Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Year 9, Day 130 - 5/10/17 - Movie #2,625 - VIEWED ON 5/8/17

BEFORE: I went to the movies on Monday evening, which turns out to be the BEST time to see a movie, even a blockbuster that just got released.  I can sit wherever I want in the theater, there's no real line at the concession stand, I can catch a burger after - because who the hell goes out on a Monday night?  Me, that's who.

But that means it's time for a preview review, before the movie review.  (Note: I don't call them "trailers", because they no longer "trail" after the film, like they used to in the old days.)  I saw previews for "The Mummy", "Spider-Man: Homecoming", "Star Wars: The Last Jedi", "Thor: Ragnarok", "Dunkirk", "Transformers: The Last Knight", "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" and "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets".  Three up, three down, and two on the bubble.

The winners: "Spider-Man", "Thor" and "Star Wars", which should come as no surprise.  Looks like Iron Man will be guest-starring in the "Spider-Man" movie and Hulk in the "Ragnarok" film, which looks like it also incorporates the gladiatorial elements of "World War Hulk".  The new "Thor" movie will also feature Hela, the goddess of death, and the "Spider-Man" movie will have Michael Keaton as the Vulture.  This is all good news.  From the "Star Wars" trailer, we learn that Luke will be training Rey, Finn's still in a coma, and lots of spaceships blow up.  OK, no real shockers there, but is it time to start lining up for tickets yet?

(My only NITPICK POINT on the above is that the excessive multi-cultural revamping of Spider-Man's history can't be reconciled with the original comics.  Giving Peter Parker high-school friends of all races is fine, but then why keep the original names?  "Ned Leeds" is not a great name for an Asian kid, and "Flash Thompson" shouldn't be played by the Indian bellboy from "The Grand Budapest Hotel". Flash was a big Caucasian bully, this now seems like political correctness has gone too far.)

Two films I will consider watching, either in the theater or next year on cable: "The Mummy" and the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" film.  I got burned really bad by the last "Pirates" film, which was confusing as all heck, had way too many characters and no clear plot direction.  From this trailer, it doesn't seem like anything has changed, though they're returning to story elements from the first film, with a ship full of zombie/ghosts.  That could be good, or perhaps it just means they've run out of ideas and are forced to repeat themselves.  The dead also return in form of the new "Mummy", which seems to serve as a good excuse to make Tom Cruise do a lot of impossible stunt-work to fight her.  Yes, HER, the Mummy is a woman, which I hope is a decent enough twist.

Films that I have little or no interest in: "Dunkirk" (even though it's directed by Christopher Nolan, it seems like a no-twist plot) "Transformers: The Last Knight" (I've avoided this franchise for this long, there's no real reason to change that now...) and "Valerian", which just looks dumb, especially if I can spot nitpick points in the trailer.  "Our society is in trouble, for the first time in 1,000 years - so we're going to send you TWO people to fix things..."  Screw that, send everybody!  Why would you entrust the shared knowledge of 1,000 worlds to a couple of hormonal, unreliable teens?  Makes no sense.

Back to the real movie - Bradley Cooper carries over from "Burnt".

THE PLOT: Set to the backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, the team continue their adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill's true parentage.

AFTER: The first "Guardians" film was really a re-tread of the first "Avengers" film - but this sequel is truly original, really gets to showcase what an intergalactic team can be capable of doing.  And teamwork makes the dream work, once again.  The Entertainment Weekly review took issue with the fact that the team gets separated in this film, and therefore there's less of the funny team bickering that made the first film stand out - but I disagree, I think the bickering only gets you so far, and by splitting the team in two here (for an "A"-plot and a "B"-plot) only serves to make it that much more special when the team comes together.  Did it bother people when Luke went to Dagobah in "The Empire Strikes Back" while Han and Leia went to Bespin?  Of course not - you have to let these characters grow and evolve, and sometimes that means splitting them up.

Plus, this allows for interaction with other characters that results in secondary characters from the first film essentially joining the team, or at least forming uneasy alliances that allow them to work together for common goals.  This is how the comic books work - the Guardians of the Galaxy had an open membership there for a while, in addition to the core members the team had Kitty Pryde from the X-Men, the Thing from the Fantastic Four, Venom from the Spider-Man comics, and Angela, who got imported into Marvel from another publisher, but was then revealed to be Thor's lost half-sister.  But to coincide with the release of this film, Marvel cancelled the "Guardians of the Galaxy" comic book, just to re-launch it a month later with just the 5 core members and a new title - "All-New Guardians of the Galaxy".  Gee, how original.  (Were the previous comics only Half-New?)

I realize that the continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is different from that of the Marvel Comics Universe (also MCU - gee, I can't imagine why fans are confused...) which allows the movies to go wherever they want, within reason.  In the movies, Yondu is Star-Lord's adoptive father and the leader of the Ravagers, but in the comic books, Yondu is a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy from a future century, who frequently time-travel back to help the Avengers - and in their own time, interact with the future descendants of the modern characters, and the ones that live forever, like Thor and Hercules.  It's complicated.  (Marvel recently did a limited series where the Guardians of the 21st century teamed up with the Guardians of the year 3,000, and also another team of Guardians from 1,000 AD.  That was very confusing.)

So my concern from first film was over the mis-use of Yondu, since he's been placed in the "wrong" century.  They almost make up for that fact with the connection to Star-Lord, making Yondu a de facto member of the Guardians, and including cameos from Aleta, Charlie-27 and Martinex, which is kind of like the next best thing to using them properly.

The one thing that was revealed on talk shows prior to this film's release (no spoilers here) was the casting of Kurt Russell as Peter Quill's father, named Ego.  And Marvel comic fans can infer a lot about the plot just from that name.  The planet-sized special effects in this film are simply awesome - plus they found a new way of making characters look tiny in large environments, they often look like the little figures on a model train set, only they're alive.  Is this "tilt-shift" photography, or something else?  I feel the need to also give a shout-out to whatever made Kurt Russell look young, exactly like he did in the 1970's.  Based on the credit for someone used as facial reference, this could seem to be the same technique that allowed a young Princess Leia to appear in "Rogue One" - they maybe found a young actor who looked a little like Kurt Russell, filmed him in the scenes and then digitally placed Russell's likeness over the stand-in.  (EDIT: Nope, the filmmakers now say it was just make-up and CGI enhancements? B.S.)

This sequel is all about family - not just the team/family that was formed in the first film, but the father/son relationship between Ego and Star-Lord, the step-father/son relationship with Yondu, and then the sibling rivalry between Gamora and Nebula, who were both daughters of Thanos.  They came close to making Nebula a sympathetic character, which is a real accomplishment, considering how big of a villain she is in the comic books.  But that's the MCU Guardians - their alliances are always shifting, and that makes the universe feel more real, it's not just separated into good guys and bad guys.  Today's villain is tomorrow's ally, especially if a bigger villain comes along.  One day you're fighting the Ravagers, the next you might be working with them, and then you're back to fighting again.  (The only other films I know with shifting alliances like this are those damn "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels.)

But these relationships do manage to advance nearly all of the characters here, except maybe for Baby Groot - but that's OK because he's so darn cute.  And allowing Gamora to work with Nebula goes a long way toward setting up "Avengers: Infinity War" - if the comics are any indication, once Thanos finally strikes, the Avengers are going to need all the help they can get.

There are also the FIVE post-film credit sequences that usually tease upcoming Marvel movie storylines.  One of these, I suspect, is much more important to Guardians Vol. 3 than the others.

Also starring Chris Pratt (last seen in "Bride Wars"), Zoe Saldana (last seen in "Star Trek Beyond"), Dave Bautista (last seen in "Spectre"), Michael Rooker (last seen in "Undisputed"), Karen Gillan (last seen in "The Big Short"), Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell (last seen in "The Hateful Eight"), Sylvester Stallone (last seen in "Assassins"), Elizabeth Debicki (last seen in "Everest"), Sean Gunn (last seen in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Laura Haddock (ditto), Chris Sullivan, Tommy Flanagan, Evan Jones (last seen in "A Million Ways to Die in the West"), and the voices of Vin Diesel (last seen in "XXX"), Seth Green (last heard in "Guardians of the Galaxy"), Miley Cyrus (last seen in "The Night Before") with cameos from Steve Agee (last seen in "Super"), Rob Zombie, Ving Rhames (last seen in "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation"), Michael Rosenbaum (last seen in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"), Michelle Yeoh (last seen in "Tomorrow Never Dies"), Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Man of the Year"), David Hasselhoff and Stan Lee (last seen in "Doctor Strange").

RATING: 9 out of 10 hyperspace jumps

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