Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Captain America: Civil War

When Good Men Go To War. (An Introduction.)
Marvel's first film of Phase 3 feels more like an end than a beginning; an end to Marvel's current status quo as we know it.
While Marvel's last team outing Age of Ultron introduced several new heroes to the roster it also saw the team take its first tentative steps towards destruction.
Cracks began to appear between it's members as ideological differences began to drive the team apart and to top it all off the Hulk went on yet another public rampage and Iron Man helped birth an artificial intelligence that leveled an entire city. 

While it's safe to say that Marvel's heroes have amassed significantly less collateral damage than let's say a certain DC 'superhero' it seems that people have begun grow tired of the mass destruction superheroes leave in their wake and after an Avengers mission in Lagos results in the destruction of a building and the death of several Wakandan relief workers the international community decides that the team has operated without oversight for far too long and plans to pass a bill to create an international governing body specifically to police and monitor Superheroes.
This divides the team as Iron Man 
(Robert Downey Jr.) harboring guilt from his role in creating Ultron supports the act while Captain America (Chris Evans) still distrustful of government interference following Hydra's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D and believing that the the safest hands are still his own opposes it, matters are further complicated when The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) seemingly resurfaces and Cap and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) go rogue to bring him in.

What Is It Good For? (The Story.)
The Russo Brothers return to the director's chair following their highly acclaimed previous Captain America outing Captain America: The Winter Soldier and while this is the third installment of the Captain America trilogy it is also the Thirteenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe overall and it seems to be a tradition to have the standalone Captain America films move the MCU's overarcing story forward (The First Avenger introduced the Tesseract, The Winter Soldier destroyed S.H.I.E.L.D) and in a strange sense Civil War is more of an Avengers film than Age of Ultron was (which is not to dismiss AOU in anyway as Age of Ultron laid the foundation for the events of Civil War) as multiple characters continue down character arcs established in the last crossover installkejt: Iron Man copes with his guilt over Ultron, Vision tries to understand what it means to be human, Scarlett Witch struggles with both her powers and feelings of isolation after the loss of her brother, 
all the while the movie is still in truth a Captain America sequel, picking up the threads of where The Winter Soldier left off as Cap hunts for his former friend in an arc leading back to his debut in the Captain America: The First Avenger.

Anyone expecting a 100% pure adaptation of Mark Miller's 2006 - 2007 graphic novel is going to find themselves disappointed, The MCU just doesn't have the number of heroes that the comics utilized for such a large crossover event and even if they did the inclusion of all these characters would only result in a hundred sided battle for screen time, this combined with the fact that many of the elements that make up the Superhero Registration Act/Sokovia Accords are different in the comic to what they are in the film as there are far fewer powered individuals currently in the world (as the exclusion of Mutants means that fewer people are simply born with powers) and almost all the MCU's superheroes operate out in the open without a secret identity (another major element of the comic argument), and yet the film adapts the source material admirably and is able to combine the central argument (should Superheroes operate freely?) of the comics with the continuing narative of the Cap central movies to make the best version of the story it possibly could, paying homage to its source with many lines of dialogue or shots being taken straight from the page.

of all these little homages the one I was most happy to see delivered on the big screen in all it's impactful glory was my favorite Cap monologue (the 'No, you move.' speech), Even the decision to have the line come from someone other than Cap himself was extremely thought through as it helped solidify Cap's resolve at a critical juncture in the story, and no matter who the line is delivered by it is such an impactful piece of dialogue that it would have been a shame if it hadn't found it's way into the film.

Whose Side Are You On? (The Characters.)
The fact that the acting is phenomenal should not really come as a surprise at this point with many of the lead cast having appeared as their characters in numerous previous Marvel installments each performer appears perfectly at ease in their roles even as the emotional stakes have never been higher.
At its core Civil War is about two relationships namely Cap's friendship with Bucky and how his (perhaps misplaced) loyalty for his former brother-in-arms impacts upon his relationship with Iron Man as their ideologies come to head to head over the direction of The Avenger's future.
For the story to work each hero's stance on the argument needs to feel genuine to the character (Talking of who holds responsibility for damage caused by Superheroes: Does Thor inflicted damage fall under 'acts of god'?) and the film acknowledges that both side of the argument are flawed and can lead to wither big brother government control or unregulated powered individuals imposing their will on the world) and ultimately each hero's decision to side one way or the other is driven by a personal agenda and this creates a strain on the group that is only further pressured by conflicts outside of the argument and as the film reaches it's apex the actual registration argument falls to the side and is no longer the driving conflict between the two leaders of the Avengers as their conflict births and reveals secrets and deeply personal grievances that further shatter their fractured friendship.
I find it hard to support the pro-registration side when their argument is founded on the Avengers being responsible for the destruction of New York, Sokovia and Washington DC despite the fact that these are all situations where the damage would have been infinitely worse if the heroes hadn’t been present, and when certain Avengers break rank to assist Cap they are thrown into a specially built underwater prison, unfit treatment for men and women whom have saved millions of lives whose only crime is to disagree with the government’s plan for them, 

Back in The Winter Soldier Cap fought the law. And Cap won. but this time around the government institution he's battling isn't a corrupt front for Hydra but rather the highly un-corrupt United Nations, so Cap's struggle ultimately comes down to how he see's his place in the world vs. how the rest of the world see's his place in the world.
Steve Rogers has always been the Avenger to best embodied the struggle between doing what he believes to be right and what the government tells him is right and Chris Evans brings real weight to both the conflict and resolve of the character as his morals are put to the test.

There is no arguing that much of the appeal of Superhero crossovers comes from the just how the character interact both off and on the battlefield, Scarlett Witch and Vision get some nice sideline development continue to build towards their comic book romance (or as I call it: No Good Can Come Of This!!!) and having two heroes fighting side by side in the same movie can lead to some pretty phenomenal action set pieces (who didn't love the sequence in The Avengers where Captain America used his shield to deflect Iron Man's Uni-Beam into the Chitauri?) And thank Odin it actually happened! the combo attack I was most desperate to see made it from ink to the big screen:
Hawkeye fired an Ant-Man tipped arrow and it was glorious! it's such an iconic team up attack that I don't think I could bare having both characters in their first movie together and not have them perform it.

Because when Ant-man and Hawkeye join forces somebody's gonna get it!

And speaking of Ant-Man he gets a brand new trick which we won't go into due to spoiler territory but It leads to the film's 'largest' action spectacle and am honestly surprised at how early after his introduction into the MCU that his abilities are so drastically enhanced, but even disregarding his enhanced abilities his unique fighting style is still the source of many of the film's funniest sequences (with a special shoutout going to him getting into Stark's Iron Man outfit and claiming to be his conscious).
I am seriously looking forward to Ant-Man and The Wasp hitting theaters in 2018 now that his origin story has been squared away there is so much room for the character to 'grow' (The Puns.The Puns!).

Civil War also sees the return of William Hurt’s General Ross for the first time since his debut in 2005’s The Incredible Hulk.
His return serves to better tie The Incredible Hulk to the rest of The Marvel Cinematic Universe and he is the perfect outside voice against unregistered heroes being a military man he is already heavily tied into the government and due to his vendetta against the Green Goliath he is more aware than anyone the damage that Superheroes can inflict.

So what of the new additions? Civil War introduce two of Marvel's biggest heroes to the MCU ahead of their standalone films and both Spider-Man and Black Panther are utterly fantastic, with Spider-Man seemingly being the greatest version put to film yet as Tom Holland nails the chatty web-swinger in terms of both his acrobatic fighting style and quippy nature (will be interesting to see how well Tom Holland does once he is the lead role in a Spider-Man movie) and the film is able to introduce both Spidey and Peter Parker to the fray without tripping over reintroducing his backstory and while this is the youngest version of the character seen to date his youth it gives the character a more clear eyed optimism that contrasts to his older peers. 

As for Black Panther he is arguably given the most rounded character arc of the film (which actually leaves me wondering just what Marvel has planned for his solo film in 2018) and T'Challa's quieter, more reserved approach makes him a great foil for the other chattier heroes who are throwing out endless one-liners, in a Captain America centered storyline already juggling numerous other MCU characters it's incredible that their introduction seems to go as smoothly as it did.

Let Them Fight. (The Action.)
I may have said previously that the Russo Brother brought a whole new standard of action to the MCU with Captain America:The Winter Soldier (if I didn't say I really should have) and that quality only increases here, with Civil War's action potentially being some of the best seen in a superhero movie ever. 
The Avenger on Avenger airport battle is utterly incredible, over fifteen minutes of pure nerdgazzuming 'who would win in a fight?' action, with certain new heroes debuting their fighting abilities for the first time, recurring heroes revealing entirely new abilities altogether, 
(I also love the fact that an actual line is drawn between the two sides pre-fight)
the fight is helped by the fact that there's such a variety of characters with different skill sets at play that every fight is engaging and when it's not the brawling that is keeping you on the edge of your seat it's the character interactions with both certain Marvel characters interacting with one another for the very first time and longtime friends punching one another in the face. 

Civil War gives several recurring heroes some of the best fights they have had to date with The Falcon and Scarlett Witch both being given a massive overhaul in regards to their fighting abilities. Falcon's wings now serve for a great deal more than flying, he can deploy Redwing (a drone rather than an actual falcon as in the comics) and his fighting style seems more acrobatic than just drop kicking out the sky. Scarlett Witch on the other hand is simply given more to do with her abilities be it pulling cars from a multi story car park to flatten enemies, providing support to other team members or driving a foe down deep into the very earth itself.

The final fight is INTENSE and while it doesn't hold the spectacle of the airport showdown it is a far more emotional confrontation where the stakes feel pretty high and it's almost impossible to entirely root for or against either combatant, I can't speak for others but I watched the final battle with a building sense of dread.

Avengers Disassembled. (The Future Of The MCU.) 
It will be interesting to see just how the MCU moves forward following the events of Civil War as the Avengers as the team is seemingly broken beyond repair, meaning that a debate target to adress the accountability of the Avengers ultimately lead to there being no Avengers at all. 
It's hard to say when we will next see the ramifications of the events here, Iron Man is slated to next appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming and it is entirely feasible that Bucky and Cap could possibly return in Black Panther but with much of Phase 3 being tasked with introducing new characters to the MCU (Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel) and those films that are sequels to established characters are taking place away from earth (Guardian's of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 & Thor Ragnarok) it won't be until Avengers: Infinity War that we see just how the team will move forward, it will be especially interesting to see Iron Man and Cap try to find their ways back to where they were, Civil War offers no easy (Save MARTHA) solutions because life doesn't work that way, the scars inflict herein will take time to heal, if they completely heal at all.

I Can Do This All Day. (Conclusions.)
Civil War may be the best entry into the MCU yet as our heroes are applied with extraordinary pressure from both within and without the team until something has to give, and when it does the team unravels brutally.
Are there problems? Sure. The films villain is more of a 'means to an end' than a major threat in of himself, allowing for
 a more character focused story leaves Civil War feeling as a safer chapter setting up the state of play for future events 
But we have come to know the characters well enough that it's a little heartbreaking to watch them fight, they are developed well enough that their reasons to fight (and occasionally not to fight) feel genuinely human and while it's sad to see your favorite icons come to blows it's fantastically entertaining watching them do so.
Civil war is a wonderful movie with some complex moral ideas, fantastic action and a lot of heart and
 I for one cannot wait for what comes next for the MCU....

Even if it may be a little 'STRANGE'.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Tremors 5: Bloodlines

Critical, Need To Know Information. (An Introduction.)
Right, back on the horse, lets go.
It's good to have Tremors back. I have enjoyed the series since I first saw the original movie way back when and each new installment only reminds me of why I fell in love with these movies in the first place - B movie goodness.

Starting way back in 1990 Tremors is a series of comedic monster movies about giant subterranean worms whom run amok endangering the lives of the poor people living near by, 

Tremors 5 was originally set to be titled Tremors: The Thunder from Down Under and would have seen Burt and Earl (a returning Fred Ward) and possibly Val (A potentially returning Kevin Bacon) travel to Australia to battle the various Graboid life cycles, but this version of the film was sadly not to be and the project was scraped, but while countless other franchises reboot or remake their properties for new audiences even after this cancellation Tremor's survives and a new version of Tremors 5 began development which instead see's Graboid Slayer Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) traveling to Africa to deal with an Assblaster and Graboid incursion 

One of the series's greatest strengths always has been it's ability to perfectly walk the line between comedy and drama, while the serious is a story of individuals banding together to survive deadly creatures there is a reason that one of the creatures incarnation is given the name Assblasters, and the dependence on comedy to add levity

Burt's Back. (The Cast.)
Yes, that lovable paranoid survivalist is back. 
While Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward may have had top billing in the original following Tremors 2 it was Michael Gross who went onto be the star of the series, taking up the lead role in the third and fourth films as well as the short lived television show, so it's only natural that the actor would reprise the role once again, and boy am I glad he did.
There is an iconic quality to the character of Burt, from the moment he and Heather brutally blasted the graboid that burst into their basement into pieces in the first installment ("Broke into the wrong God damn rec room, didn't ya you bastard!") Burt has been the most quotable character of the series, maybe it's his paranoia towards big government, maybe it's his over prepared nature being constantly sidestepped by creatures that simply cannot be prepared for, but there is simply something that makes the character a delight to watch.

I love the fact that Burt is now filming his own survival series, it seems like a natural progression for the character to be sharing his experience between hunts.

Since its first Sequel 'Aftershocks' Tremors has carried some general sequel traditions
each new installment introduces a new link in the Graboid's life cycle (While this is not entirely true here we do get redesigns) and a new Sidekick for the returning lead:

  • In Tremors 2 Earl got Grady,
  • In Tremors 3 Burt got Jack, 
  • In Tremors 4 Hiram (Burt's Great Grandfather) got Juan
and so in Tremors 5 Burt teams up with Travis Welker (Jamie Kennedy)
Travis in my opinion is far from the most annoying sidekick, with that title going to Grady and unlike desert Jack the character carries an actual impact due to the way in which his character is tied to Burt's adding an interesting new dimension to both characters.

The rest of the characters are largely forgettable although the helicopter pilot is enjoyable enough to watch but beyond him most other character are decidedly one dimensional, there's a little girl, a bow and arrow wielding vet, a shady rich guy and a henchman and while their respective actors deliver strong performances there is little to elevate them above the role of potential graboid food.

New Links In The Food Chain. (The Monster Makeover.)
Being the first Tremors film in over Ten years mean that due to the advance in technology the Graboids and Assblasters are blessed with a design overhaul.
The film takes the logic that the African variation of the species have streamlined their evolutionary process compared to their Nevada or Mexican counterparts (or as one character puts it "everything is bigger in Africa").

I for one welcome these new designs while the concept of the Graboid was tested and true (Big Subterranean worm that hunts using vibrations and deploys three inner tongues to grab prey) the finish effect left a little to be desired, emerging above ground looking more like an angry potato than a terrifying beast so the new sleeker body makes the creature feel more worm-like and fluid. 
While i'm not entirely sure I support the decision of the Graboids tongue snakes being detachable now, largely due to the questions it raises: Do they reattach afterwards, if not are the capable of self sustainability? even so they are another great example of the success of the redesign looking incredibly more functional than its sock puppet counterpart (I mean just look at those mandibles!).

While the less said about the original design of the Assblaster the better. the new incarnation leaves the third stage in the life cycle looking far more aggressive (like teeth with wings) rather than the bird-esc designs of 'Back to Perfection' which never truly felt that threatening (... doesn't look very scary. More like a six-foot turkey.) but now their bodies show power they are carrying large men off into the sky rather than knocking them over cliffs and it takes far more than a potato gun to put them down.

The decision to move the action to another continent means that the series can introduce the new versions of the life cycles while avoiding annoying fans of the older films by writing off the original designs.

Hang Onto Your Prostate. (Action.)
The action follows the same pattern as the earlier films with most of the attacks occurring offscreen in the early encounters before becoming much more visceral in the second and third acts, and yet the lims greatest sequence doesn't feature a single Graboid or Assblaster but rather simply Burt locked in an animal cage under the hot sun of the African planes, while I won't give too much away everything from the lead in line of dialogue, to Burt's means of hydration, his personal confession and finally a big cat attack are some of the series's greatest moments.

Other standout moments including a flare wielding Travis facing off against an Assblaster and a new style of Graboid attack that see's the subterranean monsters get some serious air time.The film also enjoys a sequence almost shot-for-shot recreating the Raptor in the Kitchen sequence from Jurassic Park (with the raptors replaced with an Assblaster)

This Is A Bag Of Dicks. (Summary.)
It's important to remember that a direct to disc release does not automatically mean that a movie will be any worse than a film with a major cinema release,
And as such I would recommend Tremors 5 to anyone who may have enjoyed any installment of the series so far or is simply looking for an easy going monster movie to enjoy at home, while the film is unlikely to make anyone's top ten list and certainly won't forever change the face of cinema it's a welcome addition to a series that otherwise appeared to be dead,
There is plenty to entertain fans as the film throws out some great nods to previous Tremors films (my favorite being "Why is it that critical need to know information never reaches Burt Gummer?" a throwback to the line  "I feel I was denied critical, need-to-know information." from Tremors 2) and for newcomers; if you enjoy big monsters eating people then your all set.
It's cheap B Movie thrills but it's cheap B Movie thrills at its finest.  

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Through The Looking Glass. (An Introduction.)
It's Halloween again! which means I get to strap on my 'Professor of Horror' cap (Just so long as there isn't anyone around who keeps track of who is, or isn't, actually a professor) and review the wonderful world of Horror and this year the first film to fall into my sights is the 2014 psychological supernatural haunter Oculus.
Directed by Mike Flanagan the film is based on a short film 'Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan' which is also directed by Flanagan with this full length version starring Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites as siblings who reunite eleven years after a mirror may, or may not, have caused the death of their parents in hopes of uncovering the truth.

The story is told through two different time frames (present day and eleven years earlier) with the two stories happening parallel to one another through the use of time jumps (and later hallucinations).
The story uses a very clever trick to establish two distinct view points to the nature of the mirror.
After the events of their childhood trauma Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) has spent the next eleven years in a mental institution being 'cured' of his 'delusion' that a mirror was responsible for his parents' descent into madness and subsequent deaths, while his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) has spent that time alone in the world plotting out a way to prove the mirror's malevolence and ultimately destroy it once and for all.  

Horror Films teach us to never move into a new house - EVER!
And also to never return to your childhood home - EVER!

Mirror, Mirror.  (The Mirror...On The Wall.)
While haunted or demonic mirrors are fairly common in the world of the supernatural never before have I seen one so well utilized as it plays with its victims perspective of what's real and playing on their own sense of reality, it's a horror film that excels at getting in your head and having a good poke around.
I have always found myself drawn to horror movies which deal with the matter of the mind, as reality is blurred and disorientated until it becomes difficult to differentiate between whether what is happening is real or a figment of the victims warped mind.
From the very start Oculus excels at offering two explanations to every incident, one of which is a more logical assumption to an apparently paranormal problem while the other suggests the powers of the mirror.
Naturally as the film progresses and the chaos escalates it becomes more and more difficult to believe in the rational explanation as the scale of each incident increases towards the film's ultimate climax (to both present day and 11 years ago situations) but for a great deal of the film almost all the early in childhood craziness is presented with rational and logical explanations. 

The general set up of Horror films often require characters to make needlessly stupid decisions (running up the stairs rather than out the front door to safety) but every single decision in Oculus is perfectly understandable and the few that are a little more questionable can be attributed to the mirrors influence (Did I just call for help or did the mirror just make me 'think' that I called for help?)
The two characters are never shown to take the mirrors threat lightly, setting up several well thought out precautions to protect themselves from its influence, but unfortunately the mirror is smart enough to find ways to use the precautions to its own advantage.
While the mirror's origin and source of power are never expressly revealed (The less you know, the more you fear) over the course of the film we (the audience) are able to assemble a detailed picture of just what the mirror is capable of and how it functions, from leeching the life from houseplants, to its means of self defense, the mirror is a menacing entity in its own right.

Its ultimate weapon is disorientation and this allows for both great horror moments (Think that's an apple you're eating?) and some of the films more surreal scenes such as past and present versions of the characters switching in and out of the current situation, the mirror is able to force the adult siblings to react like scared children by simply making them believe that they 'are' children.
The separate time frames that the film initially implements to inform the audience a) just what the mirror is capable of and b) inflicted upon Kaylie and Tim in the past devolves into a wibbly wobbly timey wimey nightmare (come on, it's Karen Gillan!!! That allows me at least one Doctor Who joke) as past and present collide in the final act

Kaylie sets up three cameras to monitor the mirror and record any signs of paranormal activity. Fortunately the film doesn't descend into the handheld/found footage formula but instead uses the footage to tell the audience a little more about the way in which the mirror can influence people without them realizing it which is a much better use of the devices in terms of storytelling.

See Yourself. (The Cast.)
While the cast is small (only focusing on four characters, played by six actors) the female cast is headed by two of my favourite actresses Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Katee Sackhoff (Riddick) both of whom are thankfully emerging from the world of TV to the film projects that they more than deserve, but the acting is strong from everyone in the ccast including (or especially) the two child actors who play the younger versions of the brother and sister (Annalise Basso as young Kaylie and Garrett Ryan as young Tim).
Rory Cochrane is compelling as the children's father who is slowly indoctrinated into becoming the mirror's puppet.
The sibling duo are well established as individual people as the film gives plenty of time to explore their unique mental states towards both the mirror and each other with each pitying the other for their 'delusion' towards their past.

I stated in my article that explored whether Horror Movies are as good as they used to be that character development is key to successful scary movie writing because if the audience doesn't care about a character then why would they be invested in whether or not they live or die? and Oculus at least seems to understand that simple truth as I found myself honestly caring about what would happen to these characters.

Seeing Is Believing. (Conclusions.)
While the film never reaches terrifying in terms of scares it is nonetheless able to build up an ever increasing sense of dread as the precautions that Kaylie has so carefully devised are slowly stripped away along with the character's sense of reality.
The film is well directed, well acted and incredibly edited and far too often horror films get looked down upon simply due the nature of the genre but Oculus is easily one of the smartest films I have ever seen, its small scale horror, only following (mainly) two characters (albeit in two different time periods) in (largely) a single location (albeit in two different time periods) but this allows time for the film to focus on these characters exploring their relationship with one another, who they are as individuals after the traumatic experiences of their childhood have impacted upon their lives before they are thrust back into the jaws of hell and mirror begins mangling their minds before it even begins to take an interest in mangling their bodies. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

My Hopes For Jurassic World

An Article 65 Million Years In The Making.

An Introduction. - ("Clever Girl")
A few weeks ago a friend and I got into a small debate over the decision to continue the Jurassic Park franchise which is set to see it's forth installment Jurassic World hit cinemas next year the film premise is as follows -
Twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar now features a fully functioning dinosaur theme park, Jurassic World, as originally envisioned by John Hammond. This new park is owned by the Masrani Corporation. Owen (Chris Pratt), a member of Jurassic World's on-site staff, conducts behavioral research on the Velociraptors. After many years, Jurassic World's attendance rates begin to decline, and a new attraction created to re-spark visitor interest gravely backfires.

The debate saw my rival questioning why big budget studios continue to make sequels, prequels and reboots to existing film series instead of investing in anything new while I took the stance that while in most case I would have agreed with her I felt that there was still a great deal of fascinating material that could come from another venture to Jurassic Park so long as the film didn't simply repeat what it had done in previous movies (okay the discussion wasn't quite so clear-cut as that makes it seem but for the purposes of an introduction to this article: that's exactly how it went).

This got me thinking about why I felt (and still feel) such a sense of optimism towards this newest instalment in a series of films that have had its share of ups and downs (I'm looking at you Jurassic Park 3!), Exactly what is it that I was hoping this new instalment would present me with. 

And so here are a few items that I strongly hope will make an appearance in Jurassic World:

1. More Dinosaurs. - ("A Six-Foot Turkey")
Okay so I'll admit that this is somewhat of a massively obvious choice and Jurassic World failing to add any new interesting dinosaurs would be a ridiculously difficult mistake to make and yet with the exception of the Spinosaurus (which served solely as a water-based T-Rex replacement) and the Pteranodons (which flew off with easily the best sequence of the film) Jurassic Park 3 failed to introduce any new interesting creatures instead simply using the Velociraptors and the Spinosaurus as the films recurring threat and then only throwing in a few shots of any other dinosaurs,
while in the 1993 original film each and every single dinosaur that was introduced had its own incredible screen presence from the flocking herd of Gallimimus fleeing from the the T-Rex, the sick Triceratops, the terrifying, venom spitting Dilophosaurus, to the big guy himself the Tyrannosaurus Rex each one left an impact and I only hope that Jurassic World's do the same.
A promotional map for the film has already revealed that Ankylosaurus, Apatosaurus, Baryonyx, Dimorphodon, Edmontosaurus, Gallimimus, Metriacanthosaurus, Microceratus, Mosasaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Pteranodon, Stegosaurus, Suchomimus, Triceratops, and Tyrannosaurus Rex will all be exhibits in Jurassic World (if you don't know what creature a few of those names belong to don't worry about it I doubt they'll all appear on screen) while the Velociraptors have also been confirmed to be returning and why wouldn't they? they're awesome!)

Apparently the films theme park will feature a lagoon location allowing for some previously unseen water based creatures that will hopefully allow the film to take the action in a new direction and introduce some memorable new monsters.

2. More Tyrannosaurus Rex. -  ("Mommy's Very Angry")
There are a lot of mistakes that were made by Jurassic Park 3 (The talking Velociraptor sequence is definitely one of them) but none that I find quite so difficult to forgive as the brutal murder of the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Do I understand why you did it? sure, you were trying to prove a point: the Spinosaurus is scary! Only it wasn't, It featured its own ringtone to cheerfully declare it's presence, stood quietly in the background not attacking until its prey was ready to pay attention to it, and was easily defeated in the final confrontation - Not Scary.

The T-Rex earned the audiences respect thanks to its incredible introductory scene that displayed its full terrifying power while the Spinosaurus expects to garner the same respect and it's position of the films Apex predator by simply stealing it through murdering the big girl. 
What's annoying (beyond the murdering) is that the Spinosaurs could have been as scary and impressive as the T-Rex but the film never gives the creature the time to develop and when it does have screen time the film makers decisions (such as the ringtone announcement) undermine its presence, and sure you could argue that the T-Rex that dies in JP3 was a sub-adult individual (possibly even the baby T-Rex from The Lost World Jurassic Park but that doesn't change the pathetic nature of its death

I demand that he be returned to his post of Jurassic Park's Iconic Monster, he doesn't necessarily need to be the films main threat, nor do I need to see the two titans go head-to-head one last time ending the way it should have first time around, but the big beauty does need to make a reappearance with a VENGEANCE!

3. References To John Hammond. - ("We Spared No Expense")
Legendary actor Richard Attenborough sadly passed away recently and as in his role of John Hammond the man introduced us to Jurassic Park with the immortal line 'Welcome To Jurassic Park' it would only be fitting for the film to pay some small homage to the man that began it all, be it a throwaway line or a statue or memorial located somewhere in the park.

4. References To Previous Installments - ("It's fine if you wanna put your name on something but STOP putting it on other people's headstones")
I'm not asking for Avengers level connectivity but some small mention of the history of the series would be welcome, it may be in the form of mentioning previous characters, the two islands (Isla Sorna and Isla Nublar), or the companies involved (InGen), even if Jurassic World just features the same style big gate that was so impact in the original just for the sake of world building, connecting the movies together and adding depth to the movies.

5. The Correct Balance Of Science Fiction, Adventure And Character Development. 
Not an easy line to walk, the first film managed to pull it off perfectly while the second instalment The Lost World: Jurassic Park explored the adventure element more prominently increasing the scale of everything (More Dinosaurs, More Action, Bigger Climax) but this came at the cost of the incredibly good character development of the original (with only Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum)'s trio Malcolm who was established pretty well by the first instalment, his girlfriend Sarah Harding and his daughter Kelly receiving any real development at all). While Jurassic Park 3....was not a good movie failing to manage any of these three key aspect particularly well (I would go as far to say the JP3 was awful but following the success of  the first and second instalments being simply good was never going to be enough).
Jurassic World needs to set up its world through Science Fiction, have something go horribly wrong to create Adventure, and needs to develop its characters well enough that we want to see them survive, the original Jurassic Park featured only 5 deaths but each one of those was memorable because we cared about or at least had a strong understanding of the characters so those deaths left a lasting impact.

6. Interesting Habitats. - ("It's A Veggiesaurus")
Naturally Jurassic Park's creatures are only as believable as the world that they dwell in, as the environment helps to create an atmosphere of realism by suggesting an Ecosystem that the dinosaurs follow like they did when they were the dominant species of the planet and  like today's living creatures do. So it is important that adequate attention is paid to the animals environment while adding touches that would be featured in an amusement park such Jurassic World including Observation Decks, Information Posts and Photography Spots to add a human element into the equation.

7. An Open And Fully Operational Jurassic Park. -  ("We Have All The Problems Of A Major Theme Park And A Major Zoo")
This might be the main source of my hope for this project, the idea of seeing Hammond's dream realized, a fully functioning Dinosaur Theme Park.
It's strange considering that the Jurassic Park film series is about a Dinosaur themed Theme-Park and yet we haven't once seen the park up and running, the first instalment saw the park go to hell before it actually opened while The Lost World: JP and JP3 featured romps through the jungle, and so Jurassic World will show us exactly what Jurassic Park was conceived to be, from the exhibits, the rides, the merchandise and the tour we will finally see what would have happened if life hadn't insisted in finding a way.

Conclusions. - ("Life Finds A Way")
So just why is it that i have such hopes for Jurassic World?
Perhaps it is because much like the fictional theme park itself my hopes are pure fantasy, my imagination running wild and no matter just how good the film is it will inevitably fail to live up to my expectations 

Or maybe it is because Jurassic Park represents one of the greatest, most influential movie moments in my life and the idea of continuing that legacy is incredibly welcome (even after the misstep that was Jurassic Park 3) in hopes of recreating the sense of awe that I felt all those years ago seeing that gigantic Brachiosaurus for the first time
There are very few Dinosaur based blockbusters and even fewer successful ones (honestly I can only think of The Jurassic Park Series and King Kong) so it is not exactly an overused concept there is still a great deal of potential and with the ever watchable Chris Pratt (Guardians Of Galaxy) in the lead role at least I can be sure the films characters will be entertaining enough and if the rest of the movie is able to build on the strengths of the series's previous installments while avoiding simply retreading old ground (as all good sequels should!) then Jurassic World has the possibility of being one of the best installments to an already pretty amazing franchise.

And there you have it boys and girls my hopes for Jurassic World, Is there anything in particular you are hoping to see when it hit theaters next year? Are you looking forward to it or slightly apprehensive about the continuation of the series? Leave a comment discussing your views and opinions below to let me know.  

Friday, 29 August 2014

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Welcome To BaSIN City. (An Introduction.)
Back in 2005 I fell in love with Sin City, I'm not sure if it was the unique visual style, the hard as nail characters or the Film Noir-esque of the world but I found myself enthralled and spent the next six months collecting and reading every single instalment of Frank Millers Sin City graphic novels, while recently I have been forced to sell them on (I'm a poor struggling writer) 
I remember each and every issue with a unique clarity unlike any other graphic novel I have ever read.
My favourite Basin City yarn was easily A Dame To Kill For (although Hell And Back was a close second and should we ever get a Sin City 3 [which due to the box office flop this instalment is turning out to be seems somewhat unlikely] I hope to see it adapted).
Now nearly 10 years after the release of the original film Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez have reunited to bring more tales from Basin City to the big screen (You made me wait long enough!) set before, during and after the events of the first film the fractured time-line allows for the return of several characters who were unlucky enough to die during the first movie. 

Spin Us A Yarn. (The Stories.)
The film is comprised of four individual stories with two narratives adapted from previous Sin City comics (Just Another Saturday Night, A Dame To Kill For) and two brand new stories that have been written by Frank Miller solely for the film (The Long Bad Night, Nancy's Last Dance). 
  • Just Another Saturday Night.

Marv (Micky Rourke) awakens in the midst of carnage, surrounded by crashed cars and dead bodies that he is apparently responsible for despite him having no memory of how he got there.

  • The Long Bad Night
Gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) breezes into Basin City and proceeds to win big at poker. Against the wrong man. Who proceeds to make his displeasure known, leaving Johnny swearing revenge.

  • A Dame To Kill For.
In which was Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin) (who appears completely different from his appearance in The Big Fat Kill in which he was portrayed by Clive Owen, but that's all part of the story) re encounters his old flame Ava Lord (Eva Green) (a Femme Fatale if there ever was one) who still holds an unhealthy grip on Dwight despite the fact that she dumped in for a wealthy tycoon years early, she now claims that she fears for her life and draws him into a power struggle within the Lord's Empire, but is she as helpless as she appears to be?
  • Nancy's Last Dance. 
Four Years after the events of 'That Yellow Bastard' which saw John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) take his own life in order to keep Nancy (Jessica Alba) safe from Senator Roarke's retaliation for Hartigan murdering his only son, Nancy struggles to cope with life without Hartigan and begins plotting retribution against the Senator.

The film follows the narrative structure of the first instalment with three main story lines, one of which is broken into two parts and an additional shorter narrative to open the movie, an issue the reuse of this structure raises is that while the 'That Yellow Bastard' story line from the 2005 original was separated into two parts it had no connections or ties to the other yarns and a large time jump between Part I & II meaning the break in the story represented the jump in years as Hartigan faces the cost of 'doing the right thing' this also allowed both parts to stand alone from the rest of tales happening around it, 
whereas splitting 'The Long Bad Night' into two parts despite there being no time jump at all between part I and II and it having close ties to the 'Nancy's Last Dance' story (such as reappearing characters) blurs the lines between the two stories causing the four story structure to lose some of its potency.

The film is also able to make good use of its running time making time for all four narratives in a way that prevents any of them seeming underutilised or underfed, While Nancy's Last Dance receives arguably the least set up all of the story's required development was pre-established back in That Yellow Bastard.

Blood Red. (Visuals.)
Another thing the original film did fanatically was to present audiences with images ripped straight from the pages (The Rooftop Kiss with the lady in red, Hartigan's angina attack, Marv's walk through the rain,) shots mirroring the composition of their paper-based counterparts, unfortunately 'Dame' has significantly less of these moments than its predecessor while this could be due to the fact that two of the four stories were written specifically for the film (meaning that the images never existed to adapt in the first place) even A Dame To Kill For and Just Another Saturday Night seem to feature these comic book moments less prominently which is disappointing as it was the striking images that caused an appreciation of the series in the first place.
Which is not to say that the visuals fail to impressive but back in 2005 at the time of its release Sin City's visual style was unique and new but since then audiences have been treated to a series of films such as 300, 300: Rise Of An Empire and The Spirit that seem to utilise their own graphic visual styles so it falls to the films big comic book moments to make it really stand apart from the rest and these are less prevalent here.

But once again the use of colourisation to punctuate a single coloured item amongst the black and white neo-noir atmosphere of the rest of the shot continues to work incredibly well, be it the colour of blood, a character's features (eyes, hair or lip stick), an outfit or in a specific case an entire character (in order to differentiate the twins Goldie and Wendy (Jaime King) one is portrayed in black and white while the other is shown in colour). It's this unique and dramatic visual style that gives Sin City a look entirely its own

No Saints Just Sinners. (The Cast.)
(Do you think any 'normal people' live in Basin City? 
Struggling single mothers? Office workers? Janitors? Teachers?
That sort of thing?)

The film is an ensemble cast with many actors and actors returning to the same roles they played nine years ago including Micky Rourke, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Jaime Kingnaturally the cast is far too large to mention everyone who contributes to making Basin City feel like a thriving metropolis 
but If the original Sin City film had a standout character (and trust me it did) it was undoubtedly Micky Rourke's Man-Mountain Marv who now returns to a much larger role appearing as a main character in three of the standalone stories (One of which is Marv centric) and makes a small appearance in the fourth, meaning he appears in all of 'Dames' tales and is just as enjoyable to watch as ever, in fact it's strange just how happy it made me to hear the narration grumpily mutter "When you got a condition, it's bad to forget your medicine" again.

Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon Levitt are welcome additions to the cast with Levitt playing gambler Johnny with the (perhaps over-) confidence of a man who is so used to winning that as a result fails to appreciate just what beating a man like Senator Roarke could cost him and Brolin taking on the role of pre-Clive Owen Dwight McCarthy as he struggles to keep his personal demons in check as a woman capable of sending him right back to the habits he is desperately trying to overcome breezes back into his life.  (Also Dwight falls. A LOT.)

Powers Boothe's Senator Roarke returns in a more prominent role than his brief appearance (in which his performance describing the nature of power ran off with the scene) in the first film with two of the movies major yarns featuring him as the main antagonist, and the man (or perhaps more likely the actor behind the man) is utterly terrifying, not just in the way he uses his position of power to swat his enemies as easily as swatting a flies but the man himself gives off a menacing presence of the corruption his power has inflicted upon him, a sequence in 'The Long Bad Night' involving nothing but a dark window and Roarke is more than unnerving than most recent horror films
(although I am sad to see his moustache shaved off during the four years That Yellow Bastard and Nancy's Last Dance/The Long Bad Night, it was damn impressive).

Dennis Haysbert steps into the role of Manute (Ava Lord's protector and wearer of a stylish golden eye) which was originally held by Michael Clarke Duncan who sadly passed away between films. Haysbert, however, does an excellent job of reprising the role and I barely noticed the change in actors at all.
Another character portrayed by a new actor/actress is Ninja/assassin Miho this time played by actress Jamie Chung as Devon Aoki who portrayed her in the original was experiencing her second pregnancy during filming

Christopher Lloyd joyfully makes an appearance as unlicensed Doctor Emmett Brown Kroenig who shoots heroin before attending to his patients with a 'the more you pay the better quality of your service' type service. 
Mob-Boss Wallenquist (Stacey Keach) also appears briefly simultaneously fulfilling a minor role in A Dame To Kill For, adding some depth the background of a The Big Fat Kill (that is set to occur after A Dame To Kill For) and laying the foundation for his appearance in Hell and Back (Even though that story may never make it to screen.)

The Women of Sin City come off significantly worse than the male characters with 97% (estimated) playing either strippers of prostitutes (Eva Green's Ava Lord and Lady Gaga's waitress seemingly the only two exceptions) who manipulate men through sex of their desire to protect them into doing their bidding.

Bond manipulator Eva Green stars as Ava Lord the afore mentioned Dame delivering a fine performance as the scheming Femme Fatale playing the role true to the source material as she adapts to each of her male victims individual desires, I only wish that the film made a greater attempt to disguise her manipulative ways into a greater reveal.

Nancy (Jessica Alba) is allowed to take centre stage (that's not a stripper pun) this time around with an entire narrative devoted to her character even if she spends most of it coming across as an emotional wreck spiralling towards self-destruction over the loss of a man she barely even knew it is still nice for the character to get a little more chance to develop beyond just dancing in the background of other character's scenes.

Haunting Hartigan. (Bruce Willis's Appearance in Nancy's Story Line)
While it's true that saying that Sin City is not true to real life is like saying that the Titanic suffered badly from damp (kind of a understatement) the (let's call them) elaborations are usually for the sake of stylised visuals, while the conclusion of the haunting Hartigan story-line (I won't reveal exactly what happens, but it was a tad surprising) despite being a very cool sequence puts 'Dame' into a whole new world of implausibility (his post death appearance isn't the result of a guilt addled or derange mind? He really is a ghost? Do ghost exist in the world of Sin City? Am I reading too much into this?), when Jackie Boy's head began having a conversation with Dwight back in The Big Fat Kill it was because Dwight was legitimately disturbed as the stress of the situation weighed on his mind, here it seems that Hartigan may actually be a ghost (very Sixth Sense) still it's a cool moment, and a surprising ending for the story-line (if not a little confusing). 

Violence Solves Everything. (The Action.)
While the films violence starts out delightfully gory and continues that way throughout it begins to lose its impact over the course of the film, it is thankfully saved from becoming monotonous by several impressive moments such as Marv pulling off several impressive kills including one that wouldn't be out of place in 'Game Of Thrones (you know the one I mean - Splat.), a awesome duel wielding (he has nothing on Koba) shotgun onslaught, more Miho madness, Johnny's shadow beating down a goon and the fight between Marv and Manute which having read the comic I had been ridiculously looking forward too didn't disappoint as the two went at one another like two heavyweights on pay-per-view.

The Hard Goodbye. (Conclusion.)
So our second (and quite possibly last) visit into Sin City was a successful one while sporting a few minor flaws (continuity between Nancy's Last Dance and The Hard Goodbye is a little fuzzy, and I would have ended Johnny's story a little differently) and not as innovative or shocking as its predecessor Dame is a welcome return to the lives of the inhabitants of BaSIN City and the unique visuals of their world, the first film was truly a graphic novel brought to life and its sequel does everything in its power to live up to that title; expanding on characters and stories seemingly only touched upon by the original in hopes of adding more depth to their world.
As provocative, visceral and violent as the first batch of tales from the world I first fell in love with I only wish they hadn't made me wait almost a decade for the second. 

And now I will begin my campaign to ensure that the film is financially successful enough that we will get to see a Sin City 3, and after I pull off that miracle, maybe I'll go punch out God.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

A-Holes Assemble! (An Introduction.)
A Thief, An Assassin, Two Thugs and a Maniac walk into a bar.....
And here we have the last film of Marvel's Phase 2 before the phase ends with The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy is also the first new property to be introduced in Phase 2 (which has been otherwise entirely composed of sequels to Phase 1 films) and as I have mentioned previously in my articles about the superhero genre (It's Marvel-ous and Masks, Capes and Bloody Fists) that Guardians could have potentially been the most dangerous instalment in Marvel's current run of movies due to just how far out there the films concept is when compared to other Marvel stories.
Until now the most science fiction-ee fantasy-ee character has been Thor and now audiences are being introduced to a Galaxy of crazy including (but not limited to) a talking tree and a talking raccoon but incredibly Marvel have once again pulled it off.

When thief Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) steals a mysterious orb desired by the villainous Ronan (lee Pace) he is forced into a partnership with ex assassin Gamora (Zoe Salanda), Drax (Dave Bautista) a revenge driven brute, a humanoid tree creature called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and a trigger happy Raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) in hopes of passing the orb off to a buyer before it leads to their deaths, but when the group becomes aware of the orbs true power they must make a last desperate stand with the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance. 

The film is directed by James Gunn a newcomer to the Marvel Universe who's previous work included films such as 'Slither' and 'Super' with 'Guardians' being his blockbuster debut and the man shows real talent because the film is phenomenal! 
From its surprisingly emotional opening until the closing credits (and beyond: Post credit sequence) the film carries real heart and emotion (in my second viewing a particular sequence got me feeling all emotional and I had seen the outcome once already!), the film is brilliantly funny (in fact much funnier than I expected it to be) being consistently comedic throughout and boasts fantastic action sequences, in fact I would go as far to say that it is easily one the best Marvel films to date and considering I regarded Marvel's last (cinematic universe) film Captain America: The Winter Soldier as being one of their best to date I think its fair to say the future looks bright indeed. 

Hooked On A Feeling. (Finding it's Place AS the Marvel Universe.)
It's surprising just how small this new installment into the Marvel canon leaves us feeling about the scope of Marvel's universe up until this point, not that Guardians leaves the previous stories feeling inconsequential, but up until this point Phase 1&2 have been set primarily on earth (with a few trips into the nine realms courtesy of Thor&Thor: The Dark World) but now Marvel begins to tread into a infinity larger universe.

I would ask how the universe of 'Guardians' works in collaboration with the Nine Realms (is it a realm itself? is it part of a single realm? is it the space between realms? am I reading to much into this?) but I fear the answer would make my brain bleed: (if you should happen to know the answer and can word it in a way that doesn't blow my tiny mind please leave a comment below) 

I Am Groot. (I Am Groot.)
I Am Groot.

Let's Be Bad Guys. (The Characters.)
Guardians is a strange film compared to Marvel's other line-up because like The Avengers it is an ensemble piece where as all the other Marvel films (Bar the Avengers) have revolved around a single hero but unlike the Avengers the films character have not been introduced individually previously, so the film has to introduce audiences to five brand new characters from scratch while setting up a vast universe of different races, cultures and planets, Not easy. 

- There's Another Name You Might Know Me By. (Star Lord.)
There is no arguing that Chris Pratt's Star Lord/Peter Quill carries a strong resemblance to heroes like Indiana Jones and Han Solo who breezed cool, battling evil with a coy smile and a witty one-liner, charismatic and yet a slight oddball with his childhood on earth filling him with stories and phrases the rest of the universe cannot understand (The Legend Of Kevin Bacon).
Chris Pratt is fast becoming a household name through his appearances in blockbusters such as The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel Jurassic World, while completely deserving his ever growing fame bringing such a sense of fun to the screen and while Guardians is is first leading role in a live action blockbuster his performance will certainly guarantee him many more in the future.

- Going Green. (Gamora.)
Zoe Salanda plays Gamora the adopted (in a manner of speaking) daughter of the titan Thanos (His version of adoption involves murdering your parents and subsequently your planet before your very eyes: he's a fun guy) but having grown disgusted by the actions of her dear-ol-dad plans to betray him and strike out on her own, with Zoe Salanda playing Gamora as very vulnerable as she tries to rediscover her sense of right and wrong following years of serving under those with little regard for the concept of either.

- Metaphorically Challenged. (Drax The Destroyer.)
If there is one actor who's performance succeeded in defying my expectations it is Dave Bautista's Drax The Destroyer, I had seen Bautista act only once before in Riddick and while his performance wasn't bad his role was little more than the muscle bound henchman so I was surprised to find just how enjoyable and complex this role of Drax is, providing many of the films funniest lines due to his inability to grasp metaphors ("Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it".) in fact I'm pretty sure that if Marvel ever does reach a Guardians/Avengers cross-over stage watching Tony Stark and Drax try to have a conversation may be one of the funniest things of all time, and yet his character also is largely sympathetic as he crusades for vengeance for his wife and daughter who were murdered at the hands of Ronan.

- Ain't No Thing Like Me, Except Me. (Rocket Raccoon.) 
Guardians's largest hurdles were always going to be presenting an audience with a talking raccoon and a talking tree in a way which wouldn't seem utterly implausible (good will and suspension of disbelief greatly helping of course.) and a large deal of the success of these two characters (and they Are two of the films biggest success's) can be attributed to the characters voice actors with Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper.
Rocket is the unique product of illegal genetic testing on  "lower-lifeforms" (in this case a Raccoon) and despite being somewhat of a genius (where weapons are concerned) his animal origin leads many other characters to look down of him adding a degree of complexity to the character as he constantly feels unappreciated and belittled by others, this combined with his healthy desire to blow things into tiny bits  makes him a somewhat trigger happy individual.

- I Am Groot. (Groot.) 
Groot is a sentient tree creature that serves as Rocket's muscle voiced by Vin Diesel despite only having a three word vocabulary consisting of 'I' and 'am' and 'Groot' exclusively in that order but despite his limited linguistic options Vin Diesel and the effects team are able to portray a great deal of emotion through the delivery of those three simple lines but what would you expect from the voice of the Iron Giant? 
Groot's personality is also largely helped by the fact that Rocket begins unintentionally translating for him meaning that each "I am Groot" has its own unique sentence and meaning behind it even if Rocket is the only person capable of understanding it. 

- You Stand Accused. (Ronan The Accuser.) 
The one area in which Marvel's cinematic universe seems to struggle these days is that their films lead villains often seem under developed (with the exception of Loki but he has had two films devoted to his motivation which basically consisted of 'I want to be King!") and here once again the villain feels underused, but to be fair the film is required to set up the world, five main characters, numerous side characters, the races, the technology and so the naturally the slack is going to be felt somewhere and while Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace)'s motives do not require much explanation (he is out to destroy the planet Xandar because his race (the Kree) have a long and bloody history with the Xandarians) and in a way the little screen time devoted to him is a blessing as the single minded emotionless, stiffness of his performance sets up one of the films best jokes.

- Lovable Misfits. (The Rest.)
Michael Rooker plays Michael Rooker....sorry Yondu, a blue alien who is the leader of a pirate-like army known as the ravengers and Peter Quill's former mentor, now double-crossed by Quill (who takes the orb for himself) he places a bounty on his ex-protege's head, Michael Rooker has always been a hugely enjoyable actor to watch (who didn't love to hate him as Merle Dixon on The Walking Dead?) and once again he spends the entire film apparently enjoying every moment of the role and proves to be pretty deadly with his arrow.
Benicio Del Toro also returns as The Collector following on from his introductory post credit sequence at the end of Thor: The Dark World and while his role goes little beyond explaining the Orb's power and origin his appearance does add a great sense of scale to Guardians as the scope of his collection creates both numerous Easter-Eggs and a feel of the universe scale and variety.
Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou) are servants of Ronan adding a few more foes for the Guardians to face off against, Korath works well as a lead henchman while Nebula's inclusion seems to be more about setting her up for future appearances in the Marvel/Guardians universe.

Awesome Mix Vol. 1. (The Music.)

Guardians also has the most unique use of soundtrack compared to any other Marvel movie as Star Lord uses the his tape player taken along with him from earth to play classic songs from the Eighties while the music is diegetic sound (part of the film world) the film dramatically blares it louder than life to dramatize key moments (such as Peter Quill escaping a space prison jet-packing through space to Escape - The PiƱa Colada Song or planning for the big battle to Cherry Bomb.)
In fact my favorite scene of the film is the opening title sequence as Chris Pratt's Star Lord dances his way through an Indiana Jones-esc tomb to 'Come And Get Your Love' by Redbone oblivious to the destruction around him lost in the song.
The soundtrack also features other 80's classics such as Blue Swede's Hooked On A Feeling, as well as songs by David Bowie, The Jackson 5 and The Runaways.

A Bunch Of Jackasses Standing In A Circle (References.)
It wouldn't be a Marvel film without references to other characters in the cinematic universe and while the films distance from both Earth and Asgard should limit the connection to many of Marvels other movies the nods to here are a few that I noticed.
  • The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) returns after his Thor: The Dark World after credits appearance.
  • Laura Haddock who plays Peter Quill’s terminally ill mother Meredith Quill appears in Captain America: The First Avenger asking after Caps autograph.
  • The Collectors collection features: Cosmo The Space Dog, A Dark Elf From Thor: The Dark World, a Chitauri from The Avengers, a cocoon rumoured to hold Adam Warlock (which was also glimpsed in Thor: The Dark World's post credit scene), and Howard The Duck.
  • Thanos's speaker The Other (once again played by Alexis Denisof) returns after his appearance in The Avengers
  • Thanos (now voiced and motion captured by Josh Brolin) returns after his Avengers Post Credits appearance in a much more prominent role possibly gearing up towards The Avengers 3. 
  • We are introduced to the Third (confirmed) Infinity Stone of the Marvel Universe (The Forth if it does turn out that Loki's Sceptre holds the mind stone).
  • Stan Lee makes his regular cameo.
  • (Rumours also state that Beta-Ray Bill a horse faced Alien that can wield the power of Thor is also stated to be held within Tivan's collection but this has so far gone unconfirmed)
  • (In a Marvel unrelated cameo one of the Slugs from James Gunn's previous movie Slither can be seen)

I Am Groot. (I Am Groot.)
I Am Groot.

You Gotta Go Through Us. Or More Accurately, We Go Through You. (The Action.)
I feel like Space Battles are becoming rare in science fiction blockbusters, sure Star Wars used to do it well, and the recent Star Trek films had some great sequences in which two ships blow big holes out of one another but it seems rare to see two armies of space faring vessels at war, in recent years Serenity had a fantastic but short battle, while one of  Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith's only redeeming features was the opening engagement but beyond those no other film really jumps to mind, So Guardian's final act featuring an impressive sequence in which The Guardians, Yondu and his army of Ravengers and the Nova Corps attempt to fend off Ronan's army (a sequence that looked utterly fantastic in 3D) is a welcome scene but it's not just space-warfare that Guardians does well Guardians features a strong variety of unique action sequences that make the most of the characters individual styles and strengths.
(Also there is a gun named the Hadron Enforcer.... so cool.)

You're Welcome. (Conclusions.)
I'm sorry DC (I'm not sorry) but I think you've lost. 

With Marvel now able to earn over 90 million in the opening weekend and more importantly a fantastic film from a comic which features a space-faring, talking raccoon while you still worry that Wonder Woman will be too strange for audiences to appreciate leads me to believe that you're done, it may be over. 
In fact DC's rush to imitate Marvel Cinematic Universe seems sloppy by comparison because Marvel have earned their current place through Individual character stories that sets up the Marvel cinematic universe as a functioning 'Universe' and Guardians is another welcome addition to that world, increasing the franchises possible future films in a hundred different directions (but Howard The Duck? Seriously?) 

So just how good is Guardians?
Well currently I have seen the film twice at the cinema (seemingly an unspoken tradition when it comes to marvel films) and I would more than happily go and see it a third time, perhaps even a fourth.
If the film suffers anywhere it that the film threatens to fall into the routine of previous Marvel films final battle in the air, a main character dies but then doesn't but the film is so fun to watch these narrative repeats are barely noticed.
It's a film about friendship, how others can bring out the best in people and help shape them into being more than they were individually, its a space opera in its purest form, its own unique universe that will be built on in future installments but most importantly of all Guardians is a hell of a lot of fun. 

I Am Groot. (I Am Groot.)
I Am Groot.