Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Dir: Russo Bros
Starring: Everyone, really.
Runtime: 3hr1min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE BELOW A CUT)

20190425_172726_HDR.jpgAt last, the moment Marvel fans have been waiting for is finally upon us – the hotly-anticipated sequel to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and the culmination of a 22-film saga that began with 2008’s Iron Man has been released for eager audiences to devour. Avengers: Endgame is an epic three-hour adventure that offers an explosive, entertaining, and emotional ending to  the first major chapter of a steadily expanding film universe.

Avengers: Endgame follows the remaining non-dusty Avengers in the post-Snap world as they come to terms with Thanos’s actions and seek to inject hope into their seemingly-dismal circumstances.

There were several things that Endgame needed to accomplish on the heels of the dramatic Infinity War, and hundreds of dangling threads to tie together from multiple movies in the franchise. I don’t know how the Russo brothers, the writers, and everyone who works on these films does it, but somehow, some way, they managed to balance out fan-service, humor, heart, action, a balanced narrative, and a multitude of characters and their interactions in a huge film universe to create a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Sure, some folks can probably nitpick and find a stone or two left un-turned, but of all the factors fans expected this film the deliver, the most important is probably closure. And though certain fans may disagree with how certain events played out, this film felt complete when the credits began to roll.

Of course, the core of the Avengers are the original squad, with RDJ as Iron Man / Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America / Steve Rogers, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk / Bruce Banner, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye / Clint Barton. They’ve been with us the longest, have fought the most battles, and have established themselves as characters who are important to fans, and have had a lasting impact on audiences. Appropriately, much of the spotlight centers on them this time around – not entirely on them, because there are a lot of characters to give screen-time to, but primarily on them – and it gives each a chance to show how far their characters have come since their initial appearances. And by the end, each of their journeys feels finished, their arcs complete, their characters fully-developed.

Endgame delivers the usual Marvel staples – witty banter and memorable quotes, bombastic fight scenes and action sequences, stunning visuals, and throwbacks to prior films and other Marvel lore. It’s all too easy for MCU films to rely on hallmarks and a successful formula – I mean, if it works, it works – but even 22 films deep, this installment offers up twists and surprises. Some familiar, but perhaps unexpected faces show up. Some plot points seem predictable, but take jarring detours. Even the expected events are engrossing. It didn’t feel like I was sitting in a movie theater seat for three hours, and not once did I think, “Is it over yet?” I laughed, I sat in open-mouthed shock, and yes… there were tears. And when it was over, the fan in me was so happy to have been along for the entire ride, and I’m excited to see where the MCU goes next.

For a film series that has been churning out successful film after successful film, barreling forward and building momentum since 2008, Endgame offers a finale that is sure to keep audiences engaged from start to finish. The MCU has experienced some bumps in the road and has battled through fatigue in order to keep viewers in their seats, but they have also proven the merit of superhero films time and time again, and when it matters most, they deliver the closure that the Infinity Saga needs.

Overall rating: 10/10

***********UNDER THIS ARE THE SPOILERS, BEWARE, STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!!!!! THERE IS A READ MORE THING UNDER THIS BUT I KNOW IT SOMETIMES DOESN’T WORK, SO HERE IS YOUR WARNING!!!!!*************

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Five Favorite Avengers from the MCU!

(To celebrate the coming of Avengers: Endgame this Friday, I thought I would list my five favorite Avengers thus far. I am on vacation atm, so I apologize if this post is not as fleshed out as it could be!)

198336-004-0F77A0005.) Black Panther / T’Challa 
In the MCU, T’Challa’s rise to prominence has been one of the most unique – and one of the best to witness. After getting a taste of Black Panther’s abilities in Captain America: Civil War (2016), his following 2018 eponymous solo-film solidified his place as one of the coolest, and most well-developed characters in the entire MCU, despite being one of the newest. He is not just the King of Wakanda – he is a hero who has faced doubt and uncertainty head on, and strives to do what is best for the people he is sworn to protect. His suit is awesome, his character and personality are balanced, and I look forward to seeing him (and Okoye and Shuri, of course) grace the silver screen in future installments. If the others can bring him back from “The Snappening”, of course.

Brie-Larson-as-Carol-Danvers-in-Captain-Marvel4.) Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers
Another brand-new face in a sea of super greats, Captain Marvel’s 2019 solo outing was out first official look at the character, other than a tiny teaser at the end of 2018’s Infinity War. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like Carol as much as I did, but, despite being so new, I already find her to be one of the most endearing heroes in the whole MCU. She displays a compelling balance of humanity, vulnerability, humor, and badassery, which combines to make her journey thrilling to watch. As someone who was once a little girl who loved superheroes, it warms my heart to see little girls buying Captain Marvel merchandise and wearing shirts or bags with her likeness on it. However, Captain Marvel is not just a great female superhero – she is an amazing hero who anyone can look to and find a bit of themselves in. If she truly is meant to be the new face of the MCU, then I have the utmost faith in whatever is to come next. 

236ebe085b15fa7af27b80a63c6240053.) Doctor Strange / Steven Strange
What can I say? I am drawn to sarcastic assholes. I knew little about the character when I sat down to watch 2016’s Doctor Strange, but emerged from the theater totally spellbound. His abilities are the coolest to see onscreen, bar none – but his magic is not only visually striking, it’s capable of incredible, unorthodox feats that standard butt-kicking isn’t able to convey. But his hero persona is only half of it – he’s also a compelling character because Steven Strange isn’t completely likable, despite his quick wit and serious nature. He starts out sarcastic and pompous and downright arrogant, and though he changes and admits to his faults and embraces his new role as a master of the mystic arts by the end of his solo film, he never quite sheds those prickly bits of his personality. He doesn’t have the charm of Tony Stark to dampen those traits, but really, that just makes him more relatable – heroes aren’t always perfect role models, after all. Plus, he’s got the best sidekick in the entire MCU – his cape.

images.jpg2.) Ant-Man / Scott Lang
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again (and again, if I have to) – Ant-Man and his epic size-changing adventures are the kind of breather fans of the MCU need to break up the do-or-die, lives-at-stake nature of most films in the series. Both 2015’s Ant-Man and 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp came on the heels of significantly more “dramatic films” in Age of Ultron and Infinity War, and were welcome doses of heart and humor after such high-stakes installments. Scott Lang is – arguably – the most “human” of the Avengers; he’s a family guy with a complicated criminal history and he just wants to do right by his daughter and those he cares about – and maybe save the world, if he gets included in events like 2016’s Civil War. Ant-Man is the perfect example of what happens when a truly average person gets bestowed with great responsibility, which makes him easy to watch and connect with. He makes mistakes, but also does his best to right them no matter how difficult it can be. Besides… his size-changing hi-jinks will never not be funny to me. Heroes do come in all sizes – and Ant-Man is the literal embodiment of that sentiment.

captain-america.jpg1.) Captain America / Steve Rogers 
Of the original crew of major Avengers, I have found Captain America’s journey to be the most compelling. From 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, where a scrawny boy finds not only incredible physical power, but the strength within himself to become a hero, to 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where Cap’s unwavering sense of honor drives him to walk away from, and uncover the conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D, to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where Steve refuses to comply with restrictions and stands up for what he believes is right, even if it means splintering the Avengers at their core… his trilogy has felt the most complete. His character arc has experienced the most ups and downs across all of his appearances, but they have all contributed in making him a multi-layered, believable, and interesting character to watch, and he has always felt genuine in all of his actions. Captain America went from the poster boy for S.H.I.E.L.D. to a defiant rebel who will stand by his choices, but maintains the heart and the loyalty that have defined him from the start. Cap’s remarkable journey may soon be coming to an end following Endgame, but if it does… I can proudly say that he is my favorite, and will likely continue to be, no matter how many new characters are introduced.

Film Review: Captain Marvel (2019)

Dir: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Gemma Chan, etc.
Runtime: 2hr4min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Anything major will be marked under a ‘Read more’!

Captain Marvel, the latest origin story in the extensive Marvel Cinematic Universe, follows the titular heroine (Larson) in the pre-Thanos snap world as she confronts her mysterious past and attempts to save countless lives from a danger that threatens more than one world.

Captain_Marvel_poster.jpg

The last few Marvel films we’ve gotten – Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp – have all subverted genre tropes in an effort to stave off fatigue and prevent audiences from getting bored. Following these films, while also being the prelude to the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Endgame, is no easy feat, and makes it difficult to impress the folks who expect these films to keep getting bigger and better. Captain Marvel treads familiar ground and largely sticks to a known formula, but offers up a couple of surprises and manages to give a fresh, 90’s-infused twist to the standard superhero origin story as we are introduced to the fearless heroine who might hold the future of the Avengers in her fire-shootin’ hands.

This film starts off a little slow, in large part thanks to some info-dumping that drags the opening out a bit – but it levels out once the focus is centered on “Vers,” as our butt-kicking former pilot and current badass is known. It might be tough for some audience members to connect with Captain Marvel at first, since her introduction comes a few weeks before the most anticipated film in the MCU’s history, and this installment takes us back to an era before Nick Fury’s eyepatch instead of moving the overall narrative ahead. It does reference other Marvel films, but thankfully avoids obnoxious fan-service levels of pandering. The frequent 90’s references, nods to a bygone era that fans my age know so well from our own childhoods, do start to feel a little tired at times. Blockbuster and slow loading screens were a nice touch and hit some comedic notes, but once I saw Troll dolls and a Koosh ball, it got old.

Larson plays the role of Carol with an affable charm, tossing out jokes in the heat of battle one moment, then slamming enemies into walls with her photon rays the next. But there’s also a softness to her, especially when it comes to her lost past; she may be a great fighter, but she has demons to face, though she manages to avoid drowning in the same angst that many an Avenger has succumbed to. Her personality slides easily into a rapport with a young Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, as the two team up to keep power from falling into the hands of a dangerous foe. The de-aging used on the actors (both Jackson and Clark Gregg) in order to make them fit into the timeline isn’t a major distraction except for a couple of dodgy moments, which is a credit to both the makeup and special effects teams. The cast overall is great, both lead and supporting – and a couple of familiar faces pop up, who viewers might not have expected to see.

The narrative hits familiar beats – a hero struggling with her identity, a villain who seeks retribution, intergalactic battles, blue people, you know, the usual standard fare – but just when it seems that it’s going to be the same-old, same-old, a wrench gets thrown into the mix that makes the story veer off onto a new track. The fight scenes are cool, the drama compelling, and the pacing smooths out after the first half hour or so. So while there might be some turbulence at the start of the film, it doesn’t last long, and Captain Marvel transforms into a thrilling ride that aims to add another vital piece to the puzzle that is the MCU.

As a female who has seen just about every Marvel film on premiere night since 2010, and who wrote one of her film class final papers on Black Widow in The Avengers – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing a strong woman kick ass on the silver screen. And Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel can duke it out with the best of them. All that remains is to see what part she plays in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame – and I’m confident she will be a shining torch of hope for the future of the MCU.

Overall rating: 8/10

SPOILERS BELOW, BEWARE!

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Best Picture Countdown #5: Black Panther

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”Chadwick Boseman as T’Challah in Black Panther (2018)

In a world where audiences are growing weary of superhero movies in spite of their box office dominance, it is difficult for comic book films to break free from formulaic constraints and genre tropes. But Marvel’s Black Panther defied the odds by subverting expectations and earning the first ever Best Picture nomination for a superhero film.

Black_Panther_film_posterBlack Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, chronicles the rise of T’Challah as the titular hero as he seeks to protect the ones he loves and the country of Wakanda from a foe who threatens to expose their secrets to the world. It is one of the first Marvel movies to think “beyond the cape,” as it features a unique world and culture, a fully three-dimensional villain with motives that mark him more man than monster, and gorgeous effects, costumes, and music that combine to weave a powerful story while maintaining Marvel’s trademark spectacle, heart, and humor. It is also probably one of the Marvel films that audiences can connect with the most, and helped to reinvigorate weary audiences and amp them up for future films.

Though Black Panther did not garner any acting nods, I will not be surprised if it scores wins for both Production Design and Costume Design; particularly the latter. The costumes are all fantastic and gorgeously designed, though The Favourite will be a tough contender to beat.

Ludwig Göransson’s score is also up, but it will be a challenge to take down the likes of returning champion Alexandre Desplat and Terence Blanchard, but it could be anyone’s game, especially since Göransson’s efforts helped set the tone of the film and gave it a distinct, rich sound. Less likely is a Best Original Song victory for “All the Stars,” simply because ASiB is almost guaranteed to win.

At first, I understood the opinion of those who believe this film is unworthy of such distinction, even though I didn’t agree. After all, I don’t think Black Panther is the best superhero film ever, and many deserving films (*cough* The Dark Knight*cough*) have been unjustly ignored by the Academy in the past. But Black Panther‘s nomination isn’t about those snubbed films. The Academy has changed over the years, and the fact that it is finally acknowledging the profound effect of superhero movies on the world of cinema is a monumental step forward for “popular” films. In what seems to be an endless stream of films featuring masked crusaders, multi-hero team-ups, and high-stakes battles to the death, Black Panther is commendable for producing a fresh, engrossing story featuring relevant real-world issues and introducing characters that have already become some of Marvel’s most fully-realized and compelling.

Regardless of its massive and well-deserved success, I don’t think Black Panther will be able to topple the other favorites in the race for Best Picture this year. It is a great film – and a phenomenal superhero film – but T’Challah and co. will be facing the fight of their lives on Oscar night. But I sincerely hope it does not go home empty handed, and am predicting it will go 2/7 on the night. I am also looking forward to seeing the stunning cast on the red carpet, representing this fantastic film!

Oscar Nominations: 7
Best Picture
Best Original Score
Best Original Song
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design
Best Sound Editing
Best Sound Mixing 

Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Dir: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, etc.
Runtime: 1hr58min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, some hints here and there. One tidbit beneath the read-more.

I am a big fan of 2015’s Ant-Man, to the point where it’s in my current Pantheon of great Marvel films, so I’ve been eager about the follow-up ever since the post-credits teaser of the original. Like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a departure from the typical superhero formula and the high-stakes, dire nature of most Marvel films, and the result is a humorous palate-cleanser and a much-needed dose of levity with just enough heart and conflict to connect it back to recent installments in the MCU.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAnd-Man and the Wasp follows our hero Scott Lang (Rudd) who seeks to repair his fractured relationship with Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Hank Pym (Douglas) as they team up once again in order to save Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife Janet (Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm while also fending off a mysterious enemy named Ghost (John-Kamen) who wants their technology for herself.

Overall, this film is a wild ride from start to finish – a well-balanced comedic action film that is relatively self-contained while also tying into the MCU as a whole. Folks might be quick to write off this film as “disposable,” since it doesn’t feature any of the “big,” Avengers, but I’ll attest that it’d be a crime to miss out on this little adventure, especially if you find yourself needing a laugh or two after Infinity War.

The cast turns in great performances all around, from returning crew and newcomers alike. Rudd and Lilly, our titular heroes, play off one another even better than the first film, with Hope’s more straight-laced nature providing a superb contrast to Rudd’s humor and allowing for memorable banter between the two. Lilly’s first official outing as the Wasp is also totally badass as the first officially “titled” female hero in the MCU. The two of them truly carry the film as equals, but the remaining roster isn’t slouching. John-Kamen is intriguing as Ghost, though the character doesn’t quite reach Vulture or Killmonger or Thanos level of development. Douglas is delightfully grumpy and gruff as Pym, Pfeiffer charms in her role as the long-missed Janet, and Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder-Forston are wonderful as Scott’s family and loyal support squad. Walton Goggins also appears as the skeevy secondary villain, who is essentially a hammed up version of his role in Tomb Raider.

The appeal of Rudd as Ant-Man is not only his stellar comedic skills, but also his relatability – Scott Lang is the best example in the entire MCU of what would happen if an ordinary man was suddenly thrust into the role of a hero. He messes up, he has real-life issues to deal with, he has a daughter he loves and doesn’t want to disappoint, he’s trying to pick his post-convict career off the ground, he doesn’t know what he’s doing about 48% of the time, and he wants to help the people he cares about save the life of someone they love. Though he pitched in to help Cap in 2016’s Civil War, this film never reaches “save the world” level stakes, but the film still resonates, which is proof that the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man to ground it, and to allow audiences some breathing room after watching characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor grapple with intergalactic threats who seek to bring doom upon the world.

Reed masterfully maintains a swift pace (when was the last time a Marvel movie was under 2 hours?) throughout this film without dropping the ball on either humor and action – in fact, the elements of both genres are seamlessly intertwined thanks to the performances of the actors and the nature of the size-changing hijinks that occur throughout the film. No matter the context, a giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser taking out a bad guy on a motorcycle is hysterical. And even though it relies a lot on comedy, there’s plenty of emotion to be found, especially in the way the film portrays familial relationships, such as the father/daughter bonds between both Hank/Hope and Scott/Cassie (and perhaps another similar bond between two others, though I won’t spoil that). Though the action and fight scenes are great, I will say that a significant portion of them are featured in the trailers, so that was a little disappointing. Maybe they should have saved the giant salt-shaker for the film instead of revealing it beforehand, but regardless, the stunts are just as brilliant as the epic Thomas the Tank Engine scene from the first film.

Arguably, this film feels more “comic-book”-y than lots of the other Marvel titles, due to a combination of a fitting score, jokes and silliness aplenty, unbelievable science, insane stunts, and larger than life characters. Neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp are trying to save the world – nothing as big as that – but the conflicts they face are that much more easy to relate to because of it. Scott doesn’t want to disappoint those he loves, Hope wants to rescue her mom – and even the villain motivations are not as lofty as other MCU baddies. And this film totally delivers on the comedic front, especially thanks to Rudd, Peña’s return as Scott’s best pal and quick-tongued, loose-lipped business partner Luis, and Park’s performance as FBI agent Jimmy Woo, who desperately wants to catch Scott violating the terms of his house-arrest.

Ant-Man might not be the most thrilling hero to grace the silver screen, and, in the wake of April’s Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp seems downright unimportant in the grand scheme of the MCU. However, much like the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man, the MCU needs films like Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide audiences a break from such drastic peril and potentially world-ending battles. Sure, this film might be relatively small in scale, comparatively speaking… but that’s exactly why it packs such a big punch.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

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5 Favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

In the lead up to Infinity War this Thursday night, I thought I’d list my favorite films in the MCU thus far! Though, bear in mind, this is a list of my favorites, not what I consider to be the best.

MV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_5.) Ant-Man (2015)
I know this film doesn’t feature on many top Marvel film lists, but I thought this adventure, which feels like a fun side quest instead of a direct installment to the main, over-arcing narrative, was an absolute blast. Paul Rudd is the perfect choice for the role, combining humor and a sort of “every man” affability that made him both likable and relatable as a character (despite his prison record). It’s a superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed in the midst of intergalactic wars or cities and planets in peril. I laugh every time I see the Thomas the Tank Engine scene, and for some reason, the size-changing hi-jinks don’t get old. I look forward to even more hilarity in the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, dropping this summer.

MV5BMTg1MTY2MjYzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc4NTMwNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_4.) Black Panther (2018)
This film (coupled with the preceding Thor: Ragnarok) was the perfect installment in the MCU to set up Infinity War because it defies several of the common superhero tropes while still adhering to Marvel’s standards in quality and entertainment. Much like Ant-Man, this film is a palette cleanser, a nice break for those suffering from the “Marvel fatigue” as it helped rejuvenate a genre that sees more and more repetitive installments every year. T’Challa’s journey to assert himself as both an individual hero and a true leader to his people made me excited for superhero movies again, and it also has what is probably the most well-developed and exciting villain in the entire MCU. Plus, this film gave us Okoye and Shuri. Need I say more?

MV5BNjgwNzAzNjk1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ2NjI1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_3.) Doctor Strange (2016)
Alright, alright…. maybe I just really enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch with a beard and a snarky attitude enough to see this film twice in IMAX 3D. But Doctor Strange is a unique character with a level of sarcasm and ego to rival Tony Stark, and his transition to the big screen was a refreshing trip into the world of illusion and different deimensions, as his story focuses more on the abilities of the mind and “magical” manipulation, which provide for absolutely stunning visual segments and complex, entertaining fight scenes. The final confrontation in this film also features a unique twist that is a nice change-up from the standard “hero must beat the big bad” recipe. And the cape is easily the best sidekick in the entire MCU (sorry, Falcon).

MV5BMTAwMjU5OTgxNjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDUxNDYxODEx._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_2.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I knew nothing about the titular characters going into this film, and came out of it blown away at how hilarious this motley crew of space adventurers could be. This film is a visual and auditory feast of bright colors, unique characters, and 80’s and 70’s jams coming together for one epic and laugh-out-loud romp across the galaxy. And while Groot is an absolute delight, and one scene in particular makes me tear up every single re-watch, Rocket Raccoon and his foul mouth will always be my favorite member of this ragtag squad. Plus, this film has the great distinction of being the only MCU film to feature a final confrontation that contains a dance-off. And that should be enough to convince any one to see it, if for some reason they live under a rock and haven’t watched this MCU gem yet.

download.jpg1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
From the moment I saw Chris Evans in Captain America: the First Avenger back in 2011, his position as my favorite Avenger was sealed… and that conviction only grew stronger with the sequel, which I still consider to be one of the best all-around films in the whole MCU. Winter Soldier is equal parts political/espionage-laced thriller and action-packed superhero movie that blurs the line between right and wrong and good and bad, with an impeccable focus on character development and a lot of build up to future movies in this series, especially Civil War, which only narrowly missed this list. The Captain America-based storyline is (arguably) the most integral in the entire MCU, as his actions and decisions bear so much weight on the Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D as a whole. For me, Steve Rogers/Captain America is the easiest character to feel attached to, to be inspired by, and his journey and development as an individual and as a member of the Avengers is the one I am most invested in, and his portrayal in Winter Soldier is him at his finest and truly coming into his own, learning that his shield cannot only be used to defend, but it must be a weapon too. Plus, this movie gave us Bucky/The Winter Soldier. Enough said.

Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Dir: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russel
Runtime: 2hr16m
Spoiler Level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE UNDER A “READ MORE”)

MV5BMTg2MzI1MTg3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTU3NDA2MTI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgBack in the summer of 2014, I knew nothing about Guardians of the Galaxy, but when Marvel’s film adaptation rolled into theaters, my best friend and I decided to venture out to see it on opening night. I knew there was a raccoon involved, and I do love my nocturnal, trash-eating rodents, so I figured it would be worthy entertainment for a Thursday night.

However, I did not expect it to become my favorite installation in the MCU up to that point. The original Guardians is an action-packed, visually-engrossing space opera laden with laugh-out-loud humor and fantastic music, and 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is a worthy sequel and excellent addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, even though it doesn’t quite achieve the same level of quirky charm of the first.

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 follows the titular band of space misfits as they continue their travels through space and adapt to their new role as “heroes”, but after a mission goes awry, they must work to resolve their internal conflicts while also navigating various precarious situations, including the question of Star Lord’s parentage, the sisterly rivalry between Nebula and Gamora, and Baby Groot’s inability to understand even the most basic directions.

Naturally, with such a stacked cast, it’s easy for the more “supporting” characters to get shoved aside so the main cast can bask in the spotlight, but GotGv2 does a decent job of balancing the plot and the narrative focus between all of the characters. I think this contributes to the somewhat “nonlinear plot” of the film, as this film is far more character-driven than it is plot-driven, but that’s not necessarily a drawback; in fact, I think it’s the film’s strength. Each character seemed to get their own sizable piece of the action, and in most cases, the character arcs “overlap” to help ensure enough time is devoted to each person/creature. Gamora has to grapple with her dysfunctional relationship with Nebula, which also gives the viewer a better look into Nebula’s motivations. Drax strikes up an unusual (and hilarious) friendship with Mantis, and Rocket finds an unusual kinship with Peter’s old mentor/guardian Yondu (Michael Rooker), which also opens a window into Yondu’s past as a ravager and his history with Peter. Peter struggles to reconcile the dreams he once had about his real father with the reality of his actual father, Ego, in addition to dealing with an “unspoken thing” with Gamora. And Baby Groot is… well, he’s Baby Groot. Every moment he is onscreen is a moment to treasure.

But this focus on the characters only seems to add more of an emotional impact to the film, even if the result is a less “plot-driven” film than the previous one. I mean, while there’s a solid plot and all, the individual stories and plotlines are kind of loosely interwoven until the climax, where they all crash into one another; but instead of stretching the story too thin, I think it adds a unique sort of depth. After all, a film about a superhero team should give adequate screen time to each of the members, and this film does a great job of doing just that. It didn’t feel like anyone got left behind, and certain events over the course of the film packed more of an emotional punch because of the enhanced focus on the entire cast, not only the leads; this is especially apparent in the treatment of Yondu and Nebula, who get more of a layered portrayal this time around.

New additions to the cast include Pom Klementieff as the empath, Mantis, who expresses a genuine naivete and wide-eyed sweetness that balances out some of the “rougher” members of the team. Mantis contributes to a lot of big laughs throughout the film, especially through her interactions with Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. Kurt Russell oozes confidence and charisma as Star Lord’s father, Ego, and Elizabeth Debicki is “gold” in her appearance as High Priestess Ayesha of the Sovereign, though her screen time is limited. Also, Sly Stallone is in this for a hot second – didn’t know that until I saw the opening credits.

Much like with the first film, the music in this film is fitting for the plot and all around fantastic to listen to, and the effects are amazing, per usual – especially the design of Ego’s Planet. There’s plenty of action, and several sequences that are just an absolute blast to watch, especially in IMAX/3D. Plus, for a film/property that is generally more light-hearted in tone than other Marvel installments, GotGv2 isn’t afraid to land a roundhouse kick right to your feels in a couple of spots. Unlike Mantis, the film is beautiful – on the inside, and the outside.

Alas, with the good comes the bad; while the film features several legitimately hilarious moments (I’ll discuss a couple of them under the spoiler cut), some of the humor feels a bit forced and awkward, especially in the beginning – though obviously, this might differ for other folks depending on their sense of humor. It takes a bit of time for the film to find its groove, and a few jokes failed to hit the mark. However, Drax (along with his interaction with Mantis) is definitely the comedic heart of the film, along with the lovable Baby Groot. Everyone gets a few quips, and the film eventually finds a rhythm and sticks to it, despite a faltering start.

If you’re a fan of the first film, or just love a good, humorous jaunt through the distant reaches of the universe with a twig, a couple of aliens, a human/celestial, and a cybernetically-engineered trash panda, then prepare yourself to get hooked on a feelin’ (again) by Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2.

Overall rating: 9/10

SPOILERS BENEATH THE “READ MORE,” YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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