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 »
These days I strictly ration my visits to the cinema, with the exception of two franchises that will immediately override the austerity lockout: one is the James Bond series, and the other consists of the Star Trek films. Currently the tally of each stands at 13 for the former up to last year’s Skyfall (or 14 if you include Never Say Never Again, which of course I don’t) while Star Trek Into Darkness marks the 12th film of the science fiction series that I’ll have dutifully trotted out to see during its initial theatrical run.
Let’s cut through the suspense and deliver the bottom line: is it any good? The answer is yes, very. If you love the 2009 JJ Abrams-helmed reboot (see my contemporary review here) then you’re almost guaranteed to love this follow-up since it contains all the elements that made the first film so successful, including the jaw-dropping spectacular visuals, non-stop adrenalin-rush thrills, the jittery camerawork and jump zooms and of course the lens flare that slathers every shot to the point of self-parody. Of course if you were among that group that felt the first film made a travesty of the original spirit of the Star Trek series then none of this is going to do anything to persuade you to the contrary this time, either. And I confess, I had at least one foot in that camp and wasn’t as utterly thrilled with Abrams’ first outing as many people were as a result. Read the rest of this entry »
Ahead of seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, here’s a review of the first JJ Abrams that I wrote on its original release in May 2009 and reproduced from the general topic blog that I had at the time …
The new Star Trek movie is a great piece of entertainment and easily one of the best action movies of the year. As a relaunch of the Trek franchise, it’s an outstanding success. But for all that, don’t believe the hype – it’s good, but it’s just not great.
Viewed as an attempt to reboot, revive and recast a moribund franchise, it’s an unqualified success. While remaining true to the underlying Trek ethos, the film manages to be fast, funny and action-packed where the old series and movies could be slow, ponderous and preachy. Yet despite any carping from die hard fans, the film is remarkably true to Gene Roddenberry’s vision of an optimistic, altruistic and inspirational future. And despite the misgivings of many a fan, myself included, the recasting of iconic roles is almost without exception a collection of huge successes.
Zachary Quinto, for example – so great in Heroes, where he plays arch villain Sylar with an intelligence, subtlety and an outrageous amount of scene stealing that he’s almost the only reason for watching that show any more – is beyond perfect as Spock. He is both convincingly a young version of Leonard Nimoy’s character, and yet his own man as well, much more expressive, on edge and volatile than the refined and dignified Nimoy. He’s so good that you almost believe that this film and the entire Trek reboot has been sitting on its hands for seven years since the previous film just waiting for Quinto to be ready to accept the role. Read the rest of this entry »