Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Jokes galore, the feels, and Baby Groot in a Marvel film that won’t age well

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 trailer

Star-Lord and the gang are back for another adventure in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This installment even gives Michael Rooker as Yondu a chance to shine, but the question remains: Is it any good?

Answer: It’s complicated.

One of the pleasant surprises of 2014 was seeing how Marvel Studios director James Gunn took a little known property (outside comic fandom) and turned it into a worldwide success with the right mix of irreverent humor, legitimate “feels,” and action. One of the slightly unpleasant surprises in 2017 is the way Mr. Gunn seemingly decided to just take everything that worked in the original and dial it up about five notches at the expense of the story.

Before we move on, here is the plot in a nutshell:

  • Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) father, Ego (Kurt Russell), saves the Guardians as they flee a race known as the Sovereign.
  • Star-Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax (Dave Bautista) must figure out who Ego is and what he represents.
  • Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot are left behind with their ship and captive Nebula (Karen Gillan). They struggle to survive after being captured by Yondu and the “Ravagers.”

The good thing about Vol. 2 is that it explores all sorts of family dynamics and does so with a ton of heart. The bad thing about Vol. 2 is that every serious moment seems to be punctuated with a joke — and not all of them are that funny. Many of the jokes hinge on the audience caring about 80s pop-culture, and at some point it all threatens to derail the film.

Or maybe not. Maybe I’m out of touch. The audience I saw Vol. 2 with seemed to eat up every moment and laugh at every joke, even the Pacman moment better left in Adam Sander’s 2015 Pixels script.

There’s much more to say, but I would rather not include spoilers in the body of this review (feel free to spoil away in the comments section). The most succinct way of putting it is this: I enjoyed much of Vol. 2, but it isn’t a Marvel Studios film I plan to watch again and doubt that it will age well.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below. Have at it, hard-core Guardians fans…

Check out my review over at Conservative Book Club.

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Joss Whedon Watch: Batgirl director uses teen cancer survivors as political weapons

At what point does a man look in the mirror and say to himself, “I’m politically unhinged and I need help before I sink into an ideological abyss and drown.” If your name is Joss Whedon, now would be a good time to ask that question.

For those who haven’t been paying attention to social media today, you missed the moment when Warner Bros.’ Batgirl director decided it would be a good idea to use teenage cancer survivors as a cudgel with which to beat President Donald Trump. Seriously. We have reached the point in Mr. Whedon’s life when children who somehow survived countless rounds of chemotherapy are fair game as weapons in a rhetorical war against political enemies.

Warner Bros. executives, if you’re listening, I have a question for you: Do you really want a man who is this unhinged — a man who brings this much baggage with him — at the helm of a big-budget superhero film? If so, then you too might want to consider getting your heads examined.

Check out my latest YouTube video to see Joss Whedon publicly demonstrate how easy it is for a man to die inside from ideological hemlock poisoning. Then, when you’re done, take a moment and vow never to emulate his behavior. You’ll be glad you did upon your own deathbed.

‘Logan’ review: Hugh Jackman goes out on top in final turn as Wolverine

Logan

The world finally has an R-rated version of Wolverine that does everything right.

If you love Wolverine, then you should run out to see Hugh Jackman’s final turn with the character in Logan. It’s a smart film that doesn’t skimp on action, it’s filled with heart, and the performances by Mr. Jackman and Patrick Stewart as Professor X are top notch.

There is much to say about this movie, but instead of doing up two different reviews I think I’ll just share a portion of what I wrote for Conservative Book Club and then ask  you to kindly check them out for the full version.

I wrote shortly after the film’s release:

The world has seen Hugh Jackman play the Marvel superhero Wolverine for 17 years, but it appears as though the actor saved his best performance for last. Director James Mangold’s R-rated Logan hauled in $247.3 globally its opening weekend, and for good reason — it’s a superhero movie that transcends the genre.

What is perhaps the most fascinating about Logan is that while it is chalk full violent deaths, underneath the blood and gore is a film that promotes selfless sacrifice, unconditional love, loyalty, family, and the possibility of redemption for all men — no matter how fallible they may be. Bad characters die, but the film’s message on many levels can be considered “pro-life.” Good samaritans risk everything for children who are treated as expendable tools, while the life an elderly and infirm man is fiercely protected by the protagonist.

Logan (story by Mangold, screenplay by Scott Frank) takes place in a future where all of the X-Men in the 20th Century Fox franchise are dead — wiped out in large part due to the decaying mind of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Wolverine and an ally named Caliban (Stephen Merchant) have been driven underground along the U.S. border with Mexico, although the hero is able make enough cash to get Charles seizure medication by working nights as a limo driver.

Everything changes for the trio when a nurse smuggles a genetically engineered child known as X-23 (Dafne Keen) out of captivity before she can be killed by the villain Pierce (Boyd Holbrook). Her goal is to transport the girl a rally point in North Dakota where children with similar capabilities will attempt to cross the border into Canada. Logan, with his failing immune system and broken body, is coerced into the quest by Charles and the surviving shards of virtue buried deep within his own adamantium bones.

“You know, Logan, this is what life looks like: a home, people who love each other, a safe place. You should take a moment and feel it,” Xavier says when they are eventually given food and shelter by a family of farmers.

“Yeah, it’s great,” the reluctant hero sarcastically replies.

“Logan! You still have time,” Xavier implores.

Check out the rest over at CBC.

 

‘Revolution Comics’ podcast: Talking comics, ‘Logan,’ and ‘Wonder Woman’

Your friendly neighborhood blogger will have an official Logan review up soon, but until that happens you may want to hear my general thoughts on another episode of “Revolution Comics” with Capn. Cummings and Captain Frugal. The three of us talk about the comics industry in general, our hopes for the Wonder Woman movie, and the anger of social justice activists over Ghost in the Shell casting.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments section below.

‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ offers more cool cars, gun-fu and Keanu

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It was three years ago that I saw an ad for a Keanu Reeves movie called John Wick pop up on my Spotify account. It had been awhile since I had seen something of his that I liked (i.e., 2005’s Constantine), but I said to myself, “This looks cool. I’m there opening weekend.”

Fast-forward t0 2017. We now have John Wick 2, thanks to good word-of-mouth that made the original hit. The first film pulled in $89 million globally on a $20 million budget, and John Wick: Chapter 2 has already amassed $90 million in two weeks. That’s because  Reeves, director Chad Stahelski, and writer Derek Kolstad have offered fans a little bit more of everything the liked the first time around — cool cars, cool guns, and cool fights — while still managing to expand the universe in fun ways.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so all I will say is that this film mainly serves as a bridge to what I’m assuming will be a finale of epic proportions. The last film sent a message that we cannot escape the repercussions of our past sins while JW: Chapter 2 emphasizes that attempting to solve violence through violence usually exacerbates the problem. The main character desperately wants to leave the lifestyle of evil behind, but that is next to impossible since he spent years building up a reputation as “Death’s emissary.”

Long story short, if you enjoyed the first movie then you probably should do yourself a favor and check out this one. Laurence Fishburne reunites with Reeves in grand fashion, Common does an excellent job as “Cassian,” and the ending has a well-done homage to Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon.

If you’re an action-movie fan who still needs more convincing, then head on over to Conservative Book Club for a more extensive review that I wrote up last week.

 

Related: 

‘John Wick’: Keanu Reeves delivers solid action, shows us that the price of sin is pain and death

Whedon Watch: Political radiation turns Joss into ‘rage’ monster

Question: What happens when a man plays with political gamma radiation for far too long?

Answer: Just like Hollywood director Joss Whedon, he turns into a rage monster who will destroy anyone in his path to achieve ideological ends.

I covered Mr. Whedon’s slow-motion descent into partisan madness on this blog for years, but a new segment on my YouTube channel has officially launched with the name Whedon Watch.

If you’re interested in seeing how talented men often go from artistically inspired to hulking partisan hacks, then check out my latest YouTube video. Given that Mr. Whedon shows no signs of pulling back from a poisonous void, I fully expect there to be many episodes of Whedon Watch in the years to come.

Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ a masterpiece, must-see for Catholics

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One would think that a Martin Scorsese film with a ready-made audience of 1.1 billion Catholics would be a no-brainer in terms of marketing. Strangely, the money men behind the director’s latest masterpiece, Silence, decided to go with an “art house” angle instead of any serious outreach to those who could make it a smash hit. The decision will cost the film millions during its theatrical run, but that still does not change the fact that it is a must-see effort by the man who brought the world Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and a slew of other great projects.

silence-trailer

For those who are unfamiliar with the plot of the movie, which is based on a Shûsaku Endô’s 1966 novel, it involves two 17th century Jesuit missionaries who must look for their mentor in Japan. As an “army of two” they must find out if there is truth to the claim that their mentor rejected the faith after years of torment by officials.

Mr. Scorsese recently said that “three or four great actors” turned down roles for Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver). After watching the film (How much do you want to bet that one of those actors was Leonardo DiCaprio?), it is safe to say that it was probably a blessing in disguise. Everyone involved delivers, particularly Mr. Garfield.

In short, see the movie if you are a fan of cinema — real cinema. Those with an attention span shaped by years of time on Twitter will be nowhere to be found, and you will exit the theater better for the experience.

silence-trailer-andrew-garfield

“Doug, Doug, Doug, you need to give me more than that,” you say? Yes, I understand. That is a reasonable request, and since I do not want to spoil too much of the film I will just say that the central question is one that I have covered before on this blog: Why does God seem absent at times?

When we go through trials and tribulations and pray, silence can be incredibly frustrating. People want God to be the cartoonish figure with a big white beard — they want Him to be a material being — and the absence of an on-call Divine Psychiatrist causes many men to believe they are alone in the world.

As Hubert Van Zeller has said, “We always imagine that if we felt strong, we would not mind having to carry the Cross. But the whole point is that we should not feel strong.”

Silence, perhaps to the chagrin of many priests, will cause people to question their own faith — but that is a good thing because the Truth can and should be able to stand up to any scrutiny. The faith that has gone through an intellectual blast furnace and survived comes out on the other side a spiritual steel, which is exactly what is needed in the modern world. Catholics need to intimately understand the value of pain and why such ordeals allowed by our Creator are always a blessing (as tough as that may be to comprehend).

As C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain:

“Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object — we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.

As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.

If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.” — C.S. Lewis.

Silence is not for the faint of heart, but at the end of the day it forces religious viewers to objectively examine the strength of their own faith.

Would you drown before renouncing God? Would you burn? Would you die any number of gruesome deaths? If not, then why?

Very few men or women ever die a saint, but that reality does not free us from the obligation to try. Mr. Scorsese may have a complicated history with his Catholic upbringing (he is certainly not alone), but there should be no doubt about the quality of Silence. Hollywood producers discouraged him from making the film for decades, but he persevered. For that, moviegoers owe him a debt of gratitude.

Joss Whedon unravels as political cancer eats his soul

Hollywood director Joss Whedon has been on a slow-motion political implosion for about six years, but last week it became much more obvious when he wished one of his fellow Americans were raped — by a rhino. Yes, as bizarre as it is for your friendly neighborhood blogger to chronicle this sad turn of events, on some level it is not the surprising. After all, Mr. Whedon also began using coup-like rhetoric after Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

If you want more details on Mr. Whedon’s embrace of Ultron-level hate, then check out my latest YouTube video and let me know what you think in the comments section below. And, if you like the format, then be sure to subscribe for regular updates.

‘Passengers’ review: Chris Pratt saves director from lackluster script

chris-pratt-passengers

Imagine a science fiction film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. It’s directed by Morten Tyldum (Intimidation Game) and written by Jon Spaihts (Doctor Strange). That sounds like a winner, right? Not necessarily, because that’s exactly what moviegoers got with “Passengers” with uninspiring results.

If you’re thinking about seeing Passengers, then here is what you need to know:

  • Chris Pratt plays Jim Preston, a mechanical engineer who is on a spaceship called Avalon. Its destination: a colony planet called Homestead II.
  • A meteor shows damages the Avalon, which causes Jim to wake from a state of suspended animation roughly 90 years too early.
  • Jim desperately tries to figure out a way to reenter a sleeping state while also dealing with extreme isolation. He has an AI robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen) to keep him company.
  • Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Aurora Lane, also is awakened midway through the film.
  • The Avalon begins to malfunction, which forces the two passengers (along with Laurence Fishburne — very briefly — as Captain Gus Mancuso) to work together to avoid a catastrophe.

This is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t go into many more details other than to say that Passengers is most intriguing for the number of missed opportunities racked up by Jon Spaihts. With a few tweaks of the script, Passengers could have turned into an instant classic. Over and over again the stage is set for a stunning reveal, only to inform theatergoers, “Nope. This is just a by-the-numbers sci-fi flick that will hit embarrassingly predictable beats by the time the end credits roll.”

If you decide to see Passengers, then ask yourself the following questions before the curtains open:

  • Will A.I. ever reach the point where it can become lonely and yearn for human interaction?
  • Would a company accused of treating customers like cattle ever engineer a disaster to see how the “animals” respond — perhaps as a way of garnering larger profits down the road?
  • If a character puts the proverbial “smoking gun” in a place where an individual would obviously find it over the course of a relationship, then that needs to happen — right?

Again, I note that this is a spoiler-free review, which means that asking the above questions only draws attention to the fact that Passengers explored … none of them. There are more, but for the purposes of this blog post we’ll stick to three.

passengers-trailer

In short, if you’re a science fiction junkie who needs a fix, then see on Sunday matinee of Passengers. It’s passable, but in many ways that is only attributable to Mr. Pratt’s likability and professionalism. He did the most with what he was given, but he wasn’t given much.

 

Rogue One: Gareth Edwards delivers solid film for fans with impossible demands

donnie-yen

It’s hard not to feel bad for Gareth Edwards, director of  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The guy was asked to direct a stand-alone Star Wars film that felt new and fresh while simultaneously resonating with fans who watched Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. He also had to direct a film that would satisfy the moviegoers who grew up with Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. The creative gaps he had to bridge with this project were near impossible to close, but yet he somehow managed to make it all work.

Is Rogue One a perfect movie? No. It certainly has its flaws. Most notably is the skimpy backstory for every major character, from Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). The Star Wars franchise is enough of a cultural juggernaut that millions of people are already emotionally invested in this story  (i.e., Who captured the Death Star plans from the Empire and how did they pull it off?), but the screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy was too lean. But I digress.

jyn-erso

Here is what you need to know for Rogue One:

  • Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), and Imperial scientist, is forced at gunpoint to leave his family and work on the Death Star. His wife is killed, but his daughter escapes to a hideaway and is saved by Saw Gerrera.
  • The Rebellion has many factions, often working at odds with one another. Rebel Jyn Erso is captured early on in the movie but is rescued by Cassian and his repurposed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
  • Cassian has been a part of the Rebellion since he was six years old and has had to make some tough (deadly) decisions working in the world of espionage.
  • It is revealed in a smuggled hologram to Saw that Galen has secretly engineered a kill switch into the Death Star. If the Rebel Alliance can get the plans, then there is chance they can end the threat to the galaxy.
  • The Rebellion plans to use Jyn as a way of working with her old guardian, Saw, who is seen as an extremist. Elements of the Rebellion do not plan on working with Galen once he is found. Instead, they plan to kill him.
  • A series of events convinces Cassian that Galen truly was a good man trying to do his best in a horrible situation, and before long he, Jyn, and a motley crew go “rogue” to capture the plans to the Death Star. Initially reluctant bureaucrats within the Rebellion come to their aid when the crew of Rogue One put boots on the ground in enemy territory.
  • The movie ends right where Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope picks up.

In short, if you want to see a good Star Wars movie that emphasizes the “war” aspect of the franchise, then you should see Rogue One. It has a scene with Darth Vader that is worth the price of admission alone, solid space battles, and plenty of The Force courtesy of Donnie Yen’s character. If you don’t overthink the movie, then you should have a good time in the theater with friends and family.

darth-vader

Editor’s Note: Feel free to head on over to The Conservative Book Club to check out the review I did for them.