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 (2014)

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.

Darke Reviews | Thor: The Dark World (2013)

 

Ah how I love Hollywood and its need to get even a few more dollars to make the opening weekend look even better. First it was Midnight showings, technically making them released on the official release day. Then the 11PM, 10pm and 9pm showings came; now we have 8pm. Soon a Friday release means noon thursday! Though in all fairness and sarcasm aside it’s nice for an amateur like myself to see a film “early” so I can give my dear readers a review before they take the opportunity themselves. It’s even better when I can see it with friends who do not keep my hours. Let’s get to the review shall we?

Honest Trailers really nailed Thor in their recent video. This movie exists so you know who the Point Break guy will be in Avengers. It had a difficult job ahead of it and quite honestly not the best director to do it. Kenneth Brannagh had to find a way to introduce Thor, Jane Foster, Loki, Odin, The Warriors 3, Sif, the realms of the universe, tie it to the current continuity of the Marvel verse and still not introduce the concept of magic. That’s a tall order for any director. It’s also interesting that both Marvel and DC have explicitly avoided the mystical characters to date in their successful films. Brannagh did alright, not great, but alright with the first film. It created an unexpected bonus where Loki was the most interesting thing about the film, a trend to be repeated apparently. I really think us girls love him because hes adorable and would be a project we can try to fix. That’s a discussion for another time.

The sequel picks up where The Avengers left off and while my spoiler free disclaimer remains for Thor 2, the Avengers is beyond the statute of limitations. Loki has been imprisoned back on Asgard. Thor has not returned to Jane since he left her in New Mexico. Jane for reasons we cannot tell fully is not working for, with or even near SHIELD. Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been battling across the Nine Realms trying to bring peace and order to them after the Bifrost was destroyed during the events of the first movie. Everyone seems happy to tell Thor he needs to stop pining for Jane and Jane herself is doing a poor job of trying to move on. She still has loyal and snarky wingman and intern Darcy helping to track anomalies with a slightly off kilter (justifiably) Erik Selvig. During an investigation Jane is reunited with Thor and an ancient enemy resurfaces in a ploy to destroy the known Universe. Pushed to his very limits Thor is forced to obtain the aid of the one person he knows he cannot trust, his brother.

There is the high level synopsis spoiler free. Marvel handed the reins (reigns?) of this film to Alan Taylor. Don’t know the name? Neither did I. He is mostly a TV director who did 6 episodes of Game of Thrones and 9 of the Sopranos. How they picked him? I do not know. What I do know is he didn’t do a bad job. The shots were good, the acting was good, the fighting was watchable, all in all good direction on a script that had me scratching my head a few times.

The movie does fall prey to the too many writers problem in which we have 5 different writing credits; not including the comic books three credits. The story is by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, The Patriot) and Don Payne (Thor, Fantastic Four 2). Knowing this in retrospect I can see where certain script elements appeared and why other elements were the way they were. The story was then adapted to screenplay by three men. Stephen McFeely (Captain America, Pain & Gain), Christopher Markus (same), and Christopher Yost (a slew of animated Marvel shows). This to me explains why there were scenes where the entire theatre erupted in laughter ( for good reason). sadly it also explains between the five of them why there was a women in fridges moment and a certain air of ..a very unwanted love triangle. I know that the film is supposed to be about Thor, but the Warriors 3 and Sif were his companions more than any other and they are woefully and painfully under utilized here. Granted they get more to do here than in Thor, but its still not good. And Love Triangles! Gah. I was annoyed when I suspected it, then it was confirmed. They aren’t needed, they are rarely liked and even more rarely handled well.

Ok, lets talk the actors. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki steals every bloody scene he is in. No one can keep up with him even if they try. One particular shape-shifting scene brought the house down. He is the absolute best thing about the movie. Hemsworth is delicious to look at and really acts well beyond the looks. There are times I think he was sick when his accent gets so thick and his voice drops an octave or two. It’s clear he gets the arrogance that Thor is to have, but has also learned humility over the years. Portman plays the fish out of water and love interest remarkably well and in a way that isn’t annoying. I was hoping to see more proactiveness from her early on but they deliver well enough at the end.

Anthony Hopkins seems to be showing his age beyond the make up in this turn as Odin. Rene Russo is actually given something to do briefly and gets more than two lines which is nice to see as she’s the bloody Queen of Asgard. I reiterate that Jaimie Alexander isn’t utilized well enough through the film as Sif and some of the times she is I want to hit a writer. Zarchary Levi (Chuck) replaces Josh Dallas (Once Upon a Time) as Fandral seamlessly and he even gets to buckle some swashes. Hogun and Volstag are barely used thus their actors have little screen time or epicness that could have been given. Kat Dennings returns from being a Broke Girl to playing Darcy the snarky. She’s almost overused.

Christopher ( Dr. Who) Eccleston plays the villain Malekith. I will be honest, through the trailers and much of the film I did not recognize him. The make up was superb and the post production work on his voice were really well done. He actually brings a suitable air of menace to the film that we didn’t have in the first much.

The technicals. Le sigh. During one sequence I half expected to hear a young Jake Lloyd go “Yippee” and some bad commentator talk about the Pod Racing. The sound mixing and effects were so completely unoriginal it took me out of what should have been a fun sequence. Visually Asgard looked slightly less CGI than before and overall was rather well done. The effects of the big bad however. Not so much. While they did for the most part have some of the best lighting for it that made it match the atmosphere and environment around it – it just wasn’t working. There were times it reminded me of Blade or Fantastic Four 2. Hmmm…

Also – Puppeh!!!

TL;DR?

Despite some of the harsh comments above, it really is an enjoyable two hours. It’s far from a perfect film and still less flawed than the original. I don’t regret the time or the price unlike another Marvel film this year. I can safely tell everyone go see the film; I doubt you will be as critical as I am. I think this one is a movie people of all ages can enjoy but I do recommend watching Thor and or The Avengers first.

No breakdowns on this one, just see it. Matinee or full price, I think you will get your monies worth.

Stay allllllllllllll the way through the credits. Two scenes in this one.