Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (D). The first Guardians movie was a surprisingly fun, comic space opera. The second, unfortunately, is neither fun nor funny. The relentless special effects and earsplitting soundtrack add up to, as another critic put it, a “visual and aural assault”—and one that lasts over two hours, for good measure. There’s a lot going on here, but the main plot involves the encounter between affable space scoundrel Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, The Five-Year Engagement) and his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell, Big Trouble in Little China). It’s always great to see Russell doing his amiable big-lug routine, but even he can’t save this bloated trainwreck. Almost lost in the clutter are nice supporting performances by Michael Rooker (Tombstone) as the blue outlaw who raised Peter and Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) as a beautiful gold alien whose genetically perfect species is remarkably inept at tracking down and blowing up the Guardians. Skip it.
Passengers (B). The critics haven’t been too kind to this new sci-fi flick, but I liked it pretty well. For this particular movie it’s kind of hard to know what would count as spoilers, so first I’ll just say what the movie is about based on the first ten minutes: an awesome starship from Earth is on a 120-year journey to a new world, with 5,000 passengers and a couple hundred crew members all sleeping the voyage away in suspended animation. But a little problem crops up, and a single passenger—a lowly engineer named Jim (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World)—is woken up 90 years too soon. There’s no way he can put himself back into hibernation, and communicating with Earth is impossible, so he faces living the rest of his life completely alone. The movie is about how he deals with that fate.
The rest of this review might contain spoilers if you haven’t seen any previews for this movie.
As the previews show, and as even the movie’s posters give away, Jim doesn’t stay alone. Another passenger, the lovely Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook) also wakes up. How that comes to pass, and how she and Jim get along after she wakes up, are among the most interesting parts of the movie. Michael Sheen (TRON: Legacy) turns up as Arthur, the robotic bartender. The movie’s final act gets rather less interesting as coincidences and unbelievable events pile up. Still, I liked the movie overall. I thought Pratt and Lawrence were very likable, kind of like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land. If you like science fiction, I say give Passengers a try.
Jurassic World (B). A one-sentence review would suffice: If you liked the other Jurassic Park movies (and don’t mind a certain lack of originality), you’ll like this one. The corporate types have finally made a go of dino-cloning, so that mysterious Costa Rican island is now a successful dinosaur theme park. But the public bores easily, so the park must constantly develop new and scarier species to keep the rubes coming back for more. Naturally, corporate hubris gets a little come-uppance from Mother Nature. Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) is an able hero and velociraptor wrangler, but the script doesn’t really showcase his genial charm like Guardians did. I liked Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village) in the role of the tightly wound corporate honcho who has to deal with the rampaging reptiles (and rescue her nephews, who happen to be visiting the park the same day things go wrong), but the movie has taken some feminist flak for not making her character more heroic. Take the PG-13 rating seriously; there is some pretty bloody dino-carnage in this one.
Guardians of the Galaxy (B). I did not have particularly high expectations for this sci-fi special-effects extravaganza, so that may have helped me enjoy it all the more. I’m afraid a plot description will make it sound a little flat: a bad guy is searching for an ancient artifact of immense power that will help him rule the galaxy, and a band of misfits (the Guardians of the title) must try to stop his genocidal plans. But it’s more clever than it sounds, and it’s generally a pretty light-hearted romp. Likeable everyman Chris Pratt (The Five-Year Engagement) stars as Peter Quill, a Tomb Raideresque scoundrel who is really hoping his self-proclaimed nickname “Starlord” will catch on. Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness) is his enemy-turned-ally Gamora. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) has many of the best lines as a roguish raccoon named Rocket who has somehow acquired the power of speech and the ability to fly spaceships. Other notable faces show up, such as Glenn Close (The Stepford Wives), John C. Reilly (Walk Hard), and Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams). The film is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi action and violence and for some mild language. I guess that’s about right, although I don’t really think mature 11 and 12-year-olds would have a problem with it.
The Movie Snob finally makes it back to the movies.
The Lego Movie (B-). This movie is getting high marks from the critics, but I just can’t go better than “pretty good.” It’s an animated film about a world made of Legos—a world of bland conformity ruled by the Big Brother-like President Business (voice of Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby). But there is a prophecy that an ordinary Lego person will rise up and break Business’s stranglehold on Legoland, and it looks like The Chosen One may be an ordinary construction worker named Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt, her). His potential chosenness is discovered by a nonconformist chick named Wyldstyle (voice of Elizabeth Banks, Definitely, Maybe), who recruits him to join some sort of rebellion against Business and his main henchman, Bad Cop (voice of Liam Neeson, The Phantom Menace). The movie has plenty of pluses. The animation can be very striking, some of the humor is pretty good, and it is fun to pick out all the famous vocal talent at work, including Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), Will Arnett (TV’s Arrested Development), Jonah Hill (This Is the End), Alison Brie (TV’s Community), and many more. On the down side, as in many regular action movies, many of the action scenes moved so fast in places that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on. It started to feel a little long after a while, and I didn’t think the climactic ending was all that great. Still, I give the film makers credit for trying something reasonably fresh and original. Oh, and the theme song “Everything Is Awesome” really is kind of awesome.