Vin Diesel

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

17/05/17

Amidst the plethora of movies featuring characters in spandex and capes, the original Guardians of the Galaxy stood out from the competition. Funny, self-deprecating and soundtracked by a collection of 80s classics, it was an enjoyable space romp. It was, however, hampered by a couple of not-so-positive notes – a needlessly complicated plot and an evil villain who seemed to have wandered in from Casting Central. But the film was a huge hit and it was never in doubt that there would be a sequel. Director James Gunn is clearly on a roll – Volume 3 has just been announced.

It’s clear from the get-go that Volume 2 is going to be fun. The prologue is set in 1980 and features a young, fresh faced Kurt Russell (how the thump do that do that?) as an extra-terrestrial canoodling with an earthling woman. Then we jump twenty-eight years into the future and see the Guardians, battling a hideous space beast, which is trying to get its sneaky tentacles on some very powerful batteries. This film has a secret weapon, which its not afraid to deploy with lethal effect – and that weapon is Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel, in what must have been the easiest voiceover  job in film history). This tiny offshoot of the original Groot is so downright adorable only the flintiest hearted viewers will be able to resist him. (Even the most heinous villains in the universe find themselves unable to dispose of him, which generally proves to be their undoing.)

Next up, the Guardians are visited by Ego (Kurt Russell, his real age now), who, in the best Star Wars tradition, announces that he is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s father and he’s been trying to reconnect with him for years. He whisks Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) off to his home planet, which he has modestly named after himself and tells Peter that he is willing to share his super powers with his long lost son. He also introduces the team to Mantis (Pom Klimentieff), an empath, who can tell things about people simply by touching them – and who is clearly destined to be a member of the Guardians herself. But Gamora isn’t happy. She senses that something isn’t quite right about this set up. Meanwhile, back at the spaceship, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is being pursued by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who has a few Volume 1 scores to settle…

Okay, once again, this isn’t a perfect film. The central message – the importance of family love – is as unremittingly cheesy as any of Disney’s most cloying output – but, once again, it’s saved by the deliciously snarky dialogue and some genuinely funny jokes.  I particularly enjoy Drax’s spectacularly clumsy conversations with Mantis. There’s another classic rock soundtrack, and any film that has the good taste to use Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in a key scene is sure to earn some brownie points from me. If the movie’s final confrontation becomes too much of a pixel-fest, well, it’s probably to be expected of the genre, but for my money, this once again works best when it concentrates on the engaging interplay between the characters. Overall, I feel Volume 2 works better than the original.

Make sure you stay in your seats throughout the closing credits. There are not one, not two, but five short clips to whet your appetite for Guardians 3 – plus, the by now obligatory cameo for Stan Lee.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

11/02/17

Let’s start with an admission: we’re watching Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in 2D, and at 24fps at our local Cineworld. So we’re not going to be able to comment on its technical wizardry, not on whether the 4K 3D 120fps makes Ang Lee’s experiment worthwhile, nor on whether we agree with the critics who claim it makes the film uncomfortable to watch. But, as only five cinemas worldwide are equipped to show this movie in its full glory, our experience is more likely to chime with that of our readers. And so we’ll focus on the film behind the tech.

Based on a novel by Ben Fountain, BLLHW tells the tale of a squad of young American soldiers, brought home from Iraq for a victory tour, following the circulation of video footage showing their doomed-but-heroic fight to save their sergeant’s life. Billy (Joe Alwyn) is struggling to cope, ambivalent about the war, and unsure of much except his loyalty to his squad. They are rewarded with a day out: they are guests of honour at a football game, trotted out to stand behind Destiny’s Child to wild applause during halftime. And there is talk of a film deal, too: they’ll be famous, wealthy, given everything they need.

Joe Alwyn’s performance is subtle and nuanced: his pain is palpable. The realities of his war are revealed through a series of short flashbacks, sparked by the flash of a firework or a poignant word. It’s a touching story: he hasn’t much to stay home for, but neither does he want to go back to Iraq. His sister, Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), tries to persuade him to see a psychiatrist; she’s scared of losing him and can see that he has PTSD. And it’s heartbreaking to watch him struggle with the decision. There are no easy answers here.

I enjoyed this film a lot, and not just because of the novelty of seeing Vin Diesel in a role where he’s required to act. It’s not action-packed, and there are no clichéd moments of wonder or revelation. It’s a slow, wordy piece about ambiguity, about what we ask young men to do, and how little we know of the toll it takes. The response to Bravo Squad on their return to the US is confused: they’re heroes, but they’re ordinary. They’re revered, but they’re mocked. They’re film worthy, but no one will pay them properly. In the end, they only have each other, and their instincts – and, if that’s not enough, well that’s too bad. It’s a fascinating story, and well worth two hours of your time.

4 stars

Susan Singfield