2017 Summer Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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The Guardians are back to save the galaxy in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (Source: IMDb)

Oh—it’s great to see these band of misfits back together!

2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy became a surprise hit among general audiences. It featured the most unusual groups of heroes. Ranging from a man from Earth raised by aliens, a green-skinned alien assassin, a superhuman warrior, a humanoid tree whose vocabulary is limited to “I am Groot”, to a trash-talking raccoon. Seeing it three times in theaters, I had an awesome time seeing these characters interact with one another while saving the galaxy and the planet Xandar from Ronan the Accuser. The movie had a lot of laughs, thrills, sharp character development, and visual wonder. So far, I think it’s my favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s already a contemporary classic.

Three years later, writer/director James Gunn returns with the same main cast to do the sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. With Vol. 3 now in development, I’m actually looking forward to see more adventures of the Guardians rather than the Avengers. As far as sequels go, Vol. 2 is easily one of the better ones.

With a new kick-ass mixtape given to by his mother, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his team of Guardians—Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); now reincarnated to a size of a tree bark, and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper)—travel through the galaxy, in search of something good and bad. They are assigned to protect the Sovereign, a gold-skinned alien race led by Heiress Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), and their precious batteries from various enemies. When Rocket is accused of stealing the batteries, their spacecraft crash lands on a deserted planet until being saved by a man known as Ego (Kurt Russell), who happens to be Peter’s father (no surprise there). He, along with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), brings them to his colorful planet while a lot of stuff happens.

If I go on about the plot, it would lead to many spoilers.

With the first movie, Gunn introduces the characters getting together to form as a family. Here—they are an assembled group of outlaws. He also brings forth the father-son dynamic into the MCU. While Pratt is the ideal choice to play Star-Lord, there would not have been a better choice for Kurt Russell to play his dad. Or, in this case, a celestial who falls in love with a human on Earth and eventually creates his own beautiful world. For years, Quill always wants to know his true heritage. With the characters we have come to know and love, we get to know more about them, particularly Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gilan) with scenes with Rocket and Yondu (Michael Rooker) bonding with each other. And also, Drax gives more of an emotional weight, who explains more about getting revenge on Thanos after witnessing the death of his family. He begins to ponder more about his simple past on his home planet. He may be tough on the outside, but he is also soft on the inside. Oh—and his laugh is just legendary!

Speaking of laughter, Vol. 2 is a nonstop laugh riot! One of the reasons why Vol. 1 is not just the splendid visuals and action set pieces, but the irreverent sense of humor. Vol. 2 is no exception. Drax, Rocket, and Groot steal the show here. As I described him before in my review for Vol. 1, Rocket is the Joe Pesci of the MCU. He has a filthy mouth (but not too filthy) and he is unpredictably crazy. “They told me you people were conceded douchebags,” he says to the Sovereign (who make pretty bland villains, despite Debicki’s massive stature–standing at a whopping 6’3″). “But that isn’t true at all.” The wink he gives to Quill cracks me up so much. Almost just as much as him making fun of Taserface (Chris Sullivan), which had the audience rolling in the aisles.

Vol. 2 cannot be complete without an awesome soundtrack—cleverly titled Awesome Mix Vol. 2. What the predecessor did with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, you know you are in for a treat if the movie opens up with ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. It’s nearly impossible not to grin while watching it. Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” serves as an appropriate theme for the Guardians. This line sums it up right here, “If you don’t love me now / You will never love me again / I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.” Bring on, Vol. 3!

3.5/4

Movie Review: The Fate of the Furious

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Cipher (Charlize Theron) makes Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) go rogue in the eighth installment in The Fast and Furious franchise. (Source: The Playlist)

It has been over fifteen years since the release of The Fast and the Furious. Ranging from street races to pulling off heists, the series has been taken to new heights. No matter how ridiculous the movies might be, they know what to offer for fans; over-the-top, gravity-defying stunts, beautiful cars, and seeing our heroes saving the world from something dangerous. As much as I enjoy these movies (except for Tokyo Drift), I don’t mind two more films. Furious 7 (my second favorite behind Fast Five) was an insane thrill-ride while providing an emotionally satisfying conclusion that would make the late Paul Walker proud. Yes, I cried at the end of last movie. Like everyone else, I thought the series would end right there. But—nope…

The Fate of the Furious (I know, terrible title) picks up after the events of the previous film. Brian and Mia have retired from the crew. Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty Ortiz (Michelle Rodriguez) are having their honeymoon in Cuba. After an exhilarating drag race, Dom encounters a mysterious woman named Cipher (Charlize Theron). Trying to leave the world of crime behind (like in every movie after the original), he is forced to go rogue with the cyberterrorist. Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood) assigns Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Ludacris), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) to save their friend and stop Cipher once and for all.

After rumors have surrounded about James Wan returning to direct another Fast and Furious movie (of course, he declined due to having to deal with the production hell of the last film), F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton) steps in for Wan to provide just as much fun as the three previous installments. While the previous films are about getting together as a family, this movie is about being betrayed by one’s family. Case in point, Dom has been traumatized by his father’s death for years. He feels comfortable with his friends, especially reuniting with Letty. But—he is about to throw it all away.

Every fan always go into these movies for the wall-to-wall action (trust me, there is a lot of it to please the eye) and seeing these characters driving beautiful cars. There is also a lot of big laughs—from Hobbs’ introductory scene where he coaches his daughter’s soccer team to the interactions between Roman and Tej, as well as them flirting with Ramsey. Not to mention a lot of badassery.

How can anyone not love Dwayne Johnson? He is tough yet has a heart of gold. His one-liners are also impossible not to get a kick out of. As Cipher, Theron kills it with her punk look—from the dreadlocks and the Metallica shirt to her cyber powers (in one particular scene, she targets NYC by hacking people’s car and having control of them, causing chaos in the big city). She is up there with Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw (who reprises his role here providing laughs and his usual toughness) as one of the franchise’s better villains.

Despite the obvious narrative issues and Scott Eastwood’s bland performance, The Fate of the Furious provides enough for fans with the car chases, fist fights, gun shootings, and characters just having a blast. Bring on the last two films!

3.5/4

Movie Review: Deepwater Horizon

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Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and his crew are in a life-and-death situation in Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg’s retelling of the BP oil spill (Source: The Guardian)

The BP oil spill of April 20, 2010, devastated the Gulf of Mexico (about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana). With 126 people working on the rig, 11 of them lost their lives. This natural disaster inspired Jimmy Fallon to write a protest song called “Balls in Your Mouth”. Given the oil spill left tar balls bobbing in the gulf. For four years, he sang his song with guests including Eddie Vedder, Florence Welch, Brad Paisley, and Russell Crowe for BP to get the message. It goes a little something like this:

The oil spill by BP
Left tar balls all over the sea
Don’t go swimming down in the South
Unless you want tar balls in your mouth

Six years after the oil spill, director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg recreate the massive disaster with Deepwater Horizon. The results are electrifying!

Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) is a chief electronic technician for Transocean. He has a loving wife (Kate Hudson) and daughter (Stella Allen). He gives his last goodbyes before heading to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, and promises to get her a fossil dinosaur tooth for his daughter. His crew—led by manager Jimmy Harrell, or as the crew calls him by Mister Jimmy (Kurt Russell)—begin to face problems almost immediately.

The rig is 43 days behind schedule. The crew begin to do a negative pressure test on the drill pipe. Hell begins to break loose in the rig when the pipe begins to explode, causing a huge mess. The crew do whatever they can to survive the most devastating oil disaster in U.S. history.

What Berg and Co. did with 2013’s Lone Survivor (which I liked), they did it again with Deepwater Horizon. They capture a real-life event with such bravery and edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting tension, kudos to the fast-paced handheld camerawork. For this movie, the film crew created an actual oil rig off the Louisiana coast. It’s deemed as the largest practical set piece ever built for a movie. That’s what makes this movie all the more suspenseful, thanks to its use of practical effects. That faraway image of the rig in flames is gorgeous beyond compare.

Berg adds the human element in this portrayal without giving too much development of the crew members. Wahlberg—who is also one of the producers—is at the top of his game here as the everyday handyman, who has to think fast in a situation such as the oil spill. Other than Kate Hudson being Kate Hudson, everyone delivers good performances. Notably Russell as Mister Jimmy and John Malkovich as the BP representative Donald Vidrine. Deepwater Horizon is a worthy tribute to those who served on the oil rig, and sacrificed everything they can to make it home safely. I look forward to what Peter Berg and Co. do with Patriots’ Day. I’m positive the results are going to be nothing short of extraordinary.

I’m actually choking up while writing this review, which is the first.

3/4