‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ braves new worlds for Marvel fans to devour

If you’ve been waiting for just one shoe to drop for Marvel Studios and their streak of entertaining superhero films to end with Guardians of the Galaxy, you had better hold your breath… at least until the Ant-Man movie. When first announced, Guardians of the Galaxy was met with skepticism and trepidation (myself included) given that there was no link to the Avengers in any sort, the story took place in deep outer space, and it featured a gun-toting smack-talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and a living tree (Vin Diesel). But anyone who has read or is reading the comics, both the current run, and the essential Volume 2 (2008-2010) by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, knew its potential for taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe to places where there are no limits–if they could pull it off. Boy, did they ever.

nebula

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is abducted by aliens shortly after experiencing personal tragedy and 26 years later finds himself in a intergalactic heist story, too far away from Earth to tell if he’ll ever see home again. The only thing he has to remember where he’s from are his memories, an old cassette walkman (that’s before compact discs for all you young-ins) with an eclectic mix tape and an unwrapped present from his mother. His life is like that of a scavenger from the wild west, retrieving artifacts or people and selling them to the highest bidder. He learned much from his abductor, Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) but his latest score draws the attention of the ruthless Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a servant of Thanos (Josh Brollin) who last made a brief appearance in the credits of the Avengers. Bounty hunters, galactic police, and planet destroyers all come after him and amongst those hunting him down is Thanos’ adopted daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb.

This cast is extremely charismatic and jells together before too long, which contrasts the Avengers, who by design, bicker and clash constantly. Pratt is going to win over anyone who wasn’t already a fan of his work in Parks and Rec. As the lone link to Earth–actually, there’s a big soundtrack of recognizable rock and soul hits from the 1970s–the audience doesn’t need to work hard to like Quill. He’s a renegade jokester, is brash and arrogant but never tries to skate away from danger. He takes it head on. Though she’s been in other team genre films like The Losers and Star Trek, Saldana gets the right amount of screen time is noticeably at ease as Gamora. As for the rest of the Guardians, Bautista’s Drax is hard to embrace at first, but quickly grows on you by the end of the film and Rocket and Groot as anticipated, steal the entire freaking show.

groot

On the other side, Karen Gillan’s Nebula is a lovely femme fatale in blue, and also sporting that hue is Rooker’s Yondu, who is anything but good, but is not necessarily evil either. It’s clear that there are bigger and badder things in store for Thanos down the road, but Ronan is plenty wicked enough. The subversive relationship he has with Thanos makes for a tumultuous relationship that’s ready to boil over. Unfortunately, with so many moving pieces and characters, Ronan gets a similar treatment to the Red Skull in Captain America, where one can run wild at the thought of his brutality, but we simply  don’t see enough of it. Much of his dirty work is feared through conversations, so there are some missed opportunities there. Don’t worry Marvel-ites, my greed only comes from good results.

For comic book and science-fiction nuts, there’s plenty to gush over, including imaginative spaceship designs, gadgets, quick cameos and eye-gaping worlds realized like the inter-dimensional outpost/observatory, Knowhere. I wished Marvel was a little more creative in the design of its alien races since most are a humanoid form with some differences in radiant body paint and wardrobe and curiously, they all spoke English. Still, these are minor quibbles rather than overall deficiencies, of which there are none that truly weigh the story or pace down.

GotG

Fun is an overused adjective to describe Guardians, but it is exactly that in both tone and spirit. Why complicate an uncomplicated film? Humor is infused at all the right spots and calling any specific moment out would just ruin the experience. Viewers will be flooded with that feeling of unbridled joy, more consistently than Avengers, and be rewarded for taking the chance with a ticket in hand. Outside of a few relationships being under developed (Quill and Yondu for example) and some more desired screen time for a few other cosmic beings, Guardians is as tight of a space romp since The Fifth Element. From Rocket and Groot, the dozens of characters introduced, to exploding the MCU far beyond the Nine Realms seen in the Thor films, success was achieved. There was little that misfired. It was ambitious to build several worlds from scratch and hope the audience wants to take a ride with unproven drivers behind the wheel, but they did it and  this is a film that is sure to grow on viewers with each repeated viewing. If you weren’t inundated with fans yelling “Hail Hydra” after The Winter Soldier, just wait for the choruses of “I am Groot!” to ring out.

Director and co-writer James Gunn came up with a terrific tale with Nicole Perlman; they extracted the most translatable elements of Abnett and Lanning’s comic run and executed a polished space adventure with legs. Seeds are planted for the scheduled sequel and future threads into the upcoming Avengers films. Now new franchises can be explored without little effort, like Nova or Adam Warlock. Warner Bros. and DC Comics would never admit to it, but Guardians of the Galaxy achieved everything they wanted to do with Green Lantern and more, with what looked like less effort. That gives hope to the future of Marvel Studios, in being able to sustain itself after Robert Downey Jr. eventually walks away. Eventually, whatever momentum it builds for itself will merge with the Avengers films. Think about that for a second.

Eat like Galactus, Marvel fans, there’s still much more to consume.

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark Review (Xbox One)

It’s another summer with blockbuster hits and this year sees the return of a summer movie favorite, Transformers. It’s always a good idea for a property to keep the momentum going with a big release like Transformers: Age of Extinction and one of those ways is to release a video game. Although Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark isn’t necessarily a direct movie tie-in game, it certainly is riding the Transformers hype train. The last two titles featuring the battling bots were generally accepted as great games, but with a new developer, the good times have unfortunately come to an end.

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark has a story like the movies where the good guys protect a very important object and the baddies are trying to obtain it for their own evil desires. This time it’s the Cybertronian relic, Dark Spark which would give its owner unlimited power such as bending the universe and leaving the planets at the mercy of whomever holds it. Whether it’s the AllSpark, the Matrix of Leadership or the Dark Spark, it’s pretty much the same story again and again. But the story shouldn’t matter too much as long as the game has good use of transforming, brawling with bots and the occasional driving sequences, right? Absolutely. But developer Edge of Reality fails to deliver any of that.

Transforming on the fly is easy, but the game doesn’t make it very desirable. Driving is clunky and simply no fun because of the bad controls and relatively little sense of speed. Transforming into aircrafts is better, but the flying portions of the game is where I found the most difficulty. Enemies shoot you down within seconds leaving you no time to react and even if you plan on getting away, good luck finding cover in the open air.

Whether you’re on your feet or roaming around in vehicle mode, each Transformer can fight using guns and special abilities. Each character possesses a unique ability and some are vastly favored over others. Drift can teleport and instantly kill multiple enemies at once as long as they’re in sight. The only thing stopping his ability is the game itself which will stop such a powerful move by none other than poor collision detection. Then there’s Sharpshot who has the ability to cloak, but is absolutely useless in the heat of battle which comprises most of this game.

Visually, Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is indistinguishable from what you would typically see from a game made 4-7 years ago where it was acceptable to run 30 FPS and have your occasional dips here and there. Graphics are ok, but pretty average especially compared to the spectacular stuff you would see from the movies. Environments are bland and boring from the streets to the high tech bases. Apparently the old-gen versions are far worse, so I shudder to think what that experience would be like.

Much like fellow mediocre Activision licensed game Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, a waved based co-op section of the game called Escalation mode is the best part of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark. Teaming up with up to 3 of your buddies in a battle to survive is always a good time to be had and the only downside is having it end at only 15 waves. Wait scratch that, because the other downside is actually finding buddies willing to put up with getting such a lackluster game in order to enjoy one glimmering moment of fun in this package.

Playing Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark on a current generation console further emphasized that this game isn’t even passable as an early Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 title. Lack of polish, an uninspired story and overall blandness makes this another run-of-the-mill movie game that was clearly rushed to hit a certain release date window. One could only hope the future of the series would see High Moon Studios come back and salvage what is left of this steaming pile of broken and rusted metal.

Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark
Genre: Third-person Shooter
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox One (also on PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC)
Developer: Edge of Reality
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: June 24, 2014

Rating: 4 / 10

Stan Lee says he ‘Can’t Wait until they do the Black Panther Movie’


Who’s excited to see the Black Panther make his theatrical debut? Stan Lee, that’s who. “He’s one of my favorite characters,” the legendary Marvel Comics’ creator told us.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Stan Lee during the opening of the Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N., a new exhibit at Discovery Times Square that gives families the chance to walk in the world of Marvel Comics superheroes.

In this interview, we chat about X-Men: Days of Future Past, what makes a great hero and the Black Panther.