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.

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.

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.

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!

2014: The Year in Villainy

Another year, another roundup of cinematic evil. Join me, won’t you, on this delightful whirlwind of dastardly deeds, evil acts, and cinematic scumbaggery.

Artemisia in 300: Rise of an Empire

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One of my two favorite villains of the year, Artemisia was smart, tough, and determined. Hell hath no fury, as they say, like a woman scorned, and Artemisia is ample proof of that. Eva Green played her with ferocity and more than a little charm, which made her somewhat likable in spite of being evil. She’s the kind of villain you love to hate, and she’s my pick for best villainess of the year. It was a good year for Eva Green playing sultry comic-book villainesses, she was also deliciously evil in the new Sin City movie, so give her an honorable mention for that one too.

The Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Few movie characters in 2014, good or evil, were as straight-up BAD ASS as this sonuvagun. Holy CRAP he was cool. A kind of Darth Vader to Captain America’s Luke Skywalker, he’s a cybernetically-enhanced super assassin who’s skilled, fast, and lethal. The fights between him and Chris Evans’ Cap were some of the best cinematic fights of 2014. Actor Sebastian Stan is under contract for (I think) nine films with Marvel, so you can be almost sure that he’ll show up at some point in the future. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him again.

Jeanine Matthews in Divergent

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You don’t usually see Kate Winslet being evil, but I thought she was pretty good at being bad in Divergent. You knew she would turn out to be evil (especially if you read the books), but she didn’t overdo it, which I thought worked to the film’s advantage. Expect to see her again soon, since the film did well enough at the box office that the sequel was fast-tracked to March of 2015.

Electro, Rhino and the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffered from a bit of Spider-Man 3 syndrome, in that it had maybe one too many bad guys. Although only two of them had character arcs, since Paul Giamatti’s Rhino was basically a glorified henchman, but still, the film as a whole was definitely a bit overcrowded. And I guess that some of their motivations for being evil were maybe a bit thin, but…oh, well. At least Electro’s flashy blue-white bolts of electricity were cool to look at. Sony is planning on making a whole movie devoted to Spider-Man baddies, so who knows what we’ll see from Spidey’s colorful rogues gallery in the future.

The MUTOs in Godzilla

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I didn’t think of Godzilla as the bad guy in the latest movie that bears his name, he’s more of an antihero. The real villains were the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, otherwise known as MUTOs. Godzilla stops them from mating and making horrible horrible MUTO babies, which is something I think we can all be thankful for this holiday season. Thanks, Godzilla!

The Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past

2014 villains sentinel

I debated with myself a bit over who the real villain was in the latest X-Men flick. Was it Magneto? Mystique? Bolivar Trask? You could make a case for any of them, but for my money the only indisputably evil characters in the film were the Sentinels, which were so badass and so good at their job of mutant-killing that they pretty much ended the world, and it doesn’t get much more evil than that.

The Mimics in Edge of Tomorrow

2014 villains mimic

How do you defeat an enemy who can simply reset the day to prevent itself from being defeated in the first place? That’s the question posed by Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi epic. The Mimics in Edge of Tomorrow were frightening and very, very original in appearance and design. Kind of like giant, robotic-looking, time-manipulating squid-creatures. I thought they were very cool, and they had a lot to do with making Edge of Tomorrow one of my favorite movies of 2014.

Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy

2014 villains ronan

Ronan the Accuser is an evil blue space warlord. Even if I had left out the word “evil” in that description and juts said that he was a blue space warlord, I’m sure you would have been able to fill in the “evil” part on your own. One of the things I liked most about Ronan was his Alan Rickman-esque way of saying things…very…slowly. I guess he’s not really all that much different from other cosmic warlords you may have seen in other sci-fi movies, but if you’re evil enough that it takes five protagonists to bring you down, then you’re doing something right. I mean, you know, from an evil perspective.

Conrad Stonebanks in The Expendables 3

2014 villains gibson

Say what you will about Mel Gibson as a person, I still think he’s a damn fine actor, and he looked like he was having a great time being evil in the third Expendables movie. I thought the movie as a whole was a bit dull to be honest, but Gibson was easily the best part of the movie for me. With a name like Conrad Stonebanks, your career options are pretty much limited to either professional wrestler or professional supervillain. Conrad Stonebanks made the right choice in Expendables 3, and we connoisseurs of cinematic villainy can be grateful for that.

President Snow in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One

2014 villains snow

Donald Sutherland’s President Snow deserves a shout-out for being reliably evil for three movies now. He seems to delight in inflicting psychological torture not just on the heroine of the movies, but on the nation he lords over as a whole. I always think he looks like a white-haired Satan, I mean just look at those arched eyebrows!! Downright devilish.

Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

2014 villains shredder

The Michael Bay-produced 2014 version of TMNT was certainly no masterpiece, but to be honest I still thought it was pretty damn entertaining, and I really liked the knife-shooting shredder. There was some evil plot to disperse some kind of chemical weapon over New York which was pretty inconsequential, I watched the movie yesterday and I’ve already forgotten the details, but hey, I can appreciate a cool character design when I see one, and I thought that Shredder was really fricking cool.

So there you have it, the cream of the crop of cinematic skullduggery in 2014. There are a lot of big-franchise movies due out next year, so we aficionados of evil have a lot to look forward to.

See you then!

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.

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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.