Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

Which I enjoyed. It might not have been as good as the first but it made me cry as much.

The main thing I disliked was that the characters were too broad in the first half so the reconciliation in the second half would work. But it did work. Probably better than the equivalent scene in the first one.

The character-is-a-screw-up-because-of-missing-Dad is a trope I could live without, but at least Peter Quill has a better reason than most. Peter Quill is still the one of the gang I like the least but that is not Chris Pratt’s fault, as he does a damn fine job.

The film struck all the “I’d still rather have the Farscape film this isn’t” chords that the first one did. Not helped by bonus Ben Browder. (Who got this film’s giggle of recognition.)

And also every other Australian actor I sort of recognised. Although I want Elizabeth Debicki in all the films. I really like how they did the Sovereigns (or however one is supposed to pluralise that), that mixture of dangerous and silly.

The cool thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy films is that they acknowledge that they’re based on comics so they occasionally go “stuff physics and reality”. It is glorious. As is James Gunn’s direction. Can he direct all the things? Because he makes everything look so pretty.

Spoilers begin below

There was no real twist to the story. The obvious thing was obvious and Yondu was far too cool to live. Also, he’s a father in a Hollywood film. But that’s okay. See Hollywood, films don’t need twists. What they need is character and motive.

This film is totally going into evidence as to why you never trust a guy who woos you with someone else’s song lyrics. I do like that they make it clear that Ego is lying while he’s lying, just from the sculptures he shows.

I love Baby Groot less than grown Groot, but there are few characters I like more than grown Groot. (I am Groot). That being said Baby Groot’s fighting technique and mine are horrifyingly similar. And he is adorable. I especially loved that scene with Baby Groot and Peter at the end when Father and Son was playing (hey, film, that’s cheating). I think it’s because Peter was so worried that he’s going to screw up like his father and Yondu did (accidentally on the part of Yondu) and eeee!

Gamora is such the big sister. And loves Nebula despite everything. I also ❤ Nebula and her grim determination and her knowledge of who the major problem in her life is (Thanos, always Thanos).

I am totally here for the Expendables in Space with Michelle Yeoh if anyone wants to make it. Really, please 🙂

All those who suspect Craggle is yet another lost boy Yondu picked up somewhere along the line say yeah.

Drax is my favourite (if we ignore Groot. Temporarily.) Although that highlights one of the things I like about GOTG is that I do actually like all of the good guys. Drax is hopeless in the best possible way. He’s the character that suffers the most from the broadening in the first half. But when it comes down to it, Drax is there for them, utterly. I loved the shot where he lifts Mantis up as they’re being eaten by the Ego-planet. Because he’s literally using the last of his energy to try to save her.

Of course I love Mantis, as I was supposed to. The film does something interesting. Normally, when there’s a character who is “not pretty”, the character is played by someone who is either 1) actually pretty and we’re supposed to ignore that or 2) there’s a reveal scene where they’re “prettied” up and we’re supposed to be shocked. GOTG2 avoids this by making it clear that Drax is crazy, but it’s cultural crazy so Drax can’t help it. I loved that that Drax doesn’t love Mantis any less just because she is hideous to his eyes.

Rocket is a hard character to love, and that’s deliberate. I did love the scene with him and Yondu, because Yondu is right, they are so very similar. I’m intrigued by the way Yondu has enough self-knowledge to recognise Rocket’s brand of self-sabotage, but not enough to stop himself for doing it. Because at least half of his downfall is him being an arsehole to his crew (don’t be mean to your underlings is a lesson many people should learn).

At the same time, Rocket’s Rocketness is what helps him save the others because you know Gamorra and Drax would have waited for Peter even if it had meant death. Drax especially. Which Dave Batista really sells. At some point Dave Batista has become a more than passable actor.

Anyone who knows me can guess the precise second when I started crying. And you’d be right with your guess. The film viciously goes for my button of “doing a good thing with no expectation of reward”, and then Yondu gets his reward and a proper Ravager funeral and … well yeah, I cried and hard.

While it didn’t quite work for me, I like that the film went full bore on its themes and linked everything together.

Assassin’s Creed (the film)

This began as a review of Assassin’s Creed, and turned into a discussion of the nature of storytelling. If you want a review, that’s easy:

Avoid.

Run far, run fast, don’t look back, don’t try a Leap of Faith in the real world.

None of the following is a diss on the technical people involved. The film was beautifully made. The costumes were amazing, I loved the camera work.

When you’re as good as that cast list are, then the acting is not the problem. Particularly Michael Fassbender at the beginning, he was amazing.

The trouble was it was difficult to care about any of that when no-one is given all that much character.

I mean, Aguilar gets a bit, but the fact that I can only remember the assassin’s name and not the modern-day dude should tell you something. The film was really bad at giving the characters names and identities. For instance, the only reason I know that Maria’s name is Maria, not ‘unspeakably hot Assassin chick’ which I had to call her, was because I looked the film up on IMDB and had to work backwards from female actresses listed.

The same thing for the modern day Assassins. I would care a lot more about the fate of Assassin 3 and 4 if, you know, they were people rather than cardboard cutouts that some fine actors were doing their best with.

I mean it. Name one non-Aguilar assassin just from watching the film.

There’s no sense of them being real people, they have less personality than the NPCs in the game do.

What Mad Max: Fury Road did excellently well, this doesn’t bother to do at all. I’m not given a reason to care about these characters, so I don’t, which means the grand sacrifice scenes don’t work.

It’s odd that a film that took so much care over everything else (the sets, the costumes, the little details like Aguilar’s name and the Torquemada’s nose) had such a bad, flat script.

My other problem is not the film’s fault. Or rather, I have the same problem with the games but the film emphasises it. The whole, ‘there are no rules’ philosophy is well and good if you’re strong and strapping. If you’ve the kind of person who isn’t, it tends to end badly for you. Relying on people to look after each other in that sort of set up also ends badly. That the film just blithely accepts that the Assassins view of life without questioning it is ooky.

Some spoilers below.

The film goes out of its way to avoid shades of grey. Whether it’s making Cal Lynch a criminal who prays on other criminals (so it’s okay to cheer him on), painting the Assassins as completely good and the Templars as completely evil, or just making Marion Cotillard evil all of a sudden (I cannot overstate how bad the film was at giving the names of the characters). That was also a shocking waste of Marion Cotillard. She’s an amazing actress, so use her.

Assassin’s Creed annoyed me, because it came so close to being good. It had one glaring flaw, but the script was so bad and a script makes up such a large part of the film that I felt really let down.

Logan, which I’m banned from watching

There’s are many reasons why your friends would suggest you *not* watch a film.

They might not think it’s worth watching, because friends don’t let friends watch the Seth Rogen Green Hornet.

They might know it’s not the sort of thing you’d like, like the time I suggested my friend, who doesn’t like gore, violence and swearing, not watch Sin City. She made it half an hour in before she said, “I think you were right.” I want it known that I didn’t say ‘I told you so’.

I’m not banned from Logan for either of those reasons.

No. L, who has issued the ban, is worried that I’m going to cry so hard that I’ll desiccate.

In L’s defence, he was sat next to me when I got a little over-involved with the fate of a tree in Guardians of the Galaxy (and bought me a bonsai which is called Groot). Furthermore, my family do have form on the ‘crying so hard it disturbs other people’ front. The Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet was in the cinema the year my girl-cousin studied it and my Uncle took her to see it. He cried so hard someone else’s mother gave him tissues.

It’s pretty much a given that I will cry like a baby at Logan.

It’s a mixture of things. Partly because I am a sucker for superheroes, and Logan plus girl-child is my platonic ideal of a Wolverine story. The first X-Men film is probably still my favourite because they understood that, and there’s that wonderful terrible moment where Logan thinks that Rogue is dead and he’s doing everything he can, even if it kills him, to bring her back. That’s the nearest I’ve come to crying at an X-Men film.

The people behind Logan seem to get him, and get which story they’re telling. Right down to the advertising people. I don’t watch superhero trailers before they reach the cinema because I don’t like to spoil myself but L does. And he banned me from seeing Logan the minute he saw the first one. His exact words were “they’re using Hurt as the background music.” Which was when I knew I was doomed (3rd gen Johnny Cash fan here).

But beyond that, it’s that it’s Hugh Jackman’s last film as Logan. It’s that “end of an era” feeling. Hugh Jackman has been Logan for longer than anyone has been Doctor Who, longer than anyone has been James Bond.

I was 15 when X-Men came out, before my home town got a cinema again. So going seeing a film was a bit of a production, and a rare treat. I can remember who I went with. We’re not the same people anymore, there’s no way we could be, but Wolverine’s always been there. X-Men 2 was supposed to be the first film I saw on my own in the cinema, but the person at the counter misheard me and gave me a ticket to the Matrix Reloaded instead (yeah, I know!). Wolverine: Origins was the first film I saw at the new Showcase in Leicester. First Class, which featured the greatest use of the one serious expletive you’re allowed in a 12, was one of the first films I saw in Birmingham, and I saw X-Men Apocalypse in Newcastle.

I’ve moved house 6 times, but Wolverine’s always been there. I’ve gone to uni, graduated twice, had three jobs, but Wolverine’s always been there. And now he won’t be.

If they do this properly, which from having finally seen the trailer, they are doing, I’m going to cry buckets. In between me being an X-Men fan for 25 years and some damned good acting on the parts of Sir Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman (who is a criminally underrated actor), it’s going to break me worse than Boromir and Thorin did.

So there’s a reason L has not just forbidden but five-biden and pi-bidden me from watching it. It’s for my own good.

I’m still going to watch it though because … oh it looks like it will be so good and I want to keep Wolverine while I can.

My Top 10 Films of 2016 Explained

The promised explanation for my top 10 films of 2016, mostly because I got the expected squawking noises from the expected source.

First, these are also the only films I saw in the cinema in 2016. It’s a mixture of things, mostly that I no longer have my Cineworld card because the nearest Cineworld to me is now an hour and a half away. Nothing against the cinema I do have near me, but it does mean going to the cinema has suddenly got more expensive. My new job is also taking up a lot more of my time than my previous one, which hasn’t helped.

The full logic behind my system can be found here, but the short version is did the film do what it was supposed to do? Was it technically competent? Did it make me want to go ‘but that makes no sense?,’ and did it affect me?

1 – Kubo And The Two Strings

I return to my original review of Kubo – “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll fall in love with a child, a monkey, a beetle and an origami figure.” (which someone said summed it up perfectly, which is one of the nicest complements I’ve ever been paid). It’s amazing, a like a good figure skating programme, the sheer artistry of it means you don’t notice exactly how amazing the puppet work is, because you forget it’s stop motion animation and get completely caught up in the story.

It’s truly, truly amazing.

2 – The Jungle Book

I am the only person who could have done without the songs. They pulled me out of the film something chronic. Other than that, it was all good. It’s lovingly made, the effects are incredible and it’s the only 2016 film that made me cry courtesy of Lupita Nyong’o’s Raksha. (Kubo made me make all kinds of peculiar noises instead).

3 – Captain America: Civil War

Definitely the best of the comic book films this year. It was all interesting shades of grey, and right, wrong and ish, in the way good comics are. Also Black Panther and Zemo and *that* scene in the snow.

4 – Suicide Squad

Mostly for the visuals and the sense of fun which the rest of the DC-verse seems to lack. And the soundtrack. And Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Oh I loved Harley Quinn and Deadshot so much. And Amanda Waller – well love might not be the right word, suitably impressed might be better.

I’m happy with my top four and the order that they’re in. It’s after the top four that I start prevaricating.

5 – Batman vs Superman

I loved the Bat parts of the film, except how the film kept trying to tell me that he was doing the wrong thing when I think he was doing the only sensible thing, and that’s not just Bat-bias.

I can see what they were trying to do with Lex Luthor even if it didn’t work. The film’s quality jumps amazingly every time it’s Holly Hunter vs Lex Luthor.

They still don’t get Superman, which is a problem when he’s the co-headliner. And because of that it feels like the film lacks heart.

6 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I preferred this film when it was called “A New Hope”. And there’s yet another JJ Abrams character with Daddy Issues. And dear lord, do Kylo Ren’s many flaws ever make it seem like Luke is the worst Jedi master ever.

That being said, I do love Finn and Rey, and exactly how little time the First Order rank and file have for Kylo Ren’s temper tantrums.

7 – Star Trek Beyond

I enjoyed this a lot. Especially Jaylah. And Justin Lin can direct all the things because he really conveyed exactly how 3D space and space stations are.

But …

I kept forgetting I had seen this when I was counting the films I’d seen this year. That’s not a good sign.

8 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2

This was good clean mindless fun. And when I went to see it that was exactly what I wanted to see. It does exactly what it says on the tin. And Bebop and Rocksteady are perfect. Actually perfect.

9 – Doctor Strange

The cape apart, this felt flat, like it was too concerned with setting up the next Avengers film and its own sequel to be a good film itself. Loved the Night Nurse (and Wong) but the rest of it was flat.

10 – X-Men: Apocalypse

I may have enjoyed it in parts but I have to acknowledge it was terrible.

It felt like half the film was missing. Our heroes successes came too easily and it tied everything up far too neatly. Apocalypse felt like an afterthought in his own film and too much of the film felt like generic superhero film, which X-Men should never feel like.

It’s a shame, because parts of it were wonderful, mostly the sore, ouchy character bits like Quicksilver’s complete inability to spit it out re: his Dad, and Mystique comforting the newbies when they were flying to the finale when you realise that she and Hank are the only ones from their generation left alive.

It should have been so much better.

My Top 10 Films of 2016

That I saw in the cinema. Full logic to come later.

1 – Kubo and the Two Strings

2 – The Jungle Book

3 – Captain America: Civil War

4 – Suicide Squad

5 – Batman vs Superman

6 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

7 – Star Trek Beyond

8 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2

9 – Doctor Strange

10 – X-Men: Apocalypse

I know I am very part of the problem because Kubo is the only one of the films that isn’t a sequel or related to an existing property. And while I’m sure about the order down to 4, 5 through to 8 are very much in flux.

Doctor Strange

 

Doctor Strange is a brilliant example of the danger of expectations.

I expected cool SFX and Mads Mikkelsen. I got that, and bonus Benedict Wong, so I was happy. L expected a film that actually worked on its own merits and was left disappointed. It is quite a flat film, that spends most of its time setting up its own sequel and whatever the Marvel Cinematic Universe equivalent of the Infinity Wars is going to be.

It’s also telling that the memorable scenes are the ones with very little in the way of obvious SFX, where they give the actors are given something to do.

I want 16 films of Rachel McAdams’s Nurse Palmer going ‘oh FFS’ at superheroics. But then again I am entirely happy with the idea of 16 films with Rachel McAdams in. Dear Hollywood, please cast her in more things.

Spoilers Underneath

For all that I’m supposed to think Doctor Strange is a bit much, he’s not actually that much worse than several doctors I know.

I know that Marvel have said that the flyer with a broken spine is not Rhodey, but 1) I think they’re lying and 2) if it’s Sam Wilson, I riot.

I can’t help but feel more sorry for Doctor Strange in the scene where he shouts at Christine than the film wants me to, not least because he was a lot more polite than I would have been. I don’t know if that’s because I know how much time and effort you have to become a neurosurgeon, never mind one at the top of his field. I did like the irony of other surgeons saying to him re: his condition.

One interesting thing is how much Kaecilius thinks that what he’s doing is the right thing (as does Mordo, and the Ancient One).

I can see why people make the Tony Stark / Stephen Strange parallels, except it misses the important thing about them. Tony is driven by not wanting to let his father down, while Stephen Strange is driven by his belief in his own greatness. Strange doesn’t have the same self-destructive tendencies as Tony. Tony would happily get himself killed several times over to save the Earth or Universe, but I doubt he’d have come up with a plan that got himself out of it alive too.

They’ve also got very different attitudes to killing people. I like how seriously Doctor Strange takes the whole try not to kill thing. The fight scenes did lead to me going hallo there Scott Adkins. He has joined that select group of people that I recognise from their shoulders. Maybe recognise isn’t the right word, because I couldn’t put a name to the shoulders, but I did go ‘I know those shoulders from somewhere else’.

Like lots of superhero films, both Marvel and not, the end boss is a bit of an anti-climax. Although I am deeply amused by the method used to defeat him, it all seemed so easy, and the cost doesn’t become apparent until the end stinger.

Saying Chiwetel Ejiofor is good is telling you stuff you already know, but he was oh so good when the film finally gave him something to do. It meant that for all that this film was flat, I am looking forward to the sequel just for Mordo vs Strange. But that’s exactly what I mean when I say the film spent a lot of time setting up its sequel rather than being its own film.

End Spoilers

Disney Marvel are missing out on oodles of money by not having a Doctor Strange replica cape for sale. As this isn’t like them at all, I do wonder if it’s to avoid lawsuits from parents of children who try to levitate. If they do ever bring out a replica cape, I will be all over that.

I am very aware of the film’s flaws, but I am the target audience so I enjoyed it. To paraphrase N on Facebook, “make a competent films with Marvel Studios at the beginning and I’ll enjoy it”.

 

Suicide Squad

Was far better than it had any right to be.

As in was actually fun. And Will Smith is amazing. As is Margot Robble. And I ❤ Diablo, and Katana and Captain Boomerang.

Joel Kinnaman looks terrifyingly like Carmine Giovinazzo, so I apologise in advance if I make any Danny Messer on steroids jokes.

It’s only as I’m reading back through this that I realise that I’ve gone through the film character by character rather than thematically or chronologically. This wasn’t deliberate but may well show one of the weaknesses of the film. It’s a series of character bits strung together with action scenes. Now I don’t mind that at all, but other people will.

Some spoilers for Batman vs Superman follow (because they’re in the film) and mention of most of the Marvel Filmverse.

Spoilers Beneath

The story mostly makes sense. There’s a couple of moments of ‘that move was too boneheaded for that character to make’ but we will forgive them for this. The characters work as versions of themselves, even if a few people have had some of their rougher edges smoothed down. It is interesting, for instance, that the film does flash up that Harley was involved with Robin’s death but it is blink and you’ll miss it.

The film is tightly tied to Batman vs Superman, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, Suicide Squad does its bit to set up Justice League with a much lighter, easier and more fun touch than B v S did. On the other hand, I feel that this means that the Batfleck solo film we’re going to get (thank you, whoever) is going to be Bats vs the Joker, again. And while I am all over that, because … oh I’m hopeless, I do feel it’s been done and is only going to be compared to The Dark Knight, and that may not end well.

I am aware I am the only person that liked the Leto Joker. He doesn’t quite work, but it is at least blatantly not based on the Ledger-Joker (no diss against him). Given that other films keep turning other characters into the Ledger-Joker it’s a refreshing change. Also Jared Leto is the only person who looks more terrifying out of Joker make up than in it. Harley’s fantasy is legitimately eerie.

Deadshot is lovely, and it’s one of the interesting things about the film, that he is clearly a good guy and a bad man at the same time. And Will Smith is good at both. Better at being the good guy but … Deadshot so lovely. As is his daughter. Whose name I didn’t catch. In the film’s defence, I can’t hear out of my right ear properly at the moment so I don’t think it was their fault.

The film gave me an Amanda Waller who was just right. Because yes. Although it does worry me somewhat that her line on the topic of Superman is mine. No good comes of me and Amanda Waller agreeing. I also liked that the film let the “heroes” (well, you know) call her out when she does things that are really not good, see also *that* scene in the bunker. One of the things that annoyed me about the first Avengers film and the second Captain America film is that Nick Fury kept doing things that were decidedly shades of grey and no-one shouted at him. I don’t mind Nat and Clint not doing it, but I refuse to believe that Tony would be able to keep his opinions to himself. Also, I think she knows about the Bat and that makes me want to yell at Bruce going ‘Bruce, you really don’t want her to know’.

Harley Quinn was, well, she was herself. I can see why people might be annoyed that she always goes back to her Pudding. But the whole thing with her character is that she would (and indeed is) lovely, if only she avoids the Joker. And they got that over. Margot Robble is far better than I expected her to be. My favourite scene was the one just after the helicopter is shot down when the rest of the Squad find her again. The minute she sees them she tries to fake being alright, and then Deadshot holds his arms out so she can get down and she just melts into his arms. It’s so lovely. Because Deadshot is lovely.

Actually, the whole escape sequence is lovely. From Deadshot not telling anyone about Harley’s plans to him pulling his shot (and the rest of the squad being happy about it) and Captain Boomerang, who is by someway the member with the least empathy, trying to comfort him when the helicopter is shot down.

Joel Kinnaman does a bang up job in what could have been a thankless role. Because Flagg is the least bad of the good guys (because that’s how this film does it’s shades of grey), and less interesting than the bad guys and could just have been a bland GI Joe a-like. Instead Kinnaman gives him a reality and just enough human weakness to believable and real and solid. (Although the rest of the military squad were pretty much misc. disposable military types and hello Scott Eastwood. Because Scott Eastwood is always hello!)

I am going to presume that they cast Cara Delavigne for her ability to gyrate convincingly in very little for that bit at the end with the Enchantress. It doesn’t work. Then again, I don’t think anyone would have been convincing doing those gyrations, Josephine Baker notwithstanding.

Jay Hernandez is good as Diablo, who gets to be the regretful one of the squad. I think he’s literally the only one who regrets their crimes.

Captain Boomerang, on the other hand, really doesn’t. He’s, I think, the only one of the Squad who isn’t given some excuse or reason or redeeming feature. He’s fun, nonetheless, and it makes those moments where he is vaguely human more effective. It’s interesting that they choose him, who is the least dangerous and deadly Squad member as the one without redeeming features.

His accent is merely ludicrous. I have no idea if Jai Courtney just can’t do an Aussie accent, or if he’s an Aussie they told to put on the most stereotypical and ridiculous accent ever. All I know is that it sounds even more bizarre given that Margot Robble occasionally breaks into ‘Strine next to him.

I ❤ Killer Croc, which I really didn’t expect. He’s one of the few Bat-villains I know more from the comics than any adaptation, and I’m used to feeling sorry for him, but not loving him. Because he knows what he is, and he’s okay with it – see the scene in the bar. (Also, just cast Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in everything.) I’m also trying to figure out if his line about ‘being born into the sewers’ is supposed to be a call-back to Bane.

Nothing about Katana makes any sense. If she’s got Flagg’s back, then why does she leave him and join the rest of the Squad in the bar scene? But if she’s one of the Squad, why is she allowed to roam free? She’s cool, but as I said, makes no sense.

It’s not a classic by any means, but its a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and if nothing else, it has a cracking soundtrack. I really don’t want to know how much Warners paid to get that soundtrack.