Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Film Review

You may notice that the first Guardians of the Galaxy scores very highly with most people, as both a standalone film and as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When it arrived it presented a fresh new take on a genre people were worried was on the verge of stagnating. It was Marvels way of saying “We’re not done yet!” and giving us faith that, whether you enjoy them or not, Super Hero films were staying for a long, long time. In fact, I imagine Guardians even hit a sweet spot with those who did feel the genre had over stayed its welcome, and I imagine it hit the same sweet spot with some people who didn’t enjoy the genre at all. It was action packed, it was funny, and it presented a wealth of crazy new characters the likes of the big screen had yet to see. All in all, it was a lot for a sequel to live up to, and Vol. 2 is no doubt going to be compared to its predecessor as every sequel always will be… So, the question is does it live up to number one? The answer, in short, is a positive, and resounding yes.

GotG Vol 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is another visually stunning, action packed and hilarious romp through the universe. It’s once again vibrant and spectacular, and it hits the same amount of comedic beats as the first film. As a film, it’s an incredibly enjoyable watch that’ll make you laugh and gasp and drool all the way through. As a sequel, its about everything you could hope it would be without it being better than the first. It’s there that lies the point of contention – Does it live up to the first? Yes, but it doesn’t exceed it.

Number one in the franchise scores major points for being the first in its line. It broke the repetition of Super Hero movies and showed us that Marvel was willing to let loose and enjoy some of its more ‘wacky’ narratives. With DC constantly pushing its ‘Dark and Grim’ films, Marvel was here putting as many colours to the screen as colourists put into comicbook panels. For the statement that Gunn and Marvel made with the original GotG, it’s going to automatically score some big points. The fact that Gaurdians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues in the same vein, is in danger of coming across more like “playing it safe”, but after all there’s only so many times you can break a mould.

The sequel is also unavoidably handicapped because the characters have mainly all been revealed in the first. These characters are no longer new and squeaky clean, we know what to expect from them and their dynamic. It was the characters that quite clearly made the original, Sure, there was flashy worlds to visit, there were aliens to meet, there was infinity stones… but really we loved Guardians for the characters. Whilst Pom Klementieff does a great job of playing Mantis, and Kurt Russell does simply amazing job of… well, being Kurt Russell, these new characters can only fill a gap so much. So, again we’re at risk of ‘safe zone’ territory.

All this aside though, Gunn does something very clever here; he makes the film smaller. The original Guardians was about introductions. It was about introducing us to space, galaxies, and just how weird the universe can be. For the Marvel Cinematic universe the implications here were enormous, no longer were the stories relatively earth bound (even Thor was tied to Earth in his narratives). Guardians showed us that Earth was not alone, and it showed us by blasting us from colourful planet to colourful planet, showing us big grand action sequences, and even introducing us to a style and humour, which was quite clearly much broader than the other Cinematic entries… Then Vol. 2 has come along, and made it tighter.

Whether it was a symptom of being part of a larger canon (and therefore not as free to manipulate events, due to implications it would have for other films at other parts of the timeline), or whether as a conscious decision off the back of the first, its hard to say. Easy to say though, is that it really works. We’re still shown a few planets, we’re still shown some space flight and some epic battles, but its more grounded. We’re no longer surprised by these unique new characters, so instead we’re given a personal story about them, a more intimate story about family. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 recognises its past introductions, and is building off of it. Vol. 2. takes the original recipe, changes only a few ingredients, and manages to create a different and still fantastic result, which maintains the same flavours as before. Sure, sometimes it may feel like we’ve had this before, we may compare it to the original and not feel exactly the same way, but stand it on its own and it does incredibly well. It’s a film that sets out and accomplishes everything it intends, whilst maintaining its ties to the original without feeling stagnant or done before. Most of all, it achieves all this whilst remaining fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is well worth a visit to see at the cinema, and it is well worth its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Ghost in the Shell: Review

Ghost in the Shell is a phenomenal film that’s made waves in all hemispheres. It was one of the first films to truly nail the themes surrounding a cyber-future and trans-humanism.  It’s a shame, then, that the 2017 remake is just really rather average – rather forgettable. The film is by no means a bad piece of cinema; there’s some fun action sequences, some beautiful effects. Sadly, the film is held back because it brings nothing new to the table, which is the opposite of its original namesake.

ghost in the shell

Ghost in the Shell follows a central character of ‘Major’, the first human brain transplanted into a Machine body (or a Shell). The plot follows her as she traces a criminal who is not only behind a series of killings close to home, but also hacking the brains of others to do his bidding. Along the way Major discovers some uncomfortable truths about herself and the world she lives in.

Along the journey there are some fun action sequences, some stunning visuals, and some fairly decent supporting cast members who don’t get nearly enough time to shine. Pilou Asbaek, in particular portrays an interesting Batou, but doesn’t get any screen time besides that he shares with Scarlett Johansson.

Ghost in the Shell, therefore, has all the makings of a summer action flick. It’s pretty, it’s enjoyable, and it has some stylish action scenes. Judged purely in a vacuum, it’s worthy of rating suitable to fairly brainless fun. However, no artwork exists in a vacuum, and by taking on the title of a world-renowned work of art you’re only going to be held up to its standard; a standard which forces this live action remake to simply pale in comparison.

*** Warning: Spoilers for both the Live Action and the Anime follow as I attempt to analyse what I felt was thematically wrong with the film  ***

The original film dealt with issues still fairly prevalent today; how do we define ourselves in a modern, techno-centric world, the growing prominence of AI, and how do we define self and sentience. You’d expect a remake of the same film to tackle the same issues, but besides the odd nod here and there it doesn’t seem to touch them. Naturally, as the times change so do a message, and an adaption doesn’t necessarily need to strictly follow its original intention, but this wouldn’t be such a crime if the themes were replaced with something as meaningful or thought-provoking. Really, all the Live-Action Ghost in the Shell gives us is hamfisted exposition and a power fantasy of just “being true to yourself”. There’s no introspective narrative here, nothing too thought-provoking.  In fact, I feel the Film does itself a disservice by simultaneously trying to tell the audience the past doesn’t matter, that only what you do matters, but then placing such a reliance on ‘the past’ as one of its key plot points. This version of Ghost in the Shell, along with its original, tries to deal with the reliability of memories and what they mean when moving forward. The antagonists of both films manipulate the memories of others to produce the results they require, showing that memory is easily manipulated, can’t be relied upon, and can completely change someone’s personality, but this adaptation also tries to show that a true memory will come to the surface and that through realising that truth do you give yourself power. There’s that running self-empowerment theme typical of bigger blockbusters.

ghostin the shell 2

This runs rampant in this remakes subplot, one of finding out who Major really is and where she came from. A topic left untouched by the original and better for it. It’s no lie that the original can be confusing for new viewers, and by giving Major this backstory perhaps they hope to give the audience some grounding, but instead it only serves to butcher the themes. This backstory also ties our protagonist and antagonist together, perhaps aiming to make for a more relatable opponent, but, by doing so, they completely remove the debates the original put in place; can Artificial Intelligence ever be true Intelligence? Can a robot truly be alive?

This change also impacts the ending of the film, our antagonist Kuze, gives Major the option of joining his network. In the original, as he was the first self aware AI, his offer to merge with Major reflected the birth of a next step and resulted in an almost literal child between the two of them. It was poignant. Now, where the original had a message of moving forward, of accepting AI and humanity as a next step, the new film shuns this step forward in favour of remaining the same. It seems as though this is again their message of ‘being yourself’, when really it seems more of being stuck in the past. How fitting that a film, that serves as a remake and struggles to adequately reflect its namesake, also seems to sell a message about clinging to the past.

*** Spoilers End ***

Ghost in the Shell is incredibly hard to review and perhaps a real example why many reviewers shy away from using a numerical scoring system. On its own, without ties to the original, Ghost in the Shell is an enjoyable watch that doesn’t really exceed any expectations, but provides a good distraction for its run-time. It is an action film, with Sci-Fi elements, that would probably be forgotten after a month or so if not for the scandal around the white-washing of its lead role and its famous heritage. It’s that namesake though, that it will forever be held up against, and when compared it simply cannot compete; it is all style, no substance, it is a Shell without its Ghost.

Score: 7/10

Seen the film? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Go Go, Power Rangers 

Wow, so this was a surprise…

*** WARNING: Spoilers Ahead ***

Due to our Cineworld cards, Kirsty and I go to films I wouldn’t have paid a single pound to see, let alone ten of them. It’s safe to say that Power Rangers was one of these films. At the end of the day, it looked like an overly gritty reboot of something nobody was asking for, and whilst that’s probably what it still is, I was surprised by how good it actually is.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my taste hasn’t gone out the window, but I was willing to call this a good film… At least until the third act.

Let’s start from the top. The films first act starts by setting up its main characters, you have the high-school jock throwing away his career, the picked-on and bullied nerd, the hot, popular girl being abandoned by her clique, and two characters who don’t get fleshed out until later on. On paper it’s very run of the mill, paint by numbers, teenage drama. The only difference is, for me at least, I started to believe that these teenagers could actually be the Power Rangers… It actually made me take seriously a premise I fully expected to snidely chuckle to myself about, whilst simultaneously looking down my nose at the rest of the cinema going audience (Who turned out to consist purely of children and parents, by the way, Kirsty and I were the oldest people there that didn’t have kids). Sure, these teens were fairly cliché, but I could get behind their journey of ‘overcoming personal differences, internal conflicts, and coming together as a team’.

That first act, in my eyes, works. I found myself enjoying it, and what more could you want? I was enjoying it enough that I laughed at the silly humour, that I could accept and overlook the teenage angst. I enjoyed it enough that when the second act rolls round with training montages, lessons in comradary, and a dumping of heart-felt backstory I was invested in the film. Then the third act comes along…

The films third act is undoubtedly its weakest, and it’s sadly also that act when the Power Rangers gain their costumes and fight the big bad. It’s literally the climax of the film and it couldn’t feel more… Anticlimactic.

As I said before, if I’d left after the first two thirds I’d have actually said this was a good movie, but the final fight, the big battle, was just so bland. It wasn’t even passable, it was boring. There was no weight to any of the martial arts, no intense music, no peril, and when the ‘Zords’ are used they suffer from Michael Bay’s Transformers Syndrome, in that they’re trying to be so realistic they just look messy and uninteresting. This is the part kids have sat through two thirds of the movie to get to, and this is the part that simply fell flat. There were little nods here and there to the old series I remember fondly, a couple of locations and sound effects, but they were barely noticeable in the sheer dullness of this battle. The film spent almost two hours basically saying “This will be the fight to save the world; this fight will be awesome” and it just wasn’t. It was entirely forgettable, it was badly executed, and it soured what was actually going to be a very surprising hit for me.
Let me put it another way. The thing that lets Power Rangers down is actually the part where they are the Power Rangers… Yeh, let that sink in. The premise they’re trying to sell you on, the namesake of the whole entire franchise, is its weakest part. Unlike Marvels’ The Avengers, which is at its best when the Avengers are Avenging, the Power Rangers is let down when their cast don their costumes and get to the fighting. In fact, the Power Rangers just don’t have much ‘Power’.

I also have the to give the film credit for trying, even in a somewhat heavy handed way, of dealing with acceptance of some important issues and opting to make the Power Rangers ‘team’ an inclusive one. The cynical side of me thinks it’s trying to tick too many boxes, but I think it’s heart is in the right place and, hell, if it puts examples of Autism, and non-heterosexual relationships into a Hollywood film, good on it. It’s overall a good thing that a film attempts to diversify its main characters; it’s potential role models.

In fact, it made me proud that something kids were seeing was willing to tackle some difficult issues and sell a message of acceptance. The main issue is though, as much as I was enjoying the film, it didn’t really seem to be for kids at all. There was no action, as what little there was got saved for the end battle, and the film was undoubtedly too slow for younger audiences (A fair few in our screening upped and left). Surely that begs the question… Who was it all really for?

If this film was for my generation, the more serious nature, whilst still balancing the campier moments, would be a decent if unremarkable attempt to reboot a nostalgic franchise, but were we really asking for a high school drama about angsty teenagers? Couldn’t we have tipped the balance in favour of the campiness and had a film purely full of cheese factor? So, say the film was intended to sell a future generation on a ‘new’ franchise, did they want to sit two thirds into a film before getting to the, for want of a better word, ‘action’? Wouldn’t they want to spend more time just watching people kick ass and have the character arcs written in around it? I don’t know, maybe I’m speaking on behalf of a generation I’m out of touch with and kids these days have better attention spans (though it definitely didn’t seem that way for audience members around us).

All in all, it’s a hard film to truly recommend. It’s a film that adults will have undoubtedly seen done better elsewhere, telling stories they’re now too old for, whilst also being a film kids might find too boring, with messages that, while important for them to hear, aren’t made in an interesting enough way. It’s a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be and, like with it’s mixing of tone, tries to balance too much to no avail. In the end, it’s a film I’ll be telling my friends to check out, at least when it’s out on DVD, and it’s a fairly ok Sunday afternoon watch.

Also, the Megazord looked pretty cool, so props for that.

7/10