Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

You’d think I’d been frozen in Carbonite with the length of time that we’ve been away, right? Or maybe frozen beneath the permafrost awaiting someone to unearth us?? Although we apologise for our recent lack of activity at Film Phage, there’s much more to those opening two sentences than mere hypotheses: Star Wars and Captain America. What happens when you try and blend the intergalactic space drama that is Star Wars with that Marvel-bent that is becoming the hallmark of the comic book movie? Well, you get a film about a tree, a raccoon, a human and some aliens. My friends, you get Guardians of the Galaxy… perhaps the finest post-Avengers movie in Marvel’s stable.

Now, when this was announced over 2 years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con, it raised a lot of eyebrows, including my own (yes, a Phage has eyebrows). Marvel were seemingly trying to transition from the grounded approach of Iron Man and Captain America to a film about the aforementioned talking trees and raccoon combo of Groot and Rocket. This didn’t make sense and genuinely appeared to be a case of jumping the shark in our eyes. But much has happened in the intervening two years. Marvel have brought in Gods, fire breathing Extremis people and aliens, along with a mere glimpse of the “mad Titan” Thanos at the end of Avengers… a reference that was lost on the vast majority of viewers, but pervaded nevertheless.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Skip forward to 2014 and on the eve of this year’s SDCC, we got our preview screening of Guardians of the Galaxy. Could Marvel make it pay off? Of course they could. They’ve delivered what is possibly the finest “Phase 2” film of the bunch. Yes, whilst in our hibernation, we saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier… but we didn’t think it merited all that praise. Mainly because we find ol’ Cap to be quite the dull hero in his one dimensional “must do good” attitude. If we’d written it up, we’d have slapped a solid 3 Phages on it… in case you were curious. Briefly, Guardians of the Galaxy tells the tale of Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the highs and lows he goes through after scavenging a mysterious orb. Through various bounties placed on his head, he’s thrown together with an oddball group including an assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his tree companion Groot (Vin Diesel) and warrior Drax (Dave Bautista) as the villainous Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace) quests after the orb, which he plans to use to commit mass genocide. All of this is set against a very colourful backdrop of planets and characters, plus that famous Marvel humour.

Where do I start? Let’s start with the nerdy paragraph shall we? The one where we talk about it tying into the Marvel universe and linking to the source material? Briefly, this film, despite being set away from the Iron Man / Thor / Captain America trinity fits perfects providing you’ve been paying attention since Avengers. Die hard fans will see certain plot elements coming together and can see where Avengers 3 or Avengers 4 will be heading… *cough* Infinity Gauntlet *cough* (we can’t wait for the SDCC reveals on Saturday!). Plus, we FINALLY get our first real views of the arch-bad Thanos (Josh Brolin). A HUGE grin came over our Phagey face when we saw him on-screen finally. We cannot wait for more of him in the future! As for how it links to the source material? There are liberties taken, but they all work, and should just be kicked to the back of your mind for now.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

What works so well in this ensemble piece, as it does in The Avengers, is the strength of the cast. Whilst The Avengers had several films to set up the characters and their origins, James Gunn does a fantastic job of doing all that within the film’s 2 hour run time and taking them on an adventure too. Chris Pratt is enormously charismatic and really is the “every man” that people can relate to. In fact, despite being a guy romping through space, he’s the most grounded lead character in all of Marvel’s endeavours. I could actually go through each of the cast members in turn and sing their praises (God knows I love doing this with Bradley Cooper all the time anyway), but that’d take far too long. Suffice to say, that there are no weak links in this story. Even Lee Pace, as Ronan The Accuser comes off very well here. I only mention this, as typically villains are fairly one dimensional (spare Tom Hiddleston’s Loki) in their aims… such as Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, or Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash in Iron Man 2. Here it’s nice to see a villain that genuinely looks menacing and works well.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

No Marvel movie would be a Marvel movie without a dose of humour. Well, unless the title is prefaced with Captain America. Guardians of the Galaxy brings humour by the bucketload and genuinely made me laugh on several occasions. As dedicated reader will know, I’m not one to laugh at everything like some deranged drunkard (although many audience members are), but this had some good belly laughs thrown in there. Plus, they reference Kevin Bacon a lot… no joke…

So, what are the shortcomings? Honestly, I can’t isolate any. Some may say this is simply “The Avengers in Space” or feel that it’s becoming formulaic for a team up movie to play out this way. Some might even brandish this as Marvel’s Return of the Jedi owing to some “toy-friendly” characters like Rocket and Groot, but I disagree. The pace is frenetic, the acting is sharp and the humour is on point. This is Marvel firing on all cylinders… bring on next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Simply put, if you’re a fan of any of Marvel’s past adventures, then this will have you riveted. I’d also argue that if you haven’t been dedicating masses of time to these films in the past years, you’ll pretty much be ok too. There are threads of continuing plots running through it that may make little sense if you haven’t seen The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World (particularly the after credits scene), but the film can stand alone on its merits too.

And this marks our thawing from the Carbonite! We have returned from our long hibernation, and for that we apologise. We still saw films… we just… well, went off for a while! You’ve heard about the Ebola outbreak in Africa right? Well, a Phage gets distracted! Ha. And maybe this is actually just OUR Return of the Jedi? Maybe I’ll start wearing black, become a real Jedi, cut off my father’s hand and throw an old man down a well? Well, as I write this, it IS a Friday night… so anything is possible…

Phage Factor:

4.5 Stars

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Trilogies. They’re always interesting concepts; sometimes they work (Star Wars), sometimes they fail (The Hangover). Often, the success of these franchises hinges heavily on how compelling the second instalment is. It’s got to glue together the “intro” put down in the first film, but also leave it hanging at the end in order to get you to come back for the final film. See, Star Wars, although not my favourite series of films, did this well. Arguably, The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the three films as it ended on a fantastic cliff-hanger that left audiences walking out saying “What? They can’t end it like that? This is bull****!” – this is the PERFECT response that’ll sucker you back in for the ending. So, how does the middle of The Hunger Games trilogy fare…?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games franchise has picked up a lot of steam over time. The original Hunger Games was a success… a big success. Obviously, it fed off the fandom generated by the set of books, but it also pulled in others that hadn’t read the books (The Phage included). Although at Film Phage, we thought that The Hunger Games was essentially a new version of the Japanese classic, Battle Royale. It was fun, but it wasn’t mind-blowing. If we’re honest, we weren’t that phased by the thought of the second instalment… but we were pleasantly surprised.

Obviously, a lot has changed since the first and Catching Fire. Notably the fact that the star, Jennifer Lawrence, has seen her star rise higher and higher thanks to… you know… that little Oscar she got for Silver Linings Playbook. Now people really care about her. No more crappy roles in films like The House at the End of the Street. Hopefully…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Anyway, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up where the original left off… Katniss (Lawrence) has won The Hunger Games (a fight to the death to keep her home town alive and thriving) along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after they faked their love so that there could be two winners. Now they must continue this premise on the orders of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But there’s something stirring… a revolution. And Katniss finds herself at the centre of it all as the unintended figurehead thanks to that damn badge of a bird she has!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fun ride. As I’ve attested, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original so I didn’t bother to re-watch it in preparation. The film makes no apologies for this, and doesn’t really remind you of what went on before. This can be a bit jarring as you quickly try to recall what was going on. It doesn’t provide a quick little recap like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 did… this is a shame, but I could soon piece together what happened. The film then riots along at a fair old pace. I must say that not knowing the books’ plots makes these films far more enjoyable as I don’t know what twists and turns lie ahead. This is kind of the point of films, so being a fully-fledged fan of the book may not help you.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

I also hear that the book is much more graphic in its depiction of violence than this film. That’d be owing to the PG-13 / 12A rating that THG:CF has picked up. This is neglected somewhat here. It’s not an overly violent film. Sure, people get killed (in a goreless way) and there are some disgusting looking boils on people’s skin, but it’s not a shocker. This isn’t a reason to slight the film though; not in my eyes.

The strength of the film lies in the plotting. Sure, the casting is good and everyone delivers on what you’d expect, but for me the film isn’t there. As I said at the outset, the success of a second instalment rests on it being glue. And Catching Fire IS the glue in this franchise. It develops the plot an absolute ton, sucks you in, then leaves you begging for more at the eleventh hour. I heard a lot of people complaining about the ending, and that was fantastic. They weren’t complaining because the ending was bad… it wasn’t… but it sure does end on a “what the hell?” note. Yes… Han Solo is in carbonite…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues to develop this ridiculously successful franchise. Whilst I found the first outing to be somewhat derivative, this second dose of Katniss and friends (and enemies) sated my appetite and in fact got me excited again. I’m now looking forward to 2014’s next entry: Mockingjay. Let’s hope it can keep up the pace and action. I can already see where the plot’s heading, but I’m hoping I’ll be surprised with developments…

Although saying that, my excitement is tempered somewhat by the sad fact that (Part 1) is attached to the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Just like Twilight and Harry Potter, Hollywood can’t help but extend a series by splitting the final book into two… Star Wars this ain’t… or maybe it is… considering we now have parts I, II, III and VII on the way. Only time will tell whether this pays off, or whether audience fatigue will have set in by the time we see The Hunger Games‘ trilogy (or quadrilogy) wrap up.

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Believe The Hype?

Philosiraptor says...You read the film was announced, heard who was cast, read the phenomenal previews, saw the trailer and couldn’t wait for ‘your’ film to drop. You’re there first day of release in your seat, popcorn in hand, and two hours later you want to grab the remaining corn kernels, hunt down the director and force them up his/her nostrils to the point it tickles their brain until they apologise for that abomination you just wasted your life on. We’ve all been there. We’ve all bought into the hype of a movie. Why do we do this, and should we continue to buy into Hollywood’s hype machine?

Getting press for your latest upcoming film is something of a no-brainer; publicity’s needed to bring in the customers after all. And nowadays the companies behind your favourite products have capacity to seep into every crevice of your life and expose you to “what’s to come”. But widespread awareness and hype does not a great film make.

Indeed, the same is true for most multimedia, with video games pulling in enormous sales on a yearly basis, especially thanks to blockbuster franchises such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Both of which have famously fallen foul of having so much hype surrounding them that they could never live up to expectations. Mass Effect 3 in particular brought in tens of thousands of disgruntled fans who bemoaned the ending of their cherished franchise: not because it was over, but because of how poor it was. Imagine that cardboard box at the end of Se7en didn’t contain a head, but a tube of Pringles that magically carried Freeman, Pitt and Spacey to the moon for a party with Bugs Bunny – that’s how misjudged and down-right weird it was for many. In light of this, the people behind the franchise went as far as amending the ending to suit the public’s demands 4 months post-release. A movie however, is an entirely different beast.

Sarcastic WonkaOne of the most hyped films of 2012 has without doubt been Ridley Scott‘s Prometheus: the long in development spiritual predecessor to 1979’s Alien (I know – it’s aged fantastically for a 30+ year old movie, as has Sigorney Weaver). Every magazine, website and newspaper boy was extolling how great this film was going to be. It was like knowing about the second coming of Christ in some circles. Then when the reviews came out… they were mixed; although it scored a respectable 7/10 with critics and audiences alike, it fell short of many people’s expectations. This was pegged as a “Film of the Year” contender, but it’s clearly not going to get that title any time soon. I mean, sure, we all liked Michael Fassbender acting as an android with scary realism, and liked learning a little about the mythology of the Alien franchise, but the writing sure was haphazard in places; see HISHE‘s YouTube clip below for a brilliant send up. I’d sure like a rewrite on that ending, as opposed to the deliberate sequel-bating that’s so rife right now… but I think I’ll save that rant Opinion article for another day.

Looking for another prime example? How about Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace? Possibly one of the most eagerly-anticipated films ever considering people have been asking “I wonder what happened before Part IV” since it aired in 1977. As I’m sure the majority of you have seen this film it goes without saying that it didn’t live up to the hype… damn you Jar-Jar Binks. And STILL, after we were all bitten by this Ebola-carrying abomination, we still went back again for Episode II, and AGAIN for Episode III. Why? Because we were all promised “this one’s guaranteed to be better” by every publication under the sun. Don’t even get me started on Indy vs. Aliens (commonly called Indiana Jones IV)…

So should we believe the hype, considering how cruelly we’ve been misled by the press in the past? Or do we look to the examples of where the hype was realised, as with Avengers Assemble and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? Do we think that Django Unchained, The Hobbit et al., are going to live up to our expectations? Though I must admit, the thought of stretching The Hobbit (a single book) into THREE films probably damages the hype for me. Personally, I think “hype” is great for public awareness of a movie, but shouldn’t be used to gauge quality. We all like to get excited about the latest installment in our favourite franchise / film from our favourite director, but manage your expectations. My advice? Watch a trailer and see the film for yourself… or let The Phage tell you what to think… then watch it.

What do you guys think: is the hype surrounding these massive potential blockbusters merited? Or would you rather go in to a movie blind and be totally surprised by what you see – a bit like walking blind into a dark-room orgy. Sure, it might be fun… but you could come out wishing you were forcing popcorn kernels up your nose, as opposed to forcing **** in your ****, whilst your **** ****s. And no-one likes that.