Before the bell rings on 2014 and rings in 2015, I wanted to give my two cents on a few of the blockbuster movies that blew away the box office in 2014 (but I missed catching them at the theatres).
Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s leap into space adventures had a US opening weekend of $95 million and has so far grossed over $300 million in the US alone (at least according to IMDB) and I could definitely see why. This movie is a whole lot of fun. It’s got some memorable and interesting characters: including an intelligent and sarcastic raccoon named Rocket (voiced ascerbically by Bradley Cooper), an amazing humanoid tree creature named Groot (“voiced” by Vin Diesel), and a roguish anti-hero named Peter Quill, a.k.a. Starlord (played by new superstar-in-the-making, Chris Pratt). Having been abducted from Earth decades ago, Quill ended up as an interplanetary thief/mercenary (in the same vein as other much-beloved sci-fi icons Han Solo and Capt. Malcolm Reynolds). Sent to a prison, he meets and teams up with the aforementioned creatures as well as Gamora (an enhanced, green assassin — no, colour doesn’t play into it), and a revenge-hungry brute known as Drax the Destroyer (played by wrestler Dave Bautista). Together they not only break out, but go on the hunt for a priceless and powerful artifact and attempt to prevent it from falling into the evil hands of Ronan the Accuser (a mean, blue tyrant who serves the mad space-god Thanos). What makes this movie fun is not only the space-piratey milieu, but the amazing action sequences (I love what they can do with CGI these days), the clever and witty repartee, and the swash-buckling sense of camaraderie that this team soon develop. The story and pace of this movie are excellent and it’s non-stop all the way. Pratt and Cooper are great with the dialogue and the attitudes. The rest of the cast are alright (I mean, Vin only has one line repeated endlessly. How hard could it be?) Any fan looking for a connection to the existing Marvel cinematic universe of Captain America or Iron Man and the Avengers will be a little disappointed that the links are quite tenuous and tangential. You’ll have to wait three more years for the start of the Infinity Wars movies. However, I love the fact that Marvel Entertainment is expanding its franchise into a whole other realm (i.e. space), and I am really looking forward to Guardians 2 in a few. (4.5 out of 5)
How To Train Your Dragon 2
The first film was one of the few non-Disney/Pixar animated films that I really loved. The wonderful blend of fantasy adventure and humour was a lot of fun, and the visuals were spectacular. In the sequel, we again focus on Hiccup (young rider) and Toothless (black dragon). I thought it was great that they jumped forward in time and that an originally tween character became a full-fledged teen. It was also really fascinating that they revisited the theme of human-dragon relations and (as a sequel should do) took it up a notch. Another aspect that got expanded was the family drama between Hiccup (voiced again by Jay Baruchel) and his father Stoick (voiced again by Gerard Butler), tackling the age-old theme of living up to one’s parent as well as finding one’s identity by understanding one’s parents. (Yes, that’s plural. The supposedly motherless Hiccup meets a mysterious dragon rider in his far-but-not-too-far travels — who could it be??). Again we are treated to some magnificent aerial scenes and animated stunts in the many dragon-flight scenes and a new brutish and dark-hearted villain is discovered (Drago — who would name their son Drago that didn’t expect him to become an evil dragon lord? — voiced by Djimon Hounsou). While overall the arc of this story echoes a lot of the first movie, it was still exciting to see a new shine on this fantasy setting. Granted, the character and story development don’t compare to a Harry Potter movie, but this is still a worthy successor to the How to Train Your Dragon series (4 out of 5).
Live Die Repeat. Edge of Tomorrow
Many have bemoaned the lousy title (not much enhanced by the after-thought of adding “Live Die Repeat.” to it) being the cause for the non-spectacular box office reception of this movie. (Granted, it had a slightly bigger budget than Guardians, but did about a third of the business.) It just didn’t have the same broad appeal as some of the other blockbusters of the year. For starters, the story of a human-alien war where our international troops are defending against the invasion of the metallic, shape-shifting Mimics already plants our feet squarely in sci-fi territory. In addition, Tom Cruise plays Lt. Bill Cage, a non-combat-trained media relations officer who gets busted down to private in a mech-suit wearing platoon, then endlessly repeats his day (after any number of brutal deaths) in a time-loop. Once he finds Emily Blunt’s character, Rita Vrataski, the two of them plot to save the world from the Mimics (in a somewhat convenient way that so many previous alien species have fallen from — you’d think that natural selection would have prevented such a major vulnerability). This is a pretty slick movie, which handles all the time looping very well. It isn’t easy when the audience has to follow visual and cinematic cues to play along. We need to be able to follow the details that are changing from one loop to the next and understand how it’s all going to come together. As I said before about Oblivion, I think Cruise has found his niche — maverick sci-fi hero. He’s a classic, timeless kind of movie star who doesn’t rely on contemporary humour or a certain trendy stylishness. In a futuristic setting, we need someone we can relate to even though we’re not from that time period and Cruise does a great job of that. Emily Blunt as the tough-chick mecha marine is a bit of miscasting. I don’t think she’s naturally tough (at least not in a physical kind of way). At the core of this movie is a traditional military mission movie (much like Cruise’s Valkyrie), where a rag-tag group need to hit a target and do the thing that wins the war. The only difference here is that the story is fragmented by all the time looping. It’s a bit like watching a flip book where each image is a different tableau but together they form a much faster-moving storytelling momentum. I was a little disappointed that the enemy (while quite vicious) was not more developed. I would think that a super-evolved, world-conquering species would have been much more difficult to kill (and part of the fault goes to the writers who made everything too convenient for our hero). Nevertheless, I love to bend my brain around the timey-wimey stuff that they put into this story along with the thrilling trench-warfare against giant metallic spider creatures (however, I don’t love the “boot camp” part of the story — I never like those). They really stretch the time loop concept (though by the end I think they stretch it a little far) but at least they finally offer a potential, alternative, time-looping classic to Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (4 out of 5)