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 Last Witch Hunter

Cast: Vin Diesel, Elijah Wood, Rose Leslie, Julie Engelbrecht, Michael Caine

Director: Breck Eisner

Writers: Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless

This is a boy-pandering fantasy-action film if I’ve ever seen one. The Last Witch Hunter is one of those typical fantasy-action films we see every year targeted towards 12-year-old boys, much like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing and more recently I, Frankenstein (a film so generic and forgettable I had to google it just now to remember that it existed). These are the films that pander to boys by offering them monsters, explosions, swords, guns and gritty PG-13 violence as substitutes for character and plot. Full disclosure: I’m saying this as someone who was 12 and 13 when LXG and Van Helsing came out respectively and thought they were both bloody awesome. I know better now. All I’m saying is that, while I personally found this film to be generic, predictable and stupid, I can still completely understand why teenage boys might enjoy it.

The titular witch hunter is Kaulder (Vin Diesel) who 800 years ago was cursed with eternal life by the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) before vanquishing her. Today there is a truce between the witches and the humans and so Kaulder’s job is basically to police them if they ever step out of line. When his keeper, the priest Dolan (36th of that name) (Michael Caine) dies under mysterious circumstances, Kaulder and the 37th Dolan (Elijah Wood) suspect that he was murdered by witches and find traces of dark magic that Kaulder hasn’t seen since his encounter with the Witch Queen. Believing the Witch Queen’s return to be imminent Kaulder sets out to prevent this impending doom with the aid of Dolan and a rogue witch called Chloe (Rose Leslie).

This film is silly and nonsensical but, for its target audience, it’s the good kind of silly and nonsensical. The story doesn’t have to make sense if all you’re looking for is some action and badassery and The Last Witch Hunter has plenty of both. Vin Diesel plays his typical physically-imposing, gruff, badass action hero and carries the film well enough as he wanders between action scenes. The fight scenes themselves are pretty fun and even sometimes creative given the use of magic and whatnot but nothing particularly new. One thing I can say about this film though is that it was short. I really do mean that as a compliment. When I realised what kind of film I was in store for I thought I would have to endure at least two hours (if not more) of its absurdities and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was over after a merciful hour and forty minutes. Another thing I liked is that it never took itself too seriously. It tries to have fun with its rather daft concept and even manages to score a couple of laughs here and there. Whatever its (many) faults may be, I can still admire it for embracing its own absurdity (to a mild extent at least) and letting itself have a bit of fun with it.

However anyone who is looking for something more than mindless action and some silly, ridiculous fun will not find it in this film. The story is a jumbled mess, the characters are forgettable, the mythology seems like it was being made up as the production went along and the climax is a magnificent let-down (assuming you were invested enough to have actually been built-up). The plot for the most part is fairly predictable and is thus lacking in tension, something that was already lacking given that the immortal Kaulder is unable to die. It was a story that was so positively overwhelmed by such a sheer amount of plot-holes and lapses in logic that I was pretty close to giving up until the third act swooped in to let me know that it was nearly over. So rushed was the film’s third act that the film even felt the need to include a plot twist that comes completely out of nowhere, does not make any semblance of sense if you think about everything that came before and serves absolutely no purpose except to extend the fight for another five minutes. Once that’s done it builds up to an ending so convoluted that they might as well have written the words ‘please give us a sequel’ on the screen in giant neon letters. Honestly I was actually quite entertained by how clumsy the film’s ending was.

All in all, The Last Witch Hunter is a really bad film. What amuses me though is that if I were ten years younger I probably would have loved it. It has all the nonsensical action, age-appropriate violence and silly visuals that I was into at that age. It even has the impossibly badass Vin Diesel doing what he does. If there are any boys out there who are also into that kind of stuff, then The Last Witch Hunter is the film for them. It is a film that panders to everything they love at that age when they are young enough to fall for those kinds of tricks. I’ve given this film my lowest possible rating because there is simply nothing redeeming about it to justify anything higher. It is a bad, stupid, ridiculous film and young boys will love it.