the avengers

Guardians of the Galaxy: A Stellar Review

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Released in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy is the new kid on Marvel’s block of comic book adaptations. Featuring a band of less than savory characters who become unlikely heroes, the film also is an unlikely success that managed to sidestep many pitfalls common to comic book films with slick presentation and cleverness.

First off, the cast is quite good. Going into this film, I was not one who was necessarily a fan of any of the actors, per se. It was more ambivalence than anything else, but I was surprised at how the actors won me over with their solid portrayals. Chris Pratt makes a dashing and charismatic leading man (and his famous transition from comedic fatty to svelte fox didn’t hurt). Zoe Saldana entertained me more in this film than any other role of hers, even more than as Uhura in Star Trek. Bradley Cooper stole the show as mutant raccoon Rocket, and he didn’t even have to rely on his good looks, which is a testament to his skills. Even Vin Diesel, with his minimal lines as Groot, brought to life a CGI character who added so much life and, dare I say, cuteness to the party.

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Lee Pace also gave a great performance as the film’s villain, even if you didn’t recognize him under that makeup, which is just another addition to the many roles this underrated actor has played. Even Karen Gillan, of Doctor Who fame, was fun to watch, even if I missed her Scottish accent.

I’m glad that the characters were so engaging, because the plot of the film was probably the weakest point. It wasn’t bad, but it was pretty straight forward and I got the sense that there was an implied wink and nod that suggested, “just stick with it, we’ve got big plans for this stuff”. Of course, the plot was serviceable in that it provided the means for all the characters to act and interact, but I had figured out all the twists and revelations in the first half hour.

I suppose that I could chalk up my lack of surprise to the mythic nature that comic books and their stories tends to follow, and in that sense the film did very well. In fact, I even found myself wondering if this film was the next big Star Wars type thing, but we have yet to tell on that.

Further, the wink and nod tended to address the fact that much of the plot has that been there done that feel. In particular, one fight scene was humorously abbreviated by a character’s use of a secret weapon that has been hinted at all through the movie. It still conveyed his danger, but it didn’t burden us with too much unnecessary action. In general, the film didn’t *try* to take itself to seriously, which allowed it to deliver fun times and gorgeous special effects without leaving the audience to worry about the film meeting drastic expectations.

Marvel was also a little too obvious with its attempts to plug this movie into its current franchises. While assembling The Avengers together film by film has so far been a successful undertaking, I get the feeling they are going to do more later, and hopefully they don’t tarnish what Guardians of the Galaxy seems to be doing well all by itself so far.

The biggest risk, I think, with this film was tying pop culture into a science fiction story. Film history is replete with attempts to do this that come off as tacky and exploitative, but this movie nails it. Not only is the soundtrack fun and classy, it is also part of the back story. The risks this film took on all paid off because all of the elements synergized wonderfully.

While Guardians of the Galaxy was not series I was previously familiar with, I am now eager to see what else is coming when they return.

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Iron Man 3: A Review

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I never expected to like the Iron Man films. By the time I felt this way I had seen my share of super hero movies go wrong, and figured Iron Man would be no different. Sure enough Robert Downey Jr. pulled off the unexpected and with his sardonic wit won me over in the first film.

The second film also surpassed expectations by taking me on an even bigger ride, breaking the sequel curse by not sucking all the good things from the original.

Then, of course, there was The Avengers, one of the better superhero films of recent memory that somehow made all these superheroes that I found individually uninteresting exciting and charismatic. Disney/Marvel definitely has a plan here. So how does Iron Man 3 fit into this plan?

Surely, following such a colossal hit such as The Avengers was a daunting task, and how exactly do you sell a movie ticket for one hero for the same price as one for several?

Apparently, the idea is to make the story more personal, more intimate. Perhaps the hero is struggling with the aftermath of his outings in the previous films? Iron Man 3 is a darker film and it does attempt these things.

But… it doesn’t do them well.

First of all, I can’t stand action movies that take place during Xmas. The only exceptions are Die Hard, a true classic, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, which shares director Shane Black with Iron Man 3. How odd.

There is really no big reason for Xmas to be happening. The only gift-giving I saw was for someone’s birthday.

We are also introduced early on to a villain whom comic book fans would recognize, Mandarin. In this film, he is made out to be some kind of terrorist leader, and you’d think this would cause Tony flashbacks from his time captive in the middle east, but no, it doesn’t come up.

Besides, the true villain is easy to figure out in the first minute. (Hint, don’t shun nerds in the elevator. They *will* seek revenge.)

Also, Tony and Pepper Potts seem to be having love troubles. No one knows why. Perhaps not even them. And Tony is working on remote control suits that will allow him to fly through plot holes and the strings of deus ex machina with ease.

The majority of the plot focuses on Tony Stark trying to find the Mandarin guy, who turns out to be a proxy for nerd-turned-stud Guy Pearce. Pay attention here, though, because Ben Kingsley gives a masterful portrayal of this non-villain.

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The rest of the plot revolves around Guy Pearce and his army of exploding glow stick people trying to assassinate the prez. It’s all very flashy and stuff, and Pepper Potts even becomes a glow stick girl and might have a bigger role in the next Avengers film alongside every other side kick this side of D.C. Comics.

Overall I felt this film was a letdown, and not because it followed after The Avengers, but because, aside from Pepper being able to heat up her own water back at the office, nothing really changed. Tony Stark developed like a fake tree, and the villain was really nothing menacing.

The film could have been darker, more emotional, tore at our hearts, but it really just kind of scratched at my nerves. Oh well, at least there was an excuse to sell more toys.

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