Words by Harry Moore
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”
Despite their recent standing on shaky ground, Marvel has once again kicked off the summer movie season with an exciting and surprisingly emotional entry to their cinematic universe with the closing chapter in James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” trilogy — which also signifies a broader chapter being closed for the MCU. Events pick up in the first Guardians film since the Avengers defeated Thanos with our titular band of heroic weirdos having spearheaded a growing community of misfits on the abandoned celestial giant head-turned-planet Nowhere. Within the group, Peter “Star Lord” Quill (Chris Pratt) is drinking his way through the grief of losing his love Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who was killed, only for a past version of herself to come back with no memories of Quill or the other Guardians. Elsewhere Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is reflecting on his traumatic past, and the action is kicked into gear when he is gravely injured by the superbeing Adam Warlock (Will Poulter), and the remaining team must set out on an adventure to save their furry friend.
Upon its release back in 2014, the original “Guardians of the Galaxy” was considered to be an incredibly risky creative swing for the then burgeoning Hollywood powerhouse with the characters hardly amongst the A-list of Marvel comics. Nine years later, the space outlaws are now household names and the series has arguably had the strongest influence on the tone for the MCU going forward. And that is largely due to writer/director James Gunn, who has now helmed all three of the “Guardians” films and was gifted the opportunity to mold the series in his own distinct voice, a luxury rarely afforded the creatives working for Marvel Studios. With “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” Gunn joined an illustrious group of directors who have taken the reigns of an entire superhero trilogy with Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) and Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) having already blazed that trail. But unlike those genre-defining heavyweights, Gunn has saved the best for last with a film that will have the majority of audiences misty eyed and satisfied with that rarest of things in modern blockbuster filmmaking — an honest to God ending.
Unlike other recent films in the MCU, “Guardians Vol. 3” has no mandates to set up future adventures or introduce characters who will be important in a later installment. Gunn was allowed to tell a story that focuses solely on this beloved, already established team, giving each of the characters their own arcs and fitting farewells. The chemistry amongst this group of actors has been a highlight of this series from its first installment and has given the characters a believably emotional familial bond that pays off in spades in this closer. Star Lord remains the best role of this blockbuster phase of Chris Pratt’s career (though I doubt Pratt will ever manage to surpass his role of Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recreation,” a top contender for the Sitcom Dummy Hall of Fame), and this may be his most rounded performance as he seamlessly balances his character’s humor, cockiness and level of emotion the part required.
The supporting cast is equally strong. As Drax the Destroyer, Dave Bautista nimbly made the move from the wrestling ring to the movie screen and has established himself as an actor with an unmistakable screen presence that is now regularly sought after by some of our most celebrated modern auteurs. Zoe Saldana is as reliable as she is in every role, as Chukwudi Iwuji creates a detestable villain in The High Evolutionary. Karen Gillan’s Nebula has managed to fly under the radar with one of the most well realized performances of the entire Marvel Universe, while Pom Klementieff is perhaps the discovery of the franchise as she brought Mantis to life with an abundance of heart and humor, making her among the most endearing characters of the series. And then there is Rocket Raccoon, the central focus of Vol. 3 and an immediate fan favorite. Voiced by Bradley Cooper, Rocket had been previously used primarily as comic relief, but here his backstory is told with such pathos that he becomes one of the most heart-breaking characters in all of superhero cinema. Even if it is undeniably manipulative, seeing the torment that that cute little CGI baby raccoon went through will impact any viewer with even the slightest hint of feelings toward animals.
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is the perfect curtain call for these characters, managing to be both a funny and heartfelt final ride with this crew. And much like his Guardians, Gunn will be flying off into the forever and beautiful sky to take over the rival DC studios. And based on recent evidence, it is clear that Marvel will be missing Gunn far more than Gunn will miss Marvel.
“Evil Dead Rise”
The “evil dead” return once again, abandoning their usual cabin in the woods for a Los Angeles highrise. As in the other “Evil Dead” movies, the fleshbound book of the dead is naively read aloud and the dead soon arise and attack those closest to them. What separates “Evil Dead Rise” from the others, is that instead of attacking a group of college friends looking to party, the deadites come after a young family.
The reunion between estranged sisters Beth (Lily Sullivan) and Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland) is swiftly cut short when Ellie’s son Danny (Morgan Davies) reads from a mysterious book he finds in their apartment building’s basement. Ellie is soon attacked and possessed by an evil spirit that turns her into an undead monster who sets out to turn her former family into the evil dead alongside her. Sam Raimi’s original “Evil Dead” films are iconic stalwarts of the horror genre and have had influence on filmmakers who may have never even seen them, such was the bold inventiveness of the craft that the young Raimi displayed with those films. So, it is somewhat remarkable that writer/ director Lee Cronin was able to breathe new life into the “Evil Dead” series whilst still staying reverential to the Raimi movies. Much like those other films, Rise revels in cartoonishly excessive gore and violence, pushing the limits on what may be considered bad taste for a studio produced horror movie. But it is from blood-soaked roots that the “Evil Dead” was born and “Rise” lives up to those traditions with this brisk, splatter-filled thriller.