Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the 15th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the third film in the third phase of the same.  The first installment of Guardians takes the viewers on a journey far beyond earth and sets the larger stage for what is to come in the MCU.  Before the first film debuted there was much doubt to the success of the movie due to its use of lesser known characters in the MCU.  However, the hilarious use of witty banter among the protagonists and the well-executed trope of the “ragtag group of misfits” somehow thrown into extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary expectations played well for audiences worldwide.  The first Guardians film set the bar high for future installments and created much anticipation for the second film.

A few words about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2:

  1. Tries too hard to be funny at times – Right out of the gate Guardians 2 seemed intent on doubling down on the humor that endears itself to the audience in the first installment.  However in this installment, while funny on its own, there was a noticeable shift in a number of jokes per scene.  While the first installment felt very natural with jokes flowing at the pace of the film, Guardians 2 seemed at times to stop the action or story to tell jokes that at many times felt as if they went on a bit too long.
  2. Lots of character development – In this movie each of the Guardians gets a deeper look into why they are the person (or tree, or raccoon, or other species) that they are.  For the most part, this was done pretty well with explaining the motivations behind each of the characters.  However, this made the movie;
  3. Extremely emotional – There were times in this film where it felt as if the audience was being forced into an emotional cheese grater.  There were several instances in which again the film felt like it stopped to make a very specific emotional point about one of the characters.  This was at the very least a bit heavy handed and at most emotionally manipulative.
  4. Fun and engaging action – The action sequences were very well executed.  Specifically, there is one involving Rocket that was very entertaining to watch and another involving Yondu (Michael Rooker with a functional mohawk) that was mesmerizing as well.  The larger action set pieces were also done very well, watching this film in 3D was very rewarding as the editing made full use of the medium.  (this coming from a critic who despises 3D and feels its use is mostly gimmicky)
  5. Felt very disconnected from the MCU – There is a total of five end credit and mid-credits scenes and only two of them did any work to tie this film to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Other than those scenes this film felt almost entirely self-contained and outside of the MCU.  There are still about four films between this one and Avengers:  Infinity War and while we know who the main villain of that film will be (Thanos) it still remains to be seen how the Guardians will mesh with the heroes of the other films.  This didn’t hurt the film itself however it did make this seem a little more like a lot of side plot rather than an important part of the main story.  (also there is a point in the film where the main villain is destroying earth and it seemed at the bare minimum a little odd that there would be no Avengers interested in helping to stop this)
  6. Terrible main plot reveal – When the main villain reveals their ultimate plot to destroy much of the galaxy it is done in kind of a crass way.  Revealing any more than that would be a spoiler but suffice it to say it felt at the very least a bit “Maury” -esque.  (I welcome anyone who wants to unpack this further to contact me on twitter or fb)

Overall the film was not bad.  I would say another solid entry in the MCU (whilst not necessary being a strongly connected unit of the MCU) with great action sequences and still remained funny (at times to a fault)  The audience loved Baby Groot (albeit it seemed there was more of him than was needed) and there is much visually to enjoy while watching this film.  You can bring your kids, but it is a bit long as I sat next to a kid who got very antsy during the second hour.  3 of 5 stars.

 

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Doctor Strange

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Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) receives its second film with Doctor Strange.  One of the lesser known heroes (as far as mainstream knowledge of superheroes go) Doctor Strange is a bridge for the MCU from the known villains, factions, and heroes to new and more “mystical” unknown villains, factions and heroes.  As the Avengers will need time to regroup and prepare for their eventual clash with Thanos, the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Doctor Strange will reset the stage for the coming conflict in “Avengers: Infinity War”.

A few words about “Doctor Strange”:

  1. Strange pacing (no pun intended) – there was no marking of the passage of time.  From the time doctor strange was in training to the time he mastered his craft seemed especially fast.  Some of this was explained by his superior intellect, however in some ways this felt like cheating.  This made portions of the movie feel rushed.  By the time we reach the main conflict, the film does not feel like it got to this point naturally.
  2. Benedict Cumberbatch played his role well, but did nothing new. – a spin on his typical take of being brilliant as is the case in most of his roles.  He was more arrogant than usual in this, but with a heart of gold as is standard with marvel heroes.  This shtick is pretty familiar coming from him, however what made it better was imagining his interactions with the rest of the folks in the MCU.  He will fit right in.
  3. Stark change in genre – Typically Marvel movies are action/adventure films with a touch of fantasy.  Sure there are portals, talismans, stones and other mcguffins however these are all typically more seasoning than sustenance.  Doctor Strange falls deeper into the category of Fantasy/Adventure, where much of the plot is driven by the mysticism.
  4. Excellent special effects – Imagine if all of the coolest portions of the movie ‘Inception’ that had to do with bending time and space were used over and over as a method of physical combat.  Between this, and the brilliant colors and time moving backwards, this film visually is stunning.  Watching these scenes was very enjoyable.
  5. Sets up for next phase well – This film does a good job of expanding the universe.  With some of rules set by what is established in Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange builds larger on this theme by setting rules in the “multiverse”.  Routinely using the portals they create and artifacts they use for battle, Doctor Strange gives a glimpse into where the MCU is going.  Much of the universe has been driven by physical actions and characters fighting back physical forces, however Doctor Strange doubles down on the mystical doors opened by Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy.
  6. Forgettable conflict – It almost didn’t feel like a conflict much as obligatory first level challenge for the new hero.  Even the bad guys weren’t completely fleshed out as much as they were placeholders standing in place as stereotypical movie conflict.  By the end of the film this becomes unimportant as what is most important is introducing a new direction for the MCU.
With all that being said, the biggest problem that this movie faced was that it didn’t necessarily need to be a feature length film.  Perhaps it would have been better served as a limited series on Netflix or as a backdoor pilot on Marvel’s Agents of Shield.  (although the budget cut would have affected the visual effects).  Overall a solid summer film, albeit opening in November which is always a breath of fresh air among mostly art films vying to contend in Oscar season.  Take your kids, but be warned there are a few scenes that may not be easily understood by young eyes.  However if they can handle Harry Potter this shouldn’t be a problem for them.  3 of 5 stars.