Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

When Robert Rodriguez adapted a handful of Frank Miller's Sin City comic book stories into a movie in 2005, the movie was met with critical acclaim and box office success. Enough success, in fact, that one would have thought that a sequel would have been planned not long afterwards. But nine years have passed since then. Nearly a decade has gone by, plenty of time for Sin City to have become something of a footnote in the history of movies based on comics. That's why I was legitimately surprised when I saw trailers and commercials proclaiming that Rodriguez and Miller were finally doing a sequel. Maybe it was Warner Bros. making 300: Rise of an Empire, released back in March seven years after Zack Snyder first adapted Miller's 300 comic, that got them into gear, I don't know. But what I can tell you is this: much that 300 sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a sequel that came far too long to matter and was far too mediocre to justify its own existence.

We begin with the short piece "Just Another Saturday Night," which sees the burly Marv (Mickey Rourke) awaken from unconsciousness to find himself surrounded by dead bodies and a wrecked police car. Having no idea how he ended up in such a situation, Marv starts retracing his steps and finds a trail of clues that leads him to a gang of particularly rowdy, violent frat boys.

From there we move along to "The Long Bad Night," an original story crafted specifically for the movie. It introduces us to Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hotshot gambler on the luckiest streak of his life. He arrives in Sin City and immediately hits jackpots on every slot machine in town. Johnny's arrogance gets the best of him, though, when he hears that the powerful Senator Roark (Powers Booth) hosts a nightly private poker game with the city's elite. He waltzes in like he owns the place, buys his way into the game, and immediately cleans Roark out. But the game's stakes are far higher than Johnny could have ever imagined, as the last thing you want to do in Sin City is humiliate a member of the Roark family.

Our third story is another one from the comics, the titular "A Dame to Kill For." It focuses on Dwight McCarthy (Josh Brolin), a private investigator struggling to put his dark past behind him. But that past comes roaring back in the form of Ava Lord (Eva Green), a former lover who broke Dwight's heart years earlier. She begs him for help, to save her from her abusive marriage to wealthy tycoon Damien Lord (Marton Csokas). Though his better judgment tells him to ignore her and move on with his life, he finds that Ava has a tighter grip on him than he thought and agrees to help her. Dwight makes a move to kill Damien, but in the process, he begins to realize that perhaps Ava has been manipulating him to serve another purpose.

Concluding the movie is "Nancy's Last Dance," the second of the movie's two original stories. Four years have passed since the events of "That Yellow Bastard," and Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) still struggles to cope with the death of John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). Seeing Hartigan's ghostly presence everywhere she turns, Nancy plans revenge as her hatred for Senator Roark threatens to consume her. And with Marv's help, she will indeed have that revenge.

The first Sin City movie was mindblowing. It was a unique experience because there was nothing quite like it at the time. But nearly a decade after its release, some of the glitz has worn off and Sin City is more of a footnote in the history of comic book movies than anything else nowadays. A Dame to Kill For is a movie that should have been made five or six years earlier, because now people have moved on. And when you throw in the fact that A Dame to Kill For is a mediocre movie anyway, and you have a disappointing time at the theater.

Returning to direct are Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, who seem like they just can't catch a break lately. Miller's only other attempt at filmmaking (his 2008 effort The Spirit) was a box office bomb, while Rodriguez had similar results with Machete Kills and his half of Grindhouse. (To his credit, though, he did have two modest successes in the intervening time as well.) Their direction is technically solid, still looking as cool as ever. It looks especially awesome in 3D, to the point that I really want to see what the original movie would look like if converted into three dimensions. The catch, however, is that it lacks a lot of the impact the first movie had. It's missing the passion and intensity that made the first movie such a blast to watch. And with that gone, it just feels like Rodriguez and Miller are going through the motions. Some parts are actually pretty great, I won't lie, but overall, I walked away from the movie with a "blah" feeling.

Miller's script, meanwhile, is kinda shaky. It's neither good nor bad, but simply okay at best. I did think that "Just Another Saturday Night" and "The Long Bad Night" are strong, while "A Dame to Kill For" is hampered by being a bit too long, and "Nancy's Last Dance" is just plain dull. But for the most part it's just falling in line with the direction. The gritty charm of the first movie is gone, having faded away after a decade of waiting and more than one movie trying to copy Sin City's style. Had the movie been made in 2007 or 2008 when the idea was still fresh, maybe my opinion of Miller's script would be different, I don't quite know for sure, though.

But the movie does have some great acting going for it, I'll give it that. While I miss Clive Owen in the role, I thought Josh Brolin did a really good job as Dwight. Mickey Rourke is a lot of fun and genuinely likable, while Powers Boothe is wonderfully sleazy as Senator Roarke. (All Boothe needed was an old-timey mustache to twirl and he'd have been perfect!)

The acting isn't all good, unfortunately. I'm referring specifically to Jessica Alba, who's a truly awful actress. She is just so unbelievable in the role that it feels like Rodriguez and Miller got Mattel to create a "Little Miss Badass" Barbie doll and trotted it out in front of the camera.

At least Alba is countered by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eva Green, though. Gordon-Levitt is the absolute polar opposite of Alba, a damn good actor that's practically showing off here. He's cocky and self-assured, everything the character needed. You can't help but enjoy his swaggering performance. Green, meanwhile, is fantastic. Much like her appearance in the 300 sequel earlier this year, Green is one of the movie's true highlights. She's such a vile, conniving bitch here, and she really makes the movie better for her efforts. And what were the odds that out of two mediocre movie adaptations of Frank Miller comics, the same actress would be one of the best elements of both?

Rodriguez and Miller captured lightning in a bottle in 2005. The first Sin City movie was an amazing movie that still manages to hold up nine years later. But it's ultimately something that couldn't be duplicated. I do wonder how it would have turned out had they struck while the iron was hot and made the movie after two or three years as opposed to nearly a decade. But in 2014, that lightning can't be caught again. The time has passed, the opportunity long gone. And as sad as it is to say, A Dame to Kill For is ultimately a movie to skip.

Final Rating: **

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Expendables 3 (2014)

You wouldn't believe how excited I got when The Expendables hit theaters in 2010. A movie that brought so many of my favorite action movie stars being brought together was something that I absolutely had to see. I can say the same for the sequel, and in both instances, I was pleasantly surprised with both movies. But now that a third Expendables movie is upon us, that excitement is lessened. The feeling of nostalgia has worn off, and I can't say I was really looking forward to seeing this new adventure. And unlike the first two, the third movie isn't quite as good as I'd hoped either.

As the movie begins, we're quickly reintroduced to Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and the Expendables as they extract former teammate Doc (Wesley Snipes) from a prison transport train. Having successfully staged their daring jailbreak, the Expendables make a stop in Somalia, where they've been tasked with breaking up a black market arms trade. Their mission goes awry, however, when they realize the broker behind the trade is Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former Expendable who went rogue and became a ruthless international gunrunner. Stonebanks goes on the attack, effortlessly defeating the Expendables and leaving one of them critically wounded.

Word of the incident gets back to CIA operative Max Drummer (Harrison Ford), who approaches an angry Barney and tasks him with bringing in Stonebanks alive so that he can be tried at the Hauge for numerous war crimes. Unwilling to put his friends in harm's way again, Barney disbands the Expendables and hires a new team of young mercenaries to accomplish his mission. After calling in a few favors from old rival Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Barney and his new team are able to track down Stonebanks. But their foe is anticipating them, once again getting the upper hand. Faced with no other options, Barney must get the old gang back together if he is to save his new team and bring Stonebanks to justice.

I can't say I didn't enjoy The Expendables 3. But there's just something about it that held it back from being as good as the previous ones. Maybe it's the nostalgia wearing off, like I said earlier. The novelty of seeing all these stars in the same movie can only last for so long. (Why do you think they stopped making sequels to Ocean's Eleven?) There's something missing here, but I still enjoyed the movie. So at least it's got that going for it, right?

Director Patrick Hughes does a decent enough job helming the movie. But that's the thing, though: his efforts are just decent. He's not a bad director, but his work here doesn't really do much to make the movie any better than "okay." I really did enjoy the climactic shootout at the end of the movie, but outside of that, Hughes manages to bring only just enough energy to make the rest of the movie watchable. The ultra-fast editing and frenetic camerawork don't help at all, and it feels like the movie was seriously trimmed (and clumsily so at times) in order to achieve a PG-13 rating instead of the R the previous two got. And then there's the obvious, fake-looking CG effects that, while not quite enough to take a viewer out of the movie, still feel like they were rushed in at the last minute. It honestly comes across like there's parts of the movie where people just couldn't bother to give it 100% effort.

I could actually say the same for the script. Credited to Sylvester Stallone, Creighton Rothenberger, and Katrin Benedikt, the script doesn't really give us anything more than what we already expected from it going in. I could forgive the generic, run-of-the-mill story had something interesting been done with it. But the catch is that it's generic to the point of serious predictability. It's the kind of script that puts the movie in a "if you've seen it once, you've seen it a million times" type of situation. You know as soon as Barney sends the old Expendables on their way that he'll have to bring them back once his new team gets in over their heads, and that the new and old teams won't see eye to eye thanks to the generation gap but find common ground and become friends by the end of the movie. Add in the fact that the movie runs out of steam early on and doesn't pick up again until the climax, and you're left with something that is sadly duller than it should have been.

To the writers' credit, I did like the cute references to the cast's lives and past work. Wesley Snipes's character claims to have been sent to prison for tax evasion, Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes his famed "get to the chopper!" line from Predator, and so on. They even work in a reference to the fact that Harrison Ford was hired at the very last minute to replace Bruce Willis. But after a while, these go from funny to just enough to make you crack a smile to making you wish they'd come up with some new jokes. Maybe it's me, but self-referential humor only really works in small doses unless you're a goofball comedy (see: 22 Jump Street earlier this summer) or a full-blown parody.

But at least the cast is up for a little "wink wink, nudge nudge" humor. Sadly, they otherwise come off as if they're simply going through the motions. One gets the feeling that they're just there to collect a paycheck and burn off a little spare time by making a movie. Only a handful of actors really stand out, whether they be good or bad, since the majority of the cast are sailing a big boat of mediocrity down this cinematic river. Antonio Banderas is really funny as a talkative, over-enthusiastic mercenary who keeps pestering Barney for a spot on the Expendables team, while Mel Gibson makes his character as vicious as he can. Gibson doesn't get a whole lot of room to stretch his legs acting-wise, but he still does a great job.

Wesley Snipes, meanwhile, provides a fun moment or two, but he feels wasted here. I really enjoy Snipes when he's allowed to run wild (his performance in Demolition Man made for one of my favorite action movie villains), but he is lost in the shuffle of the huge cast. And among the new Expendables, none of them make any sort of impact beyond Ronda Rousey. Rousey, the current UFC women's bantamweight champion, was hired because she's a notoriously tough MMA fighter. But she's not an actress, and her enthusiasm and the effort she puts forth aren't enough to hide her inexperience. At least she's trying, so at least I'll give Rousey props for that.

I wasn't really that excited for The Expendables 3 when I sat down to watch it. I didn't know why, but once the credits rolled, I realized what the problem was. The problem was that the movie just wasn't as good as it could have been.

Final Rating: **½

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

It's weird thinking that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been around in some form or fashion for thirty years. Even with the recent surge of 1980s nostalgia, I still can't quite wrap my head around seeing kids playing with toys and watching cartoons from a franchise that I was enjoying when I was a kid. I will admit, though, that when I'd heard Warner Bros. Pictures and Nickelodeon would be teaming up to create a brand new live-action Ninja Turtles movie to commemorate the franchise's thirtieth anniversary, I was very, very excited. And then I heard that Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes would be producing it, and all that excitement went away. But I just had to see it anyway, just to see how it would turn out. And this might sound like a copout answer, but ultimately, the movie is what it is.

For some time now, New York City has been terrorized by a criminal organization known as the Foot Clan. Local news reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) has spent quite a bit of that time trying to find something on the gang, hoping to break away from the lame puff pieces she's been stuck doing for months. While chasing a lead, she witnesses a shadowy figure interrupting a Foot Clan raid on the docks and knocking out everyone there. Her story about a mysterious vigilante is laughed out of the newsroom, only making April more determined to get to the bottom of what happened.

The Foot Clan, meanwhile, swears revenge on the vigilante that embarrassed them. To accomplish this, they take a number of hostages, with April coincidentally among them, at a subway station in an attempt to lure the vigilante out. The situation is broken up by not one, but four assailants, whom April follows out to some nearby rooftops. But she is shocked to discover that the four crimefighters are not human, but giant bipedal turtles.

Introducing themselves as Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, with the voice of Johnny Knoxville), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Raphael (Alan Ritchson), the four karate-trained turtles bring her to their lair in the sewers beneath the city. April is immediately recognized by their sensei, a mutated rat named Splinter (Danny Woodburn, with the voice of Tony Shaloub). Her late father, a scientist, was instrumental in creating the mutagen that led to Splinter and the turtles arriving at their current anthropomorphic state, and Splinter remembers April as the little girl who saved the five animals from the lab fire that killed her father fifteen years earlier.

But little do they know that they're similarly tied to wealthy pharmaceutical manufacturer Eric Sachs (William Fichtner). A past associate of April's father, Sachs presents himself to the public as a charitable, philanthropic businessman. However, he's been secretly bankrolling the Foot Clan, and has a financial stake in their master plan to destroy New York City. And of course, it's up to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to save the day.

I desperately wanted to love this movie. I'd hoped that it would make me proud to be a Ninja Turtles fan. I wanted something that I could watch with new fans and share in the fun and excitement with them. But that's not what this movie is. It's a depressing movie because it has very little of the heart or charm that made me fall in love with the Ninja Turtles so long ago. It has its fun moments, but I honestly cannot call this new interpretation of the franchise a good movie.

The movie was directed by Jonathan Liebesman, whose body of work thus far hasn't been very impressive. In watching the movie, I came to think that Liebesman perhaps took some inspiration from Michael Bay's work on the Transformers movies. It feels constructed the same way, with similar cinematography, editing, and visual style. (This movie is thankfully an hour shorter than Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction.) Liebesman here is almost a game of cinematic connect-the-dots, going from Point A to Point B to Point C without doing much to make the movie feel lively. There are some truly cool moments (the fight between Splinter and Shredder halfway through the movie stands out as one of the true highlights, in my opinion), but for the most part, Liebesman doesn't do much to make the movie anything other than dull.

But then again, the screenplay doesn't provide him with much of a blueprint to go from. While there are some cute gags and subtle references to the franchise's history for long-time fans to catch, the script fails to really provide much of anything worthwhile. Writers Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty have practically stumbled right of the gate with this one. The story is convoluted and just plain stupid, the villains aren't intimidating, April O'Neil is a hollow placeholder for a character (and feels like a female version of Shia LaBeouf's character from the first three Transformers movies at times to boot), and the Ninja Turtles themselves rarely rise above the basest concepts of their characters. They don't have any personalities, just clichés sitting in where their personalities would be. It's the kind of script that comes across like Applebaum, Nemec, and Daugherty slapped it together at the last minute with as little effort as possible. Three different people worked on writing this movie and this is the best they could do?

Even the movie's post=production conversion into 3D is mediocre. There are some moments that look fantastic, especially the climactic rooftop battle between the Ninja Turtles and Shredder, but the 3D effects are mostly hit or miss. I've seen a few movies this summer that were converted into 3D and still looked really good, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not one of them. It's another typical example of a 3D conversion that could have stood having a lot more effort put into it if it even had to be done at all.

And then there's the cast, who aren't bad but still not particularly impressive. Nobody will ever accuse Megan Fox of being a good actress, but she gives what I'd call on eof her best performances here. She's committed to the role and proves herself likable even if her talents are limited and the character is poorly written. And if Fox's character is similar to the lead character from the Transformers movies, then Will Arnett is playing one similar to the comic relief from the Transformers movies. Arnett starts out kinda funny, but the joke gets old fast and he's really annoying by the end of the movie.

While their characters are unfortunately flat, the actors playing Splinter and the Ninja Turtles are really good. They try their damnedest to infuse a little personality into their roles, and actually make them enjoyable. It just hurts to see that they're given almost nothing to work with. And they're also outshined by William Fichtner. I haven't seen Fichtner in many movies, but I've enjoyed his work every time I have and this time proves no exception. It's not his best work, and the character is poorly written as well, but Fichtner was still able to leave a positive impression, and I can't complain about that.

I must confess that I entered the movie a little biased. I fully expected it to suck, and that the Ninja Turtles I grew up with would outshine the ones from this movie any day. And while I cannot say that I completely hated the movie, I can't say I completely liked it either. It's the kind of movie that only really works if you have absolutely zero expectations whatsoever, and even then I'd say that would be pushing it. Watching it actually gave me flashbacks to the year 1993 and the last time someone made a live-action Ninja Turtles movie. And in those twenty years, Hollywood apparently failed to learn the lessons taught by that movie. So here's hoping that in the event that they do indeed make a sequel to this reboot, they'll actually make a good movie. Because honestly, I'm going to be really upset if the Ninja Turtles break my heart again.

Final Rating: **

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

No one could have possibly foreseen just how big the Marvel Cinematic Universe would get when it began with Iron Man in 2008. After six years and nine movies, it's second only to the Harry Potter movies as one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. And when your movies make billions of dollars at the box office, with one of them making one and a half billion alone, you can get away with having a little bravery in future installments. So for their tenth movie, Marvel Studios chose to step away from the Avengers characters audiences have come to know and love so much and give us something different. Based on a team of characters that could be accurately described as obscure D-listers from outer space, Guardians of the Galaxy is a gamble that paid off in spades because it's one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in a while.

We're quickly introduced to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who was abducted by aliens as a child in 1988. Raised by a band of intergalactic pirates known as the Ravagers, the adult Quill has become a scavenger, fancying himself an outlaw with the self-bestowed moniker of "Star-Lord." When we meet him, Quill has arrived on a desolate planet to retrieve a mysterious orb he's heard will fetch him a hefty chunk of money. His attempt to abscond with it is interrupted by Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a subordinate of the notorious terrorist Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), but he manages to escape with both the orb and his life. He also comes away with a bounty for his capture thanks to Ravager leader Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), who was angered by the knowledge that Quill would dare disrespect him by stealing and selling the orb without cutting him in on the deal.

But before he can fence his new possession, however, he is ambushed by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin sent by Ronan to acquire the orb after Korath's failure. Quill's attempt to fight back draws the attention of two bounty hunters ― the genetically modified anthropomorphic raccoon Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper) and tree-like Groot (the voice of Vin Diesel) ― looking to cash in on Yondu's ransom. The resulting brawl ends with all four being arrested and sent to a massive mega-prison called the Kyln.

Gamora is given a particularly hostile welcome upon their arrival by the brutish warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronan years earlier. But his attempt at having a modicum of revenge by killing her is halted when she reveals that she had planned to betray Ronan and prevent him from getting the orb. Upon mentioning that she had lined up a buyer offering a fortune for it, Quill, Rocket, and Groot immediately volunteer to help stage a jailbreak.

With Drax tagging along in the hopes that he will eventually encounter and duel with Ronan, the group heads to the buyer's outpost on the edge of the universe. However, not only are Yondu and the Ravagers following closely behind them, but so are Ronan and his armada. While the Ravagers merely wish to steal the orb for their own financial gain, Ronan has much more sinister plans for it and the immeasurable power it contains.

Making Guardians of the Galaxy was a brave experiment on Marvel's part. The characters don't have a built-in audience like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America do, their lack of mainstream notoriety potentially serving as a stumbling block for some audience members. And the fact that it's not a typical superhero movie, instead being more of a space opera akin to Star Wars or Flash Gordon. This is not the kind of movie one would expect Marvel Studios to make. But they've defied all expectations with Guardians of the Galaxy. They've gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to showing the audience a good time, making a movie that is more fun and more entertaining than I ever imagined it could have been.

Part of what makes the movie so good is the direction courtesy of James Gunn. Hiring Gunn was another gamble by Marvel, as his prior work is comprised solely of low-budget, low-tech indie affairs that all failed to strike gold at the box office. Handing the guy that made Slither the reigns of a multimillion-dollar summer blockbuster seems kinda off at first, doesn't it? But Gunn's off-beat, mischievous, and ultimately irreverent sense of humor is perfect for this movie. It allows Gunn to build something that is lively and never takes itself too seriously. He's crafted a deep, rich world that effortlessly balances excitement, drama, and a feeling of wide-eyed awe. It never ceases to feel like an adventure, and when the credits roll, you'll wish it could have kept going.

And for all his low-budget work in the past, Gunn shows he can definitely handle the huge studio movies as well. I was impressed by how cool the visuals, represented mostly via CGI and motion capture work with practical effects mixed in, looked. They're seamlessly integrated into the movie, with Rocket and Groot looking especially awesome. It honestly looks and feels like they're really there. And I'll also give a big thumbs-up to the movie's 3D efforts. It was shot flat, but you'd never know it from how good the post-production conversion looks. Gunn supposedly filmed the movie in such a way that would benefit the added depth, and personally oversaw the conversion himself. His effort shows, and while I'm sure the movie looks just as good in 2D, seeing the movie in 3D just adds to the on-screen spectacle.

I also really liked the script, written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. They must have worried about the obscurity of the property as well, because they've developed it in such a way that it is surprisingly accessible even for those who've never so much as touched a comic book. The story never gets muddled or over-complicated, the characters all have their own distinct personalities and motivations, and every scene and every line of dialogue (even the snappy comedic banter) builds toward something. Everything matters here. It's either moving the plot forward, developing the characters, or bringing us deeper into the movie's universe. There are a few hiccups along the way, mostly in the form of dangling plot threads that will surely be resolved in the inevitable sequel (which is currently set for release in 2017). But Gunn and Perlman have still put together something great.

The same can be said for the cast, all of whom are all great in their own ways. Among the supporting cast, I really liked Benicio del Toro, Michael Rooker, and John C. Reilly in their minor roles, while Lee Pace isn't bad as Ronan the Accuser. I wasn't totally impressed with Pace at first, since I honestly wanted to see more of Josh Brolin as Thanos (especially since we probably won't be seeing much of Thanos for a few years). But after seeing the movie a second time, I thought Pace did a fine job.

The primary cast, meanwhile, is the movie's main drawing point, and they're all strong and likable. Chris Pratt plays Star-Lord as if Luke Skywalker were desperately trying to be Han Solo; he's a cocky, swaggering wannabe outlaw with a blossoming sense of heroism. Pratt is very fun to watch in the role, putting forth a fantastic performance. Zoe Saldana, similarly, brings a confidence to Gamora, along with a certain vulnerability as well. She is more subdued than the rest of her castmates, something I felt worked in her favor. It makes her more intriguing to watch, because she's not as wacky or over-the-top as the others.

And I must admit that I was surprised by former WWE star Dave Bautista. Most pro wrestlers aren't very successful in translating from the ring to the big screen, with the only real exception I can think of being Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. But Bautista is excellent here. He's hilarious, complex and nuanced, and actually really impressive.

But as funny as Bautista's Drax is, the movie is almost completely stolen by the characters of Rocket and Groot, thanks in part to the voice work from Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. Cooper's Rocket is braggadocios yet secretly neurotic about his lot in life, and he makes it work. I've heard he based it on Joe Pesci's performance in GoodFellas, and I believe it. It really shows, and it makes Rocket more memorable.

Diesel approaches his role, on the other hand, as if it were similar to his role in The Iron Giant. His only dialogue is the oft-repeated phrase "I am Groot," a phrase that means so many different things depending on the tone and inflection, and Diesel makes it oddly believable. Watch the movie intently enough, and you'll start to see what I mean. The fact that Diesel was able to communicate so much through just saying three words over and over is a real testament to how impressive he can be when he really wants to be. (And the fact that he apparently recorded the line a thousand times in multiple languages for the movie's international releases gets him a ton of respect from me.)

Long story short, Guardians of the Galaxy is an all-around awesome movie. It's everything one could hope for from a movie like this. Blending an unbridled sense of adventure with silly humor, enjoyable characters, and an awesome soundtrack of '60s and '70s hits, the movie is some of the most fun I've had in a theater in a long time. And it's a shame I'll have to wait until 2017 to see the characters again, because the Guardians of the Galaxy are a great change of pace from the Avengers.

Final Rating: ****