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.

★★★★★

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Creed

Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Anthony Bellew

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writers: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington


Rocky is the classic underdog story. The reason it has struck a chord with so many viewers and has remained an American classic is because of what Rocky’s journey represents, both for himself and for the audience. The story of a bum who never thought he’d amount to anything being given a shot at the world title appeals to the ideal of a ‘nobody’ becoming a ‘somebody’ through hard work, endurance and heart. In many ways Rocky is the story of the American Dream. One of the challenges facing Creed is that it has to somehow tell that same story without repeating it. It has to be true to the spirit of the original film while still telling its own story in order to truly come into itself as a reboot of an iconic classic. Under Coogler’s direction Creed succeeds admirably both as a sequel and as its own movie and is more than a worthy successor to the Rocky franchise.

Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) is the illegitamite son of the late Apollo Creed, the heavyweight world champion, who is adopted and raised by Apollo’s wife Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). Growing up in the shadow of his father Adonis dreams of becoming a great fighter as well but wants to do so in his own name. Having grown up in a wealthy background though, nobody will give him the chance he needs because he’s never known what it’s like to fight out of necessity. Adonis travels to Philadelphia in order to track down his father’s former opponent and good friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who is now retired and managing a restaurant named after his late wife. He also meets Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician who also dreams of making a name for herself. When Rocky reluctantly agrees to take him under his wing, a life-changing opportunity is presented to them that could be the making or the unmaking of Adonis Creed.

What this film cleverly does through Adonis’ story is provide an underdog’s journey that is not a repeat of Rocky’s but is instead a parallel. Rocky was a poor, modest fighter who resigned himself to a life of unrealised dreams and potential until he was given an opportunity to show everyone what he could really do. Adonis has grown up with all the advantages that Rocky never had and is as aimless as Rocky was. Nobody will give him the chance to prove himself because nobody believes that he has what it takes. Adonis has to fight in order to prove that he isn’t what anyone else says he is and that the only person who can define him is himself. This is a battle that he has to fight both on and off the ring as he sets out to prove himself to the world. What makes this film work is that, much like how Adonis does not try to live off his father’s name, this film doesn’t try to live off Rocky’s name. It tries to tell its own story with its own character in its own way while still honouring its roots. Creed is a Rocky film in spirit but in everything else it is a Creed movie.

Michael B. Jordan is unstoppable in this film. The determination and grit he shows as Adonis is astonishing. We see that he admires the father that he never knew and tries to emulate him in his journey to become a fighter. He doesn’t want the Creed name to be what gets him there though, so this is something he has to accomplish as himself. Perhaps this because he doesn’t want his name to be the only part of him that people will ever see or maybe it’s because he feels that he has to earn the Creed name before he can wear it. All he knows is that fighting is what he has to do and no one is going to tell him otherwise. Stallone delivers a career best performance in his return as a retired Rocky Balboa. He plays him as a man who has truly lived a fighter’s life. He has known happiness and pain, love and loss, and success and failure, and he looks back at it all now without regret. When Adonis comes into his life and asks him to be his mentor, that’s when Rocky decides that perhaps he’s got one more fight left in him after all. Also worthy of praise is Bianca, a love-interest who isn’t just a love-interest (a rare species in films). She is a complete character with a personality, a story and a purpose.

The underdog story has been done to death in film and yet Creed manages to make it feel fresh and new. It had me rooting for Adonis every step of the way yet there was never a point when I thought that his victory was a sure thing. Just like in the original Rocky this film allows the viewer to really follow this character and to learn what this chance means to him. You feel the effort he puts in as he fights through blood, toil, sweat and tears to prove himself. Every hit he takes is a blow and every punch he lands is a victory. Creed is packed with powerful boxing matches and stunning training montages and possesses that raw intensity that Ryan Coogler is so good at capturing. This could have gone very badly very easily but, against all odds, Creed is a resounding triumph.

★★★★★