James Gunn

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) [Blu-ray]

Posted on Updated on

There’s a couple of things that puzzle me about Marvel’s latest cinematic blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy: why it’s been quite so phenomenally popular, and why I didn’t personally like it more than I did when I finally got around to watching the Blu-ray over Christmas.

Although Marvel’s famous comic book superhero franchises have proved to be a license to print money in recent years thanks to the studio’s canny strategy of weaving the tales of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and co. around periodic tent pole Avengers gatherings by using S.H.I.E.L.D. as TV crazy glue to keep all the parts stuck together, this new film is a very different beast indeed. Remaining outside the current established Marvel Cinema Universe continuity for the time being at least, there are no superheroes in the traditional comic book sense; indeed many comic book fans – even avid ones – won’t have been familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy before this. I confess, I’d never heard of them until the movie came along, while all the other Marvel films to date have been based on comic books that were a big part of my childhood reading when I was growing up (admittedly a very long time ago!)

Instead of superheroes in masks and lycra, what Guardians of the Galaxy gives us is big old classic pulpy space opera on the grandest of scales. That sounds like it should be no problem, given that Hollywood has been pumping out science fiction films for decades now, surely? But such films have been remarkably narrow in scope, tending either towards the aforementioned superhero fantasies, or earthbound dystopias like The Hunger Games, or films in which aliens and monsters make their way to modern day Earth to trash New York City, or else films in which we tag along with explorers from Earth as they boldly go exploring into deep space while retaining some baseline point of human audience identification. Films which do away entirely with that baseline and go full space opera – David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune for example, or Andrew Stanton’s earnest but fatally flawed take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series with John Carter of Mars, or David Twohy’s trilogy of original Riddick films – tend to flop badly at the box office unless they’re basically old school horror films decked out in SF attire such as the Alien franchise. Even there, things can quickly run off the rails as Ridley Scott found when he dared try something a little more fully SF with Prometheus. Of course, the reason why everyone keeps trying to pull off the full space opera gambit all the same is that the one film to successfully buck the trend – Star Wars in 1977 – did so with rather spectacular and industry-changing results. However such films usually fall into a morass of silly-sounding character, place and planet names and various science fiction high concepts that either explode your brain or set your eyes rolling with the inanity of it all. Even Joss Whedon couldn’t pull it off when he tried this sort of thing on TV as the shortlived Firefly space western (it’s surely no coincidence that the show’s star Nathan Fillion has a vocal cameo in Guardians?) Read the rest of this entry »

Dawn of the Dead (2004) [DVD]

Posted on Updated on

With Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel out in cinemas and zombies also once more rampaging their way across the screen in World War Z, I had a sudden desire to go back to see this 2004 horror remake which was Snyder’s feature directorial début and also (along with 28 Days Later) one of the first films to break the old ‘shuffling undead’ trope and cause ructions among the genre purists by suddenly having the zombies able to run at you at full tilt.

Snyder chose to step into some very big shoes with this reimagination of George A. Romero’s seminal 1978 horror classic, in which the zombie apocalypse maroons a bunch of survivors in the unlikely setting of a huge shopping mall in Milwaukee. For some reason the mall proves a Mecca for the undead who continue arriving by the thousands, perhaps driven by vestigial memories of this being somewhere they came when they were alive that was important to them.

Romero’s original was a sharp satire on modern consumer society, whereas the remake is a more out-and-out action horror. Pleasingly – and unlike so many other movies in the genre of the last decade – this film throws itself into that task with relish and aplomb, with full-on blood, guts and gore together with proper industrial-grade foul language and a dark, nihilistic view of the outcome for pretty much all concerned. Read the rest of this entry »