Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Rapid Reviews: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Wall

Recently I offered an outpouring of love for James Gunn's surprisingly successful first installment, Guardians of the Galaxy, by labeling it as the best entry within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Needless to say, my anticipation for the franchise's second film was astronomical, something I haven't said about any sequel for quite some time. Yet, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fails to advance the Marvel story with a dull and lifeless character examination of Peter Quill.

Daddy issues resurface as the mystery surrounding Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) biological father becomes quickly addressed. Kurt Russell co-stars as Ego, the mystery man who helped spawn Star-Lord, and he returns with a bit of surprising news. Ego is what's referred to as a celestial, a god-like being with immense powers, and he helps Peter recognize his own superior abilities as they slowly reconnect after decades apart.

As I have stated before, I am no purist to the Marvel comics. In fact, the MCU is merely a refreshing brand of comedic and action-packed superhero fodder that's managed to progress and expand fluidly into an unstoppable machine. However, GOTG Vol. 2 takes a step out of the natural progression and dives deep into its source material's influence. James Gunn uses a wide combination of both familiar characters and new ones, bolstering a lineup that comic book loyalists are sure to appreciate, in order to expand on Star-Lord's character rather than act as a proper stepping stone towards the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. While this approach isn't necessarily destined to fail all own its own, Peter Quill's lack of personal conflict in the third act butchers this entire game-plan. GOTG Vol. 2's rampant attempts at comedic relief feel nowhere near as natural as its predecessor and, in conjunction with hokey dramatics and an irritatingly mind-numbing dose of Baby Groot, this sequel feels wildly off the mark. Marvel's typical formulaic approach is scrapped from James Gunn's latest work and, oddly enough, it leaves you longing for the cookie-cutter sequel. Simply stated, GOTG Vol. 2 feels twice as long and about not even half as good as the original.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

Doug Liman has emerged as an action aficionado of sorts. The long-time filmmaker broke onto the scene in the mid-90s as the visionary behind the indie classic, Swingers. But since then, Liman has pivoted to a more uptempo directing approach with successes such as The Bourne Identity and The Edge of Tomorrow. Yet, even as a heralded filmmaker within the action genre, Liman's latest cat & mouse sniper thriller, The Wall, becomes hampered by its claustrophobic setting.

Set during 2007 in Iraq, after President Bush had declared victory, a pair of soldiers (Aaron-Taylor Johnson and John Cena) are investigating the murder scene of American contractors in the middle eastern country. Consequently, the two soldiers fall under the gunfire of an undetectable and skillful sniper. Left with nothing but a flimsily built rock wall to shelter him from the sniper's accuracy, Isaac (Johnson) finds himself immersed in a battle of wits and warfare with the opposing shooter.

Filmed predominantly in the same setting, The Wall tries desperately to avoid an aura of monotony with a mere 85-minute running time. Unfortunately, a severed amount of screen time still can't stop Liman's effort from standing as a tiresome affair. An insufficient and bland story overshadows an initially intriguing psychological opening. However, as the minutes begin to mount and the film's third act ultimately takes shape, a decent final sequence isn't nearly enough to salvage an utter lack of connection between viewer and characters. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, fresh off a Golden Globe win for his supporting role in Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals, delivers a committed performance, but even his unique talents fail to withstand a rather unimaginative screenplay from Dwain Worrell. The Wall is more gimmicky than substantive, something that clearly doesn't suit Doug Liman's proven abilities as a filmmaker.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

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