Movie Review – “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

“the film’s last 10 minutes evoke deadpan laughter to give us the best Marvel cameo and ending seen in years!”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Fans of last year’s “Captain America: Civil War” will rejoice knowing that the same raw, yet spirited, Spider-Man returns in “Homecoming”. Brit and former gymnast Tom Holland once again provides an infectious charismatic face to the Marvel brand as Peter Parker…aka Spider-Man. His youthful exuberance swings from buildings doling out justice to street crime as he learns what it takes to be a member of the elusive Avengers team.

Under the tutorship of none other than Mr. Tony Stark himself (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man’s high school days in Queens, New York, embodies the pursuit of a romantic dating interest, a hilarious BFF rapport, extracurricular school activities, and a coveted internship at Stark Industries. It’s Tony, though, who starkly questions Parker as to whether he has the maturity to become a bona fide Avenger. Or, perhaps, Peter’s temperament might be better suited filling the “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” niche instead.

The film’s two best features are a quick-witted script that Holland & crew deliver with flawless comedic timing and an up-close look at the young superhero still learning the (web) ropes. While the “in-training” Spider-Man conjures up his own action blunders to poke fun at himself, most of the movie’s one-liners come from a strong supporting cast of fellow high schoolers. From his bestie Ned (Jacob Batalon) to outcast Michelle (Zendaya), Parker’s classmates steal every scene. Likewise, the film’s last 10 minutes evoke deadpan laughter to give us the best Marvel cameo and ending seen in years!

No one exudes or takes on the 24/7 persona of an Avenger in the real world better than Downey as Iron Man. From his personal Instagram account to the more important nuances like movie interviews talking up other films, Downey can always be relied upon to self-endorse the edgy Tony Stark and Marvel product line. With time, I believe we may see Holland embrace this same pride in his Spidey character, to include showing up in children’s hospitals to help promote a good fight and ignite smiles everywhere.

Despite nauseating iPhone video footage early on and a love interest never completely sold to the audience, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” delivers for comic book-to-movie fans. After spectacular hits in “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “Wonder Women”, this fast-moving story dutifully makes it a winning 2017 superhero film trifecta.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” packs high energy, near-constant laughs, and a steady resolve from its young leading man. While there’s a bad apple (Michael Keaton’s Vulture) and criminal element to take down, this movie’s rampant success is the result of a likeable newbie with very watchable friends and his own inquisitive knack to explore the Marvel Universe.

Be sure to stay in your seat for the two post-film bonus scenes!

Grade: A-

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, some language, and brief suggestive comments.  Its running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.

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Thriving Indie film expands to Tucson this week!

“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is a bold, rich take on Native American history that is catching fire with audiences throughout Arizona. We’re fortunate to have this unforgettable story come to Tucson this week.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

As a comic book heroine continues her blockbuster dominance this summer, a much lesser known film has also grabbed moviegoers’ full attention. The self-distributed Native American story “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” has quietly sold out nearly every one of its appearances at multiplex theaters across the U.S. over the past 2 weeks. This box office winner, with an amazing and authentic star, has touched so many hearts that theaters are extending their movie runs in cities and while expanding into new markets. Due to the overwhelmingly positive reception in Phoenix to “Neither Wolf Nor Dog”, the independent film has just added Tucson to its growing list of cities for wider release–set now to premiere at Harkins Theatres Tucson Spectrum 18 on July 7 for at least one week of showings.

Based on Kent Nerburn’s critically acclaimed novel by the same name, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” tells the unforgettable Indian story of a 95-year old Lakota elder named Dan, played perfectly by Dave Bald Eagle. Getting too old, the Native American leader wants his personal notes formally recorded for history’s sake. Tasked to compile the leader’s lifelong journey is none other than fair-minded author and white man Nerburn (Christopher Sweeney).

Modestly filmed by a crew of 2 over only eighteen days, “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is an incredible look inside the Lakota Country of South Dakota. The movie powerfully captures the culture, hardships, and obstacles that Native Americans have endured over the years. It also highlights the graciousness, humor, and pride still vibrant throughout the Lakota people.

The excellence and shear power of “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is found in its main star, Dave Bald Eagle, who died post-production at the age of 97. Left for dead on D-Day in real life, Bald Eagle leads a stellar cast that’s both believable and fascinating to watch. The interaction of the characters, particularly Sweeney’s as Nerburn opposite Bald Eagle’s robust Dan, is what keeps this dialogue-heavy movie rolling and interesting.

“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is an education for viewers throughout. It presents the beauty and tragedy of Lakota life in simple terms, right down to the cinematography and filmmaking techniques used to tell one man’s iconic journey. A historical account that goes back to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. All events and relationships that must be remembered forever.  And that’s the true importance of “Neither Wolf Nor Dog”…the deeply seeded history lesson of our nation’s past and present with the Lakota culture.

This film isn’t bringing home the box office sales of “Wonder Women”, but it’s selling out theaters everywhere it’s shown. “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is a bold, rich take on Native American history that is catching fire with audiences throughout Arizona. We’re fortunate to have this unforgettable story come to Tucson this week.

Grade: B

“Neither Wolf Nor Dog” is unrated and will be shown at the Harkins Theatres Tucson Spectrum 18, beginning on July 7. Its running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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5 Heartwarming, Powerful Movie Rentals

“Five heartwarming and powerful stories available to rent.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Film enthusiasts looking for “must-see” movies to rent over the Fourth of July holiday will enjoy these winners:

The Way (2010)

Martin Sheen plays an ophthalmologist living the country club lifestyle when he gets the terrible news that every parent dreads and is never prepared for. This film follows Sheen as he attempts to complete the hike his son started on foot, traveling from France to Spain, but never finished. An excellent cast and brilliant photography provide ‘The Way‘ to an emotional trek–with frequent stops for rest and humility. This film is not about choosing a life, but living one. Somewhere along this El Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) journey you’ll find yourself wanting to complete the pilgrimage.

Rated PG-13. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, On Demand, and Vudu.

 

Million Dollar Arm (2014)

This feel-good story follows the search for the first Indian to sign a professional sports contract in the United States. Based upon real events, “Million Dollar Arm” spans more than just the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. It captures India’s customs and traditions as much as it portrays America’s pastime. And for that, “Million Dollar Arm” delivers a perfect, 94-mph fastball.

Rated PG. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, On Demand, and Vudu.

 

Concussion (2015)

A spectacular Will Smith confirms for us that there are no coincidences in life. As Dr. Bennet Omalu, Smith uses his own vast talent to expose and highlight the dangers caused from repeated head trauma. “Concussion” isn’t a movie about the National Football League. Rather, it’s a story about a brilliant Nigerian immigrant, thankful for his many opportunities in America. His reverence towards our ideals and principles get tested by the very system he relishes. We should all be thankful for professionals such as Doctor Bennet Omalu–willing to do his job fully and unapologetically, without taking shortcuts. And that’s all we can ask for.

Rated PG-13. Available at On Demand (STARZ – Free) and iTunes (buy).

 

Noble (2015)

A glass full, overflowing with emotion, movie. This film brings hope to the homeless and answers to the faithful. The true story of Christina Noble, a strong, spirited and determined woman who overcomes adversity and poverty on the streets of Ireland growing up. During her youth, she experiences dreams of Vietnam and understands that her life’s calling is in that country. To fulfill her desire, she must first survive impossible odds and struggles no person should ever endure–particularly a child. She begins a conversation with God, asking Him why she’s been dealt so much, so early in her life. The answer to that question can only be found in Vietnam. An uplifting and heartfelt story!

Rated PG-13. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu.

 

Sing Street (2016)

Director John Carney, who gave us the 2007 romantic music trifecta of guitar, piano, and vocals in the Irish movie “Once”, returns to Dublin for a stellar encore performance involving a teenage boy dealing with the pressures of school while starting up a rock band to get closer to a girl. Carney knows how to bring music and romance together better than anyone else and we find a heartfelt story that feels both charming and real at the same time. This generation’s “Breakfast Club” movie! An above average cast and a 1980s soundtrack launch this movie into instant Classic status and onto my Top 10 Films for 2016.

Rated PG-13. Available at Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Netflix.



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Movie Review – “The Hero”

“One of the best films of the year!”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Veteran actor Sam Elliott has that famous authoritative deep voice we can all recognize on television from the other room. He also has that legendary bushy mustache that seems to walk into movie scenes minutes ahead of the star—like in 1993’s “Tombstone” as Virgil Earp. But Elliott’s six-foot two-inch cowboy frame, chiseled facial features, and booming voice have mostly led to supporting movie and TV characters over his vast career. Until now. In “The Hero”, we find Elliott’s emergence into the leading role gig a comfortable and relaxing match for the grizzled performer—like the perfect fit of a well-worn leather glove on a gunfighter’s hand.

In one of the best films of the year, Elliott plays an iconic Western movie star named Lee Hayden, who hasn’t had a quality film in 40 years. Left doing voice-overs for barbecue sauce commercials, Elliott’s aging character unexpectedly gets notified that Hayden is being presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from his rabid fan-base.

The brilliance of “The Hero” is that it looks back at Hayden’s past life as much as it peers forward. This perspective offers us short glimpses into Hayden’s relationship with his family and career over the years. We also see what lies ahead for the struggling actor with the recognizable voice. A washed up, reclusive man with many flaws gets exposed, but he never fails to acknowledge or take responsibility for his actions.

A film that moves at the pace of its 72-year old headliner, moviegoers will find its slow, straight-talk and problematic issues dealt with in a head-on and fresh manner, mesmerizing viewers. The uncertainty in Hayden’s life feels wholly believable and never rushed for the sake of getting to the next line of a scene. Instead, “The Hero” engulfs us with the same vulnerability and real-life problems that age throws at everyone. It even gets us to ponder our impact on others’ lives and contemplate our achievements over a lifetime.

“The Hero” will leave you wanting more. Much more. Clever storytelling takes us back to only parts of leading man Lee Hayden’s past and several relationships he fosters. Problems are dealt with like tumble weed on a gusty horse trail. They’re out of mind and sight for now…but never gone entirely.

This spectacular–yet plain talking–movie could easily transform itself into a weekly TV series or a Showtime 10-part miniseries. That voice of his. The crazy mustache. And his stoic cowboy persona could easily achieve it. In the meantime, grab yourself some Lone Star barbecue sauce, the perfect partner for your chicken.

“The Hero” is in limited theaters but is scheduled for wide release on July 4.

Grade: A

“The Hero” is rated R for drug use, language, and some sexual content. Its running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Megan Leavey”

“Easily, the best performance of the movie belongs to the German Shepherd “Rex”. His K9 bomb-sniffing training and bonding experience with Leavey leading up to Iraq is fascinating and suspenseful to watch.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Feeling more like a Hallmark made-for-television movie than a Hollywood big-screen production, “Megan Leavey” offers up a real-life Marine heroine and her military working dog injured in 2006 Afghanistan. This latest war narrative examines the personal growth of the young Corporal Leavey, who enlists into the Marine Corps to escape several relationships…only to find one special rapport with a four-legged dog named Rex.

“Megan Leavey” is a heart-warming and, at times, gut-wrenching true story. Unfortunately, the best parts of the movie are presented far too quickly to be fully effective. While portions of Leavey’s family past are rightfully mentioned, it comes with the very steep price of losing further emotional connection between the dog handler, her partner, and the theater audience.

Megan’s interaction with her mother (Edie Falco from HBO’s “The Sopranos”) and step-father (Will Patton) although important, never matures enough to be of a higher value to the overall film. The bland script also dampens the girl’s special bond with her father (played by this year’s “Get Out” film star Bradley Whitford). Despite a proven all-around cast led by “House of Cards” TV-standout and Emmy Award-nominated Kate Mara, “Megan Leavey” never taps into the film’s several strengths long enough to truly impact viewers.

Easily, the best performance of the movie belongs to the German Shepherd “Rex”. His K9 bomb-sniffing training and bonding experience with Leavey leading up to Iraq is fascinating and suspenseful to watch. The other, lesser relationships explored between the corporal and her family and a budding boyfriend, though, take away from the critical job shared by this military working dog team.

The film illustrates the dangers posed to our military forces deployed overseas and the importance dogs have played in our nation’s wars for over two-hundred years. It reminded me of my last combat tour to Afghanistan, over the latter part of 2010 and into 2011. Attending a senior leadership meeting at a U.S. base that November, we were notified that a military working dog at an Army outpost had developed a life-threatening sickness (non-combat related).

Aircrews, intelligence briefers, operations planners, and ground support all moved with the same urgency to save this K9 as we had done countless times before for a human soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. Immediately an air package consisting of A-10, F-15 and drone aircraft gave top-cover for a pair of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters that carried Pedro combat medics through a heavily occupied valley of enemy Taliban fighters. At the same time, a giant C-17 aeromedical jet on standby was generated to airlift the dog across the country to the finest U.S. veterinary hospital available. That’s the respect K9 warriors are given within our U.S. military. I only wish “Megan Leavey” had delved deeper into that special bond–and at more times–throughout the film.

Grade: C+

“Megan Leavey” is rated PG-13 for war violence, language, suggestive material, and thematic elements. Its running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Wonder Woman”

“Move over Batman and Superman, DC Comics is back! All thanks to a strong background story and an even stronger Woman!”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Seventy-six years since her inception, one of the most popular comic book characters of all-time has finally hit the big-screen. And what an amazing and historic arrival “Wonder Woman” has made upon audiences! With domestic box office sales topping $100M for its opening weekend, this blockbuster marks the largest initial haul for a movie directed by a woman in filmmaking history.

Fittingly, the film is directed by life-long “Wonder Woman” fan Patty Jenkins (“Monster”), who calmly and painstakingly walks viewers through the heroine’s origins. Jenkins displays tremendous patience, taking her time to thoroughly explain the young Diana’s rise to superheroine status.

Never rushed in her storytelling, the director introduces us to the exuberant and rebellious daughter of the mythical Zeus, as she grows up on the female-only remote island of Themyscira. Any other filmmaker might have elected to quickly gloss-over these Diana Prince younger years, intent on delving right into an action-packed battlefield exhibition of her special powers. Instead, we learn about Wonder Woman’s family dynasty and her constant curiosity and stubbornness, molding a moral penchant to always do what’s right.

Wonder Woman” is an energetic and fast-paced ride! Starring former Miss Israel and soldier in the Israeli Defense Force, Gal Gadot is both believable and sensational as the sexiest film heroine to date. True to her comic book self, Gadot exudes kindness, justice, and love. Minimally equipped with a protective shield, sword, lasso, and a pair of special bracelets, Gadot shines bright as Wonder Woman without a need for batmobiles or man of steel strength.

Aside from the remarkable rise of Wonder Woman, the movie also successfully captures the stellar chemistry between its two main characters. Equally as impressive as Gadot’s work is the enchanting performance by Star Trek captain Chris Pine, who portrays an American pilot that enlists Wonder Woman to defeat World War I evil in 1918.

Since last year’s Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, I’ve considered Pine as one of Hollywood’s most underrated film actors. With the right future roles and screenplay scripts, Pine has the potential to raise his acting skills to the level of a Tom Hanks or Robert Downy Jr. The same can be said of Gal Gadot–who undoubtedly will continue as “Wonder Woman”. But the talent-rich Gadot now has the opportunity to further define herself to theatergoers in any role.

This past weekend marked the thoughtful and massively enjoyable rollout of Wonder Woman. Move over Batman and Superman, DC Comics is back! All thanks to a strong background story and an even stronger Woman!

Grade: A

“Wonder Woman” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and some suggestive content. Its running time is 2 hours and 21 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Baywatch”

“Rounding out the magazine cover ensemble is Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario and, uh, really who cares in this world of self-promoting Instagram? This is “Baywatch” after all. And it works.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Returning to its successful beach-combing techniques that made it one of the world’s most watched television programs ever, this big-screen comedy reboot exudes unabashed sexy hard bodies with a simplistic, yet effective, crime-fighting element. An entertaining and humorous adventure bolts from lifeguard Tower 1 at Emerald Bay, Florida, in super slo-mo cinematography and lewd comedic fashion. The result is a surprisingly funny and fast-paced movie that saves lives and packs plenty of blockbuster box office power.

A perfectly cast film, “Baywatch” never takes itself too serious or asks too much from its model cast. Leading the eye-popping collection of traditional red, one-piece swimming suits and loose swim trunks is none other than charismatic social media charmer Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. As lifeguard headmaster Mitch Buchannon, Johnson easily carries the entire movie over his left shoulder, barking instructions to anyone who will listen.

Rounding out the magazine cover ensemble is Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario and, uh, really who cares in this world of self-promoting Instagram? This is “Baywatch” after all. And it works. Each character, in their most beautiful and satirical way, eagerly dives into or sprints towards danger for the safety of others and the pleasure of moviegoers. The on-screen camaraderie builds as relationships are formed using crisp laugh lines and crude sexual references.

Intentional over-acting and constant self-promotion lets us, the viewers, in on the gag that The Rock & Co. are pulling off almost effortlessly. Everyone flaunts their sexy best features between the lifeguard tryout competition until the last criminal is caught. Appearing between rip tides, two epic cameos arrive on-scene as a nod to how big and far this lifesaving story has come over nearly three decades.

A walk back into television history, “Baywatch” now earns its beach cred on film. The story of white-hot sandy environs protected by equally hot bodies is back…and probably with a few more lifeguard tours in its future. NBC cancelled “Baywatch” after one TV season, only to sit back and watch a world of 15 languages save it through using syndication CPR. This movie version confidently taps into that bold, beautiful and witty global success with a spoofing sense of humor throughout and an equally enjoyable blooper reel at the end.

The media has reported this Memorial Day travel as the busiest in over 10 years. I suspect quite a few people will venture to the movie theaters. Many will also hit the coastlines. Some, perhaps, after watching this movie’s enjoyable and provocative romp on the beach.

Grade: B

“Baywatch” is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity. Its running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Alien: Covenant”

With the unexpected but widely applauded 2015 sci-fi thriller “Ex Machina”, filmgoers saw how intriguing and tricky the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) can be for humanity. These synthetic lifeforms, built to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently than us, quickly turned the lab tables on their human creators in an epic battle for survival. Computers and android’s have always malfunctioned in movies to create pandemonium for space crews—but rarely with such malice as we find in this latest prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 “Alien”.

In director Scott’s third “Alien” installment, “Covenant” marks the sequel to “Prometheus” (2012), taking place a decade after that spaceship’s demise. We find the “Covenant” and her small crew carrying 2,000 sleeping pods filled with colonists and 1,000 frozen embryos to a far-away planet named Origae-6. Along for the ride is Walter, an artificial intelligence crew member who helms the “Covenant” for the crew while they remain in deep sleep and until danger looms.

Give Ridley Scott credit for infusing desperately needed thrills and chills back into the “Alien” legacy. The boring mythology timestamp from “Prometheus” is nowhere to be found in this faster-paced and shocking death match. Within the film’s first thirty-minutes the “Covenant” colony mission is thoroughly explained to viewers and the space crew is left fighting for their lives on a planet’s surface.

“Alien: Covenant” presents terrific tie-ins to “Prometheus” and her crew, especially archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw and her AI crew member David, earning this chapter serious style points. This movie, however, smartly moves away from the doldrums of God-like creators of mankind and instead focuses on the creation of robotic life by man. At the core of this philosophical question resides trust issues between the synthetic lifeforms and humans.

It’s good to see the “Alien” trademark return in a novel and successful sci-fi story. The gruesome on-ship medical station attacks are back! A crew we hardly get to know is chased down and eliminated one at a time in thrilling fashion. A simplistic plot allows the time and energy of “Covenant” to emerge as a worthy precursor to Sigourney Weaver’s terrifying 1979 ordeal. Fans of deadly space creature encounters will squirm in their theater seats. And those viewers who enjoy contemplating the role of artificial intelligence in our lives will embrace Ridley Scott’s keen AI proposition. Who would have thought that we’d have the late John Denver–crooner of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” –to thank for all this? Not me.

Grade: B

“Alien: Covenant” is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language, and some sexuality/nudity.  Its running time is 2 hours.

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Movie Review – “The Wall”

“Grab some lip balm, a water bottle, and a rifle…this pair needs you.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Few modern war films give a voice to the enemy. Speaking parts are usually reserved for the battlefield’s victor, with only short glimpses of the losing opponent scrambling through a thick jungle or getting shot down in the sky from behind. In this latest movie from “Jason Bourne” series director Doug Liman, we find ourselves watching a deadly game of “Cat & Mouse” take place between a pair of over-matched U.S. soldiers and a single Iraqi sharpshooter in a post-Saddam Hussein timeline.

Given the mission to find out who is repeatedly taking out an American contractor supply route, last year’s Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”) teams up with professional wrestler John Cena to scope out the source of the convoy trouble. As spotter and sniper both make costly mistakes that jeopardize their position and lives.

“The Wall” refers to the dilapidated and war-torn rock remains of an Iraqi school that serves as a source of cover from an enemy well-hidden and versed in American military tactics.

Despite a couple of camouflaged political statements, “The Wall” asserts itself as psychological thriller with several suspenseful moments. Highlighting the film’s success is the established communications between opposing sides of this duel. The isolation of counter-sniper operations and both stars morphing, from being the hunter to the hunted, jumps out at shocked viewers.

With less than a handful of characters in the entire 81-minute movie, this quagmire instills a deep sense of survival on the battlefield. Most interesting is the notion that misery loves company. Having a battle-buddy elevates one’s spirits and helps push them through intense adversity. Suffering alone, though, has the opposite coping effect upon a soldier’s mindset.

Director Liman deserves credit for this gritty, sandstorm production. Every plot change never goes a minute further than necessary, keeping the film fresh and story-line evolving just before boredom sets in for the audience. Likewise, his ballsy ending gives moviegoers their FUBAR military moment to leave with.

Making the film industry’s 2014 Black List for “most-liked” motion picture screenplay not yet produced, “The Wall” has finally made it to the big-screen. It gives us a unique perspective that starts a conversation between friend and foe. It makes us feel like we’re in the foxhole aside Cena and Taylor-Johnson. Your lips will almost begin to chap with dehydration soon following. Grab some lip balm, a water bottle, and a rifle…this pair needs you.

Grade: B

“The Wall” is rated R for language throughout and some war violence. Its running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

“The film’s superstar is the smart-aleck raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper). His wise-cracking personality and penchant to steal carries this storyline and movie.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

As one of my most anticipated films of 2017, I was anxious to see how this next volume of “Guardians of the Galaxy” stacked up to its first mixtape. I unapologetically gave that first edition a well-deserved Top 5 ranking on my Best Films of 2014 list.  In fact, this charming group–led by space scavenger Peter Quill—replaced Tony Stark’s initial “Iron Man” as my favorite comic book-to-movie release of all-time.  Well, until last year’s unbelievably edgy adventure “Deadpool” (my 4th ranked film of 2016) elevated Marvel Comics’ game to new heights.

So now comes “Guardians” v2.0 and I am left feeling very disappointed.  Disappointed not because this sequel tried too hard to match the flamboyance of its predecessor.  Disappointed because Vol. 2 did not try at all.  The camaraderie, non-stop humor, and sexual tension on the big-screen from three years ago is all diluted down to a younger audience and visions of the saga’s future third installment.

Chris Pratt’s Quill character has lost of the confidence and moxie worthy of a Star-Lord. The journey that the lackluster Quill takes to find the identity of his father is both predictable and painfully slow to discount David Hasselhoff & Co. as DNA possibilities. The film’s mercilessly slow start extends well beyond halftime and before three subplots begin to get cleaned up in good ol’ “Guardians” fashion. I am Groot.

We’re told the space heroes’ camaraderie established in 2014 has now grown into a loving “family” of characters.  The smoldering sexual tension between Quill and green-chick Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has dramatically cooled off to an “unspoken” love interest–resembling the innocence of a first-grade crush.  With several subplots juggled throughout the Galaxy, few scenes have the Guardians all together to exude their collective mojo and eye-poke each other.

Another missed opportunity is the fine performance by Kurt Russell as an “Ego”-maniac with worldly powers.  Russell’s complicated existence is summarily presented to finally bring closure to film’s 137-minute ordeal. No one buys Russell’s sales pitch as the god-like Ego except for the meek Star-Lord.

The film’s superstar is the smart-aleck raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper). His wise-cracking personality and penchant to steal carries this storyline and movie.  With perfect comedic timing perhaps only rivalled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by Robert Downey Jr., Cooper’s Rocket physically and verbally destroys all standing before him. In a distant second place for humor comes Dave Bautista’s laughable Drax the Destroyer. His awkward laughs out loud is both contagious and funny to viewers.

Five short scenes (all specific to this “Guardians” tale) take place within 7 minutes of the film’s final cut as the credits roll.  All are underwhelming and indicative of this movie’s overall punch-less endeavor with flashes of humor indiscriminately thrown in.

Grade: C-

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive content. Its running time is 2 hours and 17 minutes, along with 5 bonus scenes during the credits.

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