Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Never Break the Chain

Thank God for James Gunn. In an era of grim and gritty superhero movies, here is a guy who looks at that and says, “let’s have some fun.” Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Gunn’s sequel to his original Guardians of the Galaxy which was a hit in the summer of 2014, is finally here, and I am pleased to report that it is every bit as joyously fun as its predecessor.

Image: Marvel/Disney

I won’t say too much about the plot, since I generally try to avoid spoilers for brand-new films. But I will say that the story involves the mysterious parentage of Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord. I loved the film’s plot, it provided closure to lingering questions and did a great job of incorporating all the characters and making them feel necessary and vital. There are quite a few characters in the movie, and movies with such an abundance of characters sometimes struggle to make all of them feel important. Not the case with this movie, which manages to take Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Baby Groot, Nebula, and Yondu and make them all vital parts of the story, while also adding a few new characters. This is not an easy feat, but Gunn’s clever screenplay makes it look easy.

All of the things audiences loved about the original are here: the memorable characters, the eye-popping visuals, the humor, and the rockin’ soundtrack. The music is a vital part of the Guardians movies. Where else will you find epic spaceship battles accompanied by 70’s pop hits? Gunn’s movies are unlike other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in the best possible way. They’re playful and irreverent, while still delivering the thrilling action and emotional beats that make the best Marvel movies so enjoyable.

But let’s return to the soundtrack for a moment. I love the way Gunn incorporates the music into these films, and I think I liked the soundtrack in this movie even more than the first one. Every song fits perfectly, and many of them carry thematic significance, such as the Fleetwood Mac song that gives this post its subtitle. Gunn clearly put a lot of thought into which songs to use, and where in the film to use them, and he even manages to make a few of them part of the plot. By contrast, Suicide Squad is a recent example of a movie that tried to emulate Gunn’s excellent use of music, but didn’t do it nearly as well.

I would say that the movie is not quite as good overall as its predecessor, but just barely. The new film is a bit more cluttered and is slightly overstuffed. But this is a minor complaint, as it is still a heck of a lot of fun. It’s also a gorgeous movie to look at, and there is a wide variety of planets and environments that our misfit heroes’ adventures take them to, as well as many kinds of alien races and creative vehicles and weaponry, so there is no shortage of eye candy.

Image: Marvel/Disney

The cast has great chemistry, and Dave Bautista as Drax deserves a special shout-out. Who knew that a former pro wrestler could be so damn funny? Drax gets some of the biggest laughs of the movie, and this is a movie with a lot of laughs. Gunn’s Guardians films are easily the funniest Marvel movies, and the humor never feels forced. It doesn’t feel like there are jokes just for the sake of comic relief, the humor is a natural part of the story and the characters. This is also one of the more trippy Marvel movies, only Doctor Strange can come close to it in terms of psychedelic visuals, particularly during the lengthy final battle.

And oh, how I love Baby Groot. I need to go on Amazon and see if there is like, a plush Baby Groot or something that I can get, because that would make me so happy. Not only is Baby Groot adorable, but he also gets to help save the galaxy, so he’s not there just for the sake of being cute and/or funny, although he is definitely both of those things. When he gets caged by space pirates and they’re being mean to him, I spent the whole scene thinking “LEAVE BABY GROOT ALONE!!” One of my favorite lines comes when one space pirate asks the space pirate leader “Can I squish it with a rock?” and the leader replies, “No, Jeff, it is too adorable to kill!” (Some of my other favorite lines include “Die, spaceship!” and “You suck, Zylar.”) And of course there is Groot’s immortal catchphrase, “I am Groot,” which can mean anything at all. The film’s characters are all great but Baby Groot is my favorite.

Image: Marvel/Disney

And let us not forget that this is a movie with a lot of heart. We learn more about the characters and their relationships and backgrounds, and everything we learn feels meaningful, and is often quite touching. Gunn is able to deftly balance the emotional beats with the humor and the big action scenes, and somehow the tone of the film still feels consistent. There’s so much going on in any given scene that in a lesser director’s hand it could all fall apart, but once again Gunn makes it look easy. Gunn is such a surehanded director that it’s hard to believe this is only his fourth directorial feature. I hope the success of Guardians will lead to him getting more directorial gigs in the future, in case you couldn’t tell, I love this guy.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 delivers everything you want from a summer blockbuster. It’s smart, funny, well-directed, action-packed, and full of memorable characters. I could spend a lot more time going into details of specific scenes that I loved, but that would mean describing more or less the entire movie, and we don’t have all day. But suffice to say that I loved it, and I’m confident that you will, too. Also, be sure to stay all the way through the credits, because not only are there a whopping total of FIVE post-credits scenes, but the end credits also have several other little Easter eggs that are fun to look for. So go see it, have fun, and remember, I AM GROOT!

Humans: The Other White Meat

Never underestimate the power of nostalgia, I guess.

Somehow, Jurassic World managed to have the biggest opening weekend of all time, raking in a staggering $500 million worldwide. In most cases I would be happy about this. I love movies, and I’m happy when lots of people go see them. Unless we’re talking about an abomination like 50 Shades of Grey, but that’s another discussion.

So maybe it’s hypocritical of me to say that I wish it had been for another movie. I thought Jurassic World was mediocre at best, and here’s why.

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First, the premise. In the film, John Hammond’s dream from the first movie has become a reality, and Jurassic World the theme park is now open. Unfortunately, attendance is down, so the park’s scientists have created a new, genetically-modified dinosaur in an attempt to draw more visitors.

Okay, a few things here. First off, I really like that the Jurassic theme park Hammond envisioned in the first film is now a reality. That’s really cool, and Jurassic World feels like a real place. It lives and breathes. The filmmakers did a great job of making it feel like an actual theme park that thousands of people would visit. I’m pretty sure I saw a Starbucks in there somewhere, which may be product placement but makes the park seem pretty genuine, since if this place were real you can bet that there would be Starbucks or three nestled in there someplace. Maybe you could get a Jurassic frappuccino.

Mmm, frappuccinos.

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Ahem, anyway, the problem is that I just can’t buy that the people who run the park would be all that worried when attendance dips a bit. Claire Dearing, the park’s operations manager who is played by Bryce Dallas Howard, gives a long speech to potential investors about how people are bored with plain old dinosaurs, so they fiddled around with various species’ DNA to create the new dinosaur, called Indominus Rex, a name so stupid that even the characters in the film make fun of it.

But, wait, hang on a second. People are bored with dinosaurs? Are you kidding me? Disneyland has been open since 1955 and still draws huge crowds, and people are already bored with freaking dinosaurs???  Mickey Mouse is fine and all, but when it comes to creatures that have been dead for 65 million years you need to think outside the box a little? WTF? Man, people really do have the attention spans of goldfish these days, I guess.

And, I dunno, you couldn’t have made a peaceful dinosaur or something? You had to make an incredibly dangerous super-predator, that I like to refer to as Deathzilla the Murdersaurus? And as it turns out, Deathzilla also has (spoiler alert) the ability to camouflage??  Why are scientists in movies always so stupid?! What do you people think is going to happen?!

OM NOM NOM

This. This is what’s going to happen.

And then to add to the stupidity, you’ve got an oily bureaucrat who wants to weaponize the freaking velociraptors for military use, because there’s absolutely no way that could possibly backfire. Admittedly, I would totally watch a movie where raptors hunt down terrorists, that would be awesome, but in this movie it just comes off as really half-assed.

And later, the slimy bureaucrat (who is exactly the same as every corporate douchebag you’ve ever seen in any other movie) has the unbelievably brilliant idea of releasing the raptors to hunt down Deathzilla, which (spoiler alert, although I really shouldn’t have to say that because anyone with half a brain [which is still at least two-thirds more of a brain than anyone in this movie has] knows what is coming next) GOES HORRIBLY WRONG.

“What have we learned from 65 million years of evolution?” the douchey corporate guy asks at one point. NOT VERY MUCH, as it turns out.

Just, ugh. Jurassic World is a movie that leaves no cliché unused. The movie has four (credited) screenwriters, and not one of them has an original bone in their body.

Case in point: the kids. Remember Lex and Tim, the extremely irritating kids from the original Jurassic Park? Well, meet Jurassic World’s obligatory kids-in-peril, Zack and Gray.

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Zack and Gray are Claire the park manager’s nephews, and I did not care about them at all. They’re at the park because their parents are having some marital problems (which I also did not care about) and sent them to Jurassic World under the pretense of reconnecting with their aunt Claire, who hasn’t seen them in years and clearly has no idea how to interact with them.

To their credit, Zack and Gray are nowhere near as obnoxious as Lex and Tim from the original movie. They’re just…kinda boring. I didn’t care about their parents’ marital problems. I didn’t care about them reconnecting with their aunt. I didn’t care when they were in danger.

And this leads in to the biggest problem with the movie as a whole: I just. Didn’t. Care.

I didn’t care about the kids.

I didn’t care about Claire.

I didn’t care about the 20,000 visitors at the park.

And, although I’m a bit shocked to find myself saying this, I didn’t even care very much about Chris Pratt’s character. Pratt plays Owen Grady, who works with the velociraptors. Every review that I read of the movie called him the dino-whisperer, so I am going to go out of my way to not refer to him as the dino-whisperer here.

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Anyway, Pratt is his usual likable and engaging self, but he’s let down by a lackluster script that gives his character very little personality. It’s stated that he and Claire had some sort of relationship in the past, but surprise surprise, I did not care.

He and Claire spend a fair amount of time together looking for Zack and Gray after the fit hits the shan, and Pratt and Howard have decent chemistry, but it’s just not enough to get me to care. It’s also not helped by the fact that Claire ridiculously spends half the movie running through the dino-infested jungle in high heels. Why not just ditch the damn heels and go barefoot, seriously. I think scraped feet would be the least of your worries when you’re trying not to get eaten by a Murdersaurus.

God, this movie is sloppily written. Subplots are introduced and dropped without going anywhere. None of the characters have any personality. And half the characters are morons. Here’s something that bugged the hell out of me: before they go to Jurassic World, one of the kids (the older one, I already forget which one he was) says some long, drawn-out goodbye to his girlfriend, and then proceeds to completely ignore all the dinosaurs at the park and make eyes at literally every single teenage girl he sees. Seriously, what a shithead.

And there are at least three or four separate occasions where people are like, “Hey, look how cool [Chris Pratt’s character] is!!” Seriously, Jurassic World screenwriters, I don’t need to be told multiple times how cool someone is supposed to be! Show, don’t tell! Screenwriting 101! Sheesh.

the prattification of the world is nigh.

I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m bashing on this movie unnecessarily. Despite all of its (many) flaws, I didn’t hate it. I guess I can’t really hate any movie that has dinosaurs, since my inner eight-year-old still loves dinosaurs. If I saw this movie when I was eight, I probably would have loved it.

To be honest, I don’t really like the original Jurassic Park movies all that much either. I appreciate them, I just don’t like them very much. They strike me now as being really pretentious and they seem like they’re trying too hard to make a point or something.

This isn’t helped by the fact that I HATE the Jurassic Park theme music. You know how it goes. Even if you can’t come up with it off the top of your head, you’d recognize it if you heard it. I just freaking HATE that music. Don’t get me wrong, John Williams’ music for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman etc. are brilliant. Iconic. But I HATE Williams’ score for Jurassic Park. It’s so smarmy and overwrought, and it draws so much attention to itself. Music in films is supposed to blend seamlessly with the movie, but to me, the Jurassic Park theme sticks out like a sore thumb. Admittedly, all of this isn’t a problem with Jurassic World specifically, but I think it bears mentioning anyway.

I don’t know, guys. This movie just didn’t do much for me. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t like it very much. At least it’s not overlong. The movie runs at just about two hours, so at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome too much. And it does look pretty good, and has a couple of fun sequences. But overall, I really can’t recommend it. Not that it matters, since half the damn universe has already seen this movie, and the other half of the universe has it on their to-do list.

Oh well.

Hooked on a Feelin’

Do you like fun? You know, fun – an experience that is enjoyable or playful, a cause for mirth and/or merriment? Because if you do, you need to see Guardians of the Galaxy. It is probably the most fun I have had at the movies this year.

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy...Milano..Ph: Film Frame..?Marvel 2014

Most Marvel movies are surefire moneymakers, and while Guardians did have the advantage of having a built-in fanbase of Marvel movies in general, a movie that features an anthropomorphic raccoon and a talking tree creature was not exactly a sure thing.

So the success of the movie since its release on August 1 has made me extremely happy. It’s one of the most-liked movies of the year, and pretty much every review I’ve read of and every person I know who has seen it has loved it.

And what’s not to love? The best way I can describe the movie is that it’s like Star Wars or Star Trek on steroids. There are quite a few similarities – the protagonists are a veritable Rogues Gallery of lovable vagabonds, the kind who will save the day but may or may not steal your wallet in the process, in true Han Solo style.

GuardiansOfTheGalaxy characters

The characters and settings are wildly diverse and creative, with all kinds of different intergalactic locales and the frequently shady denizens that populate them. Everything in the movie looks fantastic, and while movies of this sort are generally unlikely to win Academy Awards, in this reviewer’s opinion the special effects, costumes, makeup and production design are all Oscar-worthy.

The story itself is maybe not quite as memorable, since it’s not all that much different from the plot of Thor: The Dark World last year. You know, bad guy wants to acquire ancient cosmic power to destroy stuff, good guys want to prevent this from happening. That kind of thing.

But that’s okay. The movie is more about bringing its eclectic group of characters together and letting them do their thing.

And what a fun thing it is! They escape from space prison, have all kinds of spaceship battles, beat each other up a few times, and ultimately end up bosom buddies.

All five of the main characters are very likable and the movie finds time to give all of them a lot of personality and also gives each of them their own time to shine during the many explosive action scenes.

Between this and The Lego Movie (and Moneyball a few years ago), Chris Pratt is now one of my favorite actors. He proves with Guardians that he has the charisma to carry a movie, and he looks like he’s having a great time.

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The rest of the cast is also great – Zoe Saldana looks just as good in green as she did in blue (in Avatar), and we get our first glimpse of Josh Brolin as megavillain Thanos, teased at the end of The Avengers.

Professional wrestler Dave Bautista proves surprisingly endearing as Drax the Destroyer, a musclebound, vengeance-minded fellow who, hilariously, doesn’t understand metaphors, which, as an English major, was doubly hilarious to me.

Bradley Cooper makes Rocket Raccoon my favorite character in the movie, giving the pint-sized critter an attitude a mile wide. I hate raccoons in real life, but Cooper’s performance as Rocket has to be one of the best performances by a computer-generated character by anyone not named Andy Serkis.

The same goes for Vin Diesel as Groot the tree creature, who is only capable of saying “I am Groot,” but he’s a downright lovable character. He’s kind of like the Chewbacca of the movie, since he only says “I am Groot” but his best friend Rocket knows exactly what he means. (Example: Groot: “I am Groot.” Rocket: “What do you mean 12% of a plan is better than 11%? What the hell does that have to do with anything?”)

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 It really is amazing that everything in the movie works as well as it does. It had all the ingredients of a potential disaster, but under the direction of professional nerd James Gunn it all works like gangbusters, right down to the groovy array of 70’s tunes that play throughout the movie.

This is only Gunn’s third feature film, and his first with a blockbuster budget, but he proves himself an extremely capable and sure-handed filmmaker.

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Look at him! He looks so nerdy! He looks the kind of guy who probably would have gotten picked on a lot in high school, but he made one of the most successful and widely-loved films of the year, so suck it, bullies!! Nerds rule the world!

I don’t really have anything particularly profound to say about this movie. It’s just a ton of fun, and you probably won’t get more bang for your buck from any other summer movie. And did I mention that it’s hilariously funny, on top of everything else? Because it absolutely is. I saw the movie twice on its opening weekend, and both times the audience I saw the movie with was in stitches. My face was sore afterwards because I was laughing so much.

Seriously, why are you still reading this? Go see Guardians of the Galaxy! I don’t care if you don’t usually go for sci-fi or superhero movies, you don’t need to be a sci-fi or superhero movie fan in order to find something in Guardians to enjoy.

You just need to like to have fun.

Everything is Awesome

Sometimes, I don’t understand myself.

When I first found out about The Lego Movie, I thought, “Well, Hollywood has officially run out of ideas. A movie where everything is made out of Legos? That sounds kind of dumb.”

I clearly remember thinking this, and being confused when the movie came out, got rave reviews, (96% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes) and was a huge hit.

Well, last week I decided to get over myself and watched the movie. I loved it. It was fantastic. Contrary to my stupid assumption that The Lego Movie was proof of Hollywood’s lack of good ideas, The Lego Movie is actually an incredibly creative and fun movie, with gorgeous animation, top-notch voice acting, and a lot of heart. It’s also hilariously funny and is just a joy to watch.

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The movie is about Emmet, an ordinary Lego guy who just wants to fit in. He promptly becomes involved in a spectacular adventure involving Batman, Morgan Freeman, a cop with split personalities (both of which are voiced by Liam Neeson), a Lego love interest (my mom cracked up when I used the phrase “Lego love interest”) and an ultimate superweapon known only as…the Kragle.

If none of that makes sense, that’s okay. I’m not going to spend much time talking about the details of the plot, although it did occur to me that the plot is basically that of The Matrix, except that everything is made of Legos.

This is just a really, really fun, creative movie. Sometimes movies can enlighten you and make you consider deep philosophical questions about life and the human condition, and sometimes you need that. But there are other times that you just need to watch Lego Batman say “I’m here to see…YOUR BUTT.”

And I love what they did with Batman in this movie. I love Batman and I will defend Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies all damn day for being the serious treatment of Batman that the character deserves, but The Lego Movie’s Batman is just freaking hilarious, and pokes fun at the character in a way that is never cruel or mean-spirited, but just really funny and clever.

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The voice work in the movie is fantastic too. Emmet is voiced by Chris Pratt, an immensely likable actor who will soon be seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, and he gives Emmet an inherent likability that makes him so easy to root for. Batman is voiced hilariously by Will Arnett, whose gravelly Batman voice manages to make him both a good depiction of Batman and also completely adorable. Unsurprisingly, he’s my favorite character in the movie.

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There’s also Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius, the Morpheus-esque leader of the Lego resistance who wears a Lego tie-dye shirt and what I can only assume are Lego bellbottoms. Elizabeth Banks voices Wyldstyle, the aforementioned Lego love interest (who is totally not a DJ), Will Ferrell is the evil Lord Business, and of course, the great Liam Neeson is both Good Cop and Bad Cop. My favorite Bad Cop line is when he’s waving his little Lego hands around and says “Do you see these quotation marks I am making with my claw hands?” There’s also Gandalf, Dumbledore, Wonder Woman, Shaquille O’Neal…the list goes on and on, and part of what makes the movie so much fun is spotting all these characters in the background.

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The movie was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, a directing duo who can pretty much do no wrong these days. The visuals in this movie are frequently nothing short of breathtaking, and I was particularly transfixed by the Lego ocean in one scene, which looks exactly like rolling waves of Lego bricks. I have no idea how the animators pulled this movie off, but everything in it looks spectacular. Lord and Miller also directed 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street, and in The Lego Movie they manage to work in a pretty hilarious joke about how annoyed Lego Superman is by Lego Green Lantern, which is even funnier once you realize that Superman is voiced by Channing Tatum and Green Lantern is voiced by Jonah Hill.

The phrase “fun for the whole family” gets tossed around a lot, but The Lego Movie really is the perfect example of a movie that will appeal to pretty much everybody, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

When I wrote about Transformers a few weeks ago, I said that a fire-breathing robot T-Rex is a perfect representation of what you would find in the brain of a 12-year-old boy. The Lego Movie is similar, but in a way that is so much more meaningful than anything Michael Bay has ever been able to accomplish. This is a movie that has a really good message, and I know that it seems like every piece of children’s entertainment has to have sort of message for the kids these days, but this movie manages it so much more gracefully than most. The final scenes of the movie are genuinely poignant, and I found myself actually being moved by a movie about children’s construction toys. That alone qualifies The Lego Movie as one of the most memorable cinematic experiences I’ve had all year.

I write about a lot of dark and violent movies on this site (which isn’t going to change much because I’m going to write about The Raid 2 soon), but it’s important to remember to have a little levity every now and then. I’m not in a great place in my life right now, and I’m always grateful when a movie like The Lego Movie comes along to remind me that hey, everything will be okay and life will get better.

Everything is Awesome!

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And now that song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.