Ready For Endgame: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy

A very strong case can be made that 2014 was the best year for the MCU. (I’d say only 2018 can give it a real go…) It was the year that gave us my personal pick for the greatest superhero film of all time, and expanded the universe we’d all fallen in love with beyond even what Thor had shown us.

Let’s start with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I think deserves much more serious consideration in the genre than it gets. It deals more elegantly with the themes of the surveillance state than everyone’s beloved The Dark Knight, presents a grappling with the reality of turning humans into symbols and going past your expiration date, like Logan and manages to fit into the Marvel formula perfectly and wring some killer performances out of Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.

Not to mention, you could remove Captain America from the proceedings entirely and you’d still have a political thriller where a badass spy played by Samuel L. Jackson has to deal with being betrayed by the politician that he protected his entire career played by Robert Redford. Which would also be an incredible movie. What do you get if you take Batman and The Joker out of The Dark Knight? Huh? A slightly crazy DA loses his fiance to the mob and a police captain fakes his death? OK, that would also be a pretty good movie, but not as good.

My point is that The Winter Soldier rules. Chris Evans is perfect in it, it gives Natasha Romanoff real stakes, something she was surely and deeply missing in her previous appearances. It brings back Bucky Barnes, setting up Cap’s stakes for the rest of the series, and introduces us to Sam Wilson, The Falcon, the second best sidekick in the series. (The best is Rhodey.)

It’s action scenes are tight, it’s mystery well thought out and it’s twists well executed. And it’s funny, you guys, and it has Robert Redford. It’s amazing. It’s the greatest superhero movie ever.

Also, it sparked one of my all time favorite “Wait, what?” fangirl conversations that Aless and I ever had over pancakes after watching a Marvel movie (Margaritas before, pancakes after.) “Is…is Captain America a virgin?” (We concluded that, no, no he is not. We don’t think…but he might be? He definitely never got to have sex with Peggy, which is very sad for both of them.) (The rest of the pancake session was spent guessing which Agents characters might be HYDRA. We did not consider Grant Ward, like even a little. What a well executed twist that was. You didn’t see it coming but in retrospect it made perfect sense.)

Guardians Of The Galaxy, is not the best superhero movie ever, but it’s a very, very good one. Few superhero and sci fi properties embrace fun and dorkiness with such aplomb, (I’d say Legends Of Tomorrow might be the only other one I can think of that really hits the balance just right.) And Guardians is so confident in what it’s doing. While it starts with a scene that’s so maudlin it might be heavy handed, young Peter Quill at his mother’s bedside, the air is almost immediately taken out, when our would be swashbuckling hero hits play on his walkman and dances to his destination.

Guardians is full of moments like that, setting up moments that we should know by heart and just undercutting them enough that they work on their own but feel different because of the humor, the characters and my god that soundtrack.

The strength of both of these movies really does seal up 2014 as the best year. (Again, 2018, with three super strong entries is a close close second.)

Next week, we get into the movie that may have broken a legend, but did give us a controversial ship, and some good jokes. We give Avengers: Age Of Ultron another go. I don’t think my opinion on it will change much, which is basically that it’s a glorious mess. And it may have broken Joss Whedon’s brain. We can’t be sure.

This Unspoken Thing

Guardians 2

Happy Movie Season You Guys!

I think this is the first “official” movie season that actually started on May The 4th.

If you’re new around here, let me explain.

Movie Season is the Blockbuster release time, between May and December. The rule of thumb is that it reaches from Marvel to Star Wars. (Previously, Marvel to Hobbit)

This year’s first Marvel Studios release was the highly anticipated Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2.

One of the many things that made Guardians Of The Galaxy the delight that it was, was the surprise factor. It’s humor, it’s space opera action and that soundtrack all caught everyone off guard. Volume 2 doesn’t have that out of left field leg up, instead has the handicap of expectation. This worried me a little, thinking their might be an Iron Man 2 effect, where the loss of the surprise makes the whole thing feel sloppy.

Not the case. Rather than rehash, James Gunn has built on the foundation he placed 2 years ago. My main complaint about Guardians was always that for a team film, it is woefully unbalanced, giving priority to Star Lord and Rocket, which is fine, but shortchanges Drax and Gamora in a big way, which is a bummer, because those characters are fun, and Dave Bautista and Zoe Saldana are fantastic.

Volume 2 balances things a little bit better. The team is split up for a large chunk of the run time, placing Rocket and Groot with Guardian frenemy Yondu, and Gamora, Star Lord and Drax with her sister Nebula, Peter’s father Ego, The Living Planet, and adorable new comer Mantis.

The team relationships are well defined, and the chemistry based but “unspoken” romance between Peter Quill and Gamora is actually very touching. And there’s something to the theme of family of choice, and biological family, or structural family (In the case of Gamora and Nebula) and the ways they intersect and fight with one another.

Visually, the movie is bright, interestingly designed and of course, the soundtrack very very interesting yet again. (You’ll never thing of “Brandy, you’re a fine girl” the same way again. And it makes excellent use of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” as well as “Surrender.”)

It was also the first Marvel Movie that Aless and I could think of that quickly and breezily passed the Bechdel-Wallace test. (A scene between Gamora and Nebula where they discuss Gamora’s plan for her sister does it.) So good job!

Rankings:

  1. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2

Trailers:

Not Wonder Woman.

Dunkirk, Spider-Man, Star Wars, Pirates, yes, but not Wonder Woman.

 

That’s What Being A Part Of A Crew Means

startrekbeyond_poster

As I’ve (maybe?) talked about at length, until JJ Abrams Star Trek came out and I saw it with my college friends, I had next to no interest in the series. And I’ve yet t have my usual post Star Trek movie “what was wrong with this movie from a trek perspective” sit down with my old roommate Jen, so I’m just going to have to evaluate it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know enough about Star Trek to nit pick.

This is a fun, good movie. There are things about it that annoy me, a lot. (You damsled Uhura? Are you serious, Pegg?) But for the most part this is an exciting space adventure, that flirts with some serious thoughts about aging and priorities and legacy, but is mostly about bang bang explodey stuff.

3 years into their 5 year journey to go where no one has gone before, everyone, particularly Captain Kirk , are getting a little antsy. They miss home, and some of them families (Gay Sulu!). Kirk is ready to hand the Enterprise over to Spock, who is considering leaving Star Fleet entirely, wanting to take over the work that Spock Prime was doing. It’s quite touching how the movie memorializes Leonard Nimoy.

Anyway, all this ennui, gets pushed to the side when they’re sent on a rescue mission that goes wrong and are confronted with Idris Elba in a rubber mask, The Enterprise is destroyed and they have to find a way out of the mess. Revealing much more would drown us in spoilers so I won’t do that, but it’s all really fun.

The cast continues to shine, Chris Pine is aging into James Kirk better than anyone could have expected. John Cho and Zoe Saldana get a bit more to do this time around, though they still stay sidelined, Anton Yelchin’s youthful buzziness is going to be missed in this franchise. But as always, the stand outs are Simon Pegg’s Scotty, Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Karl Urban’s McCoy. The best parts of the movie are Spock and McCoy’s squabbles and Urban and Quinto play the parts perfectly. Scotty’s storyline with another stranded alien, Jayla is heartwarming and delightful. (Although she is really hot and Kirk spends exactly no time hitting on her. I find this disappointing. Not because I don’t love the progressiveness of that story choice, but because, I mean, it’s Captain Kirk…)

Add in a cool new location in the new Federation settlement Yorktown, and you’ve got yourself a rolicking space adventure with a good amount of heart.

Rankings:

  1. The Nice Guys
  2. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  3. Ghostbusters
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Star Trek Beyond
  6. X-Men: Apocalypse
  7. The Legend Of Tarzan
  8. Finding Dory
  9. Independence Day: Resurgence
  10. Alice Through The Looking Glass

Trailers

Jason Bourne: God, I just want this movie to come out so I can stop seeing this trailer.

Suicide Squad: I’m so excited I could take a giant mallet to everything! This movie just looks so freaking good. We’re two weeks away from it, and while I’m still bummed I won’t be able to hit opening night, it’s going to be great.

XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage: I mean, Vin Diesel has to do something between Fast And Furious and Guardians movies, but was anyone begging for this to come back?

 

 

Guardians of The Galaxy Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Guardians of The Galaxy

Every time I try to think about Guardians of The Galaxy,  I keep landing on “Wow!”

Wow, to the action, wow to the violence, wow to the humor, wow to the kick ass 70’s soundtrack. Wow to the crazy awesome characters.

So, anyway, plot. On Earth in 1988, Peter Quill is abducted by aliens the same night that his mother dies. She babbles right before his death for bit about how he’s the light of her life and how his father will come back for him, and his father was an angel made of pure light. Now, I don’t know what they’re going in the MCU but in comics, Peter’s father J’son, Emperor of The Spartax, who is like the opposite of an angel, but let’s not quibble about canon at the moment. 26 years later Peter is flying through space with Yandu and The Ravagers, bounty hunting. He picks up a mystical orb, which it turns out Ronan the Accuser also wants. Ronan sends Gamora, an adopted daughter of Thanos after it, then Rocket Racoon & Groot decide to collect the bounty on Peter.

They all get arrested by The Nova Corp and sent to a prison, where they escape with the help of Drax. They are pursued by both Ronan and Yandu, and then go to The Collector to unload the Orb where they learn that it’s a case for an infinity stone. Actually, the first infinity stone that actually, you know, looks like a stone. (We now have 3 by the way. Tesseract, Ether, and Orb). Ronan finds them, they fight. Yandu finds them, they team up. They go to the Novas and team up. Everybody fights and the team saves the Galaxy.

So let’s get to these characters and these performances which are unbelievably good.

There is not enough praise in the world on Chris Pratt. He is amazing. Marvel and Kevin Feige have been doing exceptional jobs with casting but this might be their biggest coup so far. Peter Quill is supposed to be a little bit goofy and off kilter, he’s not a hero, not yet, but he’d really like to be. (Like Kevin Bacon, the hero of the Great Earth Legend Footloose). He’s wonderful, funny, poignant and kicking ass all over the place.

Zoe Saldana doesn’t disappoint (she never does) and brings the same sort of no nonsense greatness to Gamora as she brougth to Uhura and that Princess in Avatar. It’s not the same performance by any means, Gamora is tortured and when she relays her backstory, about the destruction of her people and her shaping as  a weapon by Thanos, you feel for her.

Dave Bautista. In the grand tradition of wrestlers becoming action stars, he delivers. His Drax is perfect. I worship at the altar of Straight Men, the goofy antics of jokers are nothing without someone to either roll their eyes or be baffled by their antics. Drax, who comes from a culture that takes everything so literally that he doesn’t understand what humor is, is the ultimate Straight Man.

I’m going to lump Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel in together. Because these are amazing voice performances. Groot makes you aww every time the “I am Groot” every time he says it. But Bradley Cooper has completely defined Rocket for me, who in my head, was always a little bit more Bugs Bunny (but you know, with a Rocket Launcher…) but here, he’s like, a person. It’s pretty great. They both made me cry.

Bad guys: Benecio Del Toro clocks in a total of 5 minutes as The Collector, but he’s creepy and wonderful and perfect and thank God for him. Karen Gillan is Nebula and she and Gamora fight and we get to see Uhura put the hurt on Amy Pond. (Come on, when she’s hanging off of that ship, you’re not thinking, “Well, the Tardis is just going to woosh by and pick her up, so no worries.” No? Just me. OK.) She was wonderful and heartless and perfect. Lee Pace is Ronan, and while buying The Piemaker as a villain is kind of hard, he’s so straight faced and crazy nand awesome, I really enjoyed it.

Glenn Close and John C. Reily do exceptional work as Novas, and I hope we get more of them, and Josh Brolin’s Thanos cameo is unbelievably perfect. (When he smiles, you melt)

There are more one liners than I care to count, that I absolutely loved, but this movie is infinitely quotable. Just trust me on that.

Finally, post credits!

After the credits rolled we came in on The Collector in his wrecked workshop. He looks despondent on the floor and is sipping a drink. We hear a voice, “I can’t believe you just let them come in here and do this.” The collector looks over venomously. The camera follows his sightline, and the voice is coming from a large anthropomorphic duck!

HOWARD THE GODDAMNED DUCK YOU GUYS! We are through the looking glass now.

Anyway, this was the best Space Opera in a very long time. It’s better than Serenity. (When Aless and I said that we looked around waiting for hordes of fanboys to descend upon us.) It’s funny, smart, violent and the soundtrack (provided by a mix tape Peter’s mother gave him) really makes it something different and special.

Let’s look at the Rankings!

  1. Guardians of The Galaxy
  2. Godzilla
  3. Chef
  4. X-Men: Days of Future Past
  5. How To Train Your Dragon 2
  6. Lucy
  7. Jersey Boys
  8. Maleficent
  9. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Anyway TRAILERS!

Mockingjay made me cry. Real, hard beautiful tears. It was so emotional and lovely and perfect. “Are you here to fight with us Katniss?” HELL YES SHE IS!

Into The Woods. While I am filled with rage over many things about this movie, it looks so beautiful. Unbelievably creepy and gorgeous.

Interstellar, again with the crying.

Big Hero Six looks so cute, I can barely stand it. Good on you Disney. Keep mining Marvel for adorableness. There’s plenty of it there.

Dracula Untold: Everytime Bran Stark’s voice kicks in narrating this trailer I get distracted. The Stark kids shouldn’t play other fantasy characters in bleak landscapes. It’s confusing.

Girl Crush: Zoe Saldana

If you’re unfamiliar with the term “girl crush” it basically means when a straight woman has a crush on another straight woman. There are three “levels” of crushes, a level 1 girl crush is someone you admire and would like to hang out with. My level 1 girl crushes are Gail Simmons from Top Chef and Tina Fey. A level 2 girl crush is a girl that you want to be best friends with. Some of my level 2 crushes include Megan McCain and Casey Wilson. A level 3 crush is a girl that you’d go gay for. My level 3 crushes are Emma Stone and Jessica Alba.

There are of course other women all along the way who fluctuate on the scale. But this morning as I looked at the newly released Guardian of The Galaxy “line up photo,” I realized that I’m super into Zoe Saldana. She’s somewhere between a 2 and 3.

So pretty!

So pretty!

I’ve talked about other women living a fangirl dream before, namely J.Law, but Saldana is just like, over the top involved in all things nerdy. There’s the most obvious one, which is that she’s Lieutenant Uhura in the new Star Trek. And she’s awesome at it. This is an Uhura who, while still wears a mini skirt, kicks ass, speaks Klingon, and makes Spock have feelings. (Maybe that last one isn’t super women’s lib-ish, but it’s fun none the less.) Then came Avatar. I’m not a huge fan of Avatar, because I saw and loved it the first time, when it was called Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.

It's going to get the 90's all over you!

It’s going to get the 90’s all over you!

But she was still pretty great in it. And now she’s about to play Gamora.

Everything about this image makes me insanely happy!

Everything about this image makes me insanely happy!

I read and loved Guardians of The Galaxy launch issues about a month ago, and I can’t wait to see what the MCU plan for these characters. I’m actually deep into cosmic comics at the moment. Green Lantern has completely absorbed me, and today I read Vol. 2 of Red Hood and The Outlaws which takes Jason, Roy and Kori to her home planet to liberate it and of course, The Amory Wars, which I reread almost immediately after reading Guardians. (I actually think the film version of Amory will hinge a lot on Guardians’s success or failure. If it does well, if people like it, I think they’ll like Amory.) Back to the topic at hand, though. I kind of love that Saldana has just jumped head long into the whole Space/Alien/Nerd thing. She’s not afraid of it, she’s just going for it. She brags about speaking “two fictional languages,” and some of her non sci-fi credits include playing an avenging orphan in Columbiana and Batman’s ex girlfriend in Out of The Furnace. (I have not and probably will not see this movie.)

Also, she always talks about her mom on talk shows, which I have a feeling I would do.

So, Zoe, let’s hang out, get a glass of wine, or whatever.

Keep on Trekking…

Into Darkness Poster

I went in to see Star Trek: Into Darkness literally forty five minutes after watching Star Trek for the first time in years. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge Star Trek fan. I’ve seen a few episodes of the original series here and there, and I’ve seen the original Star Trek movie as well as Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. Generally, when I watch Star Trek,  I feel like I’ve been lectured at about race relations and I can’t take it seriously because I had to watch some beautiful woman try her hardest to pretend that she was actually attracted to William Shatner.

Largely, I usually feel like I wasted my time and not in the good way, like, “I wasted two hours having a lot of fun and it was awesome,” but more like, “Huh, well, that was two hours that I could have been sleeping or DOING JUST ABOUT ANYTHING BUT WATCHING STAR TREK.” Even with this attitude, I really liked Star Trek (2009). I watched it again this morning and still really liked it. I was even pleasantly surprised, because I forgot the Chris Hemsworth plays George Kirk and getting to see Chris Hemsworth do anything, even for just a few minutes makes the world brighter…

Anyway…

The new Star Trek universe has two things really going for it:

1. A clean slate, I’m pretty DC’s whole “New 52” initiative came from this same idea that J.J. Abram’s decision to take the characters and situations that people love, blow up their past adventures and move on, with all new ones. DC screwed it up, and from a lot people’s perspectives, it seems Abrams did too. I’m not so sure. I thought that Star Trek was a gamble, and I’m thinking that Into Darkness is just continuing the game. We’re still waiting for the payoff.

2. It’s cast. The flaws of these movies are huge. They’re far from perfect. They have large gaping plot holes, an inability to let go of the past, and overly manic directing style. But the shiny new Star Trek cast is wonderful. Chris Pine is wonderful. Zoe Saldana is amazing. Karl Urban is fantastic. John Cho and Anton Yelchin are great. Simon Pegg is one of the greatest gifts ever given to cinema. If I were to try to explain Zachary Quinto in one word, it would be “Wow!” I love this cast individually, and they’re just wonderful together.

Added to the mix this time around was Benedict Cumberpatch at Khan. I love me some BBC stars, even though I don’t understand the fanatical devotion to Sherlock, and I think he’s a very good actor. I was excited to see him take on this iconic villain.

Into Darkness had all of the elements of a great movie, but it didn’t quite land, stranding it as merely good. We open with a traditional Star Trek scene, Kirk and McCoy are running through a jungle trying to keep from violating The Prime Directive. (Which is then laid out by Spock for Trek newbies. I did know what The Prime Directive was, I’m not that clueless.) Of course, this is Chris Pine’s trigger happy version of Captain Kirk, and violate the directive he does, flamboyantly and spectacularly so. Spock reports him, which kind of ticks him off, since during the mission Kirk saved the Vulcan’s life.

Kirk is then busted down from Captain to Commander, and The Enterprise’s command is handed back to Admiral Christopher Pike. Bruce Greenwood’s performance as Pike is also great, as it was in the first movie. He once again pulls Kirk back from the edge in a bar. Spock is transferred to a different ship.

Meanwhile, in London, Sherlock Holmes tells Mickey Smith that he can heal his daughter…sorry, that was my CSD acting up. But the Starfleet analyst that “John Harrison” (Khan) is blackmailing was played by Noel Clark, who played poor put upon Mickey Smith back in the early days of the Doctor Who reboot. I always loved and pitied poor Mickey, who was left behind over and over again. Anyway,  in exchange, the analyst blows up a Starfleet archive which puts the Federation into emergency mode, which begins with a meeting of Starship captains and first officers. I bet you can guess how that ends.

They get blown up. Pike dies. Kirk and Spock are sad. Kirk becomes Captain again. All is as it should be. Except, Kirk requests to be sent after Harrison, (who, need I remind you is not actually that guy, but Khan.) and Old Guy Who Is Clearly Not To Be Trusted (Admiral Marcus), says, “yeah, go for that, and take these new experimental torpedoes to kill him with.” Kirk, being Shiny New Trigger Happy Kirk, who’s mentor just got blown up, is all, “Okey Dokey.” When Spock and Scotty point out that this smells fishy, he just gets indignant and Scotty quits. Luckily, Uhura and Spock (who are a couple in this universe don’t forget) are currently in the middle of a lover’s spat, so she sides with Kirk, basically out of spite and maybe a little bit out of residual sexual tension between Saldana and Pine.

They capture Harrison (KHAN!) and put him in a nice clear prison cell just like Nick Fury did to Loki in The Avengers. Then Khan, Kirk and Spock chat for a while and we find out that he’s Khan. (Duh) There are a few more plot twists involving the introduction of Carol Marcus, who Kirk clearly wishes to bone. (He later “welcomes her to the family” and it’s severely creepy) And they wind up finding out that Admiral Marcus is a bad dude, they get Scotty back, and he Kirk and Khan raid Marcus’s ship. Spock calls New Vulcan to talk to Spock Prime about Khan. Prime says he vowed to not interfere with the new timeline, and that Spock Two has to make his own mistakes. But of course, he then tells them not to trust Khan, he is very dangerous. When Two asks Prime how they defeated Khan, Prime’s response is that it was with a great cost. That cost, of course, was Spock Prime’s life.

While I was psyched to see Leonard Nimoy (I mean, really, why wouldn’t anyone be? The man is great!) this was to me a major instance of the movie being too self aware. Like I said, one of the great things that this series has going for it is a clean slate. Having Spock Prime in the first movie was a respectful nod to fans, and helped establish a new clean time line. But if they’re going to haul him out for subsequent adventures, just to give advice to Spock Two it cheapens the idea.

They beat Khan and this time it is Kirk that pays with his life, not Spock. I liked this twist, because it unleashed Spock’s full on wrath. Zachary Quinto does angry, very very well. Also, seeing him do the full on long scream, “KHAAAAAAAANNNNNN!” was way more fulfilling than anything Pine could have done. This is not a criticism of Chris Pine, who is really great at playing Captain Kirk, I just feel like Quinto is better at everything than most people.

Thankfully, due to a MGuffin of Khan’s blood having regenerative properties, (discovered by McCoy when he injects it into a dead tribble…another cute but unnecessary Trekkie nod.) we will be spared Star Trek III: The Search for Kirk, because they just revive the dead Captain. It’s a nice scene when he and Spock make up, and we flash forward to a year later, and The Enterprise crew gets their 5 year long commission to go “where no one has gone before.” (I hate changing gender pronouns for no reason, by the way. It’s pandering and insulting.)

Overall, I enjoyed the movie. Like I said, I love this cast. I think they’re great. Urban took a bit of a back seat this time around to give Pegg the shining number 3 spot. (1 and 2 belong to Pine and Quinto, as it should be). He delivers possibly the greatest line ever, “Well, if it isn’t Captain James T. McPerfect Hair!” Saldana  steals a couple of great scenes and seeing her speak Klingon was a lot of fun. Cho and Yelchin are both so perfectly suited to playing Sulu and Chekov respectively I have trouble even analyzing what they do, and just sit back and enjoy watching them. Cumberpatch was good, if not great in his quiet intensity.

Visually the movie is a huge improvement on it’s predecessor. The lens flares are still there but much more muted, Kronos, the Klingon homeworld is a rotting bit of beauty and The Enterprise herself looks great.

Like I said, the elements were all there, the movie just didn’t gel. And it’s way too long. I don’t care how good it is, almost two and half hours of people flying around in a spaceship is too long. But I give it like a 7/10.

Trailers:

My God is the Anchorman 2 teaser brilliant. It’s so brilliant.

Elysium will probably be the best movie of the past five years and no one will talk about it after the first few months. Just like District 9.

I don’t know why I didn’t realize that Kevin Costner was playing Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel, but that makes me way too happy. I hope there’s a scene where he and Clark play catch. Anyway, the new trailer was so good I actually found myself crying. I’m yoyoing so hard on my expectations for this movie that I’m going to get whiplash, but right now I am firmly in the “excited” place.

Despicable Me 2 will be the best movie of the summer and again, no one will talk about it. It will be unfortunately overlooked because it’s “a family movie.” This makes me sad.

So far these are my summer movie season standings:

1. The Great Gatsby (with a bullet)

2. Iron Man 3

3. Star Trek Into Darkness

Next week we get Now You See It and After Earth. I haven’t decided which I want to see first. I really want to see Now You See It, but I’m also really excited that Will Smith is teaching his son how to fight aliens…