Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki
Director
James Gunn

It’s hard to believe that most people had never even heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy prior to 2014, because in the three years since the release of the first movie, they’ve become some of the most popular characters in the entire MCU. While there was certainly an immense amount of pressure on returning director James Gunn to create a worthy follow-up, you wouldn’t know it from the self-assured confidence that the film exudes. Admittedly, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” isn’t as fresh as its predecessor, but it’s almost as much as fun, and that’s to the credit of Gunn and his excellent cast, who have once again delivered an offbeat, action-packed space opera (with yet another killer soundtrack) that doesn’t skimp on humor or heart.

After saving the universe from Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians have parlayed their newfound fame into a lucrative career as mercenaries. But when they’re hired by a race of pretentious, gold-skinned beings called the Sovereign to kill an interdimensional beast in exchange for Gamora’s captured half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), the Guardians manage to piss off their employers by stealing some of the valuable batteries they were charged with protecting. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Guardians are rescued at the last minute by an ancient celestial entity called Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. Though Peter is thrilled to finally meet his dad and learn more about his secret heritage, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is suspicious of Ego’s true motives. Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is recruited by the Sovereign’s High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) to track down and apprehend the Guardians for punishment, leading to a mutiny among his crew when he refuses to turn them over.

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Family & Fan Belts: The evolution of the “Fast and Furious” franchise

For characters that live “a quarter mile at a time,” it’s been a long, strange trip for the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Starting in the drag racing scene of downtown L.A., it has since become a global enterprise that has grown with every entry. There’s even talk now that the series may go into space, and the weirdest part is that such a concept isn’t even that strange in the “Fast and Furious” film universe. But it’s important to regard the series as a whole, and with the eighth installment (“The Fate of the Furious“) opening this weekend, now is the perfect time to chart its bizarre evolution from action film knockoff to genuine pop culture phenomenon.

Before going any further, it has to be noted that there’s a clear delineation in the series: the first four movies, and “Fast Five” onward. There’s a clear shift in narrative approach and visualization used in the latter half of the franchise that simply isn’t evident in “The Fast and the Furious” through “Fast & Furious.” But despite that separation (which will be explored below), it’s all part of a (mostly) coherent whole that has its most basic elements in place from the first film. It’s surprising how many of the themes carry through despite the films’ various permutations, but it’s also clear that audiences are dealing with two different beasts when considering the entire series.

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Movie Review: “The Fate of the Furious”

Starring
Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Kristofer Hivju
Director
F. Gary Gray

Following the untimely death of Paul Walker in 2013, it would have been completely acceptable had everyone involved in the “Fast and Furious” franchise decided to call it quits, particularly because “Furious 7” works so well as a bookend to the family saga. Despite the loss, the series has soldiered on with another installment (and two more on the way), but while “The Fate of the Furious” proves that the mega-franchise can still function without Walker’s character, it definitely suffers from a Brian O’Connor problem.

Much like how the Avengers curiously never show up to help each other in their respective solo movies, the attempt to explain Brian’s absence in this film (especially considering the personal nature of the main plot) only serves to open old wounds. It’s a void that director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan try to fill with some new additions to the team, and though it’s not entirely successful, the movie gets by on the charisma of its cast and the over-the-top action that fans have come to expect from the series.

The story begins in Havana, Cuba, where Dom (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) are busy soaking up the culture on a much-deserved honeymoon, only to have their vacation cut short when Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) enlists their help in retrieving a stolen EMP device in Berlin. But when Dom suddenly double-crosses the team and gets away with the weapon, they discover that he’s secretly working for a cyber-terrorist named Cipher (Charlize Theron), who Letty believes must be blackmailing him. Beaten, bruised and betrayed by their friend, the team reunites under the direction of shadowy government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and is forced to work alongside former adversary Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), who has his own history with the notorious hacker and wants revenge, in order to track down Dom and Cipher and prevent them from starting World War III.

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Movie Review: “Furious 7”

Starring
Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Kurt Russell
Director
James Wan

A franchise seven movies in shouldn’t be this good. The “Fast and Furious” series almost died after the dismal “2 Fast 2 Furious,” but in 2006, director Justin Lin revived the franchise with the immensely enjoyable “Tokyo Drift.” Although Lin’s follow-up (2009’s “Fast & Furious”) was a misstep, he quickly bounced back with “Fast Five,” taking the franchise to another level. The scope, laughs and characters ballooned, proving less isn’t always more. “Furious 7,” directed by James Wan, continues the series’ tradition of going big.

The sequel picks up not long after the events of “Fast & Furious 6.” Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) is still alive, but just barely, and his older brother, Deckard (Jason Statham), is going to finish the fight he started, vowing to take out Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and the rest of the gang, including series regulars Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris. That’s the core story of “Furious 7,” but there are terrorists, a hacker and a device that can track anyone in the world that the “Fast” family must contend with as well.

These movies are almost overstuffed by design. Chris Morgan’s script doesn’t really have 127 minutes of story to tell, but “Furious 7” is so giddy and overblown that its bloated runtime is more of a blessing than a burden. Right when you think these movies are about to slow down, they keep going, especially in the action department. Do the action set pieces defy the laws of physics? Possibly, but that’s what makes them so appealing. When a car hops from building, to building, to building, it’s like something out of a 12-year-old’s dream.

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Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker
Director
James Gunn

Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most moviegoers (if Iron Man used to be considered a B-list character, then the Guardians are on the D-list), but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, the bigwigs at Marvel clearly saw something in his earlier work (the horror comedy “Slither” and the superhero satire “Super”) that suggested he was the right man for the job, and Gunn has definitely repaid their faith in him by producing the best possible version of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and one of the most purely fun Marvel movies to date.

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, a member of an intergalactic group of thieves and smugglers who was kidnapped from Earth as a young boy. When he’s sent by his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious orb, only to double-cross him in order to keep the artifact for himself, Quill becomes the target of a power-hungry alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who’s made a deal with the Mad Titan Thanos (the purple-skinned figure teased at the end of “The Avengers”) to give him the orb in exchange for destroying his enemy’s home planet. After he’s captured and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together a little longer in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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