Darke Reviews | Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 (2017)

So nearly 3 years later and we have moved from the late summer “Oh I hope it does well but oh well if it doesn’t” dump slot to the first of the May blockbuster releases. Guardians of the Galaxy practically minted money for Disney and Marvel then, surprising everyone from the fans to the critics to the execs. I mean sure the cast and crew may have known what they had, and I know how carefully cultivated the Marvel Cinematic Universe is – but this one felt like a “think we can do it?”, “Have we built up enough good will to try this?” “Well no harm if it doesn’t work, its not on earth right? *insert weak laugh*”

  • Budget: $170 Million
  • US Gross: $333,176,600
  • Non-US Gross: $440,152,029
  • 3rd highest grossing movie in 2014 (beating out The Hobbit, Captain America The Winter Soldier, and Transformers by no less than 70 million dollars)

So it’s safe to say they did well that year. That a sequel order was in the mail on release day. Like suddenly they knew they had something and ran with it before the final numbers even came in for the opening weekend. 3 years and a $200 million dollar budget later we return to the wider galaxy and the adventures of its guardians with their quirky personalities, and early 80’s theme music?

But should they have been ignored like the B sides of a tape?

James Gunn returns with pen in hand for both writer credit and gets the oh so comfy director chair as well. If you had told me the guy who wrote the two Scooby Doo movies and Lollipop Chainsaw (video game) would be directing not just one but two movies in a film series that’s profits exceed the GDP of several countries combined – I would laugh. I mean He wrote Tromeo and Juliet (a classic for Troma lovers) – now he writes the story of a gaggle of guardians gallivanting gregariously about the galaxy. What? I had to try anyway….The story picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the last movie in media res with the heroes defending a McGuffin from a thing. Which leads to another event and then another. Things look up. Things look down. Things go wrong. Things go right. Secrets are revealed!

This is a no spoiler review. I am not giving you more than the trailers do.

What I will say is that the movie shifts tones a few times. There are parts of humor that for me largely fell flat, but the audience around me laughed at most of the jokes. Most. The problem with some of these is that they jump from a scene that is emotionally compromising or otherwise somber to a moment of near slapstick humor. It can eject some movie goers from the moment – especially as not all the jokes work. A majority didn’t work on me, but if you are a frequent reader you know I have a lot of issues with humor and me not getting it. Thankfully humor isn’t everything the movie is based on. It also bothered, unlike so many other films, to stop and let you breathe. Let you have character moments and get a little closer to them so you are feeling with them. Would these moments have worked without the first movie? No. They require you to know the barebones you were given before so when more is revealed about them you form a deeper connection with them.

Tonal quality shifts are not the films only area of flux. Visually the film goes from amazing make up and computer effects to something I would have expected from the late 90’s or early 20’s. There is one part that I swear the movie goes full cartoon and it absolutely ejected me from the film; which was then re entered by the next beats character moment. Granted for some of the effects I feel nothing but pity for the animation studios called upon. Having to create rich visual effects that are believable for this is a daunting task. They largely succeeded.

What didn’t succeed in the flux category beyond some of the visuals, some of the characters, and some of the story beats? The music. Hold on! Hold on! I know I loathed the soundtrack of the last one. Not so here. Volume 2 Awesome Mix is a much better tape, not one I’d listen to regularly, but it doesn’t have songs I despise. In fact Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is easily in my top 100 songs of all time. No, the accompanying soundtrack is fine and works within the movies diagetic sound as much as it does non-diagetic to the point where you aren’t sure and it doesn’t matter.  The part of the soundtrack that doesn’t work is the score. Its recycled. You will hear the Avengers theme…a few times. It is disappointing when so much care is put into it that they are recycling their musical queues from other films.

If you are curious about what I mean – check this video from the awesome Every Frame a Painting

 

Do I believe most people notice or care? Fair question and I would say no – but that doesn’t earn my forgiveness or the fact it needs to be called out.

At this point I normally talk about the actors, but everyone is absolutely fine. New comer to the series Pom Klementieff (Old Boy, Ingrid Goes West) merges amazingly well with the existing party as Mantis. As I mentioned in my recent Fast and Furious review. I want Kurt Russel in all the things ever. This has only reaffirmed that.

I’ve avoided talking about the action because I found it…wanting. It’s there; just not as visually compelling or character driven as it could be. Marvel – please note – swarms and masses of faceless attackers does not make your combat more interesting or the stakes any higher. It was just very very safe.

TL;DR?

I would hit play on the Volume 2. Despite the flaws I perceived in the movie, of which there were many, I had a good time. It wasn’t great, but it was solid good pop corn fun. It got me emotionally invested in the stories of the characters and that is hard to do. It succeeded on a personal level where some of the production failed on an intellectual level. Audiences will love it and no one left the theatre until the last of the credits rolled. Again its flaws need to be called out in that the action is kinda bland and safe, the story and scenes have some amazingly jarring tonal shifts – but beyond that its absolutely serviceable and watchable.

Should I see it?

I don’t believe you will regret it. It’s a good time to be had by most.

Will you add it to the collection?

Yes.

Ok serviceable and watchable don’t sound like high praise though?

In this day and age it is still praise. It is also not the best Marvel feature but it is far from the worst.

End Credits scenes?

Three of them cut throughout the credits. It’s also worth *watching* the credits as there’s some easter eggs, jokes, and other cute things in them. I rather enjoyed those.

Stan Lee?

Of course with an easter egg of his own.

Anything else?

Brace yourselves. Summer movie season is coming. Next week King Arthur.

Darke Reviews | Captain America : Civil War (2016)

I really wanted to get this in last night so it would be available for those of you who read this, I also had a desperate need to sleep so I could function at work today. Last night I saw the second of two movies this year of at least three that cover the topic of “What oversite do these super powered beings need?”. Last night I saw the second of two movies this year where two ostensible allies turn on each other to create what should be an epic fight. Last night I saw the second of two movies that have a clash of ideologies and attempt to boil these down to their simplistic terms for wide consumption in an average 2 hour and 29 minute run time. Last night I saw the second of two films where experienced directors and writers try to add new characters to a complex universe of existing characters in a way that should feel seamless and invisible to the audience. Last night I saw what is both intense and diversive source material translated to the screen for (again) a second time.

Last night I saw Civil War, but should you?

Let’s face it most of you have already seen it or plan to see it and may only be reading this to satisfy curiosity or to verify your own thoughts. So be it. So let me put this up front before the detail, before the TL;DR…

This is my third favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film, behind The Avengers and Winter Soldier. This needs to be said before I go into the details…you will see why shortly. Also, there may be someone in the 100 of you who read this that say “oh she hates DC” after the lambasting I gave Batman V Superman.

False

Nearly all of my comic collection is DC, or DC Vertigo. I have all of the DC Animated Universe films. I prefer the DC characters to the Marvel ones time after time. DC has more iconic characters to me, more Legendary characters to me. The Marvel universe tends to make things more human more often than not in my experience with it, even when it gets silly. Yet time and time and time again, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies trump DC. I really don’t know what is going on over at WB Cinematics department, but they really need to stop. Stop and look at why they fail critically and create movies that people are divisive on how good they are. For the most part Marvel movies go from a solid “meh” to “oh my god what awesomeness have my eyes witnessed.” The weakest Marvel movies are forgettable, with only one having a touch of divisive hate growing within it (Ultron). DC’s last two outings into the Cinematic have ranged from “die in a slow fire surrounded by the screams of those you have inflicted this upon” to “that was awesome.”

This is important to discuss as we get into this review as these two films (BvS/Civil War) have very similar themes with vastly different executions and levels of success. This is going to be difficult without spoilers, so bear with me.

The movie was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, both of whom are responsible for (in the best way) Captain America: The First Avenger, The Winter Soldier, and now this. The directors, Joe and Anthony Russo of the critically hailed Civil War were brought back as well. They handled, perhaps as well as it can be, the subject matter of – Do heroes need oversite? Who is right to judge them or even control them? Who are they responsible for and accountable to. While I have issues with the *how* the questions were handled and the evidence presented, I am not entirely certain it could be done better. They let the characters debate it, they let the time be spent within this film to have a conversation on the culmination of the other films. This is good storytelling people. With few exceptions the storytelling here is an absolute logical progression from Iron Man to Civil War. The writers and directors made wise choices where they did not have forced hands, and I can see those moments too, and I am pressed to tell you what could have been excised from the films running time.

Even the addition of the new character T’Challa, aka The Black Panther was handled in a way that let me buy his decision making. It was brief yet concise enough that in 5 minutes I got him. I got his world view just enough to sate me for this film and what story it needed without me going “that makes no sense.” If anything a flaw is the villain of the piece, Helmut Zemo. He’s forgettable. I suppose that is justified as well let’s face it, no one cares. They want the fight at the airport. It could have been an opportunity to create or utilize someone who could be used for sometime, even in Agents of Shield. Marvel does fail at this topic each film that doesn’t contain Loki. Memorable, effective villains.

Acting wise, everyone is wearing a comfortable hat and glove. You get them and understand them, even newer characters such as Paul Bettany’s Vision, Elizabeth Olson as the Scarlet Witch, and Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, and the return of William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross. Every performance, and I do mean every, has the right weight. The right emotion. The right levity. It’s all right.  Chadwick Boseman (42, Get On Up) absolutely nails T’Challa and I can’t wait for his reported standalone film.  Each actor lets you come along with them an why they make the decisions they do. Scripts and direction can only take you so far. the actors bring you the rest of the way.

From a technical aspect.

LESS

SHAKY

CAM

I remember watching the fights in Winter Soldier. I loved them. I remember watching Scar Jo in Iron Man 2 and Avengers and loved it. I wanted to watch some of the fights here and couldn’t due to excessive camera movement and cuts when you have actors who can actually do these things. It was not Paul Greengrass/Found Footage bad, but it was bad in the first fight. The transitions were….rough. Cinema Sins is going to have a field day with those. They were music video kinda rough.

All of that aside.

Holy. Hell. Fighting in Act III? Yes. Please. More. This is everything we wanted and more. DC take notes. Preferably in a way you can understand later. Hire someone to hold them for you. This is how you do it. They were energetic. They were fun. They were even visceral at times. They were near perfect.

TL;DR?

This movie is absolutely the reverse of Batman V Superman. I have issues, significant ones, with one or two beats of the film. Overall though the movie is incredible. It is solid and well done throughout. It runs a bit long, but again I don’t know where to trim aside from the insertion of one character which *looks and feels* shoehorned in. I can tell this was added after and while the character is good, the introduction is very very off and looks it. I did smile at a lampshade though.

The movie is serious when it needs to be. It HAS HUMOUR when it needs it. Good humor too. It isn’t dark and dreary. It touches dark themes but keeps it all touchable and not too boring.

Should you see it?

Yes. A dozen times yes.

Will I buy it on BluRay?

It’s too early to pre order, or I would have.

Will I see it again?

Actually…maybe? There’s some things I want to see if I judged too harshly.

 

Congrats Hollywood, you have a Blockbuster that deserves it and kicks off the summer very very nicely.

Darke Reviews – Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool: The Apology. No..no. Not quite right. Deadpool: Forgive us for Wolverine Origins, mmm closer. Captain Deadpool, the amazing man in a red suit. Too long. I guess we stick with Deadpool. Oh hey readers, it’s me again and I am bringing you the review many of you geeks have been waiting for. Zoolander 2. Kidding. I would need to be on every narcotic known to man, possibly dead, and definitely kidnapped while wrapped in barbed wire to see that. No, this is the review for Deadpool. The first R Rated film from the superhero comic verse based on a major character/comic line.

First thing before I talk about it. This is not a movie for kids. Do not take the kids.

Do not take the kids.

Ok…

So should you go see it without the kids?

Ryan Reynolds himself has a production credit on this. That means he ponied up investment money to get it made. It was made because fans demanded it, literally. What could go wrong with a fan based product? That’s a laundry list for another time. This time though we have Tim Miller at the helm in his directorial debut. He’s a new guy true, but he has worked in the industry in the visual effects departments on such work as Hellgate: London (beautiful trailers), Mass Effect 2 (*happy sigh*), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.  These are good things as they show an eye for motion and framing, with a good cast a director like this can go well. A script helps as well and for that we have Paul Wernick (Zombieland), and Rhett Reese (also Zombieland). These two clearly must be fans of the comic or have been forced to read it until their minds border on Lovecraftian gibbering. They really seemed to capture the essence of Deadpool. This is more than the slapstick dialogue and 4th wall breaking, but knowing how to write scenes in which this is appropriate and other scenes that still fit with the character to give you a break from the rollercoaster.

So we have a new director, writers with one hilarious hit, but what about actors? Ryan Reynolds was genetically engineered to play Deadpool. Period. This can broach no argument in any conversation ever. Just as Patrick Stewart was Charles Xavier a full decade before X-Men was thought about seriously as a movie, Reynolds is the Merc with the Mouth. There are people who know this to be true and people who are wrong. Nothing is amiss in his performance, including mocking himself as the actor. A good hero(?) needs a good villain. The movie went to Transporter Refueled’s Ed Skrein and….he is ok. You will forget him or any of his lines a few minutes after the movie.  Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, and Gina Carano all do well and actually were kinda fun in their varied performances. Of course we must talk about Morena Baccarin and how much chemistry I feel she had with Reynolds. There’s something about this woman and men named Reynolds…clearly. Seriously though she does well enough and plays perfectly to the role and the film leading to a few memorable scenes.

From a tech perspective, the makeup is good. The fights are over the top, a little hard to see a times, but generally worth it. Colossus is actually one of the best iterations of him to date visually. Some may complain about the CG on him, but he’s a 9 foot tall walking mountain of organic steel – they haven’t done a make up job yet that can make that work. Just about everything else in the production is rather solid, you can tell they had a bit of a budget but spent it wisely.

TL;DR?

It’s Deadpool, I am only confirming that you should see it (without the kids). There’s enough foul language, sexual innuendo, blood, and nakedness in the film to make an 80’s movie question itself. Actually, that is a pretty good summation. This is an 80’s movie done with the budget and production values of 2016.

Did I enjoy it? I laughed from the opening credits until the credits rolled.

Will I see it again? Yes. Sunday as a matter of fact. It’s Gal-entines day.

Will I buy it? Without a doubt!

Thank you Ryan Reynolds. Thank you Hollywood for taking this chance. My audience applauded when the credits rolled. That doesn’t happen that often. Just…don’t try to do it too often ok?

Go see Deadpool if you were interested folks. It’s worth it.

Darke Reviews – Ant-Man (2015)

Are you excited for Marvel Phase 3? Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, Doctor Strange? Oh yeah and Ant-man is the kick off for this one. Haven’t heard of him? That’s fair. I am only barely familiar with the character before this, and specifically the Hank Pym version not the Scott Lang. So along with no spoilers, you will get no comparison to the comic character, story arc, etc as I have no basis. Ok, I am aware of one thing – a very controversial topic involving Pym that the movie wisely saw fit to act if it never happened and within it’s verse…maybe it didn’t.

(Editors Note: I received information that Ant-Man is actually the close to Phase 2.)

So how is the movie?

Let me start with the acting first and foremost. I, who has never seen, nor ever expected to see a Paul Rudd movie was incredibly dubious about the comic actor taking on the role of a Marvel hero. Granted I had the same reservations about Chris Pratt last year in Guardians of the Galaxy. He didn’t do bad. He was likeable, he was mostly an everyman, but at the same time I didn’t care about him. I think he was too much an everyman, so much so that he is forgettable. If you take Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Thor, or even Bruce Banner, you will remember their personalities and just something more about them. Scott Lang, I can’t tell you much about him or his personality. I don’t know that I can blame Rudd there, but he doesn’t force more to the table through his own devices that maybe someone else could have.

Michael Douglas masterminds the plot as Dr. Hank Pym. Douglas does what he can here and the movie is absolutely better for him, though I would have paid extra for an interaction with him and Redford in some sort of flashback, just on principle. Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit), plays Hope van Dyne and is a bright light in the film. She was hungry to do more with the movie and her role and brings it all to the table, even though a horrific haircut that was needed for her character. She plays with all the complexity of her character and lets the right emotions through in a way that most of the others don’t quite achieve. I knew she could act, but this just solidifies it. Corey Stoll (The Strain, House of Cards) plays Darren Cross, yet another scientific genius in the ‘verse. Slight tangent: with all of these geniuses how the heck is the world in the shape it is? Stoll, I know has some chops from his role in the Strain, so I have to wonder what the director was thinking. He reads every single scene as if he is in a late 90s early 2000’s Hero movie. I can’t help but try to compare him to Jeff Bridges Obadiah Stane. Stane, even at his most ridiculous held weight on screen. This is almost comical. So since I know the man can act, I must blame the script or director. The rest of the cast is largely just ok or making me wish they weren’t there. I love Michael Pena to death but he was channeling his early John Leguizamo for this one and it wasn’t good. Since again I know the actor has capabilities beyond what I saw, I must blame the script or director.

Let’s talk story for a moment, as there are two writing credits here. This means two people worked out the overall beats and structure for the movie together. Those two people are Joe Cornish and Edgar  Wright. Cornish, delivered fantastically on previous works, such as Adventures of Tin Tin and Attack the Block. He was also in Hot Fuzz, a creation of Edgar Wright. Wrights legacy, barring anything in the future, will be  his Cornetto Trilogy – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Sadly he will also be remembered for the flop Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – which I personally enjoyed far more than I should. In an 11th hour decision Wright left this project. Yes, this one. He was also slated to direct. Marvel was not pleased with some aspect of his script and gave it to someone else to work on and do touch ups to. The returning product was something that had him so dissatisfied he left Ant-Man behind.

That’s where screenplay credits come in. Cornish and Wright both are obligated to get theirs, but the additional credits go to Paul Rudd himself, and Adam McKay. McKay’s writing history includes Saturday Night Live, Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys. These are all movies I will never see and a show I haven’t watched since the 80’s.  This does not give me confidence. Now, as I have seen and enjoyed the Cornetto’s and laughed at them far harder than is reasonable, I think I have a good grasp on his humor and sense of dialogue. So that means the fact that nearly every single joke in this movie falls flat is not on Wright, but McKay. Seriously, there were only a few times I felt the barest urge to laugh vs. throat punching someone. That urge showed up more.

Part of that blame also goes to the incoming director Peyton Reed. Reed previously directed Yes Man, The Break-Up, and Bring it On. Clearly he is right to carry on the vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Fiege and the other heads at Marvel seem to think so, so maybe they see something I don’t. I know I didn’t see anything stellar in this movie from a directorial standpoint. The movie was so emotionally flat I was thinking *it* had used a Pym Particle and was too small for me to see the part where I was supposed to care.

Ok…not entirely fair. I cared about the animals. Seriously, they made me care about the ants. Part of what made the movie work was the visual effects. They were actually really well done and while the CG work and overall look was near unavoidable they did a solid enough job that I didn’t care. In that vein, they are successful, they made me forget or not care that the entirety of what was seeing was computer generated. A few of the fights were just messy blurs but overall the work was really well done. This is one of the few movies to benefit from 3D.

TL:DR?

I think the movie is better than Iron Man 3, for what faint praise that is. It was a bit more enjoyable than Thor 2, which upon reading my review I may have been too kind to. It is a highly flawed film that has moments of entertainment in it that kept me from actually hating it. Rudd, who I was dismissive of above, is good as the hero. Some of the more annoying beats from the trailer are missing from the film and we are all better for it.

Overall, the movie generates a solid….bleh. I don’t hate it. I don’t really like it, it’s just there. Ultimately I think that’s where it lands. On a solid, emotionless, take it or leave it and I won’t notice. Marvel’s star is dimming for me and things I would have forgiven before are quickly becoming more noticable and less likeable. I think they have forgotten what made the original films as successful as they were with the fans.

  • If you are a completionist – See it matinee and 3D. The 3D does alright by the film. Stay for the end credits – there are two scenes.
  • Anyone else – that’s a negative Ghost Rider, the pattern is full. You can wait til Netflix as this will likely be out before the next movie is.

Sorry folks this was a bit of a downer, and we don’t have too much hope the rest of summer. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation has the best shot so far.

Darke Reviews – Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

So I did the math on the way home. Took the day off and spent the better part of it at the theatre. Granted I slept til 1:30 then headed over, but yeesh. Was it worth it though? Double Feature of Avengers and then Age of Ultron, discounts on food and drink. Conversation with another movie geek on the comics, animated movies, and general geektitude. Yep all of it was worth it. It was weird hearing people in the audience who hadn’t seen Avengers first and odd to note things that raised questions in the first Avengers in light of Winter Soldier. But…did Age of Ultron live up to the hype?

Let’s be honest folks – you are going to see it anyway regardless of this review. This easily falls into the #seeitanyway category. Let me see if I can keep to my usual spoiler free territory.

Written and directed by geek god Joss Whedon, the film picks up an indeterminate amount of time after the events of all the previous films. It starts mid-stride with the Avengers continuing to try to find Loki’s staff in the wake of the events of Avengers. It’s clear they’ve worked together awhile on various missions enough so that they have clear roles and methods in how they work with each others powers, or lack there of. A new threat of their own making rises in the form of Ultron. An AI with a goal and the Avengers must overcome their internal issues and external ones to win the day, will they?

Lets talk the cast a moment. Our favorites return in the roles that we love them for. Chris Evans is once again on point as Captain America, he still has his ghosts, but as Dr. Irskin asked of him – be a good man. RDJ of course returns as Iron Man with no real acknowledgement of the events of Iron Man 3 one way or the other. I think we are better for that. He was made to play Tony Stark, but it is clear that he is both comfortable and tired of the role. Mark Ruffalo is given significantly more time as Bruce Banner and is allowed to show more than he did in the previous film. I still believe he is a secretly genius casting and he does well with what he is given. Chris Hemsworth takes Thor out for his 4th outing and doesn’t do much new or at all I suppose. ScarJo gets her own 4th showing as Black Widow, the assassin and spy, and is actually given more depth this time with the barest glimpse into her background.  Jeremy Renners complaints were clearly heard after the last movie and has a lot more time as Hawkeye with some significant divergence from his comic roots. They don’t hurt, but they are surprising. Samuel L Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders all become proof positive that the writer and producers heard the complaints about Iron Man 3 and went ‘oh yeah, all of these guys exists and you know should be here…even briefly’. Sadly we get no Paltrow or Portman as Pepper and Jane; which we do hear some snark about in film – it’s nice. Of course we also have the introduction of Aaron Taylor Johnson (Kick Ass, Godzilla) as Pietro Maximoff, who can’t be called Quicksilver due to rights issues, and his twin sister Wanda Maximoff, more commonly known as the Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Old Boy). Ultron is gifted with the voice of our favorite man in a fedora from Blacklist, James Spader. I swear this man could read a phone book and make it sound delicious.

Whew….was that too busy?

That there is the movies problem. It’s taken me twenty minutes to think about this and a good twenty minutes talking with my partner in crime this evening. The problem here is the film is too busy. Too big. We aren’t given a chance to breathe, save one scene. The scene we are ostensibly supposed to be able to revel in the quiet, is just too tense to enjoy the moment. It’s off putting rather than relaxing. The tension was ramped up and kept at a certain level that left you bordering on uncomfortable. It all was too much. Too many locations, too many fights, too many cuts. Too busy.

Things that need explanation are left painfully vague or explained too quick to sink in. There is expectation you have seen everything to this point and if you haven’t you may scratch your head at a few scenes. It’s clear there are significant cuts and edits to the film as well as a few scenes from the trailer are noticeably missing. I think Joss stumbled on this one, it’s not a failure, but it is a clear stumble. He wrote himself into corners he didn’t know how to write himself out of elegantly or cleanly. When he did give himself a needed out, the outs came off awkward. While I am rarely one to encourage films to be split into two, I think there was enough material here that this could have or should have been. It wasn’t in the plan so it couldn’t be and the narrative pays for it. I feel, I believe the studio interfered more this time as well. Joss is far from perfect, but there’s just something wrong about the entire picture on a level I can’t quite put my finger on. It is almost as if they were trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle they had with the first Avengers and didn’t quite stick the landing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve overly expounded on the problems here, but the movie is still solid. You will continue to love and hate the characters as appropriate. The fight sequences are solid in their own right. The movie properly zooms into comic book physics without batting an eye and we are ok with all of this. The movie still has humor in the right places and darkness in the others. The famous Hammer and party sequence are everything I hoped they would be. Spaders voice work and mo cap of Ultron is in a word incredible. The man’s presence can be felt even if he himself is not on screen.

TL;DR

The movie lands solidly in the better than average to as low as the “it’s ok” realm. I might (probably) watch it again to see if my opinions on it shift the needle in either direction. This is still likely to be one of the biggest movies of the year, though Furious Seven has set a benchmark that will make it hard for other films to hit. This one, probably will though – and deserves to. The movie **is** good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t quite as good as the last Avengers and doesn’t quite have the same magic.

If you were going to see it – see it! You’d ignore the review or not want to read it anyway (despite me being spoiler free when possible)

If you were on the fence – eh…see it Matinee.

If you were curious – I’d ask what rock you’ve been living under and why you haven’t seen the others. You definitely don’t want to start on this however, and you’d likely feel lost as there’s enough history required for this one to not make this a first timers film.

 

Coming Soon

Review season has begun, I get the next week off after that. Mad Max and Pitch Perfect in the same weekend – thankfully not vying for the same audiences. Tomorrowland follows with San Andreas the week after (though that review will be late due to Phoenix Comicon). The rest of summer after that looks to be hit and miss. Here’s hoping folks.

Sunday, you might get a special throwback review…Big Trouble In Little China has a screening at one of my local theatres.

Darke Reviews – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Oh I had expectations going into this one. I put this pretty much at the bottom of the list of Marvel Cinematic Universe I would enjoy. Why you ask? Well to be honest I have no love for awkward, uncomfortable, or slapstick comedy. I also have no love for some of the songs on Star Lords awesome mix #1 (You can see the Nerdist for the full list www.nerdist.com/2014/07/james-…. Spirit in the Sky and Hooked on a Feeling may be two of my most hated songs ever. Never liked them, never will. No real rational reason, they just don’t appeal to me and tend to get overplayed to my perception. This is what the trailers sold me. This is what I was expecting. I was really really not looking forward to this movie.

Some of my coworkers derided me for going into a movie with expectations such as these. That I should go in with a clear mind and thought on what the movie could potentially be. This is nigh impossible. I have avoided behind the scenes sites as much as possible these days to avoid the spoilers that I can, but trailers have a job to sell a movie. What they show sets expectations. Some movies defy them – Hercules last week. Some movies lie to you with them – such as the remake of Clash of the Titans. Some movies are failed by them – Lord of War. So where did Guardians of the Galaxy fall, with a trailer that in my opinion failed it.

-please note, this review is as always spoiler free, and my opinion on the trailer seems largely unique-

Obviously this one is based on a comic, one of which I have only passing familiarity. That is to say I know it exists. Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) is also one of the ones responsible for the script. Nicole Perlman has no listed writing credits before this, but has an announced Black Widow treatment in the works? Interesting. Writer Director as I’ve said before can be very good or very bad. It is rarely in the middle. Until today. The story here is a mandated origin story. They didn’t get a choice. You need to introduce a three meter walking tree, a talking racoon, a green assassin, and a blue guy with red tattoos; oh and the human male lead. There’s also a plot to introduce, villains, worlds, a galaxy of races. Now – do it in 2 hours. Good luck.

So while the plot is a bit of a hot mess, I can look past it because they were asked the near impossible in the 21st century. Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate – all of these have built in fanbases and worlds we know that need little introduction for the average theatre goer. Even the newbie can be brought up to speed quickly with these franchises, this one is a tad more difficult. They do it as well as they possibly can and fairly well. Everyone gets a character moment on both sides of the coin. Just enough for you to get who they are and why they are. What their world view is. Some are treated better than others, and well quite honestly some aren’t treated as good as they should be or could be. I will get into that as I talk about the characters.

Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, Zero Dark Thirty) plays our noble space pirate. He’s Malcolm Reynolds but doesn’t quite have the easy going charm that Fillion does. This is probably intentional and if so it works, he is also the least interesting character in the movie. He is regularly upstaged by more colourful (literally) costars. The reigning champion of the film is Rocket. Yes. That’s right the Raccoon is the hands down winner of I want to watch him. Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, A-Team) voices the four legged menace to society and proves he has that kind of natural charisma that works if you see him on camera or not. Vin Diesel voices Groot, the aforementioned tree who is always fun to watch when he emotes or gives you an “I am Groot”. Dave Bautista of WWE fame, plays Drax the Destroyer. He doesn’t act a lot, but with the character he has thats a good thing. What he does is kick butt and be large and in charge. He is also one of the more humorous characters and as enjoyable in his dryness as Diesel is in his …quirkiness?

Sadly, Zoe Saldana does nothing particularly new here. Her Gamora is nearly the same character as Columbiana and Aisha (The Losers). Tough, beautiful, action girl. This isn’t horrific by any means. We need more like her. I just wish they had done more to break her from a stereotype. Script problems – not actress here. Additional script problems come in the form of the nemesis Nebula. Karen Gillan (Dr. Who and Occulus) gets our lovely blue alien. The entirety of act 1 – she is menacing and you believe her deadly. Something happens half way through act two where she loses this and seems to be a shadow of her former threat. This is compounded in what should be an epic fight between her and Gamora that just is…weaker than it should be. Script problems I cannot forgive there. Gillan, however, proved we need to see more of her in the cinema in the action, horror, and sci fi genre’s. She pulled off what could have been a difficult role and did it well. The story and script failed her. The director failed her. Lee Pace (Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, Halt and Catch Fire) is just never quite the threat he needs to be. I don’t know who to blame there, but it is. He exists. the threat exists, I just don’t get his menace if it is supposed to exist.

Visually, the movie is beautiful. The darkening of 3D hurts the film as it seems to have a focus on bright vibrant colours. They just get lost in the 3D. Everything else looks very clean and easy to watch. Rocket, Groot, the ships, the space stations, etc look great. Rocket especially. We aren’t quite talking Uncanny Valley here, but it’s superb.

Music. *sigh*. Yep still hate most of it, but it was no where near as prominent as I feared. They even used a song I like with the Runaways “Cherry Bomb”. A few times it works. Other times its backdrop. The Star Lord introduction works well enough to let you know who and what you are dealing with. This one falls to different strokes for different folks. I will never like the soundtrack, but if you do – enjoy! The score left a bit to be desired as it reminded me too much of Avengers.

TL;DR?

Alright here we go. Yep, the trailers failed this one for me.

It’s good. The movie is solid. It feels a bit pacing hurt at times, but its more entertaining than I thought it would be. It made me laugh at times. I enjoyed the action. I enjoyed the finale. The humor wasn’t AS bad as I thought it would be.

That said, there’s some language in this one. If you want to keep your kids from male anatomy or fecal matter (see I keep my reviews clean), then I wouldn’t take them to see it. If it doesn’t matter – then cool. Enjoy.

So there you go. Guardians of the Galaxy is a good, entertaining movie. Not the strongest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but most definitely not the weakest.

Next week may be a double review with TMNT and Into the Storm. TMNT is absolute…the other. Eh see a post tomorrow on that

Darke Reviews – Captain America:The Winter Soldier

Darke Reviews – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I promised Beth and Stef I would start off with the TL;DR on this one.

Holy Amazeballs. Yes. Go See this film. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect (but maybe spend) $200. Go see Cap. It is one of the best films to date in the Marvel cinematic universe and the best film to date this year. To be absolutely clear it is not a perfect film. There are flaws I will go into below, but it did everything I needed it to. It made me smile, made me sit on the edge of my seat, made me giddy with anticipation of something strange, made me laugh and even made me cry.

Go see it. Full price. No 3D, it isn’t needed by a long shot.

Full review time? I suppose so. Lets see if I can set a speed record on this writing.  These normally take me about 45 minutes to an hour to write because I want to choose everything I say carefully and keep the review SPOILER FREE!

Directed this time by Anthony and Joe Russo. If you’ve never heard of them that’s ok. Their biggest credit is the TV comedy Community. Seriously. These guys were given Captain America. I have absolutely no idea what Kevin Fiege and the other Marvel producers saw in them, but it worked. They got exactly what they needed from their actors and every shot. The down side is that the movie was filled with some magnificently beautiful fight sequences that I would have loved to watch. Really, I am tired of quick cuts and camera motion. What I could see of the fights was pretty amazing and painful. The movie also has some pacing issues which fall on the directors feet, as it runs a long two hours and thirty minutes and at times feels it.

The time of course is needed for the complexity of the plot. Ed Brubaker is credited with the concept and story, that was converted to screen play by Chronicles of Narnia writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  The three of them created a Bond worthy plot within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Bible. NOTHING in these films is done without forethought or planning. When I consider that, it tells me that parts of the plot that seemingly came out of left field were planned. It tells me they knew what they were doing and the filler was done exceedingly well. The movie runs long and a few scenes could have been cut I suppose, but I really enjoy that the writers bothered to put quiet moments. Emotional moments for the characters to let their relationships build and let you get to really know who they are in the dark. They intelligently don’t over explain when lesser writers would have spelled some things out. I applaud them for that.

Of course the writing and direction need actors. Thankfully the movie has them and for once they aren’t chewing scenery. Even Redford as Alexander Pierce comes across with a subdued yet powerful presence. Samuel L Jackson stopped being Samuel L Jackson and was Nick Fury. The limelight, however, belongs to Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie. I’ve talked about the need for chemistry in a film before. You know when actors are not a hundred percent comfortable with each other, their roles, or  some element of the film. Here they all make it look effortless. The quiet moments have a serene and subtle quality that they need. The moments of bonding feel natural and not forced. The moments they need to be strong and dominating the screen as larger than life beings come across just as well with these actors. Each one of them has their moment in the sun and they cast a tremendous shadow when they get it.  I was really pleased with the balance of their characters through the movie in a way that surprised me.

I didn’t mention the Winter Soldier. He doesn’t get to do a lot other than kick ass. I am not saying his performance wasn’t good, but it didn’t hold the nuance the others brought.

From a technicals standpoint, the 3D is largely wasted on the fact you can’t appreciate the motion of Falcon flying due to quick cuts and massive camera movements. I swear the cameraman may have been having a grand mal seizure. This is by far the biggest flaw of the film. Everything else is on par with all we’ve been given before. This is something Marvel needs to be careful of  as the effects need to continue to advance with the years or things will look dated. The movie doesn’t suffer from that yet, but it wont be long before it could.

Overall the movie is, as I mentioned before, arguably one of the best Marvel films to date. It is up there with Avengers. It feels like a comic book movie that Captain America SHOULD be in. It feels like they should be doing this and the plots complexity fit perfectly. There’s enough references to the other Avengers in the film to make fans smile and unlike refuse like Iron Man 3 or a flawed Thor Dark World, happens quick enough and in such a way that calling in back up doesn’t feel viable.  So thats another applause there. It was enough to have who they did, doing what they did.

Of course, stay for the post credits scenes. Yes, plural. The first is more powerful, but the second has meaning.

That’s it folks. Speed record set (30 minutes). Go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s the Cap movie we needed and deserved.