Guardians of the Galaxy


Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is an American superhero film released by Marvel as part of its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It’s directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole PerlmanGuardians of the Galaxy takes place in a different galaxy altogether than the rest of the MCU films, introducing a more fantastical side of Marvel comic books and featuring an exciting and fresh new team of superheroes.

Guardians stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord, the rebellious bad-boy space pirate. He’s the only character in the film from Terra, who has a homey and charming quality we can all relate to — many times embodied by the 1970s and 80s music he listens to on his Walkman. It both reminds Quill of Earth and his roots as well as reminds the audience of Earth in a galaxy filled with unfamiliar worlds and peoples. Pratt has made quite the ascension to stardom. He consistently knocks it out of the park on NBC’s Parks and Recreation as the lovable but oftentimes clueless Andy Dwyer, yet he’s also been in a couple Oscar-nominated films like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Spike Jonze’s Her. He’s an incredible actor, who has yet to be adequately recognized, in my opinion, for his flawless performance in Parks and Rec, but his charisma and finesse is finally getting acclaim in Guardians. He plays the rugged, rule-breaking smuggler that we can’t help but love. He mixes up a delightful cocktail of humor and badassery into his performance as he stumbles his way throughout the galaxy. He kicks ass and dances with proportionate ease. He’s stated that Han Solo and Marty McFly were inspirations for his portrayal, but there is a lot of Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion in Firefly, in Peter Quill, too — evidenced by his affinity towards guns and brown coats.

Zoë Saldana plays Gamora, the lethal adopted daughter of super villain Thanos (an uncredited performance by James Brolin). Saldana is firmly established in the science-fiction film genre, with roles in James Cameron’s Avatar and the rebooted Star Trek films. She champions strong female roles in a genre that’s very male-centric. She is a raised and trained assassin, but she also has a strong sense of righteousness. Saldana’s performance weaves together the hard and cold nature of a killer with the shy receptivity for goodness, which blossoms along with her friendship with Quill.

The rest of the Guardians are an eclectic and dynamic mix: Drax (Dave Bautista) the insanely ripped and heavily tattooed prisoner who takes things absolutely literally; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper and acting contributed by Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn) the genetically engineered and talking raccoon bounty hunter; and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) the nurturing yet lethal tree-like humanoid (AKA the Ent) who can only say “I am Groot”. There characters are absolutely amazing and bring such spirit to the film. The combination of all these characters make for an unusual fellowship, but out of it burgeons friendship and many, many laughs.

The universe of Guardians is colorful — both in its visuals as well as with its characterizations. It’s a marvel (no pun intended) to experience a world bursting with color — from nebulae-backdropped space battles to the Infinity Stone erupting in amethyst power, and from brightly tinted skin to effervescent worlds saturated in color. It’s beautiful to watch, comparable to the visually striking Pandora in Cameron’s Avatar. One of my favorite scenes is when Groot produces the fireflies to light up the darkness. The music and visuals intertwine so seamlessly to produce a tender moment in a mostly active and funny film.

Groot, while not “vocabulistically” gifted, is the heart of Guardians. While the rest of the team has baggage and motives, he’s mostly innocent and tags along with Rocket. He also contributes to a visual motif throughout the film. The Infinity Stone resides in the orb throughout the entire film. While ornately forged, the orb houses a tool of great power, a fossil of great creation but a threat of total destruction. The sphere shape in the film begins to signify that ominous doom, destruction in a pretty package. After Quill has seemingly killed Ronan (Lee Pace), the great monolith of a ship is tumbling out of the sky. Groot envelops the Guardians in a sphere of branches and leaves. He becomes an orb of warm natural beauty and heart, in an age of rigid technology and industry. While crudely made, his orb encircles friendship and righteousness, an inspiring icon in the face of death.

Guardians of the Galaxy provides an exciting and refreshing introduction to a new world of superheroes. Bringing together an incredibly talented cast, sharp and amusing writing, striking visuals, and engaging characters, Guardians is a completely entertaining experience. Can anyone really turn down an intergalactic ride with the lovable and hunky Chris Pratt?

 

The Avengers


The Avengers (2012) is an epic superhero film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is an origins story, following the events of S.H.I.E.L.D to develop The Avengers Initiative, which leads to the coming together of The Avengers. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and is the third-highest-grossing film, over $1 billion.

The expectations for the film were nothing shy of brilliant once Joss Whedon was announced as director for The Avengers. An avid comic book fan and an amazing writer, the coming together of multiple superheroes into one film was in very good hands. Whedon has commented on The Avengers as a group, saying: “These people shouldn’t be in the same room let alone on the same team—and that is the definition of family.” He delves deeply into that sentiment in the film, exploring the conflicts between strong personalities and haughty egos. Whedon is well-known for fleshing out characters, and that’s the most interesting part of this film. He makes the joining forces of these various superheroes feel real and believable. Most of the film is set up as scenes with pairs of characters, which gives the actors a chance to perform with different personalities as well as the audience the chance to see the characters interact with everyone. Examples of this include: 1) when Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) meeting with Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in India to convince him to answer S.H.I.E.L.D’s call for help or 2) when Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) fight each other to (try to) show their dominance over the other. These scenes are incredible because they show a side to the characters that aren’t seen very often in these characters’ solo films. Tony Stark is always in charge in his films, but now he has to work together with others. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the ultimate soldier but has to come to terms with the fact that everybody he’s ever known or cared for is dead and learn to interact with people “of the future”. The way Whedon creates these scenes is insightful, as it deconstructs the illusion that groups of superheroes, like The Avengers or the Justice League, would automatically come together in selflessness for the greater good. Egos must be thrown aside (in Stark’s case) and personal conflicts must be embraced (in Banner’s case) in order to work together. The basic goal for these scenes is for Whedon to show the journey for the characters to build trust, for trust will be the most important force linking their chain together.

Another classic Whedonism found in The Avengers is the witty banter and clever writing. The film’s popularity and high praise has a lot to do with the writing, elevating the “superhero genre” up to match various other genres in terms of quality and artistry.
On the topic of classic Whedonisms, Black Widow’s character must be discussed. Whedon has created a myriad of strong female characters, including Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Echo in Dollhouse (Eliza Dushku), and Zoe Washburn from Firefly (Gina Torres). He promotes and advocates for strong women in media, and he delivers yet again with Black Widow. Her introduction scene has her tied to a chair, being interrogated by Russian criminals. She appears to be in a weak and helpless position, as if she were captured and at their mercy. Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) calls the Russian criminals and asks to speak to Romanoff. She talks to him like he’s interrupting her interrogation, not that she’s helpless and in need of saving. He urges her to come in, saying it’s urgent, and she consents. Then, she shows the audience that she was always in control of the situation. She begins a fight, disables the Russian criminals, and walks out calmly, after picking up her heels. This is classic Joss Whedon, who sets up scenes with a particular female stereotype and destroys it right then and there. A classic example is the pilot episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A high school boy is taking what appears to be a timid high school girl somewhere private after school hours. She’s hesitant and timid. Whedon sets up that scene as the high school blonde girl who gets herself in a powerless situation, but the high school girl turns out to be Darla (Julie Benz), a vampire who was in fact seducing the high school boy. Black Widow and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are incredibly strong women who are perfectly capable and in control of their situations. Hill does follow orders from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but she basically runs the organization and makes things happen. Romanoff, like Darla in Buffy, plays around with female stereotypes in an incredible scene with Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the film’s big bad and adopted brother to Thor. She’s speaking with Loki, and he begins to simmer in his masculine intimidation, picking apart her intentions as she buckles under the harshness of his words. In his hubris, he lets slip his next move. Immediately, Romanoff resumes her strong posture and stoic face and we realize that she was playing him the entire time. Whedon keeps destroying female stereotypes. With so many modern reboots in popular franchises, there are attempts to modernize female characters who were previously stuck in antiquated female stereotypes, like Uhura in Star Trek. In J.J. Abrams reboot in 2009, the entire cast got a jumpstart, including Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), who at times was the catalyst for the plot continuing forward. Unfortunately, half way through the film, Uhura was tossed aside as merely a romantic interest for Spock (Zachary Quinto). While there are teases and hints at something between Romanoff and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) in The Avengers, Romanoff’s character place in the group is never diminished or looked down upon. As Johansson has said about her role in The Avengers, she always felt like one of the guys, not the only woman in a group of guys.
Whedon’s vision for The Avengers is a masterful balance of character development and excitement. He blends together a modern realization of his characters with clever writing and a smooth and realistic filming style. He succeeded in bringing together a group of ultra-strong personalities, both in character and in person, while also elevating the “superhero genre” up to challenge other “respected” genres. The sequel, which is will be released in 2015, will no doubt be just as exciting and successful.

Much Ado About Nothing


Much Ado About Nothing (2012) is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play for the screen by Joss Whedon. Mostly true to Shakespeare’s original play, Whedon’s revision of the text is sexy and delightful, underscored by an incredible attention to detail and a fresh sparkle.

The cast brings together all of Whedon’s favorite actors from his various projects. For most audiences, the cast is a hodgepodge of unknowns, but for Whedon fans, it’s the ultimate all-star cast. The film stars Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. Sparks flew between them in their previous roles on Whedon’s Angel, yet it’s refreshing to see them create a new and equally natural relationship in Much Ado. Acker gives an amazing performance of Beatrice, weaving together elegance and fortitude into a sexy and sharp woman. Denisof creates a charming bachelor, a witty gentleman who desires not marriage. His performance perfectly embodies the Barney Stinson of Shakespeare: incredibly charismatic and quite reluctant to embrace love and marriage. The banter between the two of them is exciting and engaging, and their budding feelings of love are tender and satisfying.

The entire cast is incredibly versatile. Known mostly for science-fiction and fantasy environments, they excel in Shakespeare. They own their characters and every word uttered is saturated in personality and life. They speak in such a way that everyone watching will be able to understand, even if some audience members are not familiar with Shakespeare’s vocabulary. Fran KranzThe Cabin in the Woods, plays a lovestruck Claudio, emanating a light of giddiness and innocence while instantaneously switching into a cold bad boy. Fellow Dollhouse actor Reed Diamond gives a delightfully mastered performance of Don Pedro. Firefly star Sean Maher embraces his dark side as Don John. Castle’s Nathan Fillion and Buffy’s Tom Lenk give hilarious portrayals as Dogberry and Verges, policemen of Messina. Clark Gregg from The Avengers performs a cheerful and bubbly father to Beatrice and Hero, Jillian Morgese who performs a soft and innocent cousin to Acker’s hard and strong Beatrice.

The film’s modern setting is in upscale Los Angeles, complete with Sprinkles Cupcakes! Whedon’s choice to saturate the film with booze and sex, along with it being filmed in black and white, creates a ne0-1920’s aesthetic. With night-long parties with booze, live music, more booze, acrobatic dancers, and even more booze, the film has a looseness and carefree air about it that ties into Much Ado’s comic delight. The setting’s extravagance actually brings out the silliness and faults of the characters; as well-to-do men and women with power, poise, and money, they still get caught up in games and plots. Similarly, the film being in black and white shines the focus on the color and luster that the actors bring to the words.

A special part of Whedon’s adaptation is how the film opens. Benedick sneaks out of Beatrice’s bed as she pretends to sleep. In this remake, Benedick and Beatrice have been together before. Some posit that they fell in love before and the movie is how they finally come together again, but it seems more likely that they had a night of drunken debauchery. The way that he leaves and the way that she lets him leave signifies a kind of negative end to a night of pleasure, which is perhaps why their interaction thereafter is heated and aggressive. During Act II, Scene I, Beatrice talks about losing her heart to him, and it’s during this exchange where Whedon cuts to images of Beatrice and Benedick together intimately, implying another meaning to her words.

The list of remarkable things about this movie is quite long. Whedon secretly filmed Much Ado in his own home in only 12 days. The project was secret because he was on a contractual vacation after finishing up The Avengers. He even scored the film himself, creating a lovely soundtrack. Shakespeare had two songs in the text for Much Ado About Nothing, and Whedon ingeniously orchestrated them as two lovely songs in the film, featuring his beautiful sister-in-law Marissa Tancharoen and his brother Jed Whedon. Whedon’s other brother, Zack Whedon, was also included in the film. The film is an incredible revision of Shakespeare’s play. The comedic mastery and timing from Whedon and the cast is impeccable. Audiences will be cramped in laughter by the end of the film. Whedon masterfully weaves together sentimentality with wit and humor, creating an exquisite and entertaining film.