Tag: film

Roald Dahl: Macabre Sensibilities, for Young and Old

Plenty of children’s stories tend to be thought of as light and fun. In truth, they are not all fun and games. There is normally some darkness that lurks within these stories, darkness that helps to make the light and its messages shine brighter. Even the stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, regarded as some of the original tellers of children’s stories, contain plenty of mentions of cruelty and violence. Now, some might feel that this could be too intense for children, that these should be scrubbed clean according to a certain set of standards. In truth, there is a certain value in not talking down to children about this. One such author who understood this was Roald Dahl. His stories for children, remembered for whimsical touches and adapted in plenty of media, also possess plenty of darker elements. Perhaps it might be worth looking at what inspires an author to not shy away from these darker elements.

Born on September 13th, 1916 in the town of Cardiff, Roald Dahl was the son of Norwegian parents. When his sister and father had both died when he was three, his mother had the choice to remain in Wales after their passing, even when she had the option to return to Norway. Dahl first began the life of a schoolboy at the Cathedral School in the district of Llandarff. It was that time that he and his friends had gotten into trouble for putting a dead mouse into a jar of gobstoppers (also known as jawbreakers) owned by Mrs. Pratchett, a local sweetshop owner who was mean to the boys. He would go on to be transferred to St. Peter’s boarding school, where he and other students endured a fierce faculty. However, the school which would be a pivotal place to Dahl was Repton School in Derbyshire. Beginning his time there at age 13, he endured cruel treatment at the hands of both students and teachers. From the brutal corporal punishment he suffered and witnessed dealt out by the teachers to the demeaning work of having to serve senior students, Dahl’s experiences there would develop a definite cynicism in him about humanity. His main joy in that time were the candies and chocolates that the chocolate company Cadbury would send to the school for students to test.

As Roald Dahl got older and World War II began to roll in, he would come to join in the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Among the many missions that he flew in, one flight would bring him to Libya. Having trouble finding the airstrip as night approached, He was forced to make a landing in the desert. The result was a crash, one that landed him in the hospital with a fractured skull and blindness. Eventually, he would regain his sight and continued to serve as a pilot, until he was grounded for suffering from a series of headaches serious enough to cause blackouts. After that, he was made an attache to serve in the British Embassy in Washington D.C. From there, he would come to serve in the intelligence division alongside such noted officers as David Ogilvy and Ian Fleming (best known as the creator of James Bond). During this time, Dahl would come to meet the famed novelist C. S. Forester. Forester had been approached by The Saturday Evening Post with writing a story, and he in turn wanted to write a story about Dahl’s experiences as a pilot. Dahl wrote and compiled a number of anecdotes from that time, then provided them to Forester to work from. Instead, Forester provided the story exactly as Dahl wrote it. Thus was born Roald Dahl’s first story, “A Piece of Cake”, which The Saturday Evening Post had published as “Shot Down Over Libya” in order to have a more exciting title. It was also the story that would go on to launch Roald Dahl’s writing career.

Before he became renowned as a writer of children’s stories, Roald Dahl first began as an author for adults. Most of his early work came in the form of short stories. Plenty of these stories concerned deadly gambles, acts of revenge, and bitter spouses. Most of all, they frequently came with endings that served as a macabre punch line to the proceedings. There is no doubt that Dahl’s more cynical view of humanity comes through in stories like “Lamb to the Slaughter”, about a wife who murders her husband with a frozen leg of lamb and tries to cover up the deed, or “Parson’s Pleasure”, about a deceitful antiques dealer who poses as a clergyman for his cheats. However, it is actually his children’s novels where Dahl really cranks up this cynical attitude. While a few stories concern monsters like witches or giants, nearly all of the villains in his children’s novels are rotten, vile adults.

Sometimes they may lord their wealth over others, sometimes they may be verbally abusive to those they see as weaker or lesser, and sometimes they may simply be sadistic with physical cruelty. In any case, these parents are the sort of commonplace evils of which even children are familiar. As dark and imposing as such cruelty may seem, Dahl balances things out with how he presents goodness. The children that serve as the heroes in his stories are not generally portrayed as extraordinary. In fact, they frequently are presented as rather average. Instead, they possess an innate goodness, recognizing the wickedness around them and rising above it. In that way, Dahl offers a way to challenge and overcome the commonplace evil in their own lives. He also delivers it in a more playful, slightly morbid manner than the squeaky-cleaned stories that some believe children should be given. The result is a more naturalistic approach to teaching children about the cruelty of the world and preparing them for it, treating them with respect and understanding they can grasp it without being directly moralized.

For those who have never read any of Roald Dahl’s stories, there are two avenue I might offer, depending on if you wish to try his adult work or his children’s stories. For those who wish to explore his more adult-oriented work, Tales of the Unexpected is an anthology that collects some of his yarns of the macabre. With such stories as “Lamb to the Slaughter”, “The Man Down South”, and “Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, this collection will help to show how Dahl’s writing career was launched thanks to his clever writing. As for his work for children, the best example I would guide new readers to would be Matilda. Centered around an intelligent and kind-hearted girl named Matilda and her challenges overcoming her obnoxious parents and a cruel headmistress named Agatha Trunchbull, this novel stands to me as a great example of the kind of whimsical yet morbid stories that he crafted for children.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A Flaw in a Fun Future

The most frustrating kind of artistic failure, at least to me, is not the sort that is a complete wash-out. For me, the most frustrating sort is when a work can be good and touches the edge of good, but one key flaw hobbles it from fully reaching that greatness. For instance, a novel might have a good kernel of an idea but the writing and presentation of it can turn a reader off. A song might have a beat and rhythm that cuts to the core, but its lyrics might be troubling and problematic when actually understood. One such example of this kind of failure is present in filmmaker Luc Besson’s newest movie, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Written and directed by Besson and based upon the Valerian and Laureline series of French comic books, the film was rife with potential as his big return to sci-fi since The Fifth Element. Indeed, it has all sorts of visual splendor in its futuristic setting, along with an interesting cast of side characters. However, there is a central flaw that knocks down the film from fully becoming the fun, old-school pulp adventure it was meant to be. Namely, it suffers in the writing and its leads.

In the twenty-eighth century, Valerian and Laureline are a pair of special agents who work for the United Human Federation. Valerian is a more libertine rogue while Laureline serves as a more conservative counterpoint, but both work together well in tackling all sorts of dangerous missions. After a risky mission to retrieve a creature known as a Converter from the clutches of an alien criminal, the pair are given a new mission. They are to serve as bodyguards for Commander Filitt during an important meeting on Alpha, a massive space station home to so many species from across the universe that it is regarded as “the city of a thousand planets”. The purpose of this meeting is to reveal a threat laying within the depths of Alpha: a toxic infection from an unknown source, and one that is spreading. Unfortunately, the meeting is cut short when a group of aliens burst in and kidnap the Commander. Valerian and Laureline set out to get the commander back, but find themselves challenged not only by malevolent aliens but also suspicious gaps in Federation records. As time ticks down, they find that there might be more at work here than what they have been told.

Before getting into the faults, it is worth discussing the positive points for this film. For instance, the world of this film is a visual feast. There is a striking variety of locations on display along with tons of alien species, with distinct appearances for all of them. From a desert world home to a multi-dimensional marketplace to a beautiful seaside-inspired planet to a pulp adventure-style ancient temple, the locales and characters work will in conveying the variety within this film’s universe. These locales also serve as home to inventive action sequences, such as a multi-dimensional shoot-out and chase that unfold at the aforementioned marketplace. The side characters also fit in with the fun variety of this film, offering nice slices into the other parts of this world. For instance, there are the Shingouz, a trio of gargoyle-like aliens who serve as information brokers and offer a solid slice of comic relief. Another interesting side character is Bubble, a shapeshifting performer who dreams of being a great actress but is reduced to burlesque performances under the thumb of a controlling pimp. However, even as there are all of these interesting components, their standing is unfortunately knocked down due to the film’s biggest fault: the leads.

Part of the problem with Valerian and Laureline, the movie’s two lead characters, is that they are miscast. With Laureline, Cara Delevingne’s performance comes across as a tad wooden. Despite that, at least she somewhat seems to fit as Laureline. Dane DeHaan, meanwhile, does not fit in the role of Valerian. With Valerian, the character is supposed to be this libertine, playful rogue. What would come across as charming in another actor instead reads as somewhat whiny in DeHaan’s delivery. Of course, even if one were to have replaced these actors, there is a greater weakness to these characters: the writing. The writing does no favors to these two leads, giving them generic dialogue and inconsistent personalities. The result is that, in a world that features so many interesting parts, the audience is left following the two dullest characters in the whole movie. That is what is so irritating about it. If they had cast better-suited actors and did a stronger job on writing the two leads, the film would have firmly been good and served as a fun slice of old-school, pulp sci-fi adventure. Instead, it is brought down at the knees because such an important part of the movie is one of its weakest aspects.

One of the worst forms of artistic failure is when everything falls apart, but instead one big flaw takes down a work that would have otherwise been good. Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets is an example of such failure, as its two poorly-written and miscast lead characters drag down a film with wonderful visuals and interesting side characters.

Spider-Man – Homecoming: The Boy is Back in Town

Of all of Marvel Comics’s many superheroes, none have had quite the media presence as Spider-Man. Tons of adaptations have been done of the iconic web-swinging, wall-crawling hero. With numerous video games, cartoon shows, and even a Broadway musical, there is no shortage of stories in different media about Peter Parker. In fact, one of the biggest spots where he has held the spotlight is in movies. First, there was director Sam Raimi’s trilogy of Spider-Man films, which helped to show the great potential in good superhero films before suffering with a weak third entry. Following that were the Amazing Spider-Man films, whose first film was alright before being sunk down with a dreadful sequel. Well, the third time has arrived, and it does so with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before getting his own film again, Spider-Man first appeared in Captain America: Civil War, played by Tom Holland with a masterful capture of the nerdiness of Peter Parker and the wisecracking charm of Spider-Man. Now, Tom Holland turns up again to star in his own film, with Spider-Man: Homecoming. This newest film iteration of Spider-Man is one of the strongest done, delivering a good story that captures the core spirit and appeal of the character.

Ever since his part in the battle of Avengers during the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker has been riding high on the idea of being mentored by Tony Stark. Covering up his activities with excuses about being in “the Stark internship”, Peter Parker has been fighting low-level crime and helping out those in need as Spider-Man. In fact, his continuing battle against crime has given some challenges to his own life, as he tries to balance it with his teenage life at the Midtown School of Science and Technology. However, his world gets shaken up when he discovers criminals armed with high-end weaponry. These criminals even turn out to be linked to a bigger threat: Adrian Toomes, whose flight suit and hi-tech wings evoke the image of a vulture. Peter Parker sees this as his big chance to earn a place among the Avengers, but Stark wants him to stand down and leave the threat of the Vulture to the big guys. Tired of being treated like a kid by Stark and his assistant Harold “Happy” Hogan, Peter sets out to stop the Vulture, but he might just end up in over his head.

As the latest film centered around Spider-Man, this particular film proves to be one of the strongest entries about the iconic hero. Firstly, Tom Holland once again delivers a great performance as Peter Parker, but it is more than just his performance that works. The world around Peter Parker is a far richer one that previous films have presented. For instance, Peter’s high school life does not feel chalked up to the classic high school stereotypes. Character have a more believable sense to them, whether in their actions or how they are presented (such as reimagining “Flash” Thompson, a classic jock bully in the comics, into a rich and preppy jerk for this film). In truth, the presentation of teenage life in this film feels akin to a John Hughes movie. Also, Michael Keaton shines as the Vulture, who comes across as one of the best villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though his evil is on a lower-scale compared to some of the other threats in the MCU, his motivations are understandable. In short, Adrian Toomes simply seeks to make money to support his family, now turning to stealing and selling advanced tech after being driven out of legitimate business. With the combination of this relatable motivation along with the menace that Keaton brings to the role, it takes one of the more lesser-known Spider-Man villains and truly makes something out of them. Among these and other strong elements, however, is the key point to it all. Namely, that it captures the overall core of Spider-Man.

In the previous films that had been made about Spider-Man, they tended to capture certain aspects well while dropping the ball in other areas. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films, for instance, were able to capture (with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker) the sort of picked-on nerd for whom life uses as a punching bag. However, the version of Spider-Man from those films lacked the quips and sense of fun that come with the web-slinger, who is almost Parker’s pressure valve for all the frustrations in his life. In addition, those films definitely captured elements of the classic Spider-Man comics which, while there is still a definite charm in them, do not feel as natural in today’s world. On the other end of the spectrum, the Amazing Spider-Man films delivered more of that wit to Spider-Man and also made a good attempt at displaying the intelligence of Peter Parker. That said, the actual presentation of Parker himself comes off as too cool, along with complicating his origin in a way where it has to be him getting the powers, instead of it being truly a simple accident. Part of what makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so good, then, is that it hits the mark in capturing both sides well. As Peter Parker, he is this smart nerd living in Queens who finds himself put-upon by life. As Spider-Man, he is a thrilling hero ready with quips and an eager sense of excitement. Though the lives of both sides may conflict with each other, both are united in one simple ideal: that with great power, comes great responsibility.

Spider-Man has been the subject of all sorts of media over the years. In terms of movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming has done the best job of capturing the character along with delivering a more relatable world and interesting villain.

Baby Driver: Rhythm and Rev

Music is a powerful medium. Its rhythm and pace, from the plucking of a gentle melody to the grand sweeping of a symphony, has a way of stirring the heart and capturing the imagination. A moment in time can be captured with just the right tune. It is ever so evident when music is used in the other media. For instance, the throngs of theatrical fans can prove the power of the musical, which captures the emotional heart in its music and pairs it with words to better articulate it. A video game can use its music to set the right pulse for whichever moment a player finds themselves journeying. Of course, there is no place quite like the movies to showcase the power of music. Plenty of scores and songs have cemented their place in the pop cultural consciousness, their notes and words conjuring images from the silver screen. One person who knows this power is director Edgar Wright, whose latest entry showcases the sort of punch that music can deliver. His new film Baby Driver is a stylish entry that showcases a masterful use of music, even if the core story and characters may seem a little thin.

Baby is a man with plenty of problems in his life. For one, he has been suffering from a constant ringing in his ears, ever since a terrible car crash that claimed the lives of his parents. At least for that, he has a multitude of iPods filled with music to help drown out the tone. The far bigger problem is that of Doc, a local criminal kingpin who has Baby under his thumb. Ever since a mistake that landed Baby in debt to Doc, he has been serving him as an extraordinary getaway driver for his heists. Whether it is for criminals like the daring couple Buddy and Darling or the insane Bats, Baby’s intense focus thanks to his music allows him to keep his eyes to the road and pull off some insane escapes. However, he has his eye on the exit. He seeks to break free from Doc, a desire that is stoked further when he begins a romance with a diner waitress named Debora. That plan to escape is challenged, though, by one last job that just might be more dangerous than Baby has expected.

As Edgar Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver does offer plenty of fun. I will say, though, that it does not quite land as well as some of his other films. The main weakness is in terms of the plot and the characters. When it comes to the plot, it hews more on the simpler side. Not just that, but this sort of story has been seen plenty of times before. Likewise, the characters are also simpler, filling out more as archetypes for their roles in the story. The result is a story that feels shallower than some of Edgar Wright’s other works, such as Shaun of the Dead and its use of a romantic comedy core within a zombie movie. That said, even given the simple and familiar nature of the story, this variation on the criminal trying to leave the business is still a sharper-written version than most which try to copy this basic story type. It also helps that the material is delivered with some good performances, from such actors as Kevin Spacey and Lily James. However, there is a particular component where the film truly shines. That component is music and how the film uses that music.

Music permeates all throughout this movie, and not just in the background. Action is frequently synced up to the songs that play. Every gun shot, every rev of the engine, it all plays in beat to the rhythm. A dangerous shootout plays its explosive flair to The Button Down Brass’s cover of ‘Tequila”. A thrilling getaway zooms to the beat of John Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms”. Even a simple walk to get some coffee plays out to Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle”, complete with images and moments that sync to the lyrics. In addition, the music also works to capture the emotional heart in a moment. A bond over the thrill of a fast drive is showcased with Queen’s “Brighton Rock”, while a tense moment to protect Debora is underscored with Marvin Gaye’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up”. The effect gives the film a feeling of being a jukebox musical, without having to actually be a musical. This particular spin on this story, combined with Edgar Wright’s skillful direction and writing, helps to make it stand out above the rest. In a way, it is reminiscent of a movie called Streets of Fire: the story and characters may be a bit thin, but the mood and atmosphere it presents is top notch.

Music is a powerful medium, and movies have been using it as a way to add some real punch to their stories for ages. Baby Driver is one such example of that punch, presenting a near-continuous stream of music synced with action for a thrilling musical feel.

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.

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.