GLOW: Grappling with the Glass Ceiling

Back in the 1980s, wrestling dominated on the airwaves with the excitement from the WWF (these days known as WWE). Fans watched as big personalities like Hulk Hogan, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, and “Macho Man” Randy Savage would take to the ring and battle it out. However, there was one outlet that promised something different. This was a group known as GLOW, or Glorious Ladies of Wrestling. Created by David B. McLane, GLOW ran from 1986 through 1990. It featured plenty of high-flying wrestling matches, along with some comedy sketches for a bit of added fun and an off-color attitude to stand apart from the Reagan-Era wholesomeness. The bigger feature, however, were the wrestlers. All of them were women, made up of actresses and stuntwomen who were looking for their big break in a field that barely gave them any. For them, this was their chance in the spotlight, a big thing considering how women’s wrestling was for the longest time viewed as nothing more than a sideshow. It is this outlet which had caught the attention Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, creators of the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Seeing the potential in crafting a tale about a fictionalized version of the wrestling group, their new Netflix series GLOW serves as an effective look inside the world of wrestling and of women struggling to break out of the restrictive mold.

In the city of Los Angeles in 1985, Ruth Wilder is desperate for her break. She spends day after day going to auditions for minor bit roles, then goes to a scene study workshop where even the other students are bored. For all of her work, she is stuck in a dinky little apartment with barely any cash in her bank account. Then, she gets her opportunity when she is informed about an audition for “offbeat women”. This audition, it turns out, is for the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling, led by skeezy B-movie director Sam Sylvia and rich manchild Sebastian Howard. Amid the tensions over just how to present this new wrestling show, Ruth and the other women (such as the serious-minded stuntwoman Cherry Bang and kind-hearted Carmen Wade) see this as their opportunity to make something of their own. However, there is an additional wrench in the works. Brought in to be the show’s star face is Debbie Eagen, a former best friend of Ruth who now hates Ruth for sleeping with her husband. Now, they must deal with their tension as they fight to make something of this shot, that tension being fodder to Sam as the makings of a great in-ring rivalry.

As their follow-up creation to Orange is the New Black, Flahive and Mensch have a wonderful to series on their hands. The show expertly weaves its way through comedy and drama, relishing in the fun of developing its big spectacle world of wrestling while looking at the grit in the lives of its performers and creators. The series is well-acted, with a cast that is ready to deliver. Alison Brie, for instance, works well in capturing the well-rounded nature of Ruth Wilder. She displays her desperation, playing her with an exhaustion in her form but a spark in her eyes that lights up at the merest performing opprtunity. Marc Maron also works well as Sam Sylvia, delivering all the rough edges of a filmmaker who justifies his vulgar and sleazy B-movies with artistic pretensions and wears his sexism on his sleeve. Even as he has his moments when he recognizes his own dickish behavior and tries to act better than that, he serves as a sort of reminder of the hurdles that these women find themselves facing.

For a lot of the women in this series, the struggle to have something of their own is all too real. For instance, Ruth’s attempts in auditions have her purposefully misreading a man’s part in a desperate play to be notice, only to find it already given to someone else. For Debbie, she finds herself trapped in her marriage, as her husband tries to mend things but from a viewpoint concerning himself and finding herself without a home if she tries to go for a divorce. Even a chance with GLOW has hurdles of its own, with Howard and Sylvia’s guiding practice of stereotypes for their wrestlers. This is particularly a problem for women like Arthie Premkumar and Jenny Chey, whose respective wrestling personas as Beirut the Mad Bomber and Fortune Cookie are all wrapped up in negative racial stereotypes. Still, even as this chance possesses shades of exploitation, this is their shot. As these women practice their moves and develop their wrestling personas, there is a satisfaction in watching them be able to create for once. Whether or not this chance in wrestling is truly empowering or merely exploitative, this is still a chance where these women stand in the spotlight. They are the ones who get to lead, and not merely play bit roles. For them, when they step into the ring, they get to be the headliners.

In real life, GLOW stood apart from the pack thanks to its particular focus on presenting women wrestlers as major talents. In this new series, GLOW looks outside of the ring at the impact of these women getting their chance to make something of their own and shine at a time when they were still being kept aside.

The Vision: Ultron Made Him, and Therefore Let Him Pass as a Man

In the realm of fiction, the subject of artificial intelligence is one that has a mixed history of interpretations. For instance, there are plenty of stories where robots are a regular part of the world, serving and helping out people. Just as often, however, there are stories of robots becoming violent, turning against their creators and seeking to exterminate mankind. This split of approaches is also something that turns up in the world of Marvel Comics, though there is an interesting line in this conflict. When scientist Hank Pym took a try at creating a robot, the result became Ultron, a classic foe of the Avengers who seeks to destroy all mankind and take over the world. However, when Ultron attempted to create his own robot to kill the Avengers, the resulting creation broke away from him and became the hero known as the Vision. This recurring theme, of robots breaking away from their intended purpose for good or ill, is a fascinating idea to examine. In fact, it serves as an influence on Marvel’s recent comic series The Vision, which explores the idea as part of a sharply-written psychological drama.

Though the Vision has certainly proved his humanity in saving the Earth time and again, there is a part of him that still yearns to feel human. Well, what is more human than family? Returning to the lab where he was once created, the Vision sets upon his plan. First, he creates a wife for himself that he names Virginia. Then, he creates mixed brain patterns from the two of them to use as the templates for their children, a boy named Vin and a girl named Viv. With his family now made, the Vision sets up their new life in Washington D.C. as a liaison between the Avengers and the President. Vin and Viv spend their days like normal teenagers going to school, while Virginia remains at home to fill the role of wife for which she was built. However, there is something the reader learns early on: everything is going to go wrong. Something will happen that will bring ruin upon the family. Now, as they deal with the fears and prejudices of neighbors afraid of their robotic nature and tensions rise in the roles of their family, the Vision does what he can to make this family work…by any means.

This series makes for a gripping read. Tom King’s writing is top-notch as he unfolds his tale of failed intentions. He takes his time to weave his story, building from small moments that add towards the major incident. Small key details are crafted not only for world-building, but to pay off along the way. The atmosphere is tense, not only through the narration which warns of the eventual fate, but also through the growing prejudice and concern aimed squarely at Vision and his family. This mood is complimented by Michael Walsh’s artwork, which offers a clean and clear approach. The clean sketchwork and more natural colors offer a visual that would fit normally for a suburban location like that in this series. However, the approach also lends the series a certain coldness, fitting with its robotic main characters and lending the more horrific moments more punch in their execution. In fact, those horrific moments burst with a pulse of emotion that make them stand out in that clinical art style. It goes along with a central theme that seems to present itself throughout the story: the conflict of being machine and being human.

For the Vision, he sees that what makes humanity human is the “illogical pursuit of the unobtainable”, the drive to bring meaning to a meaningless existence. For instance, his current pursuit of fighting crime as a superhero is something that might be perceived as illogical. After all, crime will still happen and arise time and again. However, that does not stop him from trying to improve the world by battling evil. Likewise, the Vision’s pursuit of becoming human by having this family falls into this illogical pursuit. He believes that having this family, of following the societal idea of what a family is, will help him to be more human. In truth, creating this family will not instantly make him feel more human. For one, they must contend with the hatred from their neighbors that stem from fears about these robots next door. More than that, however, is that the members of the Vision’s family have their own feelings and concerns in all of this. Virginia is stifled in her role as housewife, while Vin and Viv’s schooldays bring them face to face with the prejudices that others have. These factors, along with Vision’s own attempts to maintain this perfect image of family, threaten to bring the series’s ticking time bomb to a frightening reality. Of course, in trying to create this perfect family and coming face to face with its result, the Vision might just be more human than he thinks. After all, the idea of a perfect family is a lovely, but it is just as unobtainable as a world without crime. Still, a good family, if not necessarily a perfect one, might be worth fighting for.

Throughout fiction, robots have had a way of working free from their creators, for good or for ill. In the case of The Vision, the titular hero’s encounter with this as he pursues the idea of family helps to show that he is more human than he thinks.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Remade, Regrown, Revitalized

If one were to bring up the subject of movie remakes, there generally tends to be a unifying call among people: no more. For most, a remake seems like a lazy attempt to cash in on a familiar name. It seems like it is a choice to avoid taking any risk on a new idea, instead retreading the familiar and potentially creating an inferior version of the same product. In truth, a remake is not an inherently bad prospect. True, sometimes it is done merely as an act of business by using that familiar name to get people into the theaters. However, a remake can result in something good. It could take a past film which had a good idea but flawed execution, and better realize its potential. It could expand and better showcase ideas hinted or suggested at with an earlier work. That is the case for one such remake. Back in 1956, a movie called Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released and became one of the sci-fi classics of its era, serving as an effective piece of anti-Communist (or anti-McCarthyist, depending on your interpretation) paranoia. Then, in 1978, it was remade, the result being a chilling tale that examines the subject through the lens of ’70s cynicism and “Me Decade” ideas.

In the city of San Francisco, Elizabeth Driscoll thinks that something is wrong. Her boyfriend, Geoffrey, has begun to act differently. He is colder, more distant to her. She turns to a colleague, Matthew Bendell, for help in trying to find out just what has happened. As they do, however, they discover something truly odd: duplicates seeming to form, baring a resemblance to people that they know and linked to a strange plant that has begun to pop up. As they try to understand this, they discover the truth: people are not who they seem. More and more people are being replaced with these alien copies when they fall asleep, the originals destroyed. It is not just normal people being replaced, either. This duplicates have infiltrated into positions of power, as well. Now, they seek to replace humanity and claim our world as theirs. With the threat of the world hanging in the balance, Elizabeth and Matthew set out to stop the spread of these duplicates. Of course, can they trust the people around them, or have they already fallen prey to the body snatchers?

This film is an example of a good remake. It takes the paranoia built into the core idea of people being replaced by emotionless copies and expands upon it with the execution. For instance, early in the film, most of the city is packed with the sort of natural noise that can arise from people rushing about. However, as more and more people are replaced, that ambient noise grows quieter. In addition, the performances of these copies are strong, delivering on a sense of otherness that make their detached attitudes all the more chilling. Along with that, the upgrade in effects better showcases aspects of the copying process that were merely hinted at in the original. For instance, the original film was somewhat limited in showing the copy development, mostly displaying opening pods and vaguely human forms in them. In this version, the copies grow and form through a stage of uncanny development, while the originals are leeched upon as they sleep. As for the destruction of the originals, their decayed and broken husks are a chilling portrayal of the end result of anyone copied by these body snatchers. Of course, effects are one thing. The bigger point, however, is in how this remake uses the idea of the body snatchers to explore its own avenue of thought.

While the original film was focused on fears of the 1950s, this iteration is rooted in concerns of the 1970s. For instance, the ’70s was a period of time sometimes regarded as the “Me Decade”, because the communal ideals of the ’60s gave way to self-centered pursuits concerning changing oneself. In essence, there was a shift from fixing society to fixing individuals. In this film, the aliens present their takeover as a better alternative to humanity’s natural state. They offer a world that is free from fear and hate…but also free from love. Thus, their takeover is presented almost as a chilling allegory about the temptation in changing oneself by essentially checking out of the big picture. Along with that, a distrust of government and authority festered into the 1970s. Situations like the Vietnam War and Watergate prompted a suspicion in the public about authority, and this film channels those concerns into the fears it presents. Elizabeth and Matthew do try to use the authorities to combat the spread of these body snatchers, but even the police and local government figures have been infiltrated by these aliens stalling their efforts. Even a self-help guru they turn to for assistance seems more like a modern-day snake oil salesman instead of a useful authority figure. Thus, this paranoia about alien invaders represents the era’s fears of those in power.

Though the idea of a movie remake may sound bad to the general public, a well-crafted remake can take the ideas of the original and deliver them with a new shine and skill. The 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers takes the core concept of an alien takeover with emotionless copies, but trades out the original film’s 1950s fears for an exploration of ’70s concerns.

Wonder Woman: Wonderful Idealism Versus Accepted Injustice

In the history of comics, there has been no female superhero that has had a lasting impact on popular culture quite like Wonder Woman. First created by William Moulton Marston back in 1941 as a hero who would fight with love rather than being solely focused on fighting, Wonder Woman has since become a major source of feminist inspiration. Skilled in the art of war but with a mission devoted to peace and love, she stands as one of DC Comics’s greatest heroes, right alongside Superman and Batman. However, even as she has her place in popular culture, Wonder Woman herself has not had a lot of material of her own outside of comic books. Aside from a 1970s television series that starred Lynda Carter and appearances in several cartoons concerning the Justice League, Wonder Woman has not had much to call her own. At long last, she finally has been brought to the big screen as part of the DC Cinematic Universe in her own film. Thankfully, the wait has been worth it. Wonder Woman captures the appeal of its hero, delivering not only on good action but also viewing her idealistic desire to help in the face of grim and commonplace evil.

On the island of Themyscira, the Amazons live hidden away from the rest of the world. Chief among them is Diana, princess and daughter of Queen Hippolyta. She yearns to live like the other Amazons and learn the ways of combat, something Hippolyta is hesitant about. Though she does give in and let Diana learn under the tutelage of their chief general Antiope, something arrives that shakes their peaceful existence: the accidental arrival of Steve Trevor, an American spy. He reveals that the world is consumed in the midst of the Great War, with millions suffering and dying. Believing that Ares (the God of War) is behind this wide-scale slaughter, Diana decides to leave her peaceful home behind so that she can get Steve back to his superiors and hunt down Ares. Thus, Diana finds herself in the world of mankind for the first time, encountering its very different ways. In particular, she finds herself confronted with the sorrows of war and the cruelty inflicted by people like the victory-obsessed General Ludendorff and the psychotic Dr. Poison. Still, even as the suffering seems so widespread and immeasurable, Diana will do what she can to battle against this injustice and bring peace back to mankind.

Wonder Woman’s first film of her own is a very good first entry. In the title role, Gal Gadot delivers an excellent job as Wonder Woman. She captures both the power that she delivers in her fight against evil, but also the heart that cares for people and seeks to bring peace. The rest of the cast also works well, in particular Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. He works as a nice complement and counterpoint to Wonder Woman, similarly wanting to bring peace but more beaten down by the war’s cruelty. As for the film itself, it delivers on plenty of elements. For instance, it is able to take Diana’s fish-out-of-water qualities and explore them for both serious and comedic elements, such as showing her serious condemnation of the war in a grave moment or playing with her reaction to societal gender views in a more comedic beat. Along with that, the film delivers on some very good action sequences. In particular, a sequence of Wonder Woman charging through No Man’s Land to save a village from potential destruction not only offers thrilling action as she battles against these military forces, but it also shows her actually being a hero and saving lives. In fact, that brings up a big and interesting point the film explores: her battle against banal evil.

Even though there are specific villains in the film like General Ludendorff and Dr. Poison, it almost feels as if the true enemy is that of banal evil. By this, I mean the cruelties and injustices that occur simply because people accept that is how things are. In the case of this film, it displays the cruelty of war as shown with its setting in World War I. It is widespread and awful, and it is not the sort of evil that can simply be extinguished by taking down one foe. Its sheer scope is enough to wear down most, such as Steve Trevor’s initial insistence on just sticking to a core mission. For Wonder Woman, however, each act of suffering she witnesses breaks her heart and she cannot simply stand by. She must battle this injustice. In turn, her courage in fighting this injustice inspires Steve Trevor and a band of other soldiers to aid her in this fight. True, this banal evil is widespread, even accepted by many as simply part of the more cruel part of mankind. However, Wonder Woman does not simply accept that cruel half. Sure, mankind has the potential for great suffering, but they also possess the capacity for great compassion and love. That is what she fights for, and that is what she stands for: a light of hope, beaming through the darkness of despair and cynicism.

Though the DC Cinematic Universe may have begun on rocky footing, it at last has a strong entry of its own with Wonder Woman. Not only is it a fun and thrilling ride, it captures the spirit of its hero well with her battle against the banal evils of wartime.

Deadpool – Bad Blood: Party Like It’s 1991

Rob Liefeld is a controversial figure in the world of comic books. A self-taught artist who would propel Marvel titles like New Mutants and X-Force into newfound levels of popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s,  he would also go on to co-found Image Comics, a company that has since grown to become one of the premiere independent comic book companies. However, the man himself has become one of the most divisive figures in his field. On one hand, his work presents an evocative storytelling style, one that grabs the attention and was certainly like lightning in a bottle when he struck in the late ’80s. On the other hand, his art is generally seen as terrible, his character designs suffering from such flaws as over-muscled and with miniscule feet. There are also complaints about his use of multiple splash pages instead of multi-panel sections, leaving a feeling like he is drawing pin-ups instead of truly presenting the story.  Of course, it is not as if he stopped working after the ’90s. He has still been working on plenty of titles. In fact, he has recently teamed up with writers Chris Sims and Chad Bowers (who had worked on the short but fun X-Men ’92 comic series) to work on a graphic novel, centered around a character that Liefeld co-created. That character is Deadpool and the graphic novel is Deadpool: Bad Blood, a solid story that reads like a better-written title from the ’90s, warts and all.

Ever since going through the experimental procedure that gave him an incredible healing factor yet riddled with tumors, Wade Wilson has been spending his days as the infamous mercenary known as Deadpool. For the right price, he will take on any job and he is ready to face whatever pain might come his way. However, there is a certain thorn in his side that is really beginning to irritate him. It is a huge bruiser by the name of Thumper, and he seems singularly focused on one goal: beat Deadpool into a bloody pulp. After having healed from certain death several times now, Deadpool is ready to finally put this to an end. Of course, he wants to know just how to stop this brute, and he decides to find out just where he came from. However, this pulls on a thread from his own past, one that could make the fight with Thumper tougher and more personal than expected.

This graphic novel reads like a better written comic book from the ’90s. I mean this in both good and bad ways. For instance, Rob Liefeld’s art style does have some quirks and weaknesses that have remained from his early days. His work with feet is still iffy, though better than it had been, and there are portions when he relies a bit much on splash pages. There are even portions where there is a full character on display in front of a blank white background, as if it were an art display and not part of the story. That said, there are definitely improvements to his art. His character design is less exaggerated and unnatural and his costume design is less cluttered, pulling back from his excesses while maintaining the strong appearances he offers. The results are characters that feel more streamlined and naturalistic, while still recognizably drawn by him. That, in turn, helps his own sequential storytelling to be clearer and more concise. Complementing that is Sims and Bowers’s writing, which captures the rhythm and pace of an early ’90s comic book while avoiding a lot of the pitfalls and problems that plagued those stories. Really, the main thing that might turn people off of this story is its version of Deadpool, which hews closer to what Liefeld has co-created.

When most people think of Deadpool, they think of the jokes and the fourth-wall breaking. However, those aspects of Deadpool were not always there. When Rob Liefeld and writer Fabian Nicieza co-created Deadpool back in 1991, he was envisioned as a character that was somewhat like Spider-Man with swords and guns. True, there were wisecracks and one-liners that he would deliver, but that hardly meant that he was a comedic character. Plenty of action movie heroes from the ’80s were known for one-liners, but their core was still in a serious place. Such was the case for Deadpool. It was not until later writers like Joe Kelly and Christopher Priest got their hands on Deadpool that he was injected with the humorous components that have since become core to his character. Those expecting that more humorous anti-hero, however, might be disappointed. This graphic novel is based moreso on that early version of Deadpool, a more serious assassin who could spit out one-liners while he mowed his foes down. It goes along with the early ’90s feel that permeates this graphic novel, but it is also a factor that might not fit for some people.

Depending on who you talk to, Rob Liefeld is either an eyesore in the comics scene or an artist that was the man for his moment. His artwork definitely shows improvements in the solidly-made graphic novel Deadpool: Bad Blood, but some of the quirks in his artwork and the book’s version of Deadpool might turn some off from it.

Dropsy: A Warm Heart in a Creepy Clown

Oftentimes, the twisting of expectations is a storytelling element that can offer a punch to something familiar or a dose of irony to throw the audience off-kilter. In horror stories, for example, it is a common tactic to take something that is cute or innocent and twist it into something malevolent and creepy. Nothing shines more for this tactic than the clown. Traditionally a fun-loving figure associated with the circus, plenty of horror stories present clowns that are horrifying monsters or depraved killers. Of course, sometimes a twist can go on for so long that it is more shocking to play it straight. These days, the idea of a non-ironic clown is a far rarer find instead of the monster clown that pops up like clockwork. Perhaps the strongest punch, then, might be to capture a flavor of both versions. That is part of the charm in an indie adventure game known as Dropsy. Within the confines of its world and gameplay, it plays around with a sweet sentimental nature and bursts of the morbid, walking a tightrope that is exemplified by the game’s main character.

Dropsy is a clown who once had a carefree life at the circus, living with his father and acrobat mother. However, all of that changed with a mysterious fire. A horrifying blaze had brought tragedy to the circus, killing several people including Dropsy’s mom. Most of the town near this circus came to blame Dropsy for the fire. After all, he does not look like a normal person to them. His grin lacks several teeth, his arms are floppy limbs that lack hands, and he does not even seem to speak. For most, they just saw him as a monster. As the years go by, Dropsy and his father still live in the ruined remains of the burnt-out circus. He spends his days helping out his father and taking on tasks to assist him. As he does this, he sees the misery and sadness in the people around him. However, even as they hate and fear him, he still remains positive and loving. In fact, he even starts helping them out with their problems. Thus, even if the world may seem bleak, Dropsy will be there to bring some smiles to those who are feeling down. Who knows? Maybe as he helps others, he might just find out who really caused that circus tent fire all those years ago.

As a newer entry to the genre of adventure games, Dropsy makes for a charming new addition. The core gameplay is very familiar for those who have played point-and-click adventure games. As you go around, you can pick up items that are stored in Dropsy’s inventory. These items can then be used to solve puzzles or challenges that must be faced. However, there are some interesting elements that stray from the normal path. For instance, most adventure games tend to have a specific path that the characters goes through. Here, it is an open world, free for the player to explore as they help out others and solve their problems. Also, most adventure games thrive on text, letting the story flow with its dialogue. Instead, there is no text here. Characters speak in symbols that the player will have to decipher. Even the options menu lacks text, using symbols to get meaning across. By relying on symbols instead of text, it forces the player to better understand the other characters and figure out just how they can help you. It also helps to better feel Dropsy’s own seeming lack of understanding in the world. This brings me then to the biggest point of the game: its balancing act between creepy and heartwarming.

A sense of the morbid is present throughout the game. Dropsy’s uncanny valley design would fit in among plenty of monster clowns, and the twists and turns of the game’s plot can bring some real menace and nightmarish imagery. However, the heart of the game is not in horror. Instead, it rests in a more innocent nature. For as creepy as Dropsy may look, he is no threat. He really only cares to help others, a cheery smile on his face as he aids them however he can. Even when the moment would seem like a reasonable one for him to fight, he does not. In fact, this game offers one action that not many games feature: a hug action. It is an action that rather sums up the core spirit of this game. Dropsy goes to help the world around him, but he does not do so by fighting or combat. Rather, he simply seeks to find the things that can help to cheer someone up or brighten their day. It is a warm and kind spirit that lurks within the creepy shell here, the result being that its optimistic heart shines brighter in contrast to the darkness surrounding it.

The choice to play a trope straight or to twist it is one that can offer plenty of possibilities for telling a story, such as in taking the innocent and presenting it as menacing. In Dropsy, it instead offers a heartwarming game that balances its hopeful core against creepy imagery, allowing both parts to be stronger rather than just being dependent on one particular method.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Playing the Hits

Who would have thought that the Guardians of the Galaxy would become as popular as they are now? First created back in 1969 with a different line-up in an alternate timeline of the Marvel Universe, the team is one that had languished in the halls of obscurity. Even a more recent version of the team (created in 2008) set in the main Marvel Universe was still pretty little-known. It is this newer team, though, that would serve as the basis for the hugely successful film Guardians of the Galaxy. Under director James Gunn’s vision, the film was an irreverent spin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, packing the humor with heart in its off-beat characters and packing an excellent soundtrack. Audiences fell in love with the film and its characters, an impressive thing for such odd characters as Rocket (a bipedal violent raccoon) and Groot (a walking, talking tree-being with limited linguistics). Now, the goodwill generated with this irreverent romp has translated into hype for its sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Indeed, it delivers on that hype by bringing the humor and heart back in spades, even if this film might be slightly lesser than the first one.

After having taken down Ronan the Accuser and saving the planet Xandar from potential destruction, Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy have now become heroes. More specifically, they have become heroes for hire, offering their services in exchange for a paycheck. Their newest mission had added some danger to their lives, though. It has made them enemies of the Sovereign, a race of genetically engineered beings who consider themselves superior to all others. In trying to escape the Sovereign, though, they cross paths with a more surprising character: Ego, a Celestial who claims to be the father of Star-Lord. Wary of his claims, Star-Lord decides to learn from Ego about the truths of his origins and the incredible power he just might possess. Unfortunately, Sovereign have not given up their hunt for the Guardians. In fact, they have hired the Ravagers, a gang of criminals and thieves, to hunt them down and bring them back for execution. Now, the clock is ticking as the Ravagers come calling and Star-Lord sets out to learn his real parentage, though there may be darker secrets lurking in this pursuit.

As I mentioned, the film is really good, but potentially a bit lesser than the first film. Before I go into my main complaints, though, it is worth noting that the film does deliver on a lot of the strengths from the first film. The humor is still as irreverent as ever, with the laughs landing from broad moments and well-crafted character interactions. That irreverence also shines in how much the film is willing to embrace and run with the craziness that can arise in the cosmic side of Marvel comics, whether featuring cameos from characters like Howard the Duck or featuring kooky concepts like a “quantum asteroid field”. As for the villains, they make for a stronger, more interesting batch of foes than the straight-faced and generic nature of Ronan. For instance, some of the villains have a more humorous touch to them, allowing them to more naturally fit within the tone that the Guardians of the Galaxy films possess. For example, the Sovereign make their claims of being superior to other races and that they seek to achieve their own perfection, but they act like spoiled petulant jerks when things stop going their way. Of course, not everything hits and lands with quite the same impact as the first film.

Though this film has plenty that is good, it feels a bit more unfocused than the previous entry. The multiple plots in the first film were woven together well, kept united in the central issue of a powerful orb and the threat it might possess were it to end up in the wrong hands. For the sequel, however, its multiple plots feel much more separate and only fully tying in once the movie’s gears start turning to the climax. Though there is great character development that unfolds in each of these plot strands, the result is that it still ultimately feels a bit unfocused. In addition, there are a few moments when the irreverence sometimes lands a bit hollow. It is not often, but there is the odd moment when a joke lasts a bit too long or an ’80s pop culture reference feels a little forced. That said, the movie is still ultimately a fun ride. The same heart and sense of fun that were in the first film are on full display here. In fact, because it is passed having to introduce these heroes, the film is able to delve more into their cores and develop them further. It is mostly a case of a few small flaws in an otherwise enjoyable movie.

Sometimes, rich fodder can be mined from the halls of obscurity. The first Guardians of the Galaxy film proved that by delivering on engaging characters and an irreverent sense of fun, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 maintains that shining quality, even if there may be a small flaw or two.