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“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” bigger, better and emotional

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THE FOLLOWING IS SPOILER FREE! YOU’RE WELCOME!

Some say lightening rarely strikes twice when it comes to sequels. But even with a concept like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” you would think there wouldn’t be that big of a fanbase. Considering how much love there was towards the first one, especially making it, another adventure with the ragtag of anti-heroes was inevitable and I couldn’t be happier to say it comes close to being better than the original.

So what quest lies for our heroes? Well, without giving too much away, each member finally comes to terms with the term family and the meaning behind it. If the first film was about how they met and why they relate to each other, this one goes deeper. The characters and even us understand just crucial they are to one another.

Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) has to deal with the realization of who is father truly is. An entity named Ego (Kurt Russell) finally meets up and we get a sense these two have a bonding father and son relationship. I like how we get an idea of how Peter’s father means to him, but there is a sense of something questionable here. Peter  has lived a long time without a father figure, so how would he take to heart someone whose never been there for him? The basic thought of emotions play until Ego’s true persona that is shocking and unique at the same time. While they both share similar qualities, they are far different from each other in many ways.

Also on the sideline, Yondu (Michael Rooker) is having a hard time coming to terms with where he stands. His crew of scavengers feel he’s not gritty as he once was while the Captain himself wonders if he can change his ways. A crucial highlight is when the blue skinned blighter has to reluctantly team up with the “equally heartless” Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradly Cooper) as the two come to terms with themselves.  Both of them can’t stand each other, but find they are the same person from the inside out and have to know what matters to them the most.

Elsewhere, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have their own troubles. The green warrior has sibling rivalry issues to handle while the big muscle head himself is still trying to find a way to belong. While Gamora has to come to terms with her broken sisterhood, Drax finds companionship in the strangest way in understanding his poor ways in socialization even when he tires. And of course, I can’t forget Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) who is a new reincarnation of everyone’s favorite walking tree. This time around, he starts life anew and has to understand its harness along with it. Thankfully, this toddler variation doesn’t outstay its welcome and knows when to chime in at the right spots.

A big surprise to the table is the addition of a new character named Mantis (French actress Pom Klementieff). This bug-like creature has the ability to feel and manipulate emotions while also trying to understand how complex human beings really are. There is a level of comedy and drama to this character which make her a nice addition and clear scene sealer. Then again, her scenes with the misunderstood Drax make for the best moments in this sequel.

I’d go into deeper details of the story, but I feel its best for you to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” yourself. James Gunn returns in the writing and director’s chair giving us a world that is unlike ours and yet similar in many ways. From hot topics like creation to lost fatherhood, Gunn really channels how complex the human race can be with these characters. And for someone to take on such a difficult issue and tell it through these anti-heroes we love so dearly, I congratulate him for doing so. There’s much humor, action and plenty of color to behold. Dare I’d say, its literally more colorful than the first film when we see the multitude of planets and how their different races run. All I have left to say is that “Vol. 2” will certainly give a run for its money how much it tops not just the first, but other classics like “Wrath of Khan” and “Empire Strikes Back.” I maybe overdoing it, but I personally feel it deserves to be up there with those sequel classics.

“Doctor Strange” other-worldly enjoyable

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“Doctor Strange” is a movie that truly lives up to its title. This is a strange entry in the Marvel Universe, but a unique one. Of all the superheroes, he is the only one who can walk through different dimensions and bend reality. With a movie adaptation out, the possibilities seem endless for a character like this. Of course, the usual origins route has to be done in order to understand who this person is. Chances are if you can get through that, you will have a good time.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon with a high ego yet maintains a lot of ambition. This is proven after a car accident renders his hands useless as he tries to find a way to restore them. An incident like this proves just how far his character will go to save his reputation along with his usefulness. His knowledge of medical procedures show his understanding for the human mind physically but doesn’t have a mental grasp.

His journey leads him to a place in Napal where he learns a group of people might know how to cure his injured hands. As it turns out, this is really a coven of sorcerers who protect the world from evil. Sounds basic on paper, but when you get into the belief system and different spells, “Doctor Strange” starts to become more theoretical. Strange, himself, is more equip with knowing the world as he sees it; through scientific measures and practices. The journey into the place of sorcerers give off a belief vs. fact argument as Strange questions if his traditional methods are more powerful than magic.

However, a character named the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) proves the importance of mystical belief over science. Or at least the two can be one in some way. She proves useful in showing her new accomplice how vast the universe is within secret and odd ways. I liked how the calmness of this character really defined her. True, this is the usual master with knowledgeable ways, but an interesting one. The moments that made her stood out was when she argues with Strange’s faith. My only nitpick is they try to put in this twist about how she might be deceiving her followers which felt a tad unnecessary.

I say that because the main conflict of the plot doesn’t seem to have much room for it. A group of rebels, led by Dannish actor Mads Mikkelsen, who plan to unleash a monster from a darker dimension in hopes to take over the world in some way. But even the good vs. evil aspect feels a tad underplayed when we are exploring this new realm and the possibilities of traveling between space and time. Once we get to the zealots and their grand plan, it almost feels like a footnote after scenes of Strange training and learning about the new world along with its powers.

These effect-heavy scenes were more interesting than the villains as it proves the biggest eye-candy of the movie. We get treated to Strange traveling briefly through different dimensions (almost an homage to the vortex of light in Kubrick’s 2001), jumping through self-made portals and exploring more the sorcerer culture. When it was exploring this bizarre world of magic and mind over matter, it got interesting. But when it picked up and got back to the villains, the plot turns into your basic “whose the real bad guy” scenario.

On the bright side, it makes for a good excuse for intense action scenes that even push the limits of “Inception” and “The Matrix.” “Doctor Strange” goes further by having the sets actually move like the twisted gears of a clock or a puzzling Rubix cube. Between the fist fights, whole buildings and roads twist and roll around and it only gets bigger once we draw down to the climax. Unfortunately, if you took away the amazing effects, all that would exist is clunky fight scenes. The added sets that constantly move at least add tension and a dream-like feeling.

“Doctor Strange” is once again another step in the right direction for Marvel. They already proven before that they can do more than just superhero movies. “Strange” shows Marvel can channel any genre into their heroes and fly with it. The only flaws I do have to nitpick, which keep me from saying this is their best, include some odd pacing  and the handle of the material. In the first 20 minutes or so, the tragic backstory goes immediately into the training and the final third immediately launches itself into the typical good vs. evil battle. And I understand newcomers need to understand key terms in this odd world, but even they break the aspect of telling as opposed to showing. Characters keep mentioning about this massive creature which might destroy the world, but makes the mistake of talking instead of giving us an idea of this being’s power. When we do see this god-like creature, there’s not a sense of menace because we didn’t see this thing or action or understand its motive.

I must also tag on that despite the PG-13 rating, this is not a movie I would recommend for younger viewers. I would dare say this is one of Marvel’s darkest movies in violence and tone. From surgical procedures to a beheading seen in shadow, I’m honestly miffed at how this got away without getting an R rating. On the other hand, what we see is not too graphic to upset, but when you have talks of surgery on the spinal cord and scenes with out of body experiences, this might be something not for kids under 9 or 12. Parental guidance is strongly suggested for this entry.

Although, I can look past the flaws and say “Doctor Strange” was a fun ride. Full of imagination and creative fantasy, I once again find myself wondering what else Marvel has up its sleeve. After traveling through space in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the world of the small in “Ant Man,” “Strange” goes beyond the realm and even delivers, what I hope, a possible new franchise. One I even predict will be bigger since “Iron Man” made its debut. If not, at least it was a good start to the holiday season.

“Captain America: Civil War”explodes with fun and emotion

captain_america_civil_warAfter watching “The Winter Solider” right before seeing the new entry in Marvel’s line-up, I had a feeling it would be a tough act to follow-up a sequel that is edgy and asks if the famed stars and stripes superhero is a symbol of his country or something else. The idea of comparing and contrasting him and his old friend, Bucky was a unique element. How S.H.I.E.L.D was using Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) despite giving some leeway in contrast to Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who is so brainwashed to the point you can’t tell if he’s good or bad. “Winter Solider” was packed with plenty of action, but something felt lacking. I wanted it to go deeper into the psyche of Steve as well as where he stands in a world of superheroes. Long story short, thank goodness “Civil War exists. It easily trumps the old saying that “lightening rarely strikes twice.” And already, it’s become my 2nd favorite Marvel movie next to “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Chris Evans returns as the thawed World War II veteran who is caught in a huge cross fire. As it turns out, the damage made in his previous Avengers victories were causing more harm than possible with lives lost during their battles. The government plans to crack down on the superhero business, but all that changes when Steve’s buddy Bucky gets in the mix. Without spoiling too much, a series of assassinations leads to the Winter Solider’s blame while Steve thinks otherwise.

This part of the story alone sets up a unique mystery that keeps us guessing to the very end. When the story is not engaged in fist-fighting, things take a back seat as we try to connect the clues behind the true mastermind. Is this Bucky’s real doing or is something else in play here? Again, without giving too much away, when we do find out the truth, the answer is satisfying and certainly shocking. Dare I say, “Civil War” has one of the most biggest twists in all of film history and already I’m in shock about how well it plays out. Rarely does my jaw drop to the floor, but this has to be one of the few moments in my life a reaction like that was needed.

As for everything else, viewers will be treated to a very serviceable and explosive summer blockbuster. Every character motive has a purpose to exist on why one is after another. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is upset over Steve’s will  to co-operate as Steve feels the country he serves is starting to not feel the same as it once was. This gives all the more reason for these two to duke it out. We’re not just interested in seeing who has the upper hand, but get reasons for why these two can’t compromise. It makes the drama more intense considering how used we are seeing Tony and Steve play off each other like close college buddies.

As for the fight scenes, they are satisfying and serviceable. Each one is well-choreographed and packs with edge. The best one is easily the brawl at the airport as Marvel characters ranging from Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) take sides with each team having equal advantages. Both have one who is inventive while another has supernatural abilities like Vision (Paul Bettany). With both sides evenly matched, it makes this fight scene the more enjoyable to watch as each one tries to outwit each other.

Surprisingly, the biggest highlight I found was not Tom Holland making his first incarnation as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Though granted, I thought he was a great fit coming off of Toby Maguire’s decent run and the disastrous Andrew Garfield (less said the better.) For me personally, the biggest thing I’m taking away is Chadwick Boseman’s performance as Black Panther. In a way, I felt like I was watching the origin of the character even if I knew little about him. His character arch fits nicely with the one of many themes about the effects of vengeance. Boseman was sleek, bold and very intimidating when it came to his moments on why he has a beef with Bucky. In a nutshell, I hope this character gets his own movie, because Boseman deserves it.

And as said before, Tom Holland is a surprisingly good fit for the web head. In hindsight, the filmmakers should have opted for a younger incarnation. Holland is able to carry the charisma as well as be crass yet likable. He isn’t annoying and I found myself laughing at every quip and joke they threw at him. Despite his purpose being nothing but an extended cameo, I am more than curious to see how well Holland does in his future solo film.

As for the rest of “Civil War,” I really can’t praise too much. Though if I did have to nitpick, the first 20 minutes are a tad slow and some odd editing choices are made (like having the name of countries be told to us in BIG WHITE LETTERS THAT SPAN ACROSS THE SCREEN.) But more curious are the allusions and references to “The Empire Strikes Back.” I don’t know if this was intentional, but I did find them interesting to be honest. Truly we get a sequel that is powerful, fun and emotionally gripping. In a way, I wish this was the movie “Batman Vs Superman” tried to be and failed in the end. “Civil War” is well written, packed with action and knows when to linger between comedy and tragedy. If you want a grand start to the summer, this is an explosive start.

“Deadpool”vulgar, violent and nasty fun

There are few movies today that rarely make an impact or hit the mark. In fact, last year’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” rocked theater seats for the wrong reasons. The hyped killed the movie along with its boring script and unsexy scenes of foreplay. Why do I bring this clunker up? Because it was released during Valentine’s Day. Jump to a year later and finally we get a movie around the holiday that is unapologetic, offensive, sexy, loaded with harsh language and very ultra violent in spots. And I loved every minute of it.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

“Deadpool” is another Marvel adaption done right as the red-suited, breaking the fourth wall superhero has languished in development hell for 10 years. Now, he finally gets his due with Ryan Reynolds donning the suit he was born to play in. The character as a whole is fun to watch. Armed with two katanas and limited gun ammo, this baddie spends most of his time chasing down folks that damaged his life and poking jabs of his own movie to the audience. Not only is he immune to bullets, his body can regenerate new limbs while also cracking one comedic catchphrase after another. Reynolds clearly is having a ball playing the ultimate satire of brooding superheroes here.

Without spoiling too much, Deadpool’s true face is Wade Wilson, a mercenary whose fun life is turned upside down when he’s diagnosed with cancer. I always find it odd when a movie like this goes from ultra-fun to a serious tone shift. But the way it gets executed works. It provides there is more dimension to this pun-spewing maniac and even some tragedy like other superheroes.

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Best movie to take your girl out on a date to…ever

At his reluctant aid are two X-Men members, the metallic Colossus (motion capture by Andre Tricoteux, voice by Stefan Kapičić) and the cynical Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). While most of the comic relief is played up from their interactions with the hammy ego, they both have a unique yin and yang personality with Colossus believing in the moral ways of a superhero while NTW just wants to see stuff blow up. Seeing these two mutants makes me wonder why they weren’t used as much (with the exception of Colossus who was performed originally by Daniel Cudmore in previous X-Men installments. He declined when he found out his voice was to be dubbed), but it opens the door for more under used Marvel characters to be seen.

Also enjoyable are Deadpool’s adversaries in the form of a blind roommate (Leslie Uggams donning a foul mouth) and a social bartender (T. J. Miler) that assist the loony ranging from weaponry to advice. Even if they don’t make a big difference, you can appreciate the fun personalities when it comes to taking bets on who is going to die or stashing a supply of drugs for fun.

As fun of a thrill ride “Deadpool” is, there are only two minor problems. On paper, the story is not that interesting. If you took away the comedy and the incredibly, graphic action scenes, you get a run of the mill origin and revenge story. Guy goes through chemically imbalanced transformation, seeks to avenge those who wronged him and so forth. I feel without the comedic moments or the over-the-top environement, this would have been a generic “Darkman.” Thankfully, this is not that kind of movie. This is almost like if “Darkman” mated with “Wayne’s World” and gave birth to an R-rated “Freakazoid.” And that’s the G-rated description.

The only other fault I can think of is the villain Ajax (Ed Skrein). There really is nothing that memorable I can think of outside of giving Wade a reason to go after him. They don’t him much of a motive outside of using people to test a mutagen on for study. But when you consider the amount of harm he caused, it does give Wade reasons to get back at him. I just wish they made this Brit baddie a little more interesting outside of being a mutant that has great strength and can’t feel pain.

deadpool-tickets-166826But I can ignore those flaws because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I can hold my head up high and be glad we got another Marvel movie done right. Like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man,” we are giving a movie that is straight to the source and all out fun. Heck, I would actually like to see what direction they would take this insane character for at the next movie. Overall, “Deadpool” is the first movie I have seen in theaters this 2016 and can say its going to be hard trying to top this one. Now of course, a little minor caution that this movie has tons of bloody action and bare nudity to the fourth base. But hey, would you rather see this with your girlfriend or sit home and watch Jamie Dornan seduce Dakota Johnson by eating a piece of toast shirtless? I think the answer is very obvious.

And like with all Marvel movies (well some), this one has a post-credit scene. Please do stick around because it is worth it. To quote a wise man, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around for a while, you could miss it.”

P.S. Best Stan Lee cameo to date…ever

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Dracula Untold

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Marvel Comic's Dracula...I mean the reboot that does something new....yeah, its that kind of movie

Marvel Comic’s Dracula…I mean the reboot that does something new….yeah, its that kind of movie

As I thought more about Dracula Untold, I kept thinking about how the well embedded Bram Stoker’s novel was into the public conscious. You think films would stay true to the source but there happens to be a small amount of Dracula adaptations that stay true to the original book. Even the 1931 Universal classic had its roots taken from a stage play giving a different take. But for all the different takes, each Dracula had one thing in common; they were scary. This variation we are looking at today is not meant to be horror based which is rather unfortunate. But hey, maybe there is something salvageable?

Luke Evans plays Vlad III Tepes, who looks nothing like Vlad the Imapler if you look at his portraits. As opposed to a long haired Romanian that looks like a Sultan, we get a young and innocent Prince with a couple of shirtless scenes to please the YA crowd. But hey, let’s give the movie a chance. And besides, Luke’s performance is not bad. He can be intimidating when he channels his vampire powers and presents his character as a tortured soul much more than the blood suckers in Twilight. True, he doesn’t care the menace that Lugosi or Christopher Lee left seeing they are playing this Drac to be more heroic. But hey, there’s over 100 Dracula movies out there so no worries.

The story to say the least is a creative mixed bag. I say that because there are some things I do like about it but some stuff that I feel iffy about. Apparently, Prince Vlad is under force by a Turk army to cough up 1,000 boys to be trained as soldiers in debt for some missing scouts. An Ottoman from the army thinks Vlad killed the scouts but its revealed that a nearby vampire in a cave took them as a midnight snack. Even more ironic seeing Vlad pays a visit to this vampire to ask for his powers to save his family and people before they are slaughtered by the Turks.

Luke Evans worries about the monster within him

Luke Evans worries about the monster within him

I like part of this idea despite it being a “Game of Thrones” variation. There is some interesting mythos to the Dracula story like his origin and the world itself is very grimy but appeasing to the eye. Again, this is not meant to diminish the original in any shape and does this new take. But unfortunately, there are some limits we have to accept when donning a new version of a story that has been told before again and again.

As stated, this new Dracula movie is not meant to shock or frighten. Instead, it has the pace of a Marvel comic book movie and this is where some of the problems begin to surface. Vlad is giving vampire powers for three days to help save his people. The catch is that he has to resist feasting on human blood or else doomed to be a vampire for eternity. A little fairy tale-ish but I can buy it. I am use to dark and brooding fairy tales like something along the lines of Jim Henson’s The Storyteller. But where Henson’s Storyteller knew when to be adult and smart, Dracula Untold feels like something crafted from the mind of a teenager that just inhaled glitter up their nose. The powers Vlad gets from this transformation really seem odd. Who knew a vampire could get super strength, the ability to see warm blooded figures and super sonic hearing.

Does he turn into a bat? No but a whole flock of bats. Its insane. The idea of Dracula and his entire body (along with his clothing) turning into a small bat is understandable but a whole gang of flying rodents? That’s just nuts. I guess each bat is a part of him and in one scene we see Vlad control a huge array of bats to vanquish an army much like in 1999’s The Mummy when Imhotep controls a sandstorm. So yeah, this is very much a Marvel Comics version of Dracula. I can’t say it doesn’t have any creative liberties seeing it is doing creative stuff and clearly there is a lot of effort thrown at it. But at the end of the day, your just looking at a Dracula movie to cash in with the younger crowd who love brooding and tortured souls and superhuman people with problems like Thor or Captain America.

On the other hand, there are some drops of Stoker’s novel here and there but its far and few between. There is this Renfield style character but he only gets one small scene and doesn’t show up until the very end of the movie. The idea of someone assisting a young Vlad could have been interesting and does raise tension when we see him try and avoid biting another one’s neck. But with only so few moments tossed in, it makes the story feel rushed as it builds to the big climax between Vlad and the Turk army while wrapping everything in a matter of minutes than let the story flow naturally. It irks me when little scenes here and there could have been played to be big and plot moving when they really feel more like a small drop of water. There is a good moment when Vlad’s people realize the monster he is and try to destroy him. Its great scene that could lead to some interesting character depth with the citizens he gave a home to and where Vlad stands with his decision. But then we have to focus on this big battle next making everything before that a small road block that could have added something.

At least the effects are decent seen here with the make-up work on the vampire that transforms Vlad into a creature of the night

At least the effects are decent seen here with the make-up work on the vampire that transforms Vlad into a creature of the night

Supposedly, Dracula Untold is meant to be part of this reboot of the Universal Monster franchise and it does feel like it. The ending clearly sets up a possible shared universe much like what the films of Marvel Comics are doing which is not a bad idea. Why not have a movie with Dracula teaming up with the Wolf Man? Or have the Mummy try and play off the Frankenstein Monster? Would the Phantom of the Opera be there? And what about the Invisible Man? Does Gill-Man (Creature from the Black Lagoon) have a bad-ass appearance like he did in The Monster Squad? We will never know. But after hearing that these new movies would be more action-adventure and less horror, it has my eyebrows raising in caution. What made the originals work was the horror and the shock aspect. Trying to image say the Wolf Man being set up as something like Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk feels very double edged sword to me. Are these monsters now superheroes or just anti-heroes?

Perhaps this idea of a shared universe is not fully throughout that much. On the other hand, Dracula Untold is a the first start of this “reboot franchise.” And if this is how each movie will be planned to be, I’m curious but at the same time part of me is disappointed. I do like the new stuff in this movie even if it gets a little over the top and out there. And the performances are trying to make this a good movie overall. On the other hand, maybe I’m too hard. This is meant to be more dark fantasy with curses and knights. I don’t think this is a bad movie none the less but the recommendation is difficult. I say see it as a rental just for caution. But fans who are looking for this faithful retelling of the Dracula myth might be biased and disappointed. I once again stress this is not meant to be a horror movie in anyway but more of a comic book movie which is interesting but also unfortunate. I am glad to see there are different variations of the Dracula tale out there and keeping the vampire fresh in the public’s minds. But I’m positive this harmless flick won’t do much damage to those who love the bloodsucking favorite but I’m positive this outing won’t be as memorable either. Not 100% bad by any means but not good either. Then again, as they always say, it could have been a lot worse….

“Ant-Man” is bite-sized fun

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tests out his new abilities as the Ant-Man in the latest fun romp from Marvel

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tests out his new abilities as the Ant-Man in the latest fun romp from Marvel

Ever since Marvel came on the scene with their Cinematic Universe, Hollywood has never been the same. Who would think such simple concepts like a man who can get big during his anger or a Norse god with family issues become box-office gold? Not to mention, the studio is also testing the waters with unknown characters to see if there is some franchise potential. “Ant-Man” happens to be one of them and it nearly succeeds despite some flaws.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a bugler with a heart of gold who is looking for redemption and be a hero in his young daughter’s eyes. Only problem is that one big “steal from the rich” heist landed him in jail and a distant and divorced relationship with his wife. Paul really channels the wise-cracking tone of Robert Downey Jr but you also really care for him. He understand the problems the character is going through and will risk anything to get his family back together and his name cleared of crimes.

Unfortunately, that all changes when a professor played by Michael Douglas asks him to pull off a huge heist that not only keep a big invention under wraps but also save the world. Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) has invented a suit that is powered by a serum that can shrink a man down to the size of an ant while also be giving superhuman strength. Sounds silly on paper but looks good when executed.

Problems are afoot when an evil tycoon (Corey Stoll) has taken over Hank’s labs in hoping to duplicate his powerful suit for militant purposes and other assorted evil plans. The motive is very misty but its another situation where apprentice sees and tries to overcome his mentor. Its a basic motive that really doesn’t have much driving power. Without giving too much away, there’s an explanation about the chemicals of the shrinking serum messing with his brain but we never get that implication outside of telling and not showing.

When it’s not rehashing the usual tropes of a superhero origin tale, “Ant-Man” survives with the premise, humor and well-staged action scenes. Giving that Scott can be the size of a bug, it opens the door to many creative spectacles like trying to survive a three-story building drop within the building and a surprisingly creative fight on a kid’s toy train set. If this movie wasn’t made today, it would be hard to see such convincing special effects and not to mention some CGI ants that look cute while retaining their realistic body structure.

The main theme(s) deals with redemption as Scott hopes to rekindle with his young daughter while even Hank has to deal with his (played by Evangeline Lilly). Their relationship feels cold and distant compared to Scott’s who only wants to be a hero to his little girl. When the action and effects take a break, we do get some good character depth that only makes us wish there was more there as Hank reveals the fear of losing his child as much as Scott does yet differently.

While it doesn’t raise the bar or prove to be perfect like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, “Ant-Man” does provide a lot of fun and gives us characters that are unique to watch. Unfortunately, a strong story is sadly missed here as the focus is primary on a lot of tongue-in cheek dialogue that borderlines at a near self-spoof. “Ant-Man” has not had a smooth pre-production history as Edgar Wright was to helm this entry but left due to creative differences. In a way, I do wonder how much of Wright’s material made it to the final cut considering his co-writing credit and there are times when the comedy feels self-aware like in Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. One example is when Scott breaks into a home and notices the heavy amount of security ranging form a fingerprint scanner to the basement to a safe made of the same metal used to craft the Titanic. Its ridiculous on paper but somehow feels plausible in execution.

The better way to describe this movie is a mix between The Rocketeer and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids as the rocket jet-pack is substituted for a suit and we explore more than just someone’s backyard from time to time. I was honestly surprised by the amount of fun and effort but it falls short when compared to Iron Man or Captain America. Its obviously not trying to raise the bar and just be an entry for the sake of enjoyment. And seeing how many times they play around with the shrinking and use the microscopic words to great potential, I found myself feeling satisfied with this fun-sized flick. Its very rare we get a film to show the wonders of inside an ant hill while also the danger of a bathtub from a bug’s point of view. While it doesn’t do much new and uses the same cliched notes and beats from the casual origin story, the fun factor is so high here that I can’t help but recommend it.

“Guardians” saves summer!

On August 1, 1986, Universal Pictures released Howard the Duck, one of the first Marvel Comic adaptations  to ever hit the big screen. In my opinion, its a campy, goofy B-movie that has flaws but doesn’t take itself seriously with the idea of an anthropomorphic alien duck stuck on Earth. Unfortunately, audiences were split over to take this movie seriously or not at all while critics were far harsh with the film.  Why do I bring this movie up you ask? Again, this was released on AUGUST 1ST and was the first Marvel Comic “comedy” of its time. For a good bulk of the 1990s, we mostly got DC Comic adaptations while Marvel stayed in the shadows till Blade and X-Men showed how comic adaptations can be fun but realistic at the same time with thought provoking messages of finding acceptance and good amounts of action.

"We are the Guardians of the freakin' Galaxy"

“We are the Guardians of the freakin’ Galaxy”

Skip to August 1, 2014 to the debut of Guardians of the Galaxy and it happens to the second attempt Marvel takes a crazy idea like Howard the Duck and make it work. When you think about it, Marvel has given us a long line of films that are dark yet have this uplifting vibe to them from Iron Man to Captain America. While comic book in tone, these movies were serious with its material while taking basic concepts and making them fun and engaging. Guardians is so absurd, so out of this world and strange on paper that it feels like it might turn one off. Yet, everything about it works well. Surprisingly, this is by far the most uplifting, funniest and by far the best one of the batch.

Chirs Pratt plays Star Lord (or Peter Quinn if you want his real name), who was a  human abducted as a kid by aliens and now grows into a bandit of the galaxy that has a bounty so big, it makes Bobba Fett look shallow in comparison. Chris’s take on the character is close to the heroic whim of the Rocketeer meets the space hero serials of the 1950’s but if he was a playboy and a lovable jerk. What keeps Star Lord from being unlikable is his child-like quality with roaming about the universe while still having a smug attitude. He even has a Walkman from the 1980’s and it still works interestingly. But yet, he is just the basic every man trying to make a quick buck with a strange relic that he doesn’t even know if its dangerous or mostly harmless. If he walked into the Cantina bar from Star Wars, I’m sure him and Han Solo would hit it off big.

Also in the ragtag group is Bradley Cooper’s stealing the show as a genetically modified raccoon named Rocket. He may have a mouth that matches the personality of Joe Pesci but carries weapons so huge that complement his furious attitude more than his size. This critter is less about wisecracks and more about blowing stuff up and keeping his personal needs in play. This is a really funny character and I’m sure there will be a growing fan base out there quoting his cynical but humorous quips as well as wishing there was a spin-off made. It also helps that he is more smart when it comes to fabricating things from weapons to even hijacking security systems. In short, Rocket is one creature you don’t want to mess with.

Aiding the fierce Rocket is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a giant tree like humanoid that grow to any size and even grown back a limb. The humor from this character shines a lot from his visual actions and the fact his vocabulary is only limited to saying “I am Groot” which acts as a form of language that only Rocket can understand. While technically the Zoidberg of the group, Groot gets a lot of memorable moments being a giant that can be destructive but also innocent and kind at the same time.

Dave Batista shines as Drax the Destroyer who looks and talks like a major brute but yet takes things way too literally for granite. Dave manages to make the character his and even go as far to take his own wrestling moves into the action scenes. Again, the quirk that shines the most from Drax is how his species don’t understand metaphors well and even have a poor understanding of knowing when to joke around or even know how to describe sympathetic feelings. His personality matches Strax the Sontaron from Doctor Who so well that it makes me wonder what a barfight between the two would be like.

Lastly is Zoe Saldana donning the green skinned Gamora who is one sleek assassin that questions the amount of brains in the leader of the group and everyone else. With a bad attitude and sometimes one step ahead, she can have a heart too when it comes to trying to being righteous and is not cold hearten as you think. She can be fun to watch when the sleek killer plays off of Star Lord’s devilish personality but even she knows when to show she has a heart.

The reason these guys are all together is because they are after an object Star Lord obtains early on that again could either destroy the universe or maybe be a cheap antique. One or another is after each other because of prejudice or one has a higher bounty quality and it honestly works. The first half of Guardians feels a bit slow but what holds it together is the way these people work off each other. They are schemers and pull heists but yet somehow you can see them working together for something like trying to save the world while other characters feel this is the last thing they would expect from them. I’m saying little about the villains as well as the other characters as it would ruin a lot of expectations. I admit, I was confused as to who the real antagonist was but when they got to reveal the true nature of the orb, it all made sense to who was in it to make a profit and who wanted to harness it to rule the universe. By midpoint, everything clicks and we know our good guys from our bad guys.

For me, I never read the comics themselves or see any cartoons with their appearance in them. But this movie is really a solid introduction. Again, it drags in the first half but I feel its because viewers have no idea who or what this universe is like. So that is understandable and by midway, we begin to relax and enjoy the bickering between Drax and Rocket while knowing how this alien universe works. I must highly complement director James Gunn’s decision to use practical sets, effects and make up while knowing when to use CGI for characters like Groot or Rocket. This gives the environment of Guardians a more realistic feel and not video gamey like Avatar or the new Star Trek films where CGI sets are the norm. Its a breath of fresh air to see a movie use more practical work for things like blue skinned aliens and even studios sets to look like a desert planet. I had a great time looking at these places and even feel robbed wishing these existed despite some feeling desolate and in ruins.

But even looking pass the special effects and story, what holds this move together are the Guardians themselves. These are average joe’s from their own worlds who you don’t expect to see form a team but yet they all have something in common. As Star Lord puts it, “I see losers…folks who have lost stuff. Our homes, our families.” And is with this, they have a reason to save the galaxy from this huge threat. They have had a hard time and this is their chance to at least do good for someone even if they had the worst of it. Even during the climax, I noticed none of them backed down when it came to a point they knew an action they would do would have little chance of survival.  They put their own life on the line just to save a world full of people and I find that is a rare trait in today’s film characters who would go far to take risks like this.

And unlike films that have multiple endings, when you think its going to end and it doesn’t, you are glad to see it keeps going. Not once did I feel Guardians dragged on for too long or even wish it to end sooner. It knew when to expand and conclude at the right spots. Its a very uplifting and humorous movie that I do hope many get the chance to see. It has something for everyone from great special effects to really great writing. August is normally the dead spot for summer blockbusters but I feel its appropriate for Guardians to end this dead and desolate summer season with a bang so big you feel satisfied. And…remember what I said about Howard being the first Marvel comedy. Want to really know why I bring it up? Stick around after the end credits of Guardians and you’ll see why. Because I do feel some things can come full circle. Regardless, Guardians is the best fun I’ve had at the summer blockbusters season and I’m sure to pre-order my ticket for its squeal way in advanced.