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By midlandsmovies, May 8 2017 09:04AM

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) Dir. James Gunn

After the huge success of the first film, writer-director James Gunn returns to the vibrant day-glow world of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his eclectic gang for this sequel in the never-ending Marvel franchise.

One of its positives is perhaps its lack of connection to the shared Marvel cinematic universe allowing for (aside from few post-credit scenes) a focus on its own story rather than setting up future characters and films with a set of unfulfilling cliff-hangers.

Here the superhero film focuses on the Guardians crew who are now mercenaries for hire of sorts and after defeating a large squid in a superb one-take musical opening, meet with a golden race called the Sovereign. Their reward for their job is Gamora’s sister Nebula (Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan respectively) but they are soon on the run after Rocket Racoon (voiced brilliantly still by Bradley Cooper) steals valuable batteries from them.

After being chased, the group split with Peter, Gamora and Drax ending up on a sentient planet created by Peter’s God-like father Ego (Kurt Russell) whilst Rocket and Vin Diesel’s (baby) Groot cross paths with Michael Rooker’s superb Yondu who is in trouble with his own mutinous clan.

GOTG Vol. 2 is a fresh, superb sequel that delves deeper into these characters established in the original and each distinct personality has their own unique narrative arc. Gunn has done a great job with a multi-character script with a few pop-culture references (TV’s Knightrider is brilliantly given a nod) which do not muddy the deeper themes. Gunn uses serious drama, stories of revenge and love and a father-son dynamic to create conflict in a lesson to all budding scriptwriters. Yet, none of it feels like a surface gesture.

Drax’s “literal” laughter develops into more understanding of his bluntness whilst fun jokes, such as the ones at the expense of the strangely named Taserface, sit perfectly with parental quarrels and inter-team tensions.

The film never once felt slow or dragged out and is edited to within an inch of its life letting the audience know exactly where everyone is and what their motivations are. This is without losing the crucial essence of the characters. Rogue One this isn’t and thank goodness for that.

Given the film’s sensitive subject matter to me after my own recent loss of a parent, the ideas and excellent delivery of them by Gunn hit an emotional core that may be beyond the casual viewer. However, that’s not to say others will not find an emotional resonance with the superbly played out poignancy of the film’s conclusion – where I admit a tear of two was shed.

Dave Bautista as Drax rounds out the first-rate acting on show and I would go as far to say that the film could be even better than the first. Like Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, the film jumps straight into the drama without the need for the “origin story” and delves deeper into each character and their universe akin to classic sci-fi follow up Empire Strikes Back.

With enough new elements added, as well as the obligatory 70s soundtrack which is incorporated well into the story, GOTG Vol. 2 is an exceptional feat. The film could be the best-looking Marvel film to date with its eye-popping colour palette and with outstanding costumes, make-up and special effects scenes will satisfy the action fans. However, for me it showed that if you care about your leads then these are hugely heightened. Yet the film’s best asset is Gunn himself who delivers the whole package needed in a summer blockbuster and it is he who is the Guardian of his own gorgeous galaxy.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 14 2016 10:58AM

Bone Tomahawk (2016) Dir. S. Craig Zahler

This debut Western from writer-director Zahler pitches historical cowboys against feral natives in a drama-horror set in the wild west. Opening with an unlawful duo being set upon after disturbing an ancient burial ground, one escapes to a frontier town called Bright Hope and is immediately arrested and thrown in jail by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell).

With injuries occurred during his apprehension the local doctor (Lili Simmons as Samantha O’Dwyer) is sent for, leaving her bed-bound husband (Patrick Wilson as Arthur O’Dwyer) who is similarly in pain from a broken leg. During the night however they disappear with the only evidence left behind being an intricately designed arrow. A friendly local native American is called upon and identifies it as being from a brutal tribe of cavern-dwelling troglodytes.

A crew is quickly assembled and thus begins a chase for their loved ones and brutal vengeance in the wastelands of the surrounding desert. Russell maintains the rough country Sheriff he embodied in The Hateful Eight (gruff beard and all) and Wilson’s agonising husband attempts to overcome his lame leg to recover his loved one.

Split into three main parts (the town, the wilderness, the caves) the narrative is straightforward but the actors have fun with their broad characters which ensures that believability is mixed with a good old fashioned retribution tale. The cinematography echoes sepia tinged photos and the lighting is consistently low and naturally lit to evoke the reality of the era.

Discussions on firearms, ponies and travel provisions are punctuated with scenes of brutal violence in the untamed wilds. Wilson’s injury threatens to slow their journey down increasing the film’s focus on both physical and emotional pain and distress.

I enjoyed the crusty nature of the protagonists with the Deputy Sheriff Chicory (an unrecognisably old but brilliant Richard Jenkins) providing much needed light-heartedness to the wicked deeds surrounding them. Getting closer to the natives keeps the audience interest up as the group’s forthright dialogue turns to nasty, yet satisfying, action sequences involving fist fights, bows and revolvers.

Bone Tomahawk therefore ends up being a furious film with pockets of revolting cruelness and the dust-covered savages are a fascinating twist on the “cowboy and indian” stories of the past. Kurt’s curt tongue and hoarse voice may be almost identical to his recent outing with Tarantino but whilst the horse-based passage through the wild is a Hollywood chestnut, the film’s formula mixes in new aspects to the genre. A bloody smattering of torture and mutilation gives the movie a bleak twist that will also satisfy the horror crowd and its no-frills narrative was a thrilling ride along.

7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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