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


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

The MCU Disconnect

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Everyone is excited over the just-released behind-the-scenes video of Avengers: Infinity War, and what it promised–namely the teaming up of diverse characters like Iron Man, Star-Lord and Spider-Man. That is all well and good, but the teaser didn’t erase the growing feeling that the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the TV shows set in the MCU are unrelated to each other.

Actually, that isn’t quite accurate, the TV shows have proven to be set in the MCU with its references to the films and Easter eggs, but it’s a one-way connection. That is because the MCU films have not made any references to the TV shows aside from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which dealt with S.H.I.E.L.D. at the same time that the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was running. Ever since that film the MCU disconnect has widened to the point that an argument can be made that the two media are set in different universes.

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How is this so? Starting in the second season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that program has focused on the coming of the Inhumans, and are now a constant presence in the show as the superhumans have taken the place of mutants. We all know that was done because of rights issues with 20th Century Fox who make the X-Men films. Originally, the intent of the Inhumans’ introduction (and let’s be clear that the Inhumans featured in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. weren’t the well-known heroes like Black Bolt and Medusa, but minor ones) was to set up a big-screen Inhumans film.That was the plan.

It isn’t a secret that tensions had been raw between the mastermind behind the MCU, Kevin Feige, and the head of Marvel Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter, who was in charge of Marvel’s media. Feige ran the films while Perlmutter did the TV shows and the comic books. Perlmutter was incensed about the Fox X-Men rights and wanted to de-emphasize the mutants throughout Marvel and as a substitute for the mutants it was decided to focus on Inhumans and how they are persecuted by our society. Apparently, Perlmutter was responsible for pushing an Inhumans film and wanted to use the MCU TV shows and comic books to build interest, hence why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shifted from a spy actioner in its first season into a soapbox about the plight of Inhumans in later seasons.

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Feige and Perlmutter were butting heads over many issues and it became so bad that supposedly Feige was ready to jump ship until Disney intervened. Feige was allowed to become autonomous from Perlmutter and there is probably were the disconnect went into full swing. The first noticeable sign of this was in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which didn’t mention anything about what was going on with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the TV show. This raised many questions among fans in the film’s climax when a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier appeared with many S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel and it would’ve been a perfect place to include cameos from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters but this didn’t happen. There were many vague explanations about why this didn’t happen but none of them were satisfactory.

Around this time (2015) Netflix premiered its entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Both shows made references to the larger MCU but to date the films haven’t acknowledged the superheroes that appeared in the Netflix shows. In fact, there isn’t any noticeable connection between the Netflix shows and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which airs on ABC. There has been a couple of cryptic Easter eggs in the ABC show where a type of bullet created in Luke Cage was used in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but was never named; there was a news blotter in one episode mentioning a gang war going on in Hell’s Kitchen, a focal location in the Netflix shows.

Now with so many characters slated to appear in Avengers: Infinity War, the fact that the bigwigs at Marvel Studios and the TV shows will not say if the film will include the TV characters is beyond frustrating. Feeble explanations about not over-crowding the film or scheduling conflicts just won’t satisfy fans.  True, it’s not the end of the world if Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t feature Daredevil but it defenderswould be a wasted opportunity. In the comic books, The Infinity Gauntlet event (the basis for this film) was a major crossover event that was packed with many Marvel characters. We already had to make peace with the notion that this film won’t include the X-Men (thanks Fox) or the Fantastic Four (blame the deal with Fox again), but Kevin Feige and company could at least throw in some kind of cameo of the TV characters. Wouldn’t it be cool if during one scene set in Hell’s Kitchen, Captain America, Iron Man and the other Avengers are besieged by Thanos’ forces and are saved at the last second by timely assists from Daredevil, Luke Cage and the other Defenders? They wouldn’t have to stay around long, just make their appearance and move on. Would it be too much to just drop the word Inhuman during some dialogue or show some news headline featuring the Punisher or Ghost Rider?

We can complain all we want about the DCEU, but at least from the beginning Warner Bros./DC Studios made it clear that the DCEU films and the Arrowverse TV shows were in two separate universes and so no one expected to see Stephen Amell popping up as Green Arrow in a DCEU film. With Marvel they dangle this illusion about a connected universe but in reality it does not exist. If that is the case, the TV shows should be freed to go off in their own direction and drop the references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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True, production has begun on Avengers: Infinity War but it’s not too late to work in some kind of bone to throw to the fans. Some kind of gesture would appease the legion of geeks out there who dream of seeing a true interconnected film and TV universe.

Lewis T. Grove

DCEU Woes & Growing Pains

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We all just learned that The Flash, the big-screen version of the Scarlet Speedster, has gone back to a page one rewrite over at Warner Bros. OK, this is not good for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

This latest mishap with Warner Bros/DC is now fermenting the common thought that the DCEU is veering out of control. To date, the film studio has released three films in the DCEU and all of them have received mixed reactions to outright hostility from fans and critics. Box office-wise, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad have done well, but they haven’t exactly taken the world by storm unlike their competitors Marvel Studios.

All three films weren’t complete turds, in fact, they have many admirable traits. IMHO Man of Steel is a misunderstood classic while Suicide Squad introduced us to many memorable anti-heroes like Harley Quinn and Deadshot. But to say that they have been controversial is an understatement.

Now comes rumors that this year’s Justice League and even Wonder Woman are considered to be unfixable messes. Sure, these could just be nasty rumblings from nervous executives, but it leads us to wonder if it’s time for Warner Bros. and DC to start panicking. Hell, they could all be quivering already for all we know.

The sad part is that these developments are truly shameful because it’s a disservice to the wonderful DC Comics characters and their fans. Many of them must be rightfully rankled that Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and even the Fox X-Men films are for the most part well received. These woes do not mean that DC’s superheroes are inferior to Marvel’s, it’s just that the films these days are being mismanaged. It’s frustrating because the potential is there for some exceptionally classic films.

justice-league-oneThis doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. At least with The Flash, Warner Bros./DC, at least, knew something must have been wrong with the script and instead of just plowing ahead, decided to start over. In the long run this could mean we’ll get a quality film, but don’t get your hopes up that The Flash will premiere in 2018. No, get your Flash fix from the excellent TV show that is still airing. Now, the problem is that too many people have felt burned with the uneven Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Then add to that the fear that Justice League may turn out badly and now all hopes are turning to Wonder Woman for being the film that knocks it out of the park for the DCEU. If neither film can deliver, then expect to see a radical shake up over at the film studio over how these films are made.

The obvious problem is that there are too many cooks in the the DCEU kitchen and no clear boss who can provide a strong hand in the films’ direction. Basically, Warner Bros. needs their version of Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the MCU’s success. Sure they recently appointed Geoff Johns to run the DCEU, but it’s too early to tell if he will have a positive impact. What if he fails?The good news is that the film studio probably does have their own Feige and that person is Greg Berlanti, who is responsible for the success of DC’s television efforts. Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl are all successful, well-regarded TV shows that have a lot of energy and stay mostly faithful to the superheroes’ roots. Berlanti has skillfully interwoven a shared universe that isn’t clunky or convoluted and encourages viewers to sample all the shows. The DC shows are actually better than some of Marvel’s MCU TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because they are more lively and explore the full potential of their stories and characters.

Another thing to remember is that it is still early for the DCEU. There have only been three films and if memory serves us correctly at the same point with the MCU they had their share of growing pains. When there were only three films in the MCU, it wasn’t certain if the MCU could have succeeded. Those films happened to be Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. Only the first Iron Man film was well received but all was forgiven with the later films. The same situation could happen with the DCEU, so patience is called for and better management at the studio. For instance, stop making all these announcements (like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson will play Black Adam) before the films are ready. Another thing is to slow down and stop trying to compete with the MCU. Marvel Studios carefully crafted their shared universe and the payoff was and continues to be huge. That is the lesson that Warner Bros. should take; slow and steady will yield higher rewards.

UPDATE:

The DCEU’s woes continue with the latest news that Ben Affleck is stepping down from directing the upcoming Batman solo film. This is especially disheartening because Affleck has the directing chops to elevate a superhero film. We’ll find out later what caused him to relinquish his directing task, but let’s be thankful that Affleck is still producing and starring in the next Batman film. Supposedly one of the short list directors that Warner Bros. Is considering is Matt Reeves. If Reeves or another talented director is tapped then all may not be lost for the Dark Knight in the DCEU.

Lewis T. Grove

The Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017 & More

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By looking at the 2017 films coming out, it’s clear that we fans are in a golden age of genre films. There are many sci-fi, superhero, fantasy, animated and horror films coming out this year that are quite tantalizing. These are the most promising looking of the bunch. However, it’s a guarantee that some of the films on this list will be colossal disappointments while there will be films that weren’t even mentioned that will defy low expectations. With that said, let’s look at the coming 2017 films; remember the release dates are still subject to change.

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7): Marvel Comics’ flagship superhero has his first solo film in the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Fingers crossed that this Spider-Man reboot will resonate.

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9. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21): Director Luc Besson’s adaptation of the French space opera comic book looks as colorful as its printed counterpart. Based on this teaser, Besson’s directorial eye for the grandiose and colorful could augment this film and prove that space opera films are back.

8. Kong: Skull Island (March 10): King Kong returns to the big screen and we can’t wait to see the gigantic ape on a rampage as pesky folks arrive on his island. We’re also eager to see the big fight scenes between Kong and prehistoric beasts and oversized animals.

7. Wonder Woman (June 2): Frankly, after the mixed results of last year’s Extended Universe (DCEU) films, DC and Warner Bros. need a DCEU film to hit it out of the ballpark. With Patty Jenkins directing and Gal Gadot starring as the Amazonian superheroine, perhaps this will be the one.

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6. Justice League (Nov 17): The only reason why this DCEU film is more anticipated than Wonder Woman is because of its potentially epic nature. The major players in the DC universe team up for the first time…can director Zack Snyder pull this off and turn the film into the DCEU version of The Avengers?

5. Blade Runner 2049 (Oct. 6): The teaser released last month wasn’t the most captivating trailer. But this long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, the next hot genre director, who directed last year’s acclaimed Arrival. His visual flair should be a good match for this film.

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4. Logan (March 3): Hugh Jackman’s swan song as everyone’s favorite mutant looks like it will be a fitting conclusion to Wolverine’s saga. Taking place in the near future, Logan is now older, battered and bitter but still up for one final fight against the forces of evil.  The trailer promised a film full of woe, violence and reflective character moments, hopefully that will be the case when Logan finally premieres.

3. War For the Planet of the Apes (July 14): The third film in the reboot/prequel Apes trilogy looks just as spectacular and provocative as the first two films in the series. Andy Serkis returns to mo-cap Caesar the ape leader defending his kind against antogonistic humans. The winner of the conflict will inherit the battered Earth. We know who wins (it’s not called Planet of the Apes for no reason!), but getting to the conclusion is half the joy of these recent Apes films.

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2. Star Wars Episode VIII (Dec. 15):  No subtitle, footage or even a publicity photo are available at this time, yet the episode number is enough to get many of us excited. The next saga film will feature the further adventures of new Star Wars heroes like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, as well as old favorites like Luke Skywalker and General Leia. While many questions will be answered about the characters and situation, hopefully Episode VIII won’t emulate Star Wars: The Force Awakens and be a rethread of previous films.

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1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (May 5): The eagerly anticipated sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a blast as director James Gunn and the original cast return to play the MCU’s beloved and whacky space pirates. This time around Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord meets his father who is Ego, the Living Planet and played by genre legend Kurt Russell! What’s been shone so far of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2  with the too-cute Baby Groot, Quill and Drax’s hysterical interplays and space opera visuals promises the same dazzling action, thrills, and comedy that the original delivered back in 2014 and won many fans’ hearts. BTW, can’t wait to buy the Baby Groot toys!

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Other Films: The Space Between Us (Feb. 3), a Martian teen comes to Earth, finds love, goes on the run, perfect for tweenies, The Lego Batman Movie (Feb. 10), after his scene stealing antics in The Lego Movie, the Caped Crusader gets his own solo film, Beauty and the Beast (March 17), Disney looks to extend its winning live-action adaptation streak with this one about the animated classic, Life (March 24), astronauts aboard the International Space Station discover alien life, what can go wrong?  Power Rangers (Mar. 24), well there are fans of this property and it looks better than Transformers: The Last Knight!

alien-covenantGhost in the Shell (Mar. 31), Scarlett Johansson stars in the live-action version of the manga franchise,  The Circle (April 28), Tom Hanks and Emma Watson headline a star-studded cast in this film about a nefarious Internet company with futuristic technology,  Alien: Covenant (May 19), Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe with this horror-themed prequel,  The Mummy (June 9), Tom Cruise stars in this horror/action remake which hopes to launch Universal Pictures’ shared monster universe films.

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 The Dark Tower (July 28), Stephen King’s epic saga about a mythical gunman finally comes to life, It (Sept. 8), is another Stephen King adaptation of his epic horror classic featuring Pennywise the killer clown,  Geostorm (Oct. 20), producer Dean Devlin makes his directorial debut in this action piece about weather controlling satellites, God Particle (Oct. 27), interest in this film went up after it was revealed to be the third film in the Cloverfield film series, Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3): the third solo film for the MCU’s God of Thunder will actually be a buddy flick as Thor teams up with the Hulk to fight the forces of evil, Coco (Nov 22), this Pixar entry about a magic guitar and the world of the dead sounds unique.

José Soto