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.

Star Trek Into Darkness


Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) is the second installment of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, following Star Trek in 2009. The film brings back the all-star cast in the newly altered Star Trek universe, where anything goes.

The 2009 Star Trek film gave a breath of life to the decrepit Star Trek franchise. Mix together a cast with great chemistry, that goes to the absolute core of the original characters, with an exciting and unprecedented story line  and a great action blockbuster is formed. While many devoted Trekkies were scandalized by Abrams’ complete dismantling of the entire Star Trek universe, it opened many doors for new — and equally as important — familiar stories. The first film excited and shocked audiences, and the second film makes use of its most valuable tool: reinterpretation.

Many criticize Star Trek Into Darkness  as being a mere remake of A Wrath of Khan, but to believe so is to miss the whole point of the first film. Changing time as we know it opens the door for anything. It was entirely possible that the Enterprise would never encounter Khan in this new timeline, but isn’t it exhilarating that even though time was altered so significantly, this epic encounter still exists? It’s almost as if the confrontation is fated, an idea that I imagine Spock would seriously disagree with, yet this theme can now be considered due to Abrams altered timeline.

The film exhibits scandal from the very beginning, at least it does for Trekkies. The crew of the Enterprise is on planet Nibiru, inhabited by a primitive alien race, and they plan to drop a device into the planet’s volcano to make it dormant, which would alter the natural course of life on Nibiru — a overt violation of the Prime Directive. This violation of the most important regulation in Starfleet is highly shocking, but it develops Captain Kirk’s (Chris Pine) character: a brazen young Captain without accountability. One of the film’s transformations is that of Captain Kirk, from egoistic impulse to selfless leader.

A similar transformation is scene in Spock (Zachary Quinto). Quite possibly after Vulcan’s demise in the previous film, Spock has made even greater effort to stifle his human half. Even after Kirk saves Spock from volcanic doom, Spock struggles to make any emotional connection with Kirk. After relationship trouble with Uhura (Zoë Saldana), experiencing Admiral Pike’s (Bruce Greenwood) dying moment, and experiencing that same moment with Captain Kirk, Spock’s human half surfaces in a shriek of absolute anger, an homage to A Wrath of Khan.

This film’s brilliant villain, Khan, is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. His peculiar countenance lends to being a villain, and it’s backed up by an incredible performance which includes subtleties like sitting up perfectly straight and speaking with arrogance — after all, he’s better at everything. Khan’s climactic (though, to some, anti-climactic) identity revelation brings much scrutiny. Because of the way Khan’s character was introduced in the Original Series, The Wrath of Khan is filled with a heavy intensity. To viewers new to the franchise, Khan’s identity does not mean as much, but it is still packed with superhuman and eerie mystery which keeps viewers invested. The meaningful part of this entire film is that it tells the same story in a new time; while details change, a new generation can participate in and appreciate an older story.

The film’s brilliance culminates in a few wonderfully shot scenes. These scenes focus on four different characters and their facial expressions, which are meaningful in that they express emotions seemingly opposite of what those characters embody. The first is Kirk; as Admiral Pike is chastising him for lying in his report, Kirk slips into a state of vulnerability. The camera stays on his reddened face, peering into his deep blue eyes which show a softened quality hardly ever seen from his character. The magnificence of that shot is that Kirk retreats inwardly instead of acting aggressively. The next scene showcases Pike. As he lays dying before Spock, the camera again stays on his face, which is usually strong, sure, and fearless, but what the camera shows is terror. It’s a terror that is shocking, especially on a face that’s never shown such fear. His eyes are absolutely moving, even to stoic Spock. Thirdly, as Khan explains how he and his frozen crew became part of the picture, the camera yet again stays on his face. As he tells his story, about trying to save his crew — his family — the anger takes over his face, flaring his nostrils and bringing tears to his eyes. The camera doesn’t move away from his face, letting the viewer fully appreciate this surprisingly show of emotion from this ruthless killer. This scene denies any sense of one-dimensional villainy for Khan. The last scene is for Spock, at his transformation in the film. He’s speaking with Kirk as he lays dying, again expressing his vulnerability. Spock, who has only lost his composure over his mother’s death and Vulcan’s demise, is clearly emotional. His colleague — and friend — lays dying and can’t control himself. The camera, again, stays on his face as tears fall from his eyes, a particularly stark sight from anything ever expected from Spock. That, followed by the iconic “KHAAAAAAN!”, express a side of Spock never seen. These four scenes are the magic of the film, taking four characters and turning them inside out in ways never experienced.

This film is an exciting and captivating story — all up until its coda. After Kirk’s death, the film is aimless and wraps up much too quickly. The story could have benefited from the way A Wrath of Khan ends, which would have been more emotional, as well as quite the cliff-hanger for any sequel. Along with those criticisms fall the characters of the rest of the crew. Uhura, who has the potential of being a strong and badass character unfortunately falls into the role of “girlfriend” for Spock. Even though she has a big scene with the Klingons, the majority of her actions are motivated by her being with Spock, not for the good of the order. Karl Urban, who portrays Dr. McCoy exactly, along with Anton Yelchin, as Chekov, received little roles in this film. Even John Cho, as Mr. Sulu remains mostly secondary in this movie. These characters have the potential for more than just comedic relief, something that Simon Pegg’s Scotty was able to achieve. Scotty in the first movie was only humor, but he basically saves the day in this film. Perhaps the rest of the crew will get more screen time and plot lines in the next film.

Star Trek Into Darkness is the first voyage into Star Trek’s new alternate universe. It brings the Enterprise together with a familiar villain in an entirely new light. With plenty of action, lens flares, and  Michael Giacchino’s fantastic soundtrack, Star Trek Into Darkness brings a story and villain back to life in an entirely new light.