Free Fire – Revelation Perth International Film Festival

Ben Wheatley tries his hand at aping Reservoir Dogs to riotous effect.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

One of the most dexterous and consistently interesting directors to emerge from Britain in the last decade, Ben Wheatley’s latest film Free Fire sees the filmmaker transition into old fashioned shoot ‘em up territory for a gleeful celebration of gunplay.

Set in Boston in 1978, Free Fire sees a duo of Irish terrorists, Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), employ the help of local fixers Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) in organising a secretive docklands exchange with wildly unpredictable kingpin Vernon (Sharlto Copley).

Naturally, the deal soon goes south as hired goons on both sides decide to settle a standing grudge in the midst of an illegal arms deal. What follows is a protracted melee of ricochets, expletives and blood-soaked shoulder pads. Wheatley and his charismatic cast wholeheartedly embrace the zaniness of the premise as they fling dust, shrapnel and sly barbs across the screen. Copley is the star of the show, his larger-than-life character an absolute hoot as he tries (and fails) to hit on Justine and weasel his way out of getting a slug to the head.

Larson, Murphy and Hammer are also excellent; the irreverence with which they approach the chaos never undercuts the serious moments and everything knits together for an effective character-driven 90-minute actioner, even when the bare bones plot is scarcely enough to keep the thing anchored during the second half.

Unquestionably light on plot, Free Fire instead chooses to focus on genuinely enthralling action. The editing, cinematography and sound mixing all work in tandem to create something rather special. Wheatley displays an unrivalled aptitude for staging that makes Free Fire easy to follow and enormously engaging to boot.

Free Fire is screening at Revelation Film Festival (6-19 July)

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures & Revelation Film Festival

Movie Review – Baby Driver

Edgar Wright’s sixth film is a complete delight, packed with music, action, and revved to the brink.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Baby Driver is a slam-bam roller-coaster ride filled with pop tunes, screeching tyres, machine guns and, of course, lots of kisses. It’s the kind of heist movie that isn’t so much about the heist as about the people who execute them. They’re a mishmash of assorted character types, some deluded, some tragic, some just plain nuts; but they’re all necessary. This is a crazy, thoroughly enjoyable movie by a director who’s in full command of his craft and totally revelling in it.

It starts with a bang: a high-speed getaway after a bank robbery. The driver is none other than Baby (Ansel Elgort), a sunglasses-wearing, jacket-loving young chap whose motor skills are so good he makes the Fast & Furious crew look like L-platers panicking at a roundabout. He also has a thing for music. Lots of music. 24/7. It is the beat to which his life grooves.

Much is made of the soundtrack – indeed, it punctuates just about every line of dialogue, every scene change, every gunshot – but I was more enthralled by the sheer audacity of Wright to marry so many influences into a bubbling cauldron of cinematic delight. Like all his movies, Baby Driver is written with meticulous precision. It draws its narrative from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). It steals romance from Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Baby has mummy issues, just like Peter Quill from the Marvel movies. And yet none of it feels unoriginal. By rooting the character drama so firmly in the innocence of its leading couple, Baby Driver becomes something uniquely its own. A kind of modern day fairy tale told through a lens of crime.

Kevin Spacey plays Doc, the chauffeured gangster who recruits Baby and orchestrates his devilish schemes; he is reliably intimidating and droll. The two best performances belong to Jamie Foxx as Bats and Lily James as the diner waitress Debora. Foxx eerily blurs the line between acting and real life. His trigger-happy, psychotic thief is so convincingly bonkers I suspect Elgort and the rest turned up to work each day wearing Kevlar. He is the volatile variable Wright flings into the cauldron, content to let him steer the story as he sees fit. Next to him, the vengeful Buddy (a manic Jon Hamm) seems almost domesticated.

But it’s not enough that these characters are broadly drawn and impressive; what they say and how they say it is often what keeps the entire machine oiled. Wright has a knack for words, not in the same way as, say, Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, but his dialogue has a way of kidding itself. Watch how a conversation in a car about code names and real names becomes almost poetic. Or another in which three bad guys have to wear Halloween masks of Mike Myers instead of Michael Myers. Or how Wright shrewdly slips in a reference to Monsters, Inc. (2001). It’s kinda bewitching.

I have enjoyed all of Wright’s pictures. There’s an energy about them. A certain charm that runs from the page to the screen. It is clear he is a visual storyteller, a director not content to explain his ideas but to showcase them through cinematic technique. He is the grand puppeteer. He has all the strings. He knows exactly what they do, and not for a second does he ever tug the wrong one.

Baby Driver is available in Australian cinemas from July 12

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-man’s latest solo film promises a bright future ahead, even if we have to sit through some of the same old stuff to get there.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

A short while after being recruited by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is back slumming it at school and daydreaming of his next mission with The Avengers. Peter blows off homework after school each night to don his spandex Spidey suit and fight crime throughout Queens, but when he comes up against Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) – a career criminal in possession of a high-tech vulture-like suit – he might have just bitten off more than he can chew.

After 2014’s The Amazing Spider-man 2 effectively flushed the webslinger down the drain, Sony and Marvel struck a deal to incorporate the popular character into the hugely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. The resultant compromise is Spider-man: Homecoming, another reboot (the second since 2002) that thrusts Peter back to high school and trades one young Brit for an even younger Brit. Thankfully, this young Brit is even better than the last. In Holland, Marvel have struck gold, with the 21-year-old personifying the goofiness and charm of Peter Parker in assured fashion.

Channelling classic John Hughes films from the 80s, Homecoming shifts the focus onto Peter and his quirky crop of friends, complete with The Breakfast Club parallels and a plain-as-day homage to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

In Peter’s posse you’ve got Ned (Jacob Batalon), the goofy best friend; Michelle (Zendaya), the sarcastic social outcast; Betty (Perth’s own Angourie Rice), the preppy goody two shoes; and Liz (Laura Harrier), the senior stunner and object of Peter’s affection. This troupe extends to others as well and is the strongest aspect of Homecoming. The humour and heart hits home (pun intended) as the kids squabble and banter with one another over Spanish quizzes, house parties and field trips.

Things start to get a little shakier when Homecoming has to do the ‘Marvel stuff’ and serve up some action. The biggest flaw with this film is that the daring-do is fairly so-so; I never felt like Peter or those around him were ever in any degree of peril. That said, the set pieces – one in Washington, one aboard a NYC ferry and another on a cargo plane – are well staged, even if the third act drags.

Keaton’s villain is one of the better ones we’ve seen from Marvel; his melding of unnerving malice and an honest schmuck persona makes for a nice match. Downey Jr.’s contribution is minimal, with most of it glimpsed in the pervasive marketing material – that said, it was cool to get a taste of how Spider-man fits into the broader universe going forward.

Holland is far and away the best iteration of the character and the Marvel formula gives everything a vibrant sheen, but Spider-man: Homecoming is still too much alike its predecessors to truly enthrall or inspire. Not definitively the best, and far from the worst, Spider-man: Homecoming finds itself dangling precariously in a middle ground that leaves us hanging for the next entry without very much in the present.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is available in Australian cinemas from July 6

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – Transformers: The Last Knight

Michael Bay unleashes another deluge of tiring destruction in the fifth Transformers film.

⭐ ⭐ ½

Rhys Graeme-Drury

The Transformers juggernaut rolls inexorably onward in Transformers: The Last Knight, a bruising, tiresome deluge of noise and sound that struggles to address the issues of past entries and instead continues to service old habits.

So, what does The Last Knight entail, if you’re interested in finding out what you should spare yourself from seeing this weekend. Once again under the leering gaze of director Michael BayThe Last Knight sees Autobots and Decepticons alike cast out by society and living on the fringes of society, hunted by a new paramilitary group called the TRF. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) joins forces with Bumblebee, an astronomer called Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) and an Oxford University professor named Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock) to combat the TRF and untangle the reasons behind the deluge of new Transformers arriving on Earth.

That’s a very brief synopsis that only begins to pull at the tangled ball of yarn that screenwriters Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan have cooked up. Like the four entries that preceded it, The Last Knight sees the Transformers series continue to bend over backwards to invent new and increasingly convoluted ways to sell toys, as if most of the audience for this regurgitated scrap heap actually gives two shits about why the myriad of colourful action figures are punching each other.

The film somehow ties together Arthurian legend, a celestial sorceress called Quintessa (Gemma Chan) and a giant sphere bound by two separate MacGuffins, amongst other complicated babble that degenerates into white noise by the second act. It’s basically an upended toy box of ideas that have been scooped up and thrown at the wall.

Also, it has all the classic Bay mannerisms you would expect; the sweeping low angles, the saturated colour palette and lens flares, the hot girl squeezed into the tightest and least practical outfit imaginable. The balletic action sequences that keep you on the edge of your seat until they stretch 15 minutes too long. There really is nothing new from Bay here, save for maybe a flawless integration of 3D – seriously, the way 3D is employed in The Last Knight is some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Credit where credit is due, The Last Knight does have a couple of cards up its sleeve that work in its favour. Firstly, it’s mercifully shorter than Age of Extinction by nearly a full 20 minutes. Secondly, the first act is decent – a host of new characters, like scruffy tomboy Izabella (Isabela Moner), her adorable Autobot companion Sqweeks and a frenetic robot butler called Cogman (Jim Carter) that acts like C-3PO drank a dozen Red Bull – make this opening stretch a fun and jaunty soft relaunch of the increasingly repetitive series.

That is until we reach the third act. Hoo boy, does it go downhill fast from here. Adhering to the adage ‘bigger is better’, The Last Knight plunges head first into the most mind-numbingly stupid and ludicrously overlarge final assault this side of, well, the last film. It just rolls on and on, a swirling tornado of pyrotechnics and unintelligible staging. When all is said and done, Bay packs up and goes home before you can even catch your breath, leaving the audience feeling a little punch drunk while the customary sequel teaser promises we’ll have to endure more when 2020 rolls around.

 

Transformers: The Last Knight is available in Australian cinemas from June 22

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Movie Review – The Mummy

The Mummy returns to the big screen, but should rightly have remained in its grave.


Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Mummy is one of the worst movies of the year. It is a colossal miscalculation; a foolhardy idea that somehow degenerates down the evolution ladder till it resembles a pile of gooey protoplasm no living being would dare go near. It is a monster movie with pathetic monsters and action heroes who look like supermodels. It has an A-list cast, but treats them like B-grade drama students. That Tom Cruise is the star is no guarantee of quality; he is so detached from this debacle I’m surprised the film holds itself together at all. Goodness gracious, what an uncomfortable experience.

This is a movie that is flawed at its core. Never mind the plot, which makes no sense. Its technical skill is subpar. Night scenes are so dim and grey it’s almost impossible to make out who or what is on the screen. The editing dips in and out of sanity. There are flashbacks and flashforwards, hallucinations and all manner of visual techniques, but they’re never harmonised into a fluid sequence of events. If you can’t get the basics right, it won’t matter how great your story is. Your film needs to function before it can work.

The plot, such as it is, involves gods and princesses, sinister pacts and woeful vengeance. Although, since said vengeance is carried out by the princess in an opening flashback to Ancient Egypt, where she kills the pharaoh and his infant heir to ascend the throne, I have no idea why she returns some five thousand years later with unfinished business. What’s her motive now? Does she expect to find the throne still waiting for her? I found it amusing that despite missing thousands of years of technological advancement, not once does she stop to admire a car.

Cruise plays Nick Morton, a tomb raider who looks exactly like Ethan Hunt on vacation. Nick discovers the tomb of the princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) and immediately thinks of profit. His old flame Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), however, believes the body is worth more to science than to Nick’s bank account. The sarcophagus is loaded onto a military plane. The plane is brought down by a murder of crows. People die, and Nick has to put Ahmanet back. Oh, and for some reason Russell Crowe makes an appearance as Doctor Jekyll. Yes, that Doctor Jekyll.

So what’s happening here is a setup for a shared universe in which Universal plans to revive all its classic monsters. We can no doubt expect new movies based on the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, and maybe even Dracula. The Mummy is an inauspicious way to kick things off. It is lazy and visually confusing. I enjoyed the older Mummy movies, with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, because they knew they were outrageous and behaved accordingly. This one, directed by Alex Kurtzman, is just as outrageous but is in desperate need of a behavioural therapist.

The Mummy is available in Australian cinemas from June 8 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Wonder Woman

With Patty Jenkins’ confident handling of Wonder Woman, the DCEU finally gets one right.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

About twenty minutes into Wonder Woman I realised with great satisfaction that this wasn’t going to be another mindless action movie with endless explosions and sickening sidekicks. This is a movie that thinks, feels, and acts the way it should, by allowing its characters to stand up, take notice, and be noticed. While all the Supermans and Iron Mans save the world through some misguided altruistic machismo, Wonder Woman has two of the most vital qualities any hero should have: love and an unwavering sense of justice. She is also tough, compassionate and impossibly charming. Three adjectives not used enough to describe women of the screen.

The movie begins in The Louvre. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receives from her friend Bruce Wayne a photograph of her from World War I and a card that reads “I hope one day you will tell me your story”. Of course, Wayne is not in the screenplay, so Diana tells the story to us instead. We jump back many years and many leagues, to a paradise island said to have been made by Zeus. On this island live only women, called Amazons, who dress like American Gladiators and fear that one day, Ares, god of war, will return to destroy the world.

Whether or not he does, I will not say. Thankfully, Wonder Woman spends little time dwelling on the possibilities and shifts swiftly to an on-going war story involving an American spy for the British, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), who is rescued by Diana after his plane crashes off her island. Yes, it is written in the stars, or in this case the plane crash, that Steve and Diana will forge a romance. But what is not written is how mature they will be at expressing themselves. A scene where Steve steps out of a bath right in front of Diana might have been cheapened by childish overreactions in a lesser film, but director Patty Jenkins, whose fantastic Monster (2003) deftly illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of women, understands that movie romances don’t require innuendos or gratuity, only heartfelt emotion and possibly tragedy.

This is a movie that doesn’t feel like an extended trailer. It’s got pumping action, cute little throwaway lines, thrilling chases and quiet moments of reflection. By the end, our heroes become heroes; the wide-eyed, optimistic Diana grows out of the idyllic cocoon of her youth by learning a nasty truth about the people she’s trying to protect; and the romance reaches fever pitch. Everything unfolds as it should, and Jenkins ensures that nothing gets truly out of hand.

Oh, did I mention the villain? He’s Danny Huston playing a psychotic war-mongering German general with dreams of taking over the world.

Wonder Woman tries to be all things to all people, and just about succeeds. It is an epic superhero fantasy that’s also a rousing war film and an electric love story. It is complete, perfectly content to live within the confines of itself and not be a setup for what’s to come or a cheap rip-off of what’s come before. After all the Marvel movies, this is a refreshing change.

Wonder Woman is available in Australian cinemas from June 1st 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

 

Movie Review – King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Sometimes, less is more.

⭐ ⭐
Cherie Wheeler

Throw the traditional tale of the Knights of the Round Table into a blender, add a dash of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, then mix it in with any generic, supernatural video game that heavily leans on stylised violence, and ta-da! You’ll have something that resembles Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

The world of Camelot has been visited many times before on both the small and silver screens, so I appreciate the need to take some creative liberties on the original material to produce something fresh, but unfortunately, Ritchie’s re-envisioning of this classic story doesn’t quite land.

In Legend of the Sword, you can forget about Guinevere and Lancelot, and forgo any hopes of Merlin hanging around long enough to do anything significant. Instead, as the title suggests, this film is all about the sword in the stone: Excalibur.

Jealous brother to the King (Jude Law) craves power and uses dark magic to steal the throne from his royal sibling (Eric Bana). The son of the King, Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) grows up orphaned in a slum with no knowledge of his heritage, while his Uncle rules Camelot with an iron fist. Resistance fighters loyal to Arthur’s father seek out the “true King” to lead a revolution with the power of the sword, but this Arthur is cocky, belligerent, and of course, reluctant to fulfil his birthright. There’s also a wide range of subplots running alongside this that include (but are certainly not limited to…) a sorceress, a gang of Vikings and a couple of non-white characters who’ve been blatantly shoehorned in for political correctness.

As you can see, we’ve already got a rather convoluted story, but this gets weighed down further by bulky exposition and supernatural mythology. Ritchie’s knee-jerk reaction is to turn to frenetic pacing and chaotic editing to try and keep things interesting. The end result, however, is a mind-boggling whirlwind. The fantastical elements are beyond far-fetched and simply don’t gel with the dialogue heavy, time-jumping style of storytelling.

On the bright side, there is some magnificent production design and cinematography on display, but it has clearly drawn its inspiration from Game of Thrones. In fact, the film tries a little too hard to emulate the HBO series, even borrowing Roose Bolton and Littlefinger for supporting cast roles. It doesn’t ever reach the same level of raw impact during its violent action sequences due to its reliance on well executed, but ultimately excessive visual effects.

Charlie Hunnam does what he can to bring to life this cheeky and obnoxious version of Arthur, but the character’s arrogance and disrespect for authority pushes credibility at times. I found myself constantly questioning the actions and motives of many characters and was not satisfied with the convenient explanations that would pop up in delayed flashback sequences to fill in holes of information.

At the end of the day, Legend of the Sword tries to be too many things at once. While Tarantino’s Kill Bill films and the more recent Get Out manage to successfully meld multiple styles and genre tropes, Ritchie’s King Arthur simply becomes a confusing, hot mess.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is available in Australian cinemas from May 18

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The fifth instalment to the Pirates of the Caribbean series is at once familiar and comfortable, even if it’s all been done before.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies have long since crossed over into James Bond territory; they’re no longer about their heroes. What’s more important are the villains – who are usually dead, undead, or about to die – and the central MacGuffins. This time the villain is played by Javier Bardem and the MacGuffin is the legendary trident of Poseidon, and it’s a real doozy because unlike all the other MacGuffins, this one promises to undo the curses of the seven seas and restore life to normality, which, we are hoping, also includes scraping the barnacles off poor Orlando Bloom’s face.

As you may or may not recall, Will Turner (Bloom) suffered the dreaded barnacle curse at the hands of Davy Jones more than ten years ago, and as Dead Men Tell No Tales opens, his son Henry (Brenton Thwaites) vows to relieve him of it. To do that, of course, he will need the trident, which also means, by tradition of a Pirates of the Caribbean plot, he will have to team up with Jack Sparrow.

Sparrow is once again played by Johnny Depp and is once again a figure most intrusive. Depp plays him with so much flavour that the less we see of him, the better. But in Dead Men Sparrow is everywhere, usually severely unfunny and always in danger of derailing the film’s joys, of which there are surprisingly plenty.

This is a proper swashbuckling action adventure, with the kind of scale to make David Lean proud and the sort of thunderous, full-blooded musical score that elevated Star Wars (1977) to an art form. Sparrow and Depp aside, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have crafted here a movie about the seas that plays like a chapter from a children’s novel pumped full of adrenaline. Yes, the plot is essentially a beeline to the MacGuffin, the film borrows almost every joke and narrative element from its predecessors, and the bad guys are once again shot in front of a green screen and digitally animated to look like half-eaten zombies, but I was relieved to discover a story behind all the action; an honest attempt to make us care for the characters for once.

Henry wants to return his dad to his former self, which brings out all the awws from the audience. Hector Barbossa (Rush) is back and despairs of ever finding true meaning in his life. Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), another new addition, dreams of finding the trident because it’s the quest her dad started and never got to finish, and Scodelario has some fun running about in her corseted dress as she makes all the men look like fools.

Dead Men is more entertaining than a fifth movie in an insufferable series has any right to be. There are visually splendid moments, such as when a mysterious island lights up with crystals to reflect the night sky. And there is a majesty about the film’s climactic showdown in which the ocean waters part like the Red Sea and the Black Pearl teeters precariously on the edge above.

I cannot recommend you see this film for the plot or the jokes, but I suspect you will have a good time feeling its cheerful energy. I, for one, walked out humming the theme music with a smile. That’s gotta count for something.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is available in Australian cinemas from May 25 

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Movie Review – John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 might just be the best video game movie ever made.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Rhys Graeme-Drury

 

Movies based on video games tend to get a bad rap; Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft and Lara Croft are just the tip of the iceberg. But movies that take inspiration from video games? Now they’re a different story all together. Think Edge of Tomorrow, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Source Code; all films that draw from video game storytelling techniques and motifs to craft a compelling film in their own right. To this exclusive club you can add John Wick: Chapter 2, a film that looks and feels like a video game in ways that both elevate and hinder the viewing experience.

The film is so loaded with action that thin strands of plot barely factor into the equation; it’s a plug-and-play sort of scenario where the film points Wick in a vague direction and simply lets him loose to wreak havoc. He’s essentially a generic video game protagonist brought to life, and like all good video game protagonists, he’s monosyllabic and lets his pistols do the talking. The occasional dialogue scenes that punctuate the action feel like the brief cut scene reprieves one might idly sit through whilst playing Uncharted or Far Cry, fingers itching at the joysticks until you can jump back into the action, just as Wick’s hands hover over his holsters.

All you need to know is this: Wick’s (Keanu Reeves) actions in the first film have put the cat among the pigeons and a mysterious man from his past called Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) has a debt that needs to be repaid. Wick’s mission is to eliminate an important mob figure in Rome, and so he sets to work plotting an intricate assassination in the vein of Hitman or Assassin’s Creed.

Everything about this film feels plucked from the world of video games. The pre-mission montage that sees Wick tooling up recalls Battlefield or Titanfall, where the player cycles through outfit, weapon and perk loadouts before heading into the fray; the way Wick moves through each action sequence with swift destruction mimics the player experience on classic arcade shooters like Time Crisis or Ghost Squad; the waves upon waves of enemies that seemingly spawn out of nowhere and pop out of cover to receive a swift bullet to the cranium not at all unlike a frenzied de_dust deathmatch on Counter Strike. The way that Wick anticipates his enemies and delivers a swift no-scope head shot evokes someone who has already tried their hand at this level umpteen times before.

Even the set design invokes the way levels feel different and unique to one another as a player progresses through a video game, from a sewer labyrinth beneath a Roman basilica to a revolving hall of mirrors. The fight choreography is graceful and callous, like a swift combo execution on Mortal Kombat; the ruthless blood splatters akin to a fine-tuned finisher move.

Of course, this essentially leaves us with a film that is wafer thin on plot but top heavy on punchy martial arts. That will work for some – the audience at my particular screening was certainly lapping it up – but I concede this approach isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a film in which Reeves gets to emote, this isn’t it. But if gorgeous cinematography, seamless editing and unrelenting action are your thing, you simply can’t look past John Wick: Chapter 2. There isn’t any other film series out there right now quite like it; let’s hope this second installment doesn’t prove to be the final checkpoint.

John Wick: Chapter 2 is available in Australian cinemas from May 18 2017.

Image courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Movie Review – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The Marvel Cinematic Universe presses ever on with another delightful outing from our friends in space.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Too much of a good thing can indeed be bad, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 toys with this notion very dangerously, until we remember it’s a Guardians of the Galaxy movie and that no amount of petty squabbling, cosmic dogfights, or Baby Groot, can ever be a bad thing. In fact, it comes pretty close to being a great thing. For all the nitpicking I did in my head as I sat through this cinematic fireworks show, I’m already itching to see it again. Say what you will, these guys are just too much fun.

If my calculations are correct, the plot takes place almost immediately after the events of the first film. The Guardians have completed an important mission for some imperious clients, but Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) has stolen a few of their precious trinkets and now they’re on the run as a zillion fighters pursue them across the quadrant. Business as usual. Then, just as they’re about to hit a dead end – and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) suddenly slips into emo mode as he reminisces about the father he never knew – who should miraculously appear to deliver them? Why, a man claiming to be Peter’s dad, of course. Hallelujah!

So Vol. 2 is about daddy issues. Peter is escorted by his newfound father, Ego (Kurt Russell), to Ego’s private planet (basically Richard Branson in space) and learns that he is a demigod, gifted with latent powers so extraordinary he can change the natural structure of molecules. Ego teaches him to harness this power and soon, in one of the film’s trademark quirky comedy moments, the two are bonding over baseball practice with a cosmic ball of energy.

The movie’s also about mummy issues, as we discover dark truths about the dissolution of Peter’s family and gradually Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 becomes a two-hour therapy session in space. And why not? What the Guardians movies are trying to do is establish a flawed but cohesive unit, like an actual family, and if they’re able to have fun along the way, they’re all the better for it.

That’s the key to these movies working: family and fun. The first Guardians cemented a style and method of humour that didn’t so much tickle us under the arm as completely intoxicate us with laughing gas. Vol. 2 is also very funny, but writer/director James Gunn lays the gags on pretty thick. And yet for every thing that doesn’t work, Vol. 2 throws in an eye-popping lifeline. There is an escape scene orchestrated by Yondu and Rocket that visually pops and could possibly rival the prison breakout of Guardians 1. These characters, and the often ludicrous situations they stumble into, are never less than entertaining.

I can’t say if Vol. 2 is better or worse than its predecessor, but it keeps up the energy and childlike enthusiasm of the franchise and injects another dose of mirth into the super-serious MCU. It has a villain who will give Thanos a run for his money, and teases us with an Empire Strikes Back-esque cliffhanger before ripping the rug out from under our feet and delivering one of the most devastating emotional gut-punches Marvel has ever attempted. I’ve never shed a tear for a superhero. Now I have. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a movie of surprises.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is available in Australian cinemas from April 27

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures