Ooga-shaka, I’m hooked on a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise and it keeps getting better. Owen Hughes reviews James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
“Welcome to the moment.”
Oh for fuck’s sake!
When I said that I like popcorn flavoured junk food movies, what I MEANT was that I like fun films that don’t necessarily have something big or important to say. Daft action flicks that don’t take themselves too seriously.
It’s how I can watch the early Fast & Furious films without rolling my eyes to the point of agony. It’s how I can watch The Expendables without feeling the urge to push a biro through my ear. It’s how I can watch films like 2002’s xXx and 2005’s xXx: State of the Union and see them for the beer and pizza films they are and forget about them ten minutes after I’ve had a blast watching them.
I’m sitting down three nights after I saw Xander Cage return to write this review. I’m still furious at the insult to my intelligence I paid to sit and watch.
Years and years after Ice Cube saved the world, the Triple-X program is no longer a clandestine agency. It’s a full strength government funded organisation taking the most extreme people with the most fearless attitudes towards danger and turning them into super spies.
While on a recruiting missing, Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson), the agency’s founder and leader is killed when a bad guy, with a weapon that drops satellites out of orbit, drops one on him. Not long afterwards, a team of highly trained agents (that includes legendary martial artists Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen and British Cage fighter Michael Bisping) break into a government meeting being led by big wig Jane Marke (Toni Collette) and steal the device.
Going straight to their last resort, the program hunts out and re-recruits the long thought dead Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) and send him and his team of reprobates to find the device and save the day.
So, yeah. I repeat: For fuck’s sake!
This film has two very clear, very distinct sides to it. Its first part is the cast. This is the part worth focusing on if you’re going to sit through this two hour cabbage fart. It’s the part where you see Donnie Yen kicking ass in spectacular fashion. It’s the part where Tony Jaa continues his amazing life-long audition to be the next Jackie Chan. Honestly, it’s even the part where Michael Bisping doesn’t make himself look like a complete tit and puts on a half decent show.
It’s these moments where the guys on screen are clearly having fun, and you get to have fun. For want of a shittier, more overused term: All those on screen have a chemistry that really shows when you watch them. Action stars doing action star things and having a damn good time doing it. Jaa and Bisping have an on screen bromance similar to Lundgren and Li in The Expendables, while Vin Diesel, the man that has become a Tesco Value Dwayne Johnson with this film, has a blinding time with relative newcomer Ruby Rose. This is absolutely because she is the one and only woman in the film he doesn’t awkwardly flirt with like a dog with three cocks; and these moments are much better for it. Even the surprise cameo that isn’t a surprise by the time it happens is a reason to grin like a fool.
Unfortunately these genuinely fun parts don’t make up for the shit show that is part two.
xXx: The Return of Xander Cage is so insulting to its audience, so unwilling to admit that those of us happy to watch them and give them the benefit of the doubt have more than two brain cells to rub together. In the space of less than two hours, this film managed to drop so far in my estimation that words simply cannot describe how insulted I felt as a fan of the series and how angry I was at how stupid it made me look. I’m willing to give most films a chance and I try so very hard to see them for what they are and enjoy them as such. But this film with its unforgivable jumps in logic and its inane, dried up dog shit excuse for a story take swings at my good nature every. Single. Second. It pretends to have something interesting to say.
As the thoroughly embarrassed Toni Collette tries her best to persuade herself of the legitimacy of the script she’s wasted valuable brain space memorising, she does nothing but put across the same brave face you’d expect to see on a kidnapped journalist trying to blink her way into a rescue, shitting herself as her captors threaten to end her but keeping a stern, straight face the whole time.
The film as a whole displays a level of stupidity that I simply can’t comprehend. Super-duper signal jammers find themselves a prime location in the film’s plot. Yet, every time one of them is switched on, everyone’s phone still fucking works. The latest recruit to the program is apparently a real life soccer star, so desperate are these people for soldiers that they stole a dude who can kick a ball in a straight line. But, it turns out, this was after they recruited a DJ in an Assassin’s Creed hood and an imbecile that likes to crash cars into things for a laugh. I mean… a super spy disc jockey? Really? What is he gonna do? Drop the bass on the twats with guns? Just please stop treating me like a fucking moron and put a little fucking effort into your film.
I was fully prepared to watch a mildly rubbish film, come out and review it saying it was fun but it’s one that’s to be watched with friends and beers and not taken too seriously. Having seen it, my tone has changed dramatically. There is no need to watch this film at all; I can’t recommend it to anyone, at all. I wouldn’t wish it in my worst enemy. It should be cast into the bowls of hell, along with La La Land and The Absolutely Fabulous Movie and forgotten about entirely, only ever to be brought up if you meet director D J Caruso as the reason you punch him in the dick.
In the run up to the latest hotly anticipated Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve and Owen have been busy putting together a series of short 20-25 minute long minisode podcasts. With clips from the films, trailers, retro reviews taken from our archived podcasts as well as brand new retrospective reviews featuring a varied mix of different guests for each episode, we’ll be running through all of the MCU movies thus far in chronological order.
Welcome to the very last episode in our Avengers Minisode series! Here we take a look back on the second best film of 2014, as voted for by you in our Failed Critics Awards. I am of course referring to the spectacular space-adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
First conceived as a movie to enter the franchise back in 2009, when writer Nicole Perlman pretty much hand picked it herself, it wasn’t until 2012 that the ball really started rolling on production when director James Gunn was attached to the project. Released two years later, the film was a huge success for Marvel Studios, nearly quadrupling its budget by grossing approximately $774,000,000 worldwide – most of those ticket sales courtesy of our special guest for the retrospective review, Mike Shawcross, who saw the movie 23 times at the cinema!
Featuring the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz, Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro, it had an enormous ensemble cast that rivaled even that of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble some two years earlier. All of whom were fantastic in their individual ways as the MCU ventured into the realms of space-opera, with the Starlord and his “group of wrong-uns” attempting to stop the psychopathic Ronan the Accuser from getting his hands on a powerful orb containing an infinity stone and thus destroying the Nova Empire.
As through the rest of our Avengers Minisodes, this episode will feature clips and trailers, as well as retro review taken from an archived podcast released last year when we were joined by Carole Petts. As mentioned earlier, the brand new retrospective review sees occasional writer and podcast guest Mike Shawcross share his educated opinion on the film.
We’ll be back next week with a review of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, released here in the UK tomorrow!
Warning: these minisodes may contain spoilers
Although it’s a step down from Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 is still a tonne of incredible fun.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
Watching the film critic community slowly come around to the Fast & Furious series has been almost as fun as watching the evolution of the Fast & Furious series or, in fact, watching these movies themselves. See, with the obvious exception of 2 Fast 2 Furious – which failed because, as the title alone probably tips you off to, it tried force its ridiculous cheesiness in a cynical way instead of with the sincerity that the rest of the franchise has – this series has always at least been good. The Fast and the Furious is a perfectly watchable movie, if a little self-serious, the strangely-maligned Tokyo Drift would still be the series high-watermark if it didn’t have the problem of Lucas Black being near-incapable of acting, and I like Fast & Furious shut up.
Fast Five was the moment where the rest of the critical world sat up, took notice and collectively realised that these are some damn fine movies worthy of legitimate appraisal, likely helped by the fact that it’s still one of the best action movies released this decade – a lightning-in-a-bottle moment where all of the unintentional hard work in constructing this world and these characters paid off in spectacular fashion, whilst still working as a brilliant action film in its own right. Also it’s a heist movie and, as science can prove, good heist movies are better than pretty much anything else ever.
Fast & Furious 6 couldn’t hope to match up, although it gave it its best damn shot by once again changing genres. In fact, there’s another reason why this series has been great. In addition to its knowing but completely sincere silliness – I mean, this is a series whose main emotional and thematic through-line is about the unbreakable power of a surrogate family of friends with no knowing winking or under-cutting of said, after all – and its surprisingly deep and well-drawn cast of characters, the series is never afraid to simply change genres at the drop of a dime. The Fast and the Furious was a Point Break riff, 2 Fast was a bad buddy-cop movie, Tokyo Drift was basically a coming-of-age drama, Fast & Furious was a good buddy-cop movie shut up, Fast Five was a heist movie, and Fast & Furious 6 was a gloriously ridiculous action movie.
So, following on from all of that, Furious 7 turns out to be… Fast & Furious 6 again, sorta. In its defence, save for space or trans-dimensional hopping – which are both gold ideas, you can have those for free, Universal – there really isn’t anywhere else left to take this series, except to make the ridiculous action movie even more ridiculous. With the change in directors, though, from Justin Lin to horror movie veteran James Wan, you’ll have to forgive me for hoping for more of a shift than “bigger and crazier”, an admittedly welcome injection of extra melodrama, and more camera tricks for certain action sequences.
That being said, though, the fact that Furious 7 is still an incredibly fun and surprisingly coherent film is a goddamn miracle considering its troubled and beleaguered production. In fact, let’s address that room elephant right now: it’s amazing just how well the film manages to work around the death of franchise star Paul Walker and the necessary requirement to write the character of Brian O’Conner out of the series. I even spent a lot of the runtime sat there in the cinema trying to figure out where exactly the re-writes and stand-ins had started occurring, expecting it to be really obvious relatively early, but the way they do it is so natural and so keeping in kind with what they had set up before – Brian is adjusting somewhat reluctantly to domesticated family life with Mia (Jordana Brewster) and his son Jack, missing the life-or-death adrenaline that came from working with Dom – that it gains this extra eerie undertone that adds to the subplot’s weight instead of distracting from it.
Admittedly, it goes overboard near the ending, as the film proceeds to send off Brian and Paul in the most openly manipulative, cheese-ball way, but I would be lying to you if I told you that was a bad thing and that I didn’t shed multiple tears as it happened. Open heart-on-sleeve affectionate sincerity is how Fast & Furious operates, so the really on-the-nose way that it waves goodbye to Paul Walker is still fitting even if it is admittedly excessively manipulative. Also helped by the fact that, with the exception of one fight scene late in the game and the last sequence, I honestly could not tell where the real Paul Walker’s scenes finished and his stand-in-CG-combo double started.
And whilst I’m not spending the rest of this review making worrying sounds that approximately translate to how much I enjoyed this movie, I must note that the film is more than a little overcrowded. In addition to having Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) crew relentless pursued by the brother of Fast & Furious 6’s Owen Shaw, Deckard (Jason Statham), who is looking for vengeance, the crew are tasked by a possibly-government-affiliated division, headed up by a guy who calls himself Mr. Nobody (a positively-beaming Kurt Russell), to recover a super-surveillance software called “God’s Eye” for them before it falls into the hands of an evil warlord (Dijimon Hounsou) with the promise of Dom getting to use it to hunt down Deckard when all is said and done.
Consequently, Hounsou’s warlord feels… pointless, to be frank, and he doesn’t even get any memorable material to make up for that fact. There’s a lot of relatively unnecessary flab to proceedings, characters that walk in and walk out as required without much to do. On the positive side, Kurt Russell’s visibly joyous performance is infectious and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) makes a nice addition to the crew if she’s sticking around. On the negative side, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is side-lined for too much of the film for my liking, although that does let the focus return to Dom and Brian which is fitting, and Rhonda Rousey shows up quite literally just so that Michelle Rodriguez has somebody to fight because, hey, why not try to recapture those brilliant Gina Carano fight scenes from number 6? Fast Five had a similar excessive nature but did a better job at juggling everything without giving many characters the short shrift.
So, with that negativity and elephant-addressing out of the way… HOHOHOHOHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Oh, folks, words can’t truly express how much fun I had with this one! The Fast & Furious series just taps into a kind of primal adolescent joy for me, where everything to do with the action runs purely on Rule of Cool and a desire to be stupidly entertaining, which makes it one of the purest expressions of childlike imaginative fun on film today. I cackled with maniacal glee at this movie multiple, multiple goddamn times and every time I thought that they’d topped themselves, they proceeded to surpass that bar with ease. (Whether you agree depends on how much you like your glaringly obvious CGI, although I gave it a pass as I saw it as a stylistic choice.)
On that note, Deckard Shaw. Now, technically, he’s a victim of the film’s overstuffed nature, since he has to share screen-time with Hounsou’s uninteresting warlord and therefore suffers from alternating too often between being the primary and secondary villain. However, I honestly like the fact that he’s not really got much of a personality outside of the opening scene of the film – which, for the record, is fingertips away from Fast Five for me in “Best Opening Sequence of This Series” stakes – and I really like the way that he just keeps turning up randomly as our heroes are about to complete their objectives to throw a spanner in the works, like a one man army of TimeSplitters. He also gets a fantastic pair of fights with Hobbs and Dom, with the latter including a climax that is AMAZINGLY DUMB, so I’m satisfied.
Fight scenes are a lot of fun, even though James Wan and his team of editors have an unfortunate tendency to cut just a little too often. Tony Jaa is in this and gets to fight Brian with both instances delivering very nicely, the Rousey/Letty fight might not measure up to either Carano fight but is still pretty good and I once again appreciate a Hollywood film with a female fight scene where the aim is not primarily to be intentionally arousing, and the fight scene between Hobbs and Deckard is already a strong contender for the best of the year. Though he may cut a bit too often, Lin is also a man of style, employing 360° camera pans and a camera that keeps the person it’s shooting vertically-centred but spins the rest of the world around them as normal (I can’t describe it well but it’s self-explanatory in motion) to sparing but enjoyable effect.
You may notice that I’ve talked minimally about the film’s many gloriously deranged action sequences up to this point and, surprising no-one, this is intentional. I went into Furious 7 knowing pretty much next to nothing about what it would end up doing in said ridiculous action scenes. This is the optimum way to watch Furious 7. After all, why should I tell you how a last minute rescue made me laugh maniacally, how the end to one fight scene is officially the new “Most Wonderfully Dumb Thing to Happen In This Glorious Franchise”, how the Abu Dhabi payoff manages to overcome its CGI nature to still be one of the most entertaining setpieces I will likely see all year, or even allude to how the finale goes, when you can experience these things in glorious context properly? Why should I spoil them for you when I went got to see them near-totally fresh?
Don’t, however, assume that the character work has gotten lost in the shuffle. It’s all still here – Letty is still struggling with her amnesia, there’s Brian’s conflict with domesticity, and Roman wants to be taken more seriously as a part of the team – but the time delegated to just them is more reduced than it was in Fast Five or Fast & Furious 6. That said, these characters are all so strongly drawn and defined that any scene of them just bouncing off of one another is a joy to watch, and the action scenes take the time to put in multiple character beats instead of just being pure noise, the car skydive is a particularly great example. The new additions, again with the exception of the warlord, make great strong impressions and slide neatly into the world that screenwriter Chris Morgan – who has penned this franchise since Tokyo Drift – has created.
Most importantly, that silly heart-on-sleeve sincerity never leaves the film’s side. Not even for a minute. This is what separates the Fast & Furious movies from your lesser dumb blockbusters like, say, Transformers. Films like Transformers clearly hate their own existence almost as much as they hate the audience for turning up to them, so their dumbness is built on bitterness and cynicism, a desire to slap together a whole bunch of loud explosions in as lazy a fashion as possible to extract cash from an audience it reads as gullible walking wallets. The Fast & Furious series, however, has love for itself and love for its audience. It sincerely believes that your surrogate family is the strongest bond that one could have, that throwing cars at problems really is the best way to solve everything, and that the audience isn’t wrong for finding this all to be f*cking awesome because it correctly agrees that this is all f*cking awesome. So it puts effort into every scene, every stupid action sequence, every ridiculous pre-fight exchange, every character’s relationship with one another.
There’s love, genuine love and it doesn’t undercut that at any point. That’s why, when it comes time to say goodbye to Paul Walker and the character of Brian O’Conner, I proceeded to cry like nobody’s business, because it earned it. This is a series that earns its emotional release and its heart because it puts tangible love into every single frame. Yeah, it’s a dumb series about flinging cars at ridiculous problems until they stop being problems! It’s more f*cking sincere and heartfelt than the majority of last year’s so-called “prestige” pictures! And even though it doesn’t scale the heights of Fast Five and has its share of structural problems, Furious 7 is still a damn fantastic time at the cinema, another excellent instalment in the blockbuster series that all other blockbuster series should strive to reach for – not even mentioning its majorly diverse cast – and the perfect tribute to one of the series’ main stars.
Goddammit, I love this wonderful series.
So here we are then. We are at the literal half way point in the decade, albeit the final point in our Half A Decade In Film spin-off mini-series. Yes, the fun ends here (well, about 2000+ words on from here) as Andrew, Paul, Liam, Mike and Owen each pick their favourite film of 2014.
Anybody who listened to our End of Year Awards podcast released not three months back will know just how much Failed Critics loved last year’s selection of movies. From the disturbing and eerie sci-fi Under The Skin, to the disturbing and eerie thriller Gone Girl and all the disturbing and eerie films in between, it was a hell of a year for disturbing and eerie movies, as voted for by you people.
Still, we’ve managed to find five more films to talk about, not all of them dark, violent, disturbing and / or eerie. Well, maybe one or two. Starting with…
Directed and co-written by Yoon Jong-bin, of Nameless Gangster fame, Kundo is a Korean action packed drama set in the middle of the 19th Century.
I’m not a fan of Action films in general but I do love a good Western and thoroughly enjoy Martial Arts fight-fests. Kundo manages to combine the look, feel and sound of the former with the thrills and messy spills of the latter.
The basic story is not overly original in its theme. Jo Yoon, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, is knocked down a rung of the ladder when a fully legitimate heir is born. When he starts to show resentment toward to the new heir he is disciplined and eventually packed off to a life in the military. Many years later the nobleman’s son is killed and Jo Yoon returns to the family as a bitter, corrupt, evil and violent despot hell bent on claiming his birthright and milking his subjects for all he can get.
He hires a lowly butcher, Dol Moo Chi, to kill his dead brother’s pregnant widow to prevent the birth of a new legitimate heir that could challenge his claim as head of the dynasty. When the hitman fails in his mission, Jo Yoon’s vengeance is so brutal that Dol Moo Chi joins a secretive clan of mountain dwelling warriors and monks dedicated to righting the wrongs of despotic nobles and saving oppressed peasants from a life of slavery.
The story then follows the to-and-fro battles between the heartless Jo Yoon’s army of mercenaries and the altruistic mountain clan with Dol Moo Chi in the front line.
Although the basic plot cannot be said to be breaking new ground as a story, the way it is told is thoroughly enjoyable. The best analogy I can come up with is to imagine Quentin Tarantino (at his peak), Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone getting together and deciding to retell the Robin Hood story.
It is beautifully shot, the acting throughout is superb, there are some fantastic fight scenes and just the right number of humorous little interludes.
There are a few issues with it though. The quality of the CGI used is pretty poor. They are not pivotal to the story but are glaringly clunky. One horseback chase sequence, in particular, is terrible. It’s less convincing than those stock moving backgrounds you see out of the window of a car in old black and white movies. There are a few countryside scenes where flocks of birds have been overlaid. They make Hilda Ogden’s “Muriel” look a masterpiece. Even little touches as insignificant as glowing embers drifting away from a fire look like afterthoughts.
But, to be brutally honest, I’m a real grump when it comes to CGI and rarely miss a chance to moan about it, I seriously doubt these issues would bother the majority of normal people.
A genuinely enjoyable film, it may lack originality but is both beautiful to look at and fun to lose yourself in.
by Liam (@ElmoreLTM)
Another late comer in the film year that I had little or no expectation for. Director Matthew Warchus hadn’t done a feature film for 15 years (his previous film, Simpatico, I’d never even heard of) but this managed to push all my buttons. The soundtrack was for me: Heaven 17, Dead or Alive, Tears for Fears, The Smiths; this was so absolutely in my wheelhouse. The period setting, the 80s, I grew up in the 80’s and it’s always portrayed poorly on film. All that miserable Shane Meadows stuff. I was born in 1970, that was a miserable shit decade, the 80’s were fucking awesome!
We get to meet two very different groups in Pride. Gay activists and striking miners. So we get a double dose of fish out of water, elderly working class Welsh ladies going to gay clubs and party boys going to a working men’s clubs for a spot of bingo. Joyous, absolutely joyous. There’s so many jokes to be had right there.
The cast are all first rate, and mainly unknown to me, though Imelda Staunton, Paddy Considine & Bill Nighy all pop up and do a turn. There’s a decent coming of age story, the mad culture clash to explore, issues of bigotry and discrimination, and yet it all hangs together beautifully and made me laugh, a lot. Proper belly ache, tears down the face, laughter. Looks great, sounds amazing, and absolutely the best of British – oh and to quote Imelda Staunton….. ““We’re just off to Swansea now for a massive les-off!”
by Paul Field (@pafster)
As a series of films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was always just a bit of fun. I’m not denying the quality, not at all. What I’m saying is while they are all good films, I never saw any of them as “great”. Until Captain America: The Winter Soldier rocked up and smacked me around for making such stupid statements.
For the most part, the story of Steve Rogers teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D and fighting the bad guys, all while trying to find himself in a world he doesn’t know or really fit in to, foregoes the fantastical elements of previous Marvel films and the universe they created. Instead choosing to ground itself in some kind of reality and weave us a tale of conspiracy rivaling that of most other espionage thrillers.
Make no mistake, this is an MCU film through and through. But this time around the Marvel universe feels more like a way to get some of the sillier ideas onto film. Ideas that haven’t really been acceptable since early 90’s James Bond. You know? Mechanical wing suits, hover-carrier thingies and, well, super soldiers!
Cap 2‘s greatness comes when you realise that you can take all those elements out and still be left with a top-notch spy film. A complex and engaging espionage film about shady little men trying to take over the world by using their own little terrorist army headed by a larger than life super-bad-ass bad guy. All of which can only be stopped by one man. Jason Bourne. No, James Bond? Nope. I got it, Ethan Hunt? Oh. Well, you get the idea.
My favourite part though? The fighting. I’ve said it a thousand times. A well choreographed and filmed fight can make a film great. Cap 2‘s fights hurt. Every hit is a bone crunching treat for fight fans that ramps up the stakes and forces you to feel every single punch. Captain America’s confrontation with UFC legend George St. Pierre and the first fight with the titular Winter Soldier are particularly great examples.
It’s Bourne with extra toys. Old school Bond with the ability to still have old school fun. Most importantly, it’s a brilliantly built thriller that’s grounded itself in the real world and, at least as far as I am concerned, is the best MCU film yet.
by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)
Some of you may have already read my review on the main site about Dan Gilroy’s atmospheric thriller. There’s not too much point in me running through the film with a fine tooth comb again, except to say that it is still my favourite movie of 2014. I had a blast watching Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen, big tub of popcorn in hand. I loved Kundo for all the reasons Liam has stated above. Under The Skin, The Attorney, The Raid 2, Inside Llewyn Davis, Moebius; it was just a fantastic year for film. But none of those that I saw during the year, none of those that I’ve caught up with since the turn of 2015, seriously, none have bettered this expertly made, tense, psychological dark masterpiece.
Brooker touched on Jake Gyllenhaal’s resurgence in our 2011 article, yet as good as he’s been in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Zodiac and Source Code (and that crazy violent slightly NSFW music video thing he was in), it’s definitely with Nightcrawler that he reached his apex as an actor. The sheer ludicrousness of his omission from the Academy Awards list last month was bafflingly moronic. How he could’ve been overlooked for a Best Actor award is quite frankly beyond my understanding. As the crime-scene videographer Lou Bloom, living out his twisted version of the American dream, it was arguably the best performance of the entire year.
It managed to tread that very thin line of being both sickeningly realistic and uncomfortably amusing. Not just Gyllenhaal’s performance, although that obviously is the central piece in the jigsaw, but the film as a whole. He has a suitably talented cast of actors around him including Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed; a director/writer who appears to have hit the ground running with his debut feature as a director; and some excellent cinematography courtesy of the very experienced Robert Elswit. It’s a film that has gotten even better the longer time has passed since I last watched it and I can’t wait to see it again.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Over the last few years I’ve watched quite a lot of films at the cinema, and the ones I’ve enjoyed I’ve gone back to see again, sometimes more than just twice. When 2014 came along, there was a film which I was looking forward to seeing. Another entry in the Marvel universe. As usual I had avoided seeing any trailers or even any footage for this film. On my first viewing I was blown away at how much I enjoyed it. Even on a 2nd and 3rd viewing I was enjoying it more each time, my kids loved it, and so I embarked on what turned into a marathon number of watches of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Oh go on then, I saw it 23 times in the end! “Why” I hear you cry? Mainly because (I have a Cineworld card and 3 kids who loved it as well) I just enjoyed the hell out of it. Everything about it entertained me, from the characters to the score and the soundtrack which was rather cool. It had action, it was lots of fun and had some fantastic looking spacecraft and it was just 2 hours long, a decent run time for once. I missed – or rather never got on board as Star Wars changed the world of films, and while I’ve seen films that have blown me away, they have disappeared into my collection only to see the light of day once in a blue moon. Maybe Guardians is my Star Wars, or even my kids Star Wars..? I’m not sure, I just know I really wasn’t expecting to like it so much.
James Gunn has produced a Marvel film like no other. While the other films tend to return to earth for some or most of the film, Gunn left Earth way behind. Taking his hero Peter Quill as a child into space and with some back story to give Quill a little character, just enough for us to like him, Gunn just lets the film fly. With a great opening sequence, the film powers along, and soon we are introduced to the full team, though they don’t know it yet. Rocket, a talking Racoon; Groot, a tree, who doesn’t talk much, Gamora a green assassin and Drax a beast of man looking for revenge. Really with that line up of characters this should fall flat on it’s face or at best just about hold together. Yet Gunn and his cast breathe so much life into the film that it soars. Chris Pratt is superb as Quill, he might be a rogue be he is extremely likable. Zoe Saldana is also great as Gamora, while Rocket and Groot and both voiced well by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. It is Drax played by Dave Bautista who really steals the show; his deadpan delivery is wonderful and nothing goes over his head (his reactions are too fast!) As for the rest, Karen Gillan gives a solid performance as Nebula and Michael Rooker (a constant in Gunn’s films) is also excellent. Lee Pace continues to impress as Ronan and his one of Marvel’s better villains.
The design of this film is also superb; the look of the space crafts, the clothes, the outer space sequences are all stunning to look at. The chase sequences are exhilarating and the final battle is superb leading to a one of the best moments of the film, the dance off! Yet while the plot is rather weak it does add some weight to Thanos and may give some clues to wear Marvel are taking the films. Even so it’s still a pretty strong origins film, as it relies on its energy and the energy of the cast to get us through it. Gunn’s trick is to continue this with the sequel, it’s a big ask, but I think Gunn and his cast might just pull it off again.
by Mike Shawcross (@Shawky1969)
And there we go, we’re done, no more new Half A Decade In Film articles to go (until perhaps five year’s time when we attempt the same thing again perhaps?) You can catch all of our prior entries here, or even click this link to view the entire back catalogue of features for the Decade In Film series. As always, let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve crucially overlooked or overrated any films so far.
“Undeniably an origin story but it works so well I would have been happy to sit through a sequel there and then.”
by Carole Petts (@DeathByJigsaws)
I must admit to being slightly apprehensive about this film. Even Marvel Studios, the behemoth responsible for most of the box office take since 2008, seem to have got ants in their pants about this film – we’ve had a more formulaic trailer, a tagline change (from the smart-arse “You’re Welcome” to the schmaltzy “All Heroes Start Somewhere”) and tonight I’m sitting in Crawley, as part of a nationwide premiere event presumably designed to get social media buzz a-going.
They needn’t have worried. From the credits sequence (Marvel’s only to date, and therefore the best by default), it’s clear this is going to be a winner.
The film is essentially the origin story of the titular band of misfits; a thief (Chris Pratt), an Ent (voiced by Vin Diesel), a creature who looks an awful lot like a raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a green-skinned living weapon (Zoe Saldana), and a chap who wouldn’t look out of place in a wrestling match watched by Doctor Who (Dave Bautista). They are thrown together in the pursuit of a mysterious MacGuffin which could make them all rich. Problem is, others also want said object for nefarious reasons of their own, and the stage is set for an interstellar jousting match between good and evil.
Guardians is immediately up against it because the group are, to be frank, not Marvel’s best known commodities. It’s difficult to remember a time when the cinema-going public at large didn’t know much about Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, but they did at least have a large following devoted to their source material before laying waste to multiplexes. Guardians doesn’t really have that luxury, and also has to introduce (and make us care about) five whole characters in one film. As a result we are given crib notes on each character’s past – Peter Quill’s tenure on Earth lasts mere minutes in the film before he’s abducted, most of the other back stories are explained in a few sentences, but you still end up caring about them. (This can be said less about the antagonists of the film – we are introduced to the baddies and told they want to destroy stuff without ever really being told why.)
In a Q&A this evening, James Gunn said that Guardians of the Galaxy may be “the most James Gunn film ever”. The fact that he’s accomplished this on a major studio’s tentpole release, rather than the low-budget fare he has made his name with, is nothing short of amazing. The film looks wonderful, bringing to life alien otherworlds and star systems with the visual flair of a much more accomplished director at this level. The script zips along with Gunn’s trademark vim and vigour, albeit slightly sanitised for his newly-found PG-13 audience. Everyone involved is clearly having a lot of fun; Pratt brings his likeable everyman persona to a leading role for the first time and succeeds hugely, Saldana is quiet but pulls out some excellent fighting technique when required; Cooper channels the most smart-arse New York cab driver you could ever meet, and hits the emotional mark more frequently than you’d expect from a talking rodent. Even Diesel brings the vocal pathos he first displayed in The Iron Giant to Groot, infusing a talking tree with warmth and humour. The real revelation, however, is wrestler Bautista as Drax, a man with a sad story to tell. He takes his time but eventually becomes the source of some rich comedy (standing up to accomplished laugh merchant Pratt with ease), as well as some surprisingly emotional moments. It’s the interplay between the five characters which makes this such a fun watch. It does mean that other characters are under-served as a result of developing this chemistry – Benicio del Toro and Glenn Close are woefully underused in their roles, and Ronan the Accuser probably has a good reason for his scheme, but we never find out what it is. The biggest disappointment is probably Thanos – who seems to have been rendered with the leftover CG money that wasn’t used to make Rocket and Groot look amazing. It’s an incongruous appearance from one of the great all-time Marvel baddies and doesn’t really serve the story at all.
This is very much an origin story. I got the same feeling walking out of this film as I did walking out of X-Men – that of the start of the story being told very well, but also feeling that there were greater things to come. And despite being slightly rushed at times, this is a great origin story, setting up the group of misfits as an entity currently separate from the rest of the Marvel Universe (save a couple of Easter eggs thrown in for those who are paying attention) and thoroughly deserving of their own adventures. I would have happily sat through a sequel right then and there, I had so much fun in the universe that Gunn has created. And I can’t wait to go back.
Guardians of the Galaxy is out in cinemas nationwide on Thursday 31st July 2014.
Carole is the latest permanent edition to the Failed Critics Podcast team and can usually be found roaming the streets of London on the look out for unwanted Nic Cage DVD’s. Or on twitter.
The Failed Critics Podcast is here, with another helping of shambolic film discussion that will make you wish you could go back in time to the moment you downloaded it and punch yourself square in the throat.
This week’s episode sees us review Richard Curtis’ time-travel rom-com About Time, as well as choosing our favourite time travelers in Triple Bill. We also review the latest Vin Diesel vanity project, Riddick, and catch up on great films you have have missed like Robot and Frank, and Whisper of the Heart.
Finally, we said a sort of goodbye to Gerry McAuley, who missed this week’s recording and is now merely a part-time contributor. It’s okay though, as miserable northerners with a Spanish fetish never die…
Join us next week as we review Rush, Insidious 2, and look at the relationship between movies and video games in time for the release of GTA V.
In honour of our main review, this week’s podcast is both fast (coming it at under an hour) and furious (well, one of us is a little peeved). We not only review the 379th film released this year starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Fast & Furious 6), but James even recaps the series for all of you who have missed out so far. Apart from the really rubbish ones.
Owen and James then wax lyrical and slightly homoerotic about Ryan Gosling, and his brilliant performance in The Place Beyond the Pines. Steve is impressed by a little-heard of gem called The Man From Earth, and Gerry revisits the genius of Four Lions.
Somehow we also manage to fit in some news from the Cannes Film Festival, recommendations on what to watch this week, and probably insult another major portion of our listeners. We usually do.
Tune in next week as we induct Studio Ghibli into the Corridor of Praise.
The first of a new series where two of our writers thrash out a film disagreement with only their wits and spell check to assist them. To the death!
Fast & Furious 6
Owen Hughes is a big dumb action fan (interpret that how you wish), but even he has standards.
Now I’m as big a fan of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in action movies as the next guy. He’s great in the earlier stuff like Welcome to the Jungle and Walking Tall, as well as more recently in films like Faster and GI Joe: Retaliation. Considering he’s in about a hundred films released this year, it’s not really that surprising then that not all of them can be hits. Some of them, such as Fast & Furious 6, had to be misses.
Maybe it’s because I’ve only ever seen the first film in the series and none of its sequels that I didn’t like F&F6? Maybe it takes time to warm to the annoying, one dimensional, unfunny characters and their slapstick comedy mixed with flailing one-liners?
I didn’t really expect the film to be any different to what it was. I’d seen the seven minute or so long preview that shows an edited version of the tank scene twice already when it was shown before Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness. I wasn’t hugely impressed (“we need a plan b, c, d, a whole other alphabet”. Sigh.) Although, in the context of what’s happening with the plot – I use the term ‘plot’ loosely – that action set piece does work fairly well. If you could remove some of the horrendous snappy one-liners, I might even have said it worked rather well.
In fact, most of the action bits which punctuate every scene like an unnecessary exclamation mark are handled well. No less well than you’d expect, but ‘well’ all the same. You have people leaping from one car onto another, fighting on planes, some very pretty shots of London as cars race through the brightly lit streets at night. Can’t really argue with that.
However, it has virtually no substance. The Rock tries his best, but the cast are just charisma vacuums. Vin Diesel’s face has about 3 muscles in it; one to control his bottom lip to allow him to mumble and one which allows his thick leathery forehead to force his eyelids down so he can blink/sleep. The final muscle pulls back the corner of his mouth so you can tell when he’s happy/satisfied/pleased with himself. The rest of his face does. not. move. If they ever plan on remaking The Terminator…
I bloody love big dumb action films usually. We’ve all heard of the phrase “so bad it’s good”, and whether you agree with that term or not, there’s some truth to it. A film can be so intentionally stupid that it somehow becomes quite entertaining. But there’s a line to how dumb and how big an action film can be before it does a full 360 turn and goes back to being just dumb. F&F6 is one of those movies; one of the most ridiculous, lame, downright stupid movies I’ve seen in the cinema all year. It was trying so hard to have fun that it felt forced and meant I wasn’t having fun at all during it. The most excited I got during the film was at the end credits with a certain cameo. Why? I’ve no idea because I don’t really plan on watching the sequel!
Until this week I hadn’t seen a single Fast and/or Furious film, and in a disturbing turn of events I have now seen three of them. That’s half the series. I had always dismissed these films as Top Gear for teenagers. Big dumb car crashes, terrible acting, and that awful music that young people listen to. (You know, anything made after 1998.) Luckily, my obsessive and completest nature decreed I needed to make a dent in the franchise before we reviewed Fast & Furious 6 on this week’s podcast. Spending so long in such a short space of time with these ‘characters’ had an odd effect on me. I grew fond of them.
The thing is, it’s impossible to judge the true value of Fast & Furious 6 in isolation from the rest of the series. Indeed, this is a film franchise bizarrely obsessed with its own continuity and mythology which at times is more complex than a season of Game of Thrones. Going into FF6 without watching the rest of the series is akin to trying to jump straight into a random episode of a soap opera and criticising character decisions and motivations, or plot twists you didn’t see coming.
In fact, the Fast and the Furious films are the last great American soap opera. Not only does it follow the naming conventions of classics like The Bold and the Beautiful, or The Young and the Restless, but the themes and plot points are also remarkably similar. Fast and Furious 6 alone features fan favourites returning from the dead, characters with amnesia, and even a comment on the existence of evil twins. The script serves purely to move the story along, and this film features even more exposition than explosions.
It does stop every now and again for a character to put each other down, but usually in a loving, familial way. There are a few terrible lines delivered with the intensity of a Royal Shakespeare Company graduate auditioning for Hamlet though, with my personal favourite being Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) wisely imparting the knowledge that “to catch wolves, you need wolves”. I’m not sure that’s exactly how bait works. I’d consider a goat tied to a stake and armed men in position a better way than some kind of wolf showdown; but that’s why I’m not haring around the world recruiting criminals to catch other criminals, and playing hard and loose with diplomatic treaties.
Personally, I like Vin Diesel in these films. He’s cool, calm, and even gets to beat up The Rock at times. All while talking like he uses nettles and razor blades as mouthwash. Paul Walker is hilariously bad, but in a way that doesn’t detract from the film. He spends almost every scene with a look of childish glee on his face, as though he can’t quite believe this is his job. In many ways though, this is exactly how maverick FBI agent turner super criminal Brian O’Conner would behave in the same situation. Maybe we just don’t see that this giddy and excitable character has completely taken over the personality of method actor Paul Walker?
The rest of the cast are a pretty likeable bunch, and you definitely get the feeling of the dreaded ‘F’ word that is uttered every few minutes. Family. The really great thing about this film is that although it is very self-aware, it still treats its serious moments with a level of respect that is admirable. As a convert to the series I really enjoyed the latest outing for the crew, but even if I hadn’t become so connected with the characters I still would’ve had ten times the fun watching it than I did last year’s The Bourne Narcolepsy.
Sit down. Strap in. Ride or die.
Are you Team Owen or Team James (as we believe is the common parlance with the youth)? Is this fast becoming a favourite franchise, or are you furious that they keep making them?