It would be putting it mildly that the expectations were out of this world for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.” James Gunn’s oddball superhero action comedy introduced fans of the MCU to a brand new type of hero and extended the storytelling into outer space. Sure, both “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World” took us into the mythical world of Asgard, but the colorful landscape of deep space was something to behold.
Also, the fact that Marvel/Disney was willing to take a chance on a Troma-alum like Gunn who seems to have an affinity for tentacle Hentai porn and graphic violence, was a breathe of fresh air. You had the prefect blend of heart, family-friendliness and of course sexual innuendo, hence the first “Guardians” was a smash hit.
Take us three years to 2017 and Gunn is back at it again with “Vol. 2,” a flawed, but fun, sequel that is essentially a companion piece to the MCU as opposed to any type of film that progresses the overall story arc in the MCU. More importantly, it seems like the shackles were completely off of Gunn to create a film in the way that he sees fit, and that is where the film both shines, and trips over itself at times.
We meet our heroes back in 2014, fresh off the heels of their big victory against Ronan the Accuser and turning over the Power Stone to the Nova Corps on Xandar. This time they are helping the Sovereign protect some batteries from a giant tentacle monster. With their job complete, the Guardians receive their reward; the captured Nebula.
Of course, things go south quick and our heroes crash land on a lone planet and are greeted by a man names Ego, who tells Star Lord that he’s his father and wants to show him his birth rite. At this point our heroes part ways and the film gets the plot moving.
It’s difficult to put into words what’s wrong with this film without sounding like a cranky old man that doesn’t like cutesy Disney-like characters, the use, or overuse, of music, and a couple of jokes and scenes that are a little too self-indulgent. But I guess that’s what you get when you let an inmate run the asylum.
The biggest criticism from most people is that the sequel isn’t as good as the first one. Wow, what a criticism to make…the sequel isn’t as good. Hard hitting stuff. However, I have been pounding the drum in my perceived notion that there has been a recent dip in the quality of Marvel product. But this could also be my perception since the quality has been high for nearly decade, that is was inevitable that a few leaks would start to spring from the hull of the Titanic that is Marvel Studios.
I have to admit, during the title sequence of “Vol. 2” nearly took me out of the film. Unlike Chris Pratt’s trounce through Morag dancing and singing to “Come and Get Your Love,” the Baby Groot dance to “Mr. Blue Sky,” while the rest of the team is fighting a massive alien set the tone that I was going to be annoyed with cute antics. Pratt’s dance set the tone for fun and personally I rather see a REAL HUMAN character on screen than a computer generated creature pimped put to sell Pop! Vinyl figurines.
However, the film rebounded from that and turned into a pretty fun, stand-alone Marvel film. There is meditation on family and abandonment and the idea that the heart should drive you as opposed to your brain, and those themes were handled quite well considering all the boombastic action going on for about 80% of the film.
This brings me to one of the things I really liked, and that was Gunn’s freedom to pay homage to his friends on screen, namely Michael Rooker and his brother, Sean Gunn. The additional screen time and plot progression of Rooker’s Yondu, and Gunn’s Kraglin is something unexpected and a breathe of fresh air. Being close to the director is certainly a perk, but the way both Yondu and Kraglin are treated in “Vol. 2” is something a lot of studios with millions of dollars invested in a film wouldn’t allow to happen; make them a central part of the film. But low and behold, they are given much more screen time and are allowed to play pivotal roles, especially at the film’s climax.
At the end of the day, these films are bulletproof. No matter the reviews or criticism, “Vol. 2” will make close to a billion dollars worldwide, and the Marvel juggernaut just keeps chugging along. In all fairness, however, it’s fair to openly criticize this film, because it’s not perfect, and has it’s flaws, but don’t criticize it just to criticize because overall, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” is a harmless Summer blockbuster that is just another piece of the Marvel machine heading towards the inevitable “Infinity War,” and if anything, at least this film is proving that you don’t need to shoehorn things into a universe that is so bloated that at times it seems to be collapsing in on itself.
“Vol. 2” is the closest thing we’ve had to a stand-alone Marvel movie, thus far. No need for cute cameos or a character just passing by. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t mind just seeing a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film universe. It’s ripe for the picking and there are plenty of things to cherry pick and create some fun films. Hell, a talking racoon and a tree are some of the most talked about characters in the MCU; who’d of thought they would be more beloved at this point than Iron Man or Captain America. People are looking for their heroes to be against the grain, and that is why “Black Panther,” for my money is going to blow people away, but tread carefully when giving the masses what they want, the disappointment could also be monumental and remember; with great power, comes great responsibility.
Welcome back to another trek on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Last time we met, we visited some of John Carpenter’s earlier work, “Assault on Precinct 13“. This time we are going to witness Kurt Russell in one of his most bad ass roles, as Snake Plisskin. Talk about “Expendables” eligibility. It would be a shame if Sylvester Stallone over looks Russell for “Expendables 4: Return of the R Rating”.
The year is 1981. IBM had just released the first personal computer capable of running Microsoft’s Disc Operating System (DOS). MTV hits the airwaves, debuting with “Video Killed the Radio Star”. U.S. President Ronald Reagan signs the top secret directive authorizing the CIA to recruit and support Contra rebels in Nicaragua. While all this was happening, Snake Plisskin is sent to Manhattan to rescue the President in “Escape From New York”.
The year in 1997, and United States is a war torn police state. With all the crime and violence of this futuristic America, extreme measures had to be taken. New York’s Manhattan Island has been transformed into THE high security prison of the nation. Just think of Alcatraz, but on steroids. There are no cells and no guards. The prisoners are free to roam the city streets and do whatever is necessary to survive. And once you go in, there is no coming back out. The bridges are mined and the waters are patrolled and protected by the National Police Force, a para-military like group responsible for keeping convicts from escaping, by any means necessary.
This is all fine and well until a member of the “National Liberation Front”, a terrorist organization, takes over Air Force One and crash lands the plane on the prison island. The idea being that the president, if he survives, will now have to get by as the convicts do within the confines of the prison that he unlawfully created.
It is at this time that Hauk, Chief of National Police played by Lee Van Cleef, brings in the recently arrested Snake Plisskin, Kurt Russell. Snake is a former military hero who has become tired of his leaders sending him on suicide missions that he always manages to narrowly escapes. He goes AWOL and becomes a criminal. Robbing the national reserve is what gets him caught.
Fearing that the President may be harmed if there is a military rescue mission, Hauk decides to send in a loan wolf. It becomes Snakes’ mission to sneak onto the island, locate and rescue the President, Donald Pleasence, as well as the documents and cassette tape that the President has with him. Then return all of the above to Hauk. If he does, Hauk will erase Snake’s criminal record forever. If he doesn’t, he will die.
In prep for the mission, a doctor injects two micro-explosive charges into Snake’s arteries. If he isn’t back with the president in under twenty three hours, the charges will blow, rupturing Snake’s arteries and he will internally bleed to death.
Snake uses a glider to enter the island, which he lands on the roof of one of the World Trade Towers. He begins to search the city for the President and it isn’t long before he begins to realize just how fucked this place is. The city is littered with murderers and rapists, there are crazy cannibal hobos who live in the sewer who come up at night to feed, and the locals are less than pleasant to out of town motorists such as our boy Snake.
Things get tense when the cannibalistic sewer dwellers try to have Snake for dinner, but fortunately for him Cabbie, Ernest Borgnine, shows up in his taxi armed to the teeth with molotovs. Snake questions Cabbie and learns that the President is alive and has been captures by The Duke of New York, Isaac Hayes. The Duke is the supreme ruler of the prison island and is planning to use the President as leverage as he makes his way across the bridge and into the free United States.
Through the help of Cabbie, “The Brain”, the Duke’s nerdy adviser, and Maggie, The Brain’s concubine, Snake manages to get inside The Duke’s compound and is thrown into a one-on-one in a gladiatorial battle to the death against pro-wrestler Ox Baker. This offers up a good distraction, as everyone would is eager to watch the legendary Snake Plisskin take on The Duke’s undefeated monster bruiser. This distraction affords The Brain and Maggie a chance to help the President escape.
After burying a nail covered bat in the back of Baker’s head, Snake catches up with The Brain, Maggie, the President and Cabbie, and together they make it to the Brooklyn Bridge. The only thing that stands between them and the free states are the countless mines that litter the bridge. To make matters worse, The Duke and his men arrive to foil their prison break and get out themselves.
As the clock ticks away, they fall one by one. Either by the hands of the other group or by the mines. Finally Snake, The Duke and the President find the wall that blocks the far end of the bridge. Beaten and exhausted, Snake engages the final boss and it seems like a losing battle. Just when hope seems lost, the President of all people, blows The Duke away. Way to pull your own weight Mr. President.
With the President rescued and Snake’s micro-explosives are deactivated, Snake commits one final act of rebellion. Remember that cassette tape that was so important? Well, on it was an explanation of how to create nuclear fusion that the President was going to share with the world. A gesture that would end the war. Our ol’ pal Snake had other ideas. He switched the tape with one he found in Cabbie’s taxi. As the President speaks live via satellite to the entire world, swing music can be heard instead of the recipe for cheap nuclear power. Please allow me to “slow clap” for Snake as the credits begin to roll.
Movies like “Escape From New York” really became defining of the ’80s. So many films from the era were dark, dirty, violent and bleak. I love ’em! Crime was on the rise, people thought Satanic cults were sacrificing babies and there was the ever present threat of total and complete annihilation brought on by soviet nukes. It was a good time for movies, and for thrash metal.
One of the strengths of this film, is also one of it’s weaknesses. This strength/weakness is Snake’s twenty four hour time limit. Every time I watch this movie, I distract myself from it by wondering what the rest of the United States is like. It’s mentioned that the country is at war, but with who? What about other criminal factions within in island? How involved is the “National Liberation Front”?, ect… I feel that these ideas would have been explored if the story were allowed to unfold more organically. But instead, it is forced along by the deadline. This is fine, but I just wish there was more. So many things are referenced or off handily mentioned. There is a whole world here and I want to learn about it.
In “Escape From New York”, we see another one of Carpenter’s unlikely heroes facing unimaginable odds of carrying out a plan of which he is thrust into. Snake is a strong silent type, who again, manages to be relatable. An “everyman” who appeals to it’s male viewers, and even maybe a little to it’s female viewers. After all, Snake is pretty dreamy. I think every guy who watches “Escape From New York” deep down thinks of himself as Snake. Minus the eye patch.
I love how Carpenter adds elements to his characters personality or back story that hints at a deeper point. Rarely is there blatant subtext in his films. Subtext is there, but it’s more of an attitude than a message. We see this with Snake’s distrust of the government and the military. Being a former military man himself, he known how far shit rolls down hill. But there is no grand speech or parody of any real world events. Just Snake being really pissed off at the powers that be, with his cynical anti-establishment view.
I’ve always appreciated this. Carpenter’s films aren’t preachy, and because of it his viewers, whatever their personal beliefs, are free to take in the material and interpret it their own way. This sort of thing really gives his work legs and is just one example of what a great story teller John Carpenter really is.
In conclusion, I highly recommend “Escape From New York”, as it is a work of classic bad-assery. Snake is great, the story is great, the effects and miniatures are great, the atmosphere is great, and even the soundtrack is great, again. Hmm, I wonder why that is.
I’m Cory Carr and this concludes our ride on the “Action Movie Time Machine”. Until next time, Semper Fi!
For more from Cory, check out his website Slaughterfilm.com, where he and his good friend Forest Taylor record weekly podcasts, reviewing the films that are legendary, even in Hell!
Grindhouse – Ambitious
Here’s the problem with kids these days; they don’t appreciate shit! I’m an old-school type of guy (and if I’m already a curmudgeon at age 28, well, you know what you can do), that’s why I hate crap like “Twilight”and any other abomination that co-ops things that were once bad-ass and turns them into little emo-bitches who sparkle, or shoe-gaze for over two hours. Has any “scene kid”or emo kid seen “Dracula” from 1931 or maybe even “The Wolf Man” from 1941 (once again dating myself). If Lon Chaney, Jr. or Bela Lugosi were alive to see what had become of their beloved characters, well, I’m sure Lugosi would get hooked back on morphine and Chaney would gladly take a few silver bullets to the heart. I’ll give you this, if you’ve seen “The Lost Boys” I’ll give you a bye….but that’s it.
By the way, this review isn’t even about werewolves (well kind of) or vampires, I simply had to get that off my chest. However, there is something special about taking something old and making it new again. Take 2007’s “Grindhouse,” the two-movies-in-one masterpiece by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino.
“Grindhouse” while fantastic, was a flop, and to me, that’s frustrating. People, and unfortunately the studios, either prefer shitty remakes (there are a few exceptions) or…….gulp……PG-13 horror (and shame on you if you dare defend PG-13 horror). Rodriguez and Tarantino gave a big “F You” as they usually do, and decided to dig up old exploitation movies from the 1960s and 70s and make a three-hour epic of sleaze, blood, guts, sex, and even more sleaze. Throw in some fake trailers, done by the likes of Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, and Eli Roth, and you have something special. Too bad people have the attention spans of circus fleas because I would love to see more films like “Grindhouse” make a comeback.
The first film, “Planet Terror” directed by Rodriguez, deals with, SICKOS, not zombies, but SICKOS, kind of like psychos, but instead they eat flesh and their balls melt. Here are the major plot points; there is a chemical weapon unleashed, people get sick and start eating and killing each other, there’s a government conspiracy, a stripper loses her leg and has a gun reattached to the stub, and we have some “From Dusk Till Dawn” references. Simple, right? Yeah, it is.
The second film, “Death Proof” directed by Tarantino, is a take on the slasher genre which stars the awesome Kurt Russell as “Stuntman” Mike who kills young women with his “death proof” stunt car. People say this is the weaker of the two films, but I highly disagree. While it might not pack in as much action as “Planet Terror” the dialogue is good, acting solid, and like I said before, it has Kurt Russell. What else do you need?
Rodriguez and Tarantino go back to basics for “Grindhouse” and it works so well. It’s simple, stupid fun that is lost upon the modern horror audience. Not everything has to be a love story between Kristen Stewart, a vampire, and a werewolf. Or a ghost story shot with a shaky camera. Or…….”The Wicker Man.” Maybe that was too easy, but I will give Nick Cage props for this.
If you haven’t already, please check out “Grindhouse,” it’s so good, it’s scary.
Fun Fact: Grindhouse cinema derives from the defunct burlesque theaters located on 42nd Street in New York City.