Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017): Trying Too Hard (Review)

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-2-Main-CastDirected and written by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (which uses a whole slew of characters created by other folks from Marvel) is entertaining but it does seem to be trying a tad too hard to keep up with the first volume in the franchise.  The music from the mix tape is not as catchy as the first film’s and Baby Groot is used far too much when things get slow.

(In the instance of Groot, the character feels like a Marvel version of Lassie, or the kangaroo with a heart from Down Under, Skippy. “I am Groot” is now understood as a language all its own. Sort of like Skippy making kissing noises or Lassie barking. “What’s that Skippy/Lassie? Old Mrs. Wilson has fallen down the well?” Or…in the parlance of this setting, a myriad of meanings is derived from the twig’s single utterances.)

The film does entertain. It was always, however, going to have a hard time living up to the first GotG. In 2014 when the movie about lesser known Marvel  characters opened, one left the cinema in a state of joyous euphoria. In 2017, the film is slower, although somewhat grandiose in plot – Kurt Russell does play a seed implanting planet, after all – but it loses something betwixt the first film’s fun open.

Chris Pratt’s character is less precocious and Zoe Zaldana’s Gamora is less everything. Dave Bautista’s Drax is funnier but less literal and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket comes across much calmer than before. Michael Rooker stays pretty much the same as the blue skinned Yondu and Kurt Russell, as the omnipotent daddy figure has apparently had a lift and a tuck after working on Bone Tomahawk and The Hateful Eight.

The plot, in volume two of Guardians of the Galaxy allows a family reunion between Peter Quill and his daddy; Ego. Rocket annoys the heck out of the Creel (a group of genetically engineered gold skinned people) by stealing some their batteries. This places a death sentence on all the guardians and they must flee/fight their former clients while  dealing with Ego.

While the film does appear to be trying too hard to please, it does still entertain. There were a number of laughs, a few teary moments and a clever bit of plot interweaving going on. Karen Gillan reprises her role as Nebula to fine effect and Elizabeth Debicki is splendid as Ayesha, the leader of the Creel.

Stan Lee appears on a rock talking to some Watchers, Sylvester Stallone has a cameo as does Michelle Yeo and Ving Rhames.  At the start of the film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 utilizes some “Tron-like” CG to rejuvenate Russell into a younger version of himself. This would have been more impressive had Russell not had his wrinkles ironed out to play the immortal Ego.

Essentially, Volume Two of the franchise is a bit of a rehash of the first film.  There is an overwhelming enemy hoard to deal with and a big bad that almost kills everyone. In terms of trying too hard, there are a slew of cameos in this second film.

The first movie had John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz, along with Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro to fill out the cameos. (Nathan Fillion voiced a character in the prison scenes and this go around Miley Cyrus was the celebrity VO artist.)

Perhaps the only real “sin” committed here was that in terms of originality and freshness, Volume Two was always going to have an uphill struggle after the magical open of “Volume One.” Peter Quill is less funny this time around and Drax laughs far too much.

Still…the film is great fun and while it drags just enough to notice things like how big and beautiful Zaldana’s hands are, compared to Pratt’s, and observing how intricate Gillan’s Nebula make up is, Gunn’s effort is still worthy of the big screen Marvel-verse.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is a cracking ride, despite its overall tone of trying too hard the film earns a full 4.5 stars. It is still playing in a cinema near you and even with a few loud people in the audience, it is well worth the price of a ticket and the two hours and 16 minute length is acceptable.

(Note: Stick around for the end credits to completely play out. There are a number of teasers at the end.)

The Purge: Election Year (2016) Republican Paradise (Review)

The Purge

Written and directed by James DeMonaco, The Purge: Election Year sees the return of Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo) and the end to a short, successful franchise.  In this last visit to a country that takes a note from an old Star Trek episode “Return of the Archons” – where Landru lets its people legally murder, maim and rape for a few hours – things appear to wrap up nicely. 

Senator Charlie Roan (played by the brilliant Elizabeth Mitchell who was so wasted in her role on the Freeform horror snooze-fest “Dead of Summer“) is against the whole purge night scenario. Mainly because she watched her entire family die at the hands of a purge participant as a teen. 

Roan is getting quite a following from people who also want to see The Purge disbanded. The opposing party, the NFFA (New Founding Father’s of America,  want the senator silenced and the film follows her escape from the opposition party as well as the group of people who struggle to keep the senator alive.

DeMonaco takes this last in the trilogy towards a new direction. He focusses on the “bigger picture” this time around and while we do follow a group of disparate strangers struggling to survive the night it is more about the politics behind The Purge.

Linking the NFFA party to the current Republican party, whose values do seem disturbingly similar to the film’s politico’s way of thinking, was a masterful touch. In a year where America’s “King George” (Donald Trump) was elected president it feels particularly apt.

The Purge franchise has always been about killing off the lower classes. In each film, it is the moneyed classes who do the most killing. While the focus is on the ethnic minorities being allowed to murder their fellow citizens, this time around the process has been given a religious connotation.

Leo Barnes, who was so pro-purge in the second film, is back and he is the Senator’s head of security.  He is also a bono-fide tough guy whose mission, throughout the film, is to protect Roan. Barnes is also against The Purge this time around.

DeMonaco moved to end the franchise with this film but with the current political climate in America it seems almost a certainty that there could well be a fourth installment in this cynical and entertaining horror tale.

Looking at the reasoning behind The Purge program which is about saving money on health care programs, food stamps and low income housing (only to apparently spend a fortune on rebuilding structures damaged by the widespread mayhem) it matches the Republican party’s mission statement and intent perfectly.

So why not have The Purge 4? It could be titled “The Trump Years” and feature the players from the current POTUS’ cabinet who are trying so hard to punish the poor for their lack of status. (While greasing the palms of those who lavishly gave donations to the Republican party.)

Armchair politics aside, The Purge: Election Year is a solid 4 star film. It loses a star for basically taking us back to the same story yet again, and for that botched practical stunt in front of the deli.

*The two schoolgirls who return to kill the owner and take a candy bar are struck down by Laney (Betty Gabriel) and her van. The “bride” and her mate are both run over and the vehicle drags them both underneath its carriage. However…The bride is then shown being knocked onto the windscreen of a parked car, which would only happen with a glancing blow.*

There are other things wrong with the film in terms of plot holes and so on but the film is worth watching and does entertain. It features a lot of violence, some cursing and absolutely no nudity.

The Expanse: Godspeed – Eros Shrugs (Review)

The Expanse - Season 2

The Expanse “Godspeed” manages yet again to make blood pressure levels rise as the Nauvoo is launched toward Eros and the Roci responds hostilely to another ship found to be attached to the space station. Chrisjen outmaneuvers the deputy secretary and Julie Mao’s father and despite the best laid plans of Col. Johnson, and the OPA belters, Eros shrugs its way out of the Nauvoo’s path.

This episode manages to put enough suspense in the last few moments of the destruction of Eros that it turns into a nail biting exercise. Miller’s decision to die while  holding the damaged explosive device and its timer was enough to keep everyone on the edge of their seat.

The action building up to the move to blow Eros into a million little pieces of protomolecule space debris shows the mechanization behind stopping a war and the decision to control the spread of the new life form.

Chrisjen shows once again what a masterful games person she is. Deftly playing Jules-Pierre Mao against Deputy Secretary Errinwright. She does such a good job that later in the episode Mao reveals to his accomplice Sadavir Errinwright that she knows they are working together.

Mao cuts off the partnership after telling Sadavir that he is too concerned with his own governmental position to be useful.

Miller has convinced Col. Johnson to destroy the Eros using the Mormon “ark” Nauvoo.  The two eject the religious denizens and using the OPA troops outfit the ship and set it up for blast off.

Meanwhile Diogo and Miller are put together, along with more Belters, to help the Eros to detonate with some well placed explosive devices. The former cop and the lad who sold water before still have that fluctuating love/hate relationship.

When Miller opts to stay behind and manually blow up the last device however, it is clear that Diogo’s estimation of the ex cop has gone up considerably.

As Holden and his crew oversee the operation they find  another ship tethered to the Eros. A group of medical personnel have landed, they say, to offer aid to the suffering people on the stricken space station.

The leader of the group recognizes that the Roci is a Martian vessel and thinks that Holden and his crew are Martians. Holden tries to bluff the man into leaving.

Miller finds one of the medical staff from the ship in an airlock on Eros. The man has been infected with the protomolecule and now Holden must stop the medical ship from not only transmitting what they have found but stop them from leaving.

With a threat of more contamination from the medical crew, Holden blasts the other ship into oblivion.

Even with the slow build up to the final moments of “Godspeed” the ending, with the slow near miss of the Nauvoo and the realization that the Eros space station dodged the collision, was tight and darn near exhausting to watch.

After getting set to see Miller self destruct via the explosion of Eros, it was surprising to see him get a reprieve. (It was also a surprise to see Holden and his  crew ready to risk their lives to save Miller.)

The Expanse has managed to continue on the same vein as season one. It intrigues, entertains and sets the pulse racing in the quiet of space. The protomolecule has clearly moved the space station out of  harm’s way and it is, apparently, getting stronger and more intelligent by the moment.

The series airs Wednesdays on SyFy. Tune in and catch this popular and addictive show about Belters, Martians and folks from Earth all on the  edge of going to war while a new life form threatens everyone’s existence.

Cast:

Agents of SHIELD: The Man Behind the Shield – LMD Invasion (Review)

MALLORY JANSEN, ZACH MCGOWAN, JASON O'MARA

The big payoff of Agents of SHIELD this week in “The Man Behind the Curtain” was four of the team being replaced with LMD replicas by Radcliffe, via Aida after a trio of agents go in and pull Mace out of The Superior’s clutches. There was a somewhat satisfactory fight sequence between the Russian baddie and Quake which ends, somewhat predictably, with the delusional chap losing.

The inhuman SHIELD agent does take it for granted that The Superior was killed with her final action which leaves the barely living Watch Dog leader to Aida’s devices. (On a sidenote, the actions of Aida, “Even filth has a purpose” in terms of very human delight at enacting revenge on the idiot leader was just brilliant.)

The Superior managed to prove that he had no real idea or understanding of his place in this verse. His statement to Quake before having his arse handed to him an a plate (that he had been training for this event) showed how little he really understood about the whole issue of inhumans.

Backstory wise, the Phil and May relationship was looked at in more detail with emphasis on their “almost romance.” That they were attracted to one another has always been a constant but it turns out that May’s “civilian number 14” (Andrew Garner) was the one who stopped them from consummating their attraction.

It explained much but the portrayal of Phil Coulson as a somewhat nebbish agent that May poked good natured fun at was, to a degree, misplaced. In the overall scheme of things, one feels that this may have been an attempt to make Coulson less capable whereas in the verse itself the head of SHIELD has always felt completely on top of everything.

(With the exception of his death by Loki’s hand earlier.  Even then, however, Coulson was pretty much unflappable. When he fires the weapon at Loki his throw-away remark of “so that’s what it does,” showed the real essence of Phil. Just as his last words to Nick  Fury revealed his true thought process.)

Regardless of the “manufactured” feel of the flashback, which managed to tie in The Superior with Coulson and May, it served to show just why Phil was so ready to accept the LMD version of Agent May.

Mace has, seemingly, been rescued just in the nick of time but, especially after Aida’s whispered comments to the barely alive Superior, he could have died and still had his consciousness imprinted onto the LMD that Fitzsimmons spot in the corridor at the show’s end.

The episode ends with LMD Phil reviving LMD May and saying that they have waited forever. Clearly things will be taking a downward turn before the season finale. So far it looks like the only two members of SHIELD on Phil’s team who are not Radcliffe replicants are the two scientists.

It will be interesting to see if The Superior becomes a more interesting character once he has been turned into a LMD. Up to this point he was all empty posturing, with Aida at least who could have kicked the Russian’s arse seven ways to Sunday with little effort, and pointless threats.

The big question at the end of this episode of Agents of SHIELD is whether  Mace actually survived his session with The Superior’s goons and just what purpose Radcliffe has in mind for the fallen Watch Dog leader.

On yet another sidenote, the whole Framework exercise at the start and later with Mack, was brilliant. While we see none of what transpires during Mack’s session the Oculus Rift line was priceless. The earlier sparring match between Phil and Daisy was also great to watch. One can only presume that many things will be sorted out in this Matrix type world in the series.

Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays on ABC. Tune in and see where the season heads next in this alternative LMD world.

CAST:

The Expanse: Static – Becoming (Review)

The Expanse - Season 2

The Expanse “Static” sees Miller ostracized for killing Dresden, Holden is furious and kicks the former cop off the ship. The Earth votes to destroy the Martian moon and does so. Lives lost are not overwhelming and Mars has not yet responded with violence.

The one scientist left after Dresden’s death,  Cortazar, eventually explains exactly what was going on with regards with Eros. The protomolecule is, according to the sociopath scientist, “becoming.” He also seems to indicate that Julie Mao, despite all appearances to the contrary, may not really be dead.

She is still haunting Miller, he saw a live and unsullied Mao in the mirror as he started cutting his hair.

Avasarala commits treason, as does Col. Johnson, with her attempt to stop the upcoming war, which will encompass Earth, Mars and the Belters, and the two strange bedfellows work well together. Frederick responds to Chrisjen’s call for help despite being threatened with death.

Meanwhile Alex has loaded up the battle into the simulator. His guilt over loosing 25 combatants in the pod keeps him re-fighting the battle over and over. Each time Alex tries to save the pod the ship is destroyed.

Holden and Naomi get closer and deal with the completed mission differently. Miller is adopted by the belters and he starts searching for ways to destroy the protomolecule completely.

In a disturbing development, the young belter who was shot in the face with a paintball in the prior episode, music has been made based upon the noises made by the protomolecule as it takes over its human host. Miller and Johnson become allies.

The ex cop explains that he killed the scientist because he was starting to make sense.

 The Expanse airs Thursdays on SyFy.

Cast:

Guest starring Carlos Gonzalez-Vio as Cortazar