Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Writer: James Gunn


The original Guardians of the Galaxy has become such a monster hit in the years since its release that it’s easy to forget how little audiences were expecting from it at the time. Even though it was a Marvel property, the vast majority of viewers knew nothing about who these characters were or about the universe they lived in. All they really knew going in was that it starred the chubby guy from Parks & Rec and had a talking raccoon and a tree man fighting bad guys in space. People were so convinced that this movie with its strange premise was going to be Marvel’s first flop that they were taken completely by surprise when it turned out to be one of the funniest, most entertaining and awesome films of the year. Now that Guardians has lost that element of surprise, its sequel must somehow inspire that same reaction again while also managing the audience’s now eager expectations. Few films can live up to that kind of expectation, and I suspect that some will be inevitably disappointed when they find that this movie isn’t quite the gamechanger that the first film was. For me though, Vol. 2 is exactly the kind of sequel I hoped it would be.

Now renowned as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the movie opens with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) protecting some valuable batteries for the Sovereign race in exchange for Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). When Rocket steals some of the batteries for himself the Guardians must go on the run and end up crash landing on a planet where they are met by Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals himself to be Peter’s father. He invites Peter, Gamora and Drax to his home planet while Rocket and Groot fix the ship and guard Nebula. Meanwhile Yondu (Michael Rooker), now outcast by the Ravagers for child trafficking, is hired by Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the leader of the Sovereigns, to track down the Guardians and capture them, a task he accepts but is reluctant to carry out.

The opening sequence sets the tone perfectly for this sequel. The Guardians are gearing up for a big fight with a giant CGI tentacle monster only for the battle to occur in the background as we instead follow Baby Groot around as he dances along to ‘Mr. Blue Sky’. Not only is it a clever and funny twist on a trope we’ve seen in countless other blockbusters, it reminds us at the outset that Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t and has no interest in being a generic, interchangeable action-driven movie void of character and plot. Guardians has character, whimsy and heart and wants to showcase them to its audience. There are certainly great moments of action that occur from Yondu taking over a ship with his whistling arrow to Gamora’s ultimate showdown with her sister. However, much like how the best scene in Age of Ultron was when the Avengers were just hanging out in Tony Stark’s apartment, Guardians is at its best when it allows its characters to just be themselves.

At its core Guardians of the Galaxy is about family and that theme becomes most prominent when Star Lord finally meets his estranged alien father (who, of course, is played by an 80s icon). Thus, with the revelation of who he really is and where he comes from, it isn’t long before Quill finds himself torn between his biological family and his makeshift one. The movie however expands on the same theme with its other characters, bringing equal attention to the combative sisterhood shared by Gamora and Nebula and the surrogate father-son bond Quill shares with Yondu. Rooker in fact was the biggest surprise for me as he gives this movie, and perhaps the whole MCU, its most touching and heartfelt performance. Although there may not be any real question about what the film’s resolution will be, which is that family is who you’re with and not where you’re from, the way that it gets there is still compelling and, in the end, moving.

When a property is as big and as successful as Guardians has become in the last few years, it becomes so easy for studios to decide that all they want to do is ride on that success and phone it in. This is why the movie’s best quality is how earnest and sincere it all feels. The effort that Gunn and his team put into this movie is evident not just in the attention and care they put into the story and its characters but in the visuals as well. The movie is teeming with radiant colours that movies like those in the DCEU don’t think exist, the set-pieces such as Ego’s home planet are wonderfully designed and the film is rife with striking visuals such as those in the space jumping scene. The movie does become cluttered and even a little by-the-numbers in the third act but Gunn does such a great job of keeping the focus on the characters and all of their motivations that it doesn’t really slow down the film for me. Even though Vol. 2 doesn’t have the surprise factor that made the first movie such a mind-blowing revelation, I actually enjoyed it even more. Not only is Guardians of the Galaxy a great work of pure entertainment, but Vol. 2 is also one of those rare sequels that took everything that was good about the original and made them even better.

★★★★★

The Hateful Eight

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Demián Bichir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino


Nobody does character and dialogue quite like Quentin Tarantino. His command of the English language is both bewildering and astonishing to behold as he crafts astounding cinematic moments through anecdotal conversations and suspenseful monologues. In Pulp Fiction he gave us an entire trivial conversation about hamburgers, TV pilots and foot massages. Not only is this discourse interesting, witty and captivating but also it allows the audience to learn a wealth about the characters and the world they inhabit without them even realising it. The characters themselves are so dynamic, fascinating and entertaining that you cannot help but love them whether they’re ruthlessly vengeful like the Bride, despicably evil like Hans Landa or even sadistically racist like Calvin Candie. This is why I was so excited by the concept of The Hateful Eight. By placing nearly the entirety of his film within a small, secluded cabin, Tarantino has created the perfect environment for his dialogue and characters to truly flourish. The result is stellar.

When a snowstorm strikes deep in the wilderness of Wyoming a collection of unconventional individuals are forced to seek shelter in a cabin and wait the blizzard out. Amongst them are the bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the new sheriff of Red Rock Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the Mexican employee of the haberdashery Bob (Demián Bichir), the Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), a quiet cowboy called Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), the civil war general Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern) and another bounty hunter called Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). Ruth lets everyone know that he’ll be damned before letting anyone else take his $10,000 bounty from him and will not hesitate to turn his gun on anyone who tries anything suspicious. Tensions rise as these characters start to believe that somebody isn’t who they say they are and so the situation simply plays out from there.

What follows is essentially an Agatha Christie mystery with much more violence, profanity and racism. The real beauty of this film comes from watching the interactions between these characters as they seek to work out what exactly is happening. The tension is rife as they interrogate each other, looking for weaknesses and holes, and wait for somebody to make a move or a mistake. In what is undoubtedly one of the year’s best ensemble performances, the standouts for me were Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The former plays an astute and menacing bounty hunter who constantly gets derided for his race. The role fits Jackson likes a glove as he gives what is quite possibly his best performance since Pulp Fiction. Leigh meanwhile is a wild, foul-mouthed, erratic criminal who gets sheer glee from being downright malevolent. Amongst an entire group of nefarious characters she is able to distinguish herself as the baddest one in the bunch. These characters take on a life of their own as their actions and interactions propel the story forward and allow the drama to unfold at a rapid yet natural pace.

Tarantino’s dialogue is as always smart, absorbing and stylishly obscene. With each crafty exchange of dialogue and each devious monologue the film’s tension grows more and more palpable as these characters learn more about each other and their situation. The viewer is never quite sure where these characters stand or which ones they can really trust. By setting this film squarely in a cabin surrounded by a tempestuous snowstorm Tarantino allows the claustrophobia to reign supreme as the paranoia slowly seeps in and grows more potent. The film’s build-up of tension is as meticulous and exciting as it is in John Carpenter’s The Thing, also (not coincidentally) starring Kurt Russell. Tarantino’s abilities as a writer and a director shine in this film and are utilised to perfection. Also worthy of praise is Ennio Morricone’s electrifying original score which is every bit as intense and stylish as the dialogue.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about this film’s runtime and I simply cannot understand why. The great Roger Ebert once said that no good movie is too long and The Hateful Eight is a great movie that makes every minute count. I was completely immersed by the film’s story, characters and dialogue and didn’t look at my watch once during the film’s entire three-hour duration. Tarantino has distinguished himself through his ability to blend genres and what he presents here is a spaghetti-western whodunit that only he could have made. The dialogue is typical Tarantino and is as funny, stimulating and rousing as it has ever been. Every character is compelling and memorable and each one gets a moment in the spotlight. The Hateful Eight is clever, bizarre, intense, unpredictable and riveting. Watching is was an exhilarating experience for me and I think it ranks amongst Tarantino’s best.

★★★★★