggest TV announcement had to be for Star Trek: Discovery. We saw a glorious 2001: A Space Odyssey-like opener with a starship launching out of a hollowed-out asteroid. What was most intriguing was that the ship’s design is based on one of Ralph McQuarrie’s unused Enterprise designs for the lost Star Trek film Planet of the Titans.

starship Discovery

As cool as it was to see one of McQuarrie’s design come to life, what is sure to get everyone even more excited is that Bryan Fuller, one of the showrunners, confirmed the show will take place in the Star Trek Prime universe! No reboots, people! The real Star Trek has indeed returned! Ahem, apologies to those that love nuTrek, Star Trek Beyond is a fun film that redeems the Star Trek reboots.

Film Stuff

DC Comics and Warner Bros. are still smarting over the lukewarm reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. So they didn’t hold back anything in Comic-Con 2016. Amidst the flood of trailers for Suicide Squad, which makes us feel already as if we’ve seen the entire film, came trailers for Wonder Woman and Justice League. The Justice League trailer was very enticing and actually sold us on the Snyderverse version of the Flash. Sure, Grant Gustin rules as Barry Allen but it’s undeniable that Ezra Miller had a lot of charm as the new Flash. The trailer had much more humor than anything seen in Batman v Superman, but where’s Superman? Meanwhile, Gal Gadot clearly shines in the footage shown in both the Justice League and in the trailer of Wonder Woman kicking ass in World War I.

As for DC’s rival Marvel, well they had their goodies as well. Unlike DC, most of the trailers for their upcoming movies are still under lock and key being they are “exclusives” for Comic-Con. There’s no point in trying to scrounge the Internet for pirate footage of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 or Spider-Man: Homecoming, it will look like crap and be taken down anyway. But here’s a quick look at Thor: Ragnarok, which will be gone soon:

Marvel should take a cue from DC and present their goods to the larger world who could not attend. The one trailer they released was the second one for Doctor Strange. Make all the snarky remarks that it looks like Inception, but this movie looks astounding! If it works, it will take the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a whole new direction and that is how you keep the superhero film genre afloat. The highlights of Marvel Studios reveals were Brie Larson’s casting as Captain Marvel, the Vulture will be the villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Kurt Russell will play Peter Quill’s dad, aka Ego the Living Planet, in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2!

Spidey fights Vulture

In closing, Comic-Con 2016 had a lot more to show for the general public than in recent years. A lot of the announcements and trailers were ho hum like Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. But more than a few were quite enticing like the one for the return of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (to be shown on Netflix), a Blair Witch sequel and this one for Kong: Skull Island.

It’s great to see the big ape back on the screen! On the whole, we have plenty of fun things to watch in the coming months and into 2017.