‘Guardians 2’ familiar, but fun
When the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” came out three years ago, it was a minor revelation. Here was a comic-book movie with characters few outside of rabid Marvel fandom knew about that had heart, humor and a cool soundtrack. What’s not to love?
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” feels less like a fresh discovery and is far more self-conscious about its quirkiness. Director/co-writer James Gunn returns with what’s essentially more of the same; there’s nothing particularly surprising and, at 15 minutes longer than its predecessor, it has moments that sag. Still, “GotG 2” at its best is a lot of fun, even if it now seems the “Galaxy” formula has been set for the many sequels surely to come.
Much as with that other behemoth of a franchise starring Vin Diesel, “The Fast and the Furious,” “GotG” is all about misfits finding familial bonds with each other. This time around our reluctant hero from the last film, Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), is reunited with his father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who abandoned him many years before and Peter never knew why.
Peter gets to put the missing puzzle pieces together as Ego re-enters his life, promising him things that just may be too good to be true. It turns out Ego can do pretty much whatever he pleases and even has an entire planet of his own where he lives with a female empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff). How cool is that?
Meanwhile, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is dealing with an angry sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who wants her dead. Groot (voice of Diesel), who’s now Baby Groot since he’s a twig from the character in the previous movie, wants love and attention from his adoptive parents, aka the rest of the Guardians crew. Separately, Yondu (Michael Rooker), the thief who raised Quill, can’t stand that he’s fallen out of favor with his father figure, gang boss Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone).
While all of this is going on, our heroes are on the run from some ethereal, goldplated humanoids because Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), the raccoon creature, stole some of their batteries (don’t ask). The wise-cracking Rocket comes across as a guy who says he doesn’t need anyone else but, underneath the furry nonchalance, you just know he’s totally ride-ordie for his “family.”
The muscular and perpetually shirtless Dax (Dave Bautista) makes a romantic connection of sorts with Mantis and their exchanges provide some of the film’s funniest moments.
Then there’s the ’70s-flavored soundtrack which, as in the last movie, is something of a character itself. While using Looking Glass’ 1972 pop hit, “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl),” to open an intentionally cheesy movie about space adventurers or have Groot dance to Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” might seem like just a knowing wink to boomer grandparents, by the time the film ends sweetly with Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” the music has taken on an unexpected emotional resonance. It’s perhaps a too-obvious choice in a film about the importance of family and finding strength in those around you but it works and, besides, how much subtlety do you want in a movie with a talking raccoon?
Oh, be sure to remain in your seat through the end credits as there are five — count ’em, five — extra scenes inserted. Not only that but, if you stay, you get to hear “Flashlight,” the 1977 hit by that original group of interstellar misfits, Parliament/Funkadelic. “GotG 2” may not have its predecessor’s shock of the new, but any film that introduces the current generation to P-Funk can’t be all bad.
“Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2,” a Disney-Marvel release, is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, strong language, brief suggestive content. 2 ½
Azazel Jacobs’ “The Lovers” is a complex character study of long-term relationships that takes a clever premise — what if you were cheating on your lover, with your spouse? — and uses it to explore the nuances and ultimate truths of long term relationships. The film is anchored by a duo of powerhouse performances from Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, who play married couple Mary and Michael, with an arch sophistication mixed with genuine vulnerability.
Mary and Michael have slipped into a marital mundanity, co-existing as cordial roommates who barely speak to each other, rarely listen, and seem more awkward around each other than anything else. We aren’t given much history to their relationship, but as we know it to be now, each spouse pours their energy into their extramarital lover. For him, it’s a kooky, needy dancer, Lucy (Melora Walters), while she has a silver fox of a writer, Robert (Aiden Gillen).
But even those relationships have hit the skids in some ways. Play has become work in their affairs, and their passionate, emotional lovers require a certain amount of upkeep that Mary and Michael don’t seem to be willing to give. Suddenly, the person they sleep next to becomes more and more appealing, and a wild, secretive affair is born, complete with lunchtime romps.
“The Lovers” finds itself in its moments of detail, specificity and stillness. Long pauses punctuate the action and serve as punchlines for the often wordless visual humor. Both Letts and Winger expertly express their characters’ mental state physically, whether frazzled or downtrodden at their less-than-exciting jobs, fraught with uneasiness or comfortably tender with each other. There are times when it can feel a bit too mannered, too tight, and you wish for the film to cut loose a bit. When it does, during a visit with their son, Joel (Tyler Ross), and his girlfriend, Erin (Jessica Sula), the tension cracks in unexpected ways, though the break is a welcome relief.
One of the unique stylistic choices that Jacobs makes with “The Lovers” is the grand, sweeping orchestral score, composed by Mandy Hoffman. It’s unexpected for a smaller romantic indie drama, but it gives the film a sense of a romantic epic while following the quotidian routine of this couple. It adds a layer of artifice to the film, signifying that this is a heightened reality, and infuses every frame with drama and romance.
While there are times that “The Lovers” feels a bit too stultifying and stiff, the warm performances from the underrated Winger and Letts make the emotions at hand come to life, filling the screen with moments universal and divine, which is especially difficult with such morally complex characters. They prove their might as great screen actors deserving of more roles, but “The Lovers” is not about them as individual performers; it’s about these actors working in tandem with each other, the script, the director and the other actors. The film works as a whole, not a sum of its parts.
The story itself is unexpected, almost like a fable in the way it unpacks the story of the long-term relationship — the norms and expectations; the dangers and pitfalls. It’s a cautionary tale that never passes judgment, an exploration of the way that love can be a manysplendored thing, with many people, some of them twice.
“The Lovers,” a Robb Rosenfeld Film release, is rated R for sexuality and language. Running time: 94 minutes. 2 ½
Debra Winger and Tracy Letts star in “The Lovers.”