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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blockbuster Roundup: Guardians, Aliens, Pirates and Arthurian Geezers

The Summer Movie season has finally kicked in and we're off to... a start. There are still loads of blockbusters to come (and one or two of them are not based on a comic book) but the season did kick off with some of the year's biggest and most anticipated films. Are any of them any good, though? Well, that may be something else entirely.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Saving the best for first, Guardians 2 may not have either the element of surprise on its side in the way that the first film did and it does lack somewhat in its predecessor's sheer sense of movement but it's a fun, funny, thrilling and weirdly moving mix of superheroics and space opera, with loads of character development thrown in for good measure. While most sequels live (and sometimes die) by the motto that "more is always more", the pleasures of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 lies in its much more intimate scope and its focus on the characters themselves. Yes, a big, galaxy-ending threat does show up in the latter half of the film but, fundamentally, it's really a film about family - both the ones we're born into and the ones we make. Not the most original of themes, it's true, but this particular group of disparate characters brings a sense of freshness to well-trod ground, while writer/ director James Gunn's irreverent sense of humour keeps things from ever descending into cloying schmaltz. The cast is as great as ever but, adorable Baby Groot aside, it's arguably Michael Rooker who shines brightest as Yondu and, though there's really little sense in bringing up just how great the soundtrack is (it's arguably even better than the first), the poignant denouement is such a perfect match of open-hearted filmmaking with one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded that it's bound to go down as one of the most memorable - not to mention poignant - scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, of course, be sure to stick around for the five (count them, five) end credits scenes. (8/10)

Alien: Covenant. I've always had something of a soft spot for the widely derided Alien: Resurrection, both for being the first Alien film I saw in cinemas and for just how bonkers it is at times, but I certainly wouldn't raise any objection to the argument that the series should have been brought to a final close with Aliens in the mid-1980s. I wish I could say that Alien: Covenant bucks that trend and makes up for the fatal mistakes of Alien3, Prometheus and those Alien Vs Predator abominations but, no, I'm afraid this is every bit as much a missed opportunity as every other Alien movie to come along in the past thirty years. To put it simply, the best stuff about Alien: Covenant by far are those that basically lift wholesale from the first two Alien movies and the worst is pretty much everything else. The bits about the origins of humanity are even less developed and more arbitrary than they were in Prometheus, while the retcons to the Aliens themselves not only don't work in context of the film alone but they detract from the original too. The curse of backstory overload strikes again. On the plus side, Michael Fassbender is typically great in two roles here and Katherine Waterson is good enough an actor to elevate what is otherwise just another Ripley-lite heroine but aside for Danny McBride's Tennesse none of these characters really make much of an impact at all. Ridley Scott remains a fine director but this is, sadly, far from his best work. (5/10)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Speaking of pointless backstory, you really don't get much more pointless than Guy Ritchie's worthless addition to the already perfectly great canon of Arthurian legend. Sure, there's something initially quite novel about the mix of this fantastical vision of old England with Richie's geezer roots but it's a novelty that doesn't last long and quickly goes from charming to unbearable. Beyond that, though, the film lacks any and all traces of wonder and magic that has made the story of King Arthur such an enduring classic - instead going for an abominable mix of pointless backstory, weak acting, stupid celeb cameos (hello David Bechman!), instantly forgettable characters and far, far too much CGI that are made all the worse when filtered through an ugly grey/blue colour palette and Ritchie's utterly inappropriate hyperactive editing style. I will say this in its defense, though, it may be complete rubbish but considering just how bad Ritchie is at his worst, it could very easily have been much, much worse. (3/10)

Pirates of the Carribean: Salazar's Revenge/ Dead Men Tell No Tales. Keeping firmly with the theme of sequels that no one asked for, let alone needs, the Pirates of the Carribean are back for a fifth - yes, fifth!! - time. New directors, new writers, new lead actors and the shortest running time to date - and yet, there's nothing here that we haven't seen at least four times before. Overly convoluted plotting that basically just comes down to an over-inflated treasure hunt? Check. Undead pirates? Check again. Potentially fun action scenes ruined by way too much CGI? C.H.E.C.K. Tonal and content inconsistencies that make it impossible to tell who the hell this is actually aimed at? Check and check again. Johnny Depp once again shoving whatever is left of his reputation as a great actor down the crapper and making us forget everything we may once have liked of Captain Jack Sparrow. Check, check, check, and check please! It even has another pointless cameo by a rock and roll great - but much like with Keith Richards, I'm more than enough of a diehard fan of Paul McCartney to let him off the hook here, especially as he's actually somewhat amusing and acts better than he has in any of his other screen appearances. The film is bolstered somewhat by Geoffrey Rush, the true star of these films, and - though she is stuck with a total plank of a love interest in the form of Brenton Thwaites, doing everything he can to out-bland Orlando Bloom - Kaya Scodelario, whose spirited, lively performance of a smart, kickass heroine is far better than this series deserves. Just let this bloody series die already. Oh wait, they've already greenlit Pirates 6. Never mind, then. (3/10)        

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