Film review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL.2, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The first Guardians of the Galaxy film caused a minor sensation as it broke from the Marvel formula for a wildly different superhero experience. That film unusually but successfully combined elaborate often spectacular special effects, thrilling action sequences, vivid art direction, piss-taking humour and Gen X pop-cultural references including classic 1970’s power pop hits. With the sequel, writer/ director James Gunn had the ominous task of capturing the original’s magic while building on the mythology. Unfortunately, despite an often impressive visual and aural onslaught, there’s a disturbing sense of repetition about this film. Gunn has essentially taken the original and pumped it full of even more cinematic steroids but failed to deliver a really compelling story.

The awkwardly constructed plot sees hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his crew Gamora (Zoe Saldana), shirtless muscle man alien Drax (Dave Bautista), trouble-making raccoon Rocket (once again voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) fleeing a vengeful galactic Queen (Elizabeth Debicki) and her golden hued minions after Rocket steals some priceless batteries. Amid the chaos of a Galaxian-style space battle they encounter a strange bearded figure unsubtly named Ego (Kurt Russell) who it turns out has a connection to one of the crew. Ego also has an unusual link to the planet he occupies – and on which Peter and crew seek refuge – a link that vaguely recalls sci-fi classics such as Solaris and Forbidden Planet. It soon becomes apparent that the folksy Ego’s intentions are not as benign as they originally seemed and an almighty confrontation will ensue.

With inventive effects sequences and art direction that, more than other Marvel films, replicates the look of a comic this candy-coloured phantasmagoria is at first a visual feast. By the midpoint of the film, though, it’s so saturated with CGI and outlandish action scenes that it loses almost all visceral human connection and the thrills and emotion evaporate. It briefly recovers during a moving sequence involving a major character but by the end of the film – including its multiple post-credit sequences – space battle fatigue has taken hold.

To his credit, Gunn attempts to make this more than just a jokey spectacle by exploring themes of family including Freudian father issues and intense sibling rivalry. Unfortunately he doesn’t integrate these themes into the space opera in a particularly insightful way.

The original was most clearly distinguished from the Marvel pack by two aspects, the first being its ballsy sardonic humour. The humour still works at times but also occasionally feels forced and predictable; we know that nearly every emotional scene will be undercut by a smug adolescent quip. Also, some gags – including one about a bad guy’s nickname – that are lame to begin with are milked endlessly.

The other feature that distinguished the first film from the Marvel production line was its use of music and here the sequel still hits the mark superbly. Gunn cleverly uses each well-chosen hit to inject scenes with exuberant energy, a superb example being an early sequence where the Guardians battle a tentacled beast to the strains of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky.

Importantly, this franchise still emphasises character even if some aren’t as compelling as they should be. As Quill or Starlord, Chris Pratt has been touted as a roguish hero worthy of Han Solo which is befuddling as he has almost none of Harrison Ford’s charisma or cheeky wit. As Drax Dave Bautista’s gormlessness and weird illogical take on reality are still kind of endearing and at times funny but his habit of roaring with laughter at inappropriate moments has become annoying and tedious. Much more impressive is Zoey Saldana as the noble yet flinty Gamora. Her battle with cyborg sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) isn’t quite as moving as it could have been but she still commands every scene in which she appears and is the film’s real hero.

Tellingly, the cgi critter Rocket occupies much of the screen time which speaks to the filmmakers’ obsession with special effects and smart-alec humour. Impressively, though, Bradley Cooper once again gives this computer creation dimension and personality. The taciturn Groot was a particulary memorable character from the first film and his offspring Baby Groot ads some cuteness as well as some pathos to this film. Elizabeth Debicki also amuses with a scenery-chomping performance as the golden queen Ayeesha. The retro themed art deco world she inhabits with her gold-painted followers has some of the camp appeal of Flash Gordon. As in the first film, Michael Rooker delivers a potent performance as space pirate and Peter’s surrogate father, Yondu.

For those wanting more retina-burning effects, skull-pounding space battles, self-referential humour and simply more time with well-loved characters, this sequel will probably suffice but for those wanting some evolution in the franchise this will seem like a very competent but slightly unsatisfying re-tread.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Sci-fi/ action/ comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): James Gunn.

Release date: 27th Apr 2017.

Running time: 136 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


Film review: PASSENGERS, from ‘Built For Speed’

We can almost hear the boardroom meeting: “that Titanic made a bundle and so did that Gravity let’s mash them together, throw in a couple of Hollywood’s hottest stars and it’s new Ferraris all round”. The result is Passengers a sci-fi/ adventure/ romance that should have been a moving and thrilling space adventure but winds up being surprisingly tepid.

Chris Pratt stars as Jim Preston a mechanic who, at a time in the future, has, along with 5,000 other intrepid souls, volunteered to be placed in suspended animation and transported across the galaxies in the spaceship Avalon so he can be among the first people to populate a new planet named Homestead 2. When a mishap causes his sleep pod to malfunction and wake him from suspended animation 30 years into the 120 year journey, Jim finds himself floating through space alone. At first the intergalactic cruise ship’s numerous high tech attractions stave off the misery of Jim’s solitude but he soon begins to crave human contact. When he is joined by another passenger Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) and starts to form a romantic relationship with her, Jim’s lonely fate seems to have been averted but he also confronted with a painful moral dilemma.

With the film predominantly focused on the two main characters, the pairing of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt needed to produce phenomenal screen chemistry. Unfortunately, their romance isn’t especially moving or even believable. Most of the time they’re just two ridiculously good looking people larking about in space. Added to that, the sci-fi drama in which their lives are threatened is mostly predictable and pinches ideas from superior films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Still, it’s hard not enjoy any Jennifer Lawrence performance. Even if the script doesn’t realise her character’s potential, Lawrence still imbues Aurora with strength and emotional depth. Pratt on the other hand seems more suited to quirky action hero roles like the ones he played in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World and he doesn’t convince as a man undergoing an existential crises or as a romantic lead. The only other actor with substantial screen time is Michael Sheen who is appropriately creepy as the suspiciously polite android bar tender Arthur.

Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum fashions a slick, shiny and somewhat soulless world aboard the Avalon, a ship whose interior resembles a futuristic games parlour mixed with a shopping mall after closing time. He conjures a few visually impressive sci-fi action set pieces but this film lacks the indelible art direction of sci-fi classics like Alien.

The potential was here for a sci-fi epic and a touching human story but Passengers winds up as a mediocre space romance.

Nick’s rating: **1/2.

Genre: Sci Fi/ Romance.

Classification: M.

Director(s):  Morten Tyldum.

Release date: 1st January 2017.

Running time: 116 mins.

Screening at: General release.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.