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Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol-2-trailer-breakdown-21

Is there a more instantly iconic cast in Hollywood?

I am pleased to report that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (I’ll refer to it simply as Vol. 2) is, as many of you have found out for yourselves over the past week, every bit as good and in some ways much better than even the first one. Vol. 1 was a great surprise and still the boldest movie Marvel has yet made. Vol. 2 doubles down on the world it created and the characters that inhabit it, losing the freshness a little (which is being overstated as a complaint) but managing to improve on those few significant weak spots the first one did have.

One of those is the way certain characters were shorted much of an arc as the plot took over the movie. In Vol. 2 this never happens and no character, and there are so fucking many of them, gets shorted. They all have satisfying arcs, even Kraglin (Sean Gunn), wisely depending on interactions with each other. For people who like Marvel movies and fans of The Fast and the Furious franchise, this will feel familiar. It’s in pairings, parallels and polar opposites, that juggling so many characters and arcs becomes possible. Vol. 2 pulls this off with aplomb and manages to weave through tonal shifts, some of which are pretty shocking and risky. A stronger commitment to the sadness and loss hinted at in Vol. 1 is also demonstrated here, giving this goofy space movie an emotional core that is hard to find even in serious dramas. If I could compare that to something, it’d be a Pixar movie, where they definitely understand that the juxtaposition of light heartedness, humour, and fun against deeper, darker, and unresolved feelings provides a strong base for engaging drama and characterization. Not only this, but James Gunn managed to infuse this one with some pretty heavy existential and philosophical weight, which I’ll get to later on. I didn’t expect that.

All the way back when testing revealed that Vol. 2 was the MCU’s first movie that scored 100s (whatever that means), the hype has been real. There’s already a pretty misguided mini-backlash against this movie, fixated on gags that don’t quite land or the way the second act dismisses the overarching plot in favor of briefly becoming a shaggy hangout movie, but this stuff seems nitpicky to me. At the same time, I totally understand just how hard it is to deal with a movie as anticipated and hyped up as this one was. Your mind always wants to find that one thing wrong with it, so I take these nitpicks as a great sign personally. If the worst someone can say is that the space fruit ripeness joke feels a little forced then this is one helluva movie, right? It so is. Read the rest of this entry »

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This.

I spent like 5 hours yesterday writing about this movie. Did two complete drafts of the review as my first go around felt unsatisfying and overly focused on the reception of Age of Ultron as opposed to being about the movie itself. I was much happier with my second, 4000-word review and I will do my best to make this third attempt as good, but if it feels a bit half-hearted just know that it’s because of the heartbreak of losing 5 hours of work and not because the movie sucked. Age of Ultron did not suck.

To me, Age of Ultron is the biggest movie of 2015. And I don’t just mean the most exciting or something. It is a massive, massive movie. Plenty going on, many characters, and so on. But yeah, it’s also the one I was most excited for (sorry Star Wars, but I’ve been hurt before). Some have said you don’t need to see the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to follow this, but I think you really do. At this point, you either like what these guys are doing and you’re okay with the superhero monolith… or you’re not. In many ways, Joss Whedon relies on our familiarity and our investment to navigate an incredibly tangled web of characterizations, sub-plots, and even missing pieces cut from what was once a three hour long movie.

The two hour movie that remains is fast, relentless, and full of amazing moments. Because the concept of giant, shared universe superhero team-ups is now familiar as well, Age of Ultron quickly acknowledges our affection for that before moving on to something else. This is a movie about how things change, and how we are often the architects of the pain those changes bring. It’s easy for an identifiable theme to get lost in the shuffle of a movie this big, but every character gets a subplot and arc of their own which will lead them into their continued solo adventures.

If there are weaknesses in Age of Ultron, they are likely the result of cuts. You still have to lay this at the feet of Whedon, since as director he’s the most directly responsible. At the same time, you can forgive hard sacrifices that get made for a movie as impossible as Age of Ultron to even exist. So for the most part, an avowed fan like me can overlook some rough patches (but I’m still going to discuss them with you). This is a movie that knows what you want to see and is more than happy to give that to you and then some. The hype machine being what it is, some people are always going to be satisfied or ambivalent and I suggest to you that Age of Ultron deserves better. It could never be as surprising and novel as The Avengers was three years ago, but its highs are just as high and it never hits the low points (mostly in the first twenty minutes) of its predecessor. It’s entirely a success.

THERE ARE NO STRINGS, BUT PLENTY OF SPOILERS

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BIG HERO 6

Feels: the Motion Picture.

Disney is on a fucking roll. 2014 seems to be their year in cinema, dominating pretty much every quarter with offerings that bring out the best in their (recaptured) alchemy of commercial product and great storytelling. Since Wreck-It Ralph, it seems like Disney has been determined to learn from the Pixars and Dreamworks of the world and produce a great story where it’s abundantly obvious, in spite of flaws (and I still maintain that Ralph is a thematically troubled film), that they really do give a shit. If Ralph was about self-acceptance in an indifferent world, and Frozen about reconciliation and estrangement, then Big Hero 6 is about the importance of support when healing from loss. And it’s not just about the catharsis of healing, but a mature emotional understanding of the futility of revenge and the need for connection and empathy with others, even balloon robots.

That’s weighty stuff for a “kids’ movie”. It seems like Disney isn’t happy to just synthesize storytelling and commercialism, but want to transcend the limitations of other kinds of labels while they’re at it. It seems improper to call Big Hero 6 a “kids’ movie” in the sense that we use that label to dismiss a thing as being for a select audience, as being emotionally and intellectually fulfilling only to the extent that a kid can “handle it”. I’m pretty skeptical of that mentality to begin with, but I know it exists. Big Hero 6 is really the kind of thing people mean when they use the vague, frustrating, and cloying label of “all ages”. Anyway, lest this review become a tirade about labels, let’s leave it at the idea that such things don’t serve a movie like this very well. While people have become more open-minded about entertainment in recent years, we still live in a world where there will be people who dismiss Big Hero 6 because it’s “for kids” or, worse, because it’s animated. I know I bring this shit up almost every other review I do for an animated film, but let me say again that you should not let that shit stop you. The time to broaden your damn horizons is now!

You’ll be missing out on one of the year’s best films if you don’t. Not just as a great, moving story about dealing with loss but also one of the greatest science fiction movies of the year. Big Hero 6 is so pro-science, so pro-technology, that the joy of this world of technical invention that we’re inheriting and creating is palpable in a way that you don’t really get outside of the choir, or outside of stuff like Cosmo that is pretty much preaching to it. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, then maybe the fact that Big Hero 6 is as kick-ass a superhero movie as any other Marvel (it’s loosely based on a Marvel comic) offering will interest you.

That and this is the closest thing to a sequel of The Incredibles that we’ll probably ever get. Hopefully I eat those words in 3-5 years but I feel comfortable with them now.

SPOILERS AHEAD

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