Guardian of Star Wars

2014 was the year of superhero team movies. After Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon team-up in Captain America: Winter Soldier and X-Men team up in Days of Future Past, it was time for a new superhero team up.

This is where Guardian of Galaxy came in the scene. With old superhero returning, it was time for something fresh. And in the summer which was dark and serious, it was time for something colorful and funny.

It had not only the starcast of established Hollywood actors like Vin Diseal, Zoe Saldana and Bradley Cooper but WWE wrestler Batista and TV star Chris Pratt playing superhero. Chris Pratt had to turn from fit to fat.

Best thing about the film was it’s character. Each character was funny in it’s own way. While the lead character or leader of the group Star Lord ( played by Chris Pratt) was kind of new Han Solo, the show was stolen by Racoon(voiced by Bradley Cooper) , an animal with human voice and brain who is too smart and sarcastic and Drax the Destroyer ( played by Batista in heavy makeup) who takes everything too literally.

Of course everyone remembers Groot (voiced by Vin Diseal), a human like tree who only speaks three words – “I am Groot” and in last scene says “We are Groot”. Vin Diseal took lot of dollars for saying five words – “I”, ”We”, ”Are”, ”Am”  and “Groot” in many language. Right now it must be his most popular character after Dominic Toretto. Only Marvel currently can make me care for the tree.

Gamora(played by Zoe Saldana) a green skinned alien is basically straight guy. Or in this case, a straight gal.

Another memorable character was Yondu (played by Michael Rooker) who is a blue skinned alien with red mohawk and a sharp pen which flies with his whistle.

Even though this movie had villain but less we talk about villain better it is since villain was too bland and clichéd. And yes this movie teased Thanos but that’s it. There was no further development.

Not only the action and humor was good, but movie was very colorful which was good Amazing Spiderman 2 was ending Amazing Spiderman series and there was going to be dearth of colorful superhero movies. Plus there was lot of reference to 1970s and 1980s songs including Ooga Shaka as heard in Reservoir Dogs.

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Days of whitewashing movie past?

(Warning: Spoilers for those who have not seen X-Men 3: Last Stand)

X-Men and X-Men 2 were commercially and critically successful, while X-Men 3 was just commercial successful. The movie was criticized for it’s plot and death of some major characters like Charles Xavier(even though at the end of movie, it is revealed that Charles Xavier particles have collaborated again and he is alive).  20th Century Fox saw no future in continuing the story and instead of making sequels, they started making prequels. First one was X-Men Origins: Wolverine released in 2009. It was critically panned for its special effects, acting, storyline, characters and direction.  Due to it’s commercial success, 20th Century Fox still saw potential in X-Men series and released X-Men: First Class in 2011. Unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where the protagonist Wolverine was played by same actor as original i.e., Hugh Jackman, here the protagonist characters, Magneto and Charles Xavier were played by different actor since it was about young age of these two characters. Now you would be surprised when you read Magneto and protagonist in same sentence, for he was the main antagonist of X-Men trilogy, but this movie was about the time when Charles Xavier and Magneto were friends and had not turn against each other.

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While the old Magneto and Professor Xavier were played by Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart respectively, the younger ones were played by Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. The movie was set in 1960s during Cuban Missile Crisis and was both commercially and critically successful. This gave confidence to 20th Century Fox to make sequel instead of prequel only. 20th Century Fox thus made Wolverine in 2013 with a planning to make a movie on Uncanny X-Men comic book storyline “Days of Future Past”. That planned movie was released as “Days of Future Past” in 2014.

In the movie, Days of Future Past, Charles Xavier is a full fledged character as before. The movie has Kitty Pryde having power to send Wolverine back to 1973 as enemy of mutants called Sentinels are killing mutants in present with the help of the DNA of Mystique they possessed in 1973 and Wolverine will not let this happen.

Plot wise this had most layers than any other X-Men movie. Even more layers than X-Men : First Class. This movie was biggest cinematic moment for X-Men fans. Not only it was based on most well known story of X-Men but it was directed by Bryan Singer, the guy who directed X-Men and X:Men 2, which were till then most loved X-Men movies.

It was loved for it’s plot, action , acting and direction. However personally I liked X-Men Last Stand more entertaining and X-Men First Class better. But that ‘s just me.

Captain Anti-America?

Since 2010 ‘s Iron Man 2 , Marvel Cinematic Universe chose to be apolitical until Captain America:Winter Soldier(2014). While Captain America: First Avenger (2011) was set in World War 2 and featured Nazis, the movie did not comment on social issues like racism. The movie ended with Captain America almost dying in ice field and freezing until he is defrozen 70 years later. He is able to stay alive because of the chemicals that turned him from skinny Steve Rogers into superhuman Captain America. In his next movie, Avengers(2012) , he fights alongside superheroes like Iron Man in modern world. In this movie , he is trying to adjust in modern world. He also realizes that modern world is quite different from 1940s. In 1940s, for him, the biggest enemy of USA is Axis Power. In 21st century, biggest enemy of USA is…well…USA itself.

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At first, previous line might sound surprising but this is what happens in the movie. And the directors and scriptwriter intentionally did this to comment upon how present generation views USA in comparison to how Steve Rogers generation viewed USA during World War 2.

After it was exposed that there were no nuclear weapon in Iraq in 2006 , Chealsea Manning’s leak on Iraq War on  Wikileaks in 2010 and Edward Snowden’s expose on NSA surveillance system in 2011 , Americans became cynical towards their government over their actions in War On Terror. For them War on Terror was just an excuse to violate fundamental rights like right to privacy in the name of security through 2001’s controversial PATRIOT ACT. NSA leak had confirmed their worst dream come true.

While the movie did not have CIA as villain like Bourne series did, it did have S.H.I.E.L.D. portraying the same role. In the movie there is a dialogue that goes on something like “We are holding gun on everyone ‘s head and calling it security”. It was supposed to comment on current security paranoia.

Not only S.H.I.E.L.D. is shown as surveillance body but also exposed to be in bed with Hydra since the defeat of Axis Power in World War 2, where it is shown many senior leaders of Hydra co-operated with S.H.I.E.L.D. This was similar to how Nazi scientists were later used by Soviet Union and USA after World War 2 for scientific purpose. While the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. , Nick Fury is shown to be totally unaware about this dirty secret. He helps Captain America along with Black Widow and Falcon to expose this secret to world. Christopher Pierce, senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. vows to protect the secret from being leaked. Kind of like how US government locked up Chelsea Manning after his/her leak on wikileaks. What ‘s interesting about Christopher is that he is played by Robert Redford, the guy who acted in anti-establishment films like All the President Men(1976) and conspiracy fiction like Three Days of Condors (1973). Table had turned this time.

Captain America also has to fight Bucky who was his best friend during 1940s but now has become a super villain called Winter Soldier. He however had small role for a villain and was kind of disappointing. One of the best things I found about this movie was not only new Captain America costume but the fact that I found Captain America entertaining unlike his portrayal in Avengers and First Avengers. Captain America was now cool and rootable. Zack Snyder can learn a thing or two on how to make Superman cool from this movie.Overall I found the film nicely shot, strongly scripted and well directed. It was the only solo MCU movie I found good beside Iron Man.

It’s Spi..Spi..Spi..DerMan

Even though I found Spiderman (2002) and Spiderman 2 (2004) better than Amazing Spiderman (2012), I still found Amazing Spiderman entertaining due to it’s clear cinematography, colorful visuals and original action scenes, I cannot say the same for Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014). It did have good elements like action , slow – mo and visuals. But it had lot of weakness too. For me it was good in bits and pieces. I can watch some again. Avoid others. First let me talk about positive things

Action and slow-mo

I have to admit that this had better action scenes than Amazing Spiderman. I can say that because unlike Amazing Spiderman, I actually remember action scenes of this movie. I still remember the slo-mo and visual used in the scene where Electro uses his power on Spiderman, especially the shot, where the camera shows us the electrical waves launched by Electro on railing.

Another memorable scene for me was when Spiderman is swinging webs on pole and electro is throwing electrical waves on him and we hear “Itsy-Bitsy-Spider”. This brings me to second point.

Sound

I don’t remember most of the sound, but I remember use of the sound was pretty good in action scene were good as exemplified above.  Another was type of voice used by Electro.

Color

Most of the action movies either have orange-blue-yellow light as in Michael Bay/J.J. Abraham movies or dark visuals as in Dark Knight or Man of Steel. Amazing Spiderman avoid this trap by utilizing blue color in brightest way possible. Also red in suit of Spiderman looked good.

Camera Work

Nowadays, most of action movies have shaky cam as in Transformers, due to which it is difficult to understand who is punching whom on-screen. Cinematographer in Amazing Spiderman was competent as camera stays on one place without shaking and show us who is punching whom.

These good stuff were present in previous Amazing Spiderman. Now let’s look at negatives

Peter Parker

These movie are less plot based and more character based. While Spiderman was as good as in previous movie since he was funny , same cannot be said for Peter Parker. While previous Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker was not nerdy like Tobey McGuire‘s Peter Parker, he was still sympathetic due to his likeability and coolness.  Not so much can be said for Amazing Spiderman 2 ‘s Peter Parker. For some strange reason, creator decided to make this Peter Parker nerdy even though he did not look like one, by increasing his stammering to the level of 11. Stammering was not so noticeable in previous movie as it looked natural. However here it was not only noticeable but irritating too. And it was too frequent.

Harry Osborn

The portrayal of Dane DeHaan‘s Harry Osborn was total 180 of James Franco‘s Harry Osborn. While James Franco was normal teenager who saved Peter Parker from bullies and enjoyed his life until his dad’s death, this Harry Osborn not only looked like emo Pater Parker of Spiderman 3 but was a total crybaby from beginning with daddy issues whose face looked as if he was angry because he was not allowed to black make up his eyes and not someone who was going to terrorize the city. Even though Dave DeHaan was brilliant in Chronicle, he almost made Harry Osborn punchable in this movie. Plus his action scene was not as memorable as Electro. Talking about Electro…

Max Dilon

While Electro as villain was good during action scene, but before Electro was Electro in movie, he was Max Dilon. And Max Dilon ‘s character was pathetic. It is not clear whether he is a comic sidekick or a mental patient. His “comedy” is unfunny. His hairstyle looks like cheap hired wig not wore properly. His reasons for anger with Spiderman are not really logical. Overall his character is trainwreck.

Rhino

This should not even require more than one line. They take good actor like Paul Giamatti and use him like punching bag. Enough said!

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This movie foreshadowed the villains like Sinister Six and Black Cat for planned sequel, the sequel was later scrapped due to fallout of Andrew Garfield with studio and series got cancelled. Sad for Andrew Garfield and this series fan.

It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s Batman!

After the Christopher Nolan ‘s Dark Knight Trilogy got over in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises and Christian Bale promising never to don the cape again, Marvel pretty much had monopoly on superhero genre in Hollywood. With Watchmen being a one movie story and Green Lantern being not enough commercially successful to guarantee a sequel, it looked like Marvel had no competition from DC comics in film industry (until and unless you count direct-to-video animated films like Under The Red Hood and TV series like Young Justice). DC fans were worried over the future of their favorite comic book characters on-screen. Adding fuel to fire was that after the success of The Avengers , one of the most successful crossover films of all time, it looked like Marvel films had become more strong due to Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a result, DC decided to launch it’s own Cinematic Universe. DC fans who were tensed in 2012 with Batman series getting over were now relaxed with the release of Man of Steel. Man of Steel was second reboot of Superman series. First one was Superman Returns. Okay, I admit Superman Returns of more of quasi-sequel than a reboot, as the story followed Superman 4 : Quest for Peace ( 1987) , but with every star cast changed it felt less like a sequel and more like a reboot.  I have not Christopher Reeve starrer Superman series till now, but I saw Superman Returns in theatre when it was released in 2006. At that time I had not seen any superhero movie beside Spiderman and Batman and Robin, so the expectation were not really high. Despite this fact, I was not that impressed with movie. Yes it had bullet hitting eye scene and airplane rescue was good, but I felt the movie was incomplete. As if it had beginning or end, only middle. Since then I have not seen that movie ever again. So again, when I saw Man of Steel in theatre in 2013, I again had low expectations. There was no good previous Superman movie to compare to for me.

Even though I saw Christopher Nolan‘s name on trailer as producer, I knew that Christopher Nolan was not going to be the creative head but the director Zack Snyder. Christopher Nolan’s name was there for publicity purpose only. Even though I found 300 entertaining and Sucker Punch original, I was still not confidant about Zack Snyder due to his direction of Watchmen. Trailer was not also very promising for me. Quick editing and dark colors did not excite much. So the expectations were really low.

So did my head blow off excitement of sheer awesomeness that is Man of Steel. Well…Nope. I would say quite opposite happened. Not only the story was above average (to be fair I don’t really watch superhero movies for story except in case of The Dark Knight trilogy) and action scenes uninspiring ( which is case for most action movies today),  I found movie boring.

I agree that this is very vague criticism. What may be boring for me may be entertaining for other. Had I find movie entertaining, I would have overlooked the faults like plot holes and logic gap in storyline. I would have even not mind shaky cam in action scene as long as they were entertaining. But main problem for me were characters. General Zod had no personality beyond evil. It was only saved by Michael Shannon‘s acting.

But main problem was Kal El. I would only use Kal El as in this Kal El is just Superman who wears normal clothes when he is not fighting. He is not truly a Clark Kent as Clark Kent is a nerdy journalist and here Clark Kent is neither nerdy nor journalist only angry and jobless. This Clark Kent…I mean Kal El had issues. Big issues. Even bigger issues than Bruce Wayne. What to do with his powers? Should he hide them or use it for good? By the end of movie he neither hides nor use it for good. The latter might sound surprising as he did save the day from Zod.  But he also did lot of destruction in city to protect it from three aliens (Zod and his two goons). Some people had problem with Superman’s portrayal as he was no longer optimistic kind of guy he is supposed to be and was instead made into Batman by turning him into humorless and bit pessimistic just because of success of The Dark Knight trilogy which had made everything dark , gritty and realistic. I agree that Nolanisation was unnecessary and counterproductive as Batman and Superman are two different types of characters. Batman represents fear, Superman represents fear. Batman can be possible in real life, Superman being an alien, not so much. Thus it made sense to make Batman realistic. Not so for Superman. Realistic Superman would not have been a problem has it been likeable. He wasn’t. He was too emotional and loud. Only good thing about new Superman was his costume as his underwear was finally inside his pant. Plus he revealed that “S” on his chest was not alphabetic “S” but a sign in his home planet Krypton that meant hope. This is ironic for this movie, as Superman by end of this movie does install hope.

Other characters like Lois Lane and Jor El did not fare well. Whole relationship of Lois Lane and Superman seemed force. Especially the scene, in which one of Zod’s goon ask Lois Lane to come with Superman in space ship without any reason for her to be there. Only reason this scene was added so that Lois Lane and Superman can develop relationship in middle of all action. In many action scenes, the presence of Lois Lane seemed illogical. Her screen time needed to be increased or else feminist would have complained. That is why she is sometimes shown to be helping Superman (despite being just a journalist) just to satisfy feminist viewers. In this movie, she is not just love interest and damsel in distress. But she is also not a well written character.

Jor El , father of Kal El was no better. While in usual Superman storyline, Jor El gave enough video information on a chip type of thing in space shuttle through which Kal El came to Earth, which would just tell how Krypton was destroyed and what are his power, in this Jor El not only gave message but also supervised Superman whenever he was fighting General Zod. It was difficult to know whether Jor El was alive, ghost or just giving recorded message. It is ironic for a movie that was supposed to be realistic; it had lot of logic gaps.

The movie proved itself to be dark by not only breaking necks, but by being literally dark in sunlight. This was unlike any mainstream Superhero movie that came in summer.

While the movie was critically mixed, it was commercially successful enough to guarantee a sequel and start the era of DCU. It almost looked like that the monopoly of MCU was going to broken.

I am Tony Stark…I mean Iron Man

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People had high expectation from Iron Man 3 which was coming one year after Avengers: Assemble (2012). Not only previous Tony Stark featuring movies like Iron Man 1, 2 and Avengers were a critical and commercial success and Tony Stark itself was a fan favorite(remember that this was Robert Downey Jr. at height of popularity with series like Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes), but the trailer itself looked promising. I was sold the moment trailer showed Iron Man suits being blasted. But the trailer did not stop at that. It had Ben Kingsley portraying Iron Man’s deadliest foe as Mandarin with beard and pony tail. Whenever Ben Kingsley said “You…want…see…me…coming” in the trailer, it gave literal chills. The reason I was excited was not because it was Mandarin or Ben Kingsley, but because it looked like Marvel Cinematic Universe finally had a good antagonist in their movie. You see ever since Marvel Cinematic Universe debuted in 2008 with Iron Man, a lot of Marvel Fan boys preferred Marvel Cinematic Universe because unlike The Dark Knight trilogy, Marvel movies did not take itself seriously. Their argument was that why take yourself seriously if you 40-plus wearing spandex and jumping? However no one could deny that while The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) had well written character especially the Joker portrayed by Heath Ledger, MCU rather had one-dimensional character who were rather punching bags for Superheroes  ( except Loki of course) . The punching bag statement holds true for Whiplash in Iron Man 2 especially.  This time, Mandarin looked like a villain threatening enough for death of Tony Stark or his loved ones. When you have a living legend like Ben Kingsley portraying a villain, you really expect something like level of Heath Leadger portrayal of Joker.

Another thing which was exciting about movie was the fact that it was first movie after the events of Avengers. Which meant that Iron Man along with Thor and Captain were full-fledged part of S.H.I.E.L.D.( Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division)(a secret organization lead by Nick Fury, who is played by Samuel Jackson) now. Which meant Tony Stark was no longer lone-wolf anti-government guy of Iron Man but a team member who worked for government now. It was interesting to see if supervillains were now more afraid of superheroes joining together or not? Will citizens feel safer or not? Will superheroes call each other for backup or not? Those were few of the questions at that time?

Since the director of the movie was different (previous one had Jon Favreau of Elf fame as director, this one had Shane Black, veteran screen writer of Lethal Weapon and Predator as director), the storytelling was different too. For some reason Shane Black made Iron Man 3 serious in tone in comparison to previous ones(even though Tony Stark was still at his funniest best). Also the movie was very experimental in storytelling, not just for a superhero movie, but for action movie in general. It took risk you would not imagine. In that way it was gem to watch. If I talk more I would spoil the movie. Just remember to look at similarity with The Incredibles(2004) and The Dark Knight Rises(2012)

Amazing Spiderman

In 2002, Spiderman was a grand hit and changed the superhero into a sustainable genre that was going to rule Hollywood for decades to come.  Spiderman was followed by two sequels, one in 2004 and other in 2007. After the success of Spiderman 3 (2007), there was a plan of Spiderman 4 with John Malkovich  portraying Vulture. However Sam Raimi backed down from directing as he thought it would not be over by 2011 and the plan was scrapped. Instead Sony planned to reboot it into “Amazing Spiderman”. Andrew Garfield of ‘The Social Network’ and Emma Stone of ‘Easy A’ fame were casted as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey respectively.

This time the treatment of Spiderman was loyal to comic book i.e. instead of secreting web from body, Spiderman now secreted web from a gadget attached on his wrist. Not only the Spiderman was different, but Peter Parker too. Instead of nerdy Tobey McGuire , we had skateboarding Andrew Garfield. This Peter Parker was perfect representation of gadget obsessed generation.

Even the tone was different. Instead of focusing on something called emotions and story, there was focus on colorful style and well shot action scenes. Even the New York looked better.

Even though it was better technically, it lacked originality. Overall previous series was better.