Guardians of the Galaxy | Review | Film

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The one thing most people seem to know about Guardians of the Galaxy is that it has a talking raccoon in it. After two hours of interstellar fun and games I can officially confirm that yes, there is indeed a talking raccoon in it. If you needed more than a semi live-action, feature length version of 1980s cartoon The Raccoons then you’ll be happy to hear that Guardians has a lot more to offer.

Guardians of the Galaxy poster

First of all the style of the film is definitely lighthearted, a clear and obvious departure from some of the superhero flicks of late – more similar to the likes of Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs The World – which makes for a refreshing watch without worrying about which character is going to turn out to be evil later on. In fact the plot is remarkably simple, almost to a fault, but serves as a device to bring this band of misfits together. Any film which begins with the main character dancing under a huge, glowing version of its logo knows exactly what it is.

All fun and games

You can't help but have fun with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)
You can’t help but have fun with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)

Self awareness is, in fact, one of the film’s strongest points, often throwing in 1980s pop culture references which remain just as well-known today almost to make a point. Our hero Peter Quill (The Lego Movie’s Chris Pratt), known as Starlord…by only himself, is a notable thief who gets caught up in something bigger – imagine a more childish Han Solo and you’re almost there. His inevitable incarceration calls him to join forces with his former enemies and so the games begin.

You could call the guardians the ‘B squad’ Avengers, but that would be selling them short as in fact they are very far removed from the power, might and glory of superhero status, rather doing the right thing even though no one expects anything of them in the first place – just the opposite in fact. Groot, notable for being a giant humanoid tree, has a delightfully sweet demeanour and this plays well against Rocket the Raccoons wise-cracking (courtesy Bradley Cooper).

Zoe Saldana, who plays token female character Gamora, is perhaps the most disappointing of the quintet, not showing the sort of variety we have seen from her as Uhura but retaining the childish female stereotype aspects in places, admittedly used to great effect at one point in particular.

The final character of the group is Drax, played by former wrestler Dave Bautista, who at first comes across as a one-note brute, but is soon gifted with some excellent one-liners in his own right.

More than just a pretty (furry) face

The space battles in the film almost take you by surprise
The space battles in the film almost take you by surprise

The visual effects are stunning in the sense that you barely notice them. There are few moments where you feel your eyes adjusting into ‘visual effects mode’, instead they are slipped in to the story and action sequences naturally. Particularly the look and feel of CGI characters Groot and Rocket, of which the latter really gets top marks for fur effects.

There is a certain beauty to the use of music in the film, all of which comes from a mix tape given to Starlord when he began his journey across the stars, and as such has not only an 80s vibe (something which follows through the whole film) but a consistency, keeping the film grounded and relatable while out-of-this-world madness and excitement happen on screen.

Small but perfectly formed

The ties to the existing Marvel films are passing at the most
The ties to the existing Marvel films are passing at the most

As a Marvel film, certain expectations have been built up over the past few years as its film universe has grown, but this film proudly stands alone with only a passing connection to the events of other films. In a way that’s the most refreshing thing about watching it – being able to enjoy the experience without thinking about the impact it will have on something else.

So, it might not be a perfect film, but it is the most entertaining and fulfilling cinema experience of the year so far, and suitable for all ages…for the most part anyway. Guardians is exciting, funny and just easy to watch, something has been lost in the convoluted cross-pollination of Marvel films and this title reminds us why we liked them in the first place – they are damn good fun.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

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How To Train Your Dragon 2 | Review | Film

How to Train Your Dragon 2Everyone would like a pet dragon. Generalisations be damned – you know you would. Like all pets though, there is an element of danger that they could act out, or bite you, or – to a somewhat lesser extent – burn you to a crisp with fiery breath.

You’d think with a film called How to Train Your Dragon, once the titular dragon is tamed you’d be done and dusted, but no. As we all know, after all the hard work you’ve put into sorting stuff out, something else will come along to mess it up.

Back in black

Creating a map of the world is cool, but...the idea basically disappears after the first ten minutes
Creating a map of the world is cool, but…the idea basically disappears after the first ten minutes

So, five years have passed and Hiccup is back (still with a silly name, but well-voiced by Jay Baruchel) exploring the world and creating a map of it – for no apparent reason, in fact this particular task screams of a plot device purely because it doesn’t really come up again at all.

Evil people being evil, one of them, named Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), fancies having his own dragon army and ‘freeing’ the world from the fear and destruction of dragons, by scaring and destroying things with dragons, particularly the peaceful and tranquil little island that is Berk.

OK, OK, so far, so obvious right? Well, similar to a lot of animated films, the story isn’t the important thing – it’s the characters and if you have fun with them. This is an adventure clearly made for children first and foremost, but adults can enjoy the ride as well.

All in the family

Hiccup's mum and dad are reunited in the film, and immediately you know it'll end badly
Hiccup’s mum and dad are reunited in the film, and immediately you know it’ll end badly

Gerrard Butler’s Chief of the island Stoic, which is an equally silly name but does at least offer a good pun at one point, is particularly engaging and you care about the fate of Berk – just as you did in the first film.

This sequel largely avoids falling into a trap of jumping into an awkward teenagey romance (perhaps they’re saving it for part three…) and focuses on family, particularly Hiccup’s relationship with his parents, which is where Cate Blanchett comes in as Hiccup’s mother, who was long thought dead.

One of the most touching moments in the film is when she is reunited with Stoic, which really adds some emotional depth for the characters, particularly for those in the audience who can relate to an estranged parent.

Stand by for action

The Luke Skywalker parallel is really emphasised by Hiccup's flame lightsaber
The Luke Skywalker parallel is really emphasised by Hiccup’s flame lightsaber

Visually the film looks stunning in it’s cartoony glory, but these days that is really a necessity – there’s no excuse for hair which doesn’t move properly – but in this case the details are really nicely done, on the dragons as well as the humans.

Your life probably won’t be changed by this film, but what you will enjoy is an adventure which doesn’t fall into the trap of cliché too often, and has plenty of jokes thrown in casually without labouring the point or leaving too long to force them down the audiences throats.

It’s simply a fun film, and, really, what more do you need from a summer family outing?

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

Why co-op gaming is the way forward | Opinion | Gaming

EvolveI’ve never been much of a single player gamer. For as long as I’ve been gaming I’ve always enjoyed the comfort and security of having a buddy around to revive you when you inadvertently fall of a ledge or get caught on some clutter strewn across the floor of a level – designed to add richness to the setting but in fact amounting to another thing to navigate your character around.

Never has the value of having human co-op players on side been more clearly spelled out than when playing Left 4 Dead, a game which had a single player campaign in name only since even playing alone saw three AI teammates join you as you try to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Being Human

Left 4 Dead 2
Going it alone in Left 4 Dead (or its sequel, pictured) is a speedy shortcut to Dead City.

Add in human players instead and, providing they are half decent, the balance of the game changes entirely and is far more entertaining. Original developer Turtle Rock (not Valve as I had first thought, who merely published the first and developed the second) have kept this point of difference in their new game Evolve.

The game is based around an asymmetrical multiplayer mode which pits four hunters against a monster. The monster begins fairly weak and must snack on local wildlife to evolve (ahhhh now you’re getting it) to become a force strong enough to take down the hunters one by one.

At the same time the hunters must try to find and take out the monster, and if they don’t kill it before it reaches its stage three of evolution, an all-out fight begins to either destroy or protect the power generator for that particular area.

Getting it together

With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.
With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.

What does this have to do with co-op I hear you ask? Well granted, for the monster there isn’t a lot of co-op to be had, but it would be a completely different game against AI rather than humans, since it is all about reading the opposing team, tricking one hunter into saving another so you can take them down too, for example.

On the hunters’ team, good communication and cooperation are vital to survival. It’s a game where you rely on your team just as much as in Left 4 Dead, except there’s no escape – you have to face this monster – and it’s a far more sophisticated predator than the likes of the Tank.

In the old days you’d need to get three (well four, really) friends around to complete your team for a game like this, and sofa and TV space are a precious commodity. These days co-op is far easier, with Xbox Live (and other services which I’m less familiar with…) connecting players across the world in seconds, and with minimal lag even at low connection speeds.

When faced with such a wide range of possibilities as that – even in a single multiplayer map with single character choices (of which there are in fact multiple, even for the monster) – it’s difficult to imagine a single player experience matching up to it.

In your own little world

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Many have lost hundreds of hours to Skyrim, an entirely single player experience, but will they lose more to the Elder Scrolls Online?

That said, there are many who find escapism, solace and relaxation in single player, and I absolutely understand that. That experience will never disappear from games, but you only need to look at the biggest releases due for the rest of 2014 to see some clear signs of where console gaming is going – Destiny being a particularly high profile example.

The fact is that people are more easily connected than ever before, so it’s no wonder they want to share their favourite past time, but let’s hope the experiences we are presented with in co-op gaming going forward are well thought out, feature rich and diverse, and not just a clone of the main character bolted on to the campaign for the sake of it.

James Michael Parry