Tag Archives: sylvester stallone

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge surprise hit in 2014, one that I enjoyed a lot but didn’t love as much as most. It was fun, quirky, referential and vibrant, with a fantastic cast that catapulted Chris Pratt to superstardom. Naturally, this made me concerned about the inevitable sequel, Vol, 2,  because I knew it would be facing unreasonable expectations and must find ways to rekindle the magic of the original while also coming up with something fresh.

For the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lives up to the bare minimum of expectations without doing much more. It builds upon the mythology of the first film, giving us a new adventure with a more personal slant, further opportunities for character development and building team chemistry, and still plenty of nostalgia and irreverent humour to put a smile on our faces. Like its predecessor, Vol. 2 was a fun couple of hours, but it also did not wow me in the way the best Marvel films tend to do.

Set no long after the events of the original, the Guardians of the Galaxy — Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Badley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) — are now working together to fight an inter-dimensional monster at the behest of the Sovereign race, basically a bunch of uptight people in gold paint led by the statuesque Ayesha (Aussie Elizabeth Debicki). When the Guardians fall out of favour with the Sovereigns, Quill’s adoptive father Yondu (Michael Rooker) is hired to capture them. This leads to an encounter with Ego the living planet (Kurt Russell), a celestial being who reveals himself as having a connection to Quill. By Ego’s side is Mantis (Pom Kleentieff), a socially awkward girl with emphatic powers and antennae on her head.

Guardians has a different vibe to the other Marvel films because of its unabashed wackiness and irreverent tone. Groot and Rocket aren’t supposed to work as characters, but they do because of the superb writing and direction of James Gunn, whose talents are again on full display here. With bright colours, well-choreographed comic book space action, likable characters, fast and furious jokes, classic 80s music, and the cuteness of Baby Groot, Vol. 2 is a light and fun popcorn experience.

The cast is of course fabulous. Pratt looks very comfortable as Quill and spews out a bunch of witty wisecracks, though the majority of the comic relief this time goes to Drax, especially in his interactions with Mantis. And while cute doesn’t usually do much for me, Baby Groot does have a few nice moments. Yondu gets a bigger role this time and Rooker really shines by giving the character a lot of heart. Bradley and Saldana provide more of the emotional punch this time around with their character arcs, in particular Gamora’s relationship with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan).  That’s already a great cast, and I haven’t even mentioned legends Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone (who has a cameo), in their first reunion since Tango and Cash 28 years ago!

That said, I do have quite a few issues with Vol. 2. For starters, while I did laugh quite a few times at the gags, I found the humour a lot more hit and miss this time around, with some of the jokes coming across as too obvious. The biggest issue I had, however, was the actual plot, because it feels like not much actually happens. There’s a long lull after the Guardians encounter Ego, and I actually found myself a little bored by some of the slower sequences during this phase. It just didn’t feel like there was enough substance to justify a 136-minute running time.

So yeah, though I wasn’t disappointed in Vol. 2, I was hoping for a bit more. In terms of quality and entertainment value, the drop-off from its predecessor is not huge, but at the same time it felt like a somewhat safe sequel that does not go beyond to deliver what could have been a special experience. Instead, it’s just a solid albeit unspectacular continuation of the story.

3.25 stars out of 5

Creed (2015)

creedpostersmall

As a fan of the Rocky franchise and Michael B Jordan, I was desperate to watch Creed, the spin-off about the son of the late Apollo Creed, the initial rival and subsequent best friend of Rocky Balboa. What made it even more exciting for me is that the film is directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, the man who brought out the best in Jordan in the hard-hitting, gritty and emotional Fruitvale Station.

And so it pleases me to declare that Creed is an absolute winner, a powerful, energetic and moving boxing drama that manages to effectively milk the cache and nostalgia of the Rocky franchise without coming across as cheap or cheesy.

While this year’s other boxing blockbuster, Southpaw, disappointed me to no end because of its lack of realism and over-abundance of predictability and cliches, Creed impresses with relative realism, pleasant surprises and by embracing the right cliches at the right times. The resulting experience is night and day; in boxing terms it’s a first round knockout by Creed.

The first reason why Creed succeeds is because it’s driven by wonderfully developed central characters — Adonis (Jordan) and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone). As per my usual policy, I’m not going to divulge anything more than the basic premise you already know, though I will say it is best to avoid the film’s second (and more detailed) trailer due to spoilers.

It would have been easy to just bring back Rocky in his capacity as a trainer like in Rocky V and make Apollo a stock hero with a typical rags to riches trajectory (like Billy Hope Southpaw), but Coogler (with apparent minimal input from a very respectable Stallone) manages to flesh out both of them extremely well and give them worthwhile personal journeys.

I loved Rocky’s development since the last film and there are tragic elements to his story I found surprisingly moving. On the other hand, you might have a preconceived notion of who Adonis is, but there are many aspects to his character I did not anticipate, and I enjoyed the little bits of misdirection that Coogler throws our way to play with our prejudices and expectations. Though this is ultimately still a Rocky-type movie with typical elements from the franchise, I liked how Coogler added wrinkles to the story to remind us that it’s not a clean-cut fairytale and there are harsh realities to be faced. It’s not 100% realism of course, but it adds an edge to the characters and their situations.

The performances are spectacular. Jordan deserves as much praise as Gyllenhaal received for Southpaw (he’s easily just as ripped too), while Stallone deserves the supporting actor nominations he has been getting, reminding me that Stallone can actually act (his running around in platform boots shooting baddies with his buddies in recent years has made me forget). The chemistry between them is fantastic, and I’m happy that this really is a Creed movie as opposed to a clever disguise for another Rocky movie.

In terms of the action, the boxing scenes in Creed are excellent. The training sequences look authentic, while inside the ring the fights are generally well-choreographed, though still slightly on the wild brawling side of the Rocky films of old rather than the realistic technical brilliance of true elite-level boxing. Thanks to the creative camera angles Coogler adopts, there is a bit of that “fly on the wall” feel, which is great because it adds an extra dimension to the usual TV-style presentation or first-person point of view.

As with Star Wars: The Force AwakensCreed has taken an old formula and rebooted it, and in my humble opinion it might have done it even more effectively. It’s a mixture of the old and new, going back to the root of the Rocky Balboa underdog story but with an intriguing new lead and twist. There’s nostalgia but also freshness, solid boxing action but also moving drama. Creed is without doubt the lineal boxing movie of 2015.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Expendables 3 (2014)

The-Expendables-3

I remember when I thought the idea of The Expendables, which grouped together a huge handful of old action stars, would be a good premise — if the film was made 10-15 years ago. That was back in 2010, when they made the first film. Now, with the stars another 4 years older, slower and more mutated by HGH, we have been bestowed a third installment in the franchise, and the results are more ghastly than the cracks on Mel Gibson’s face.

The first Expendables was not very good, but at least it was fresh. The second film was more of the same, except less fresh, and now the third film is simply stale. The Expendables do a dangerous job, a villain appears, hurts or kills one of their own, and revenge is ultimately accomplished following a lot of gunfire, explosions, poor attempts at “character development,” and Sly Stallone running around in platform boots yelling incoherently. It’s a proven formula for box office success.

In fact, you’re not likely to remember what the film is even about the next day, and memories of all three films will probably blend into one giant I-don’t-give-a-shit. For the loyal fans, it doesn’t really matter.

My memory of the film is already starting to fade. I am fairly certain that Mel Gibson is the villain because this is the only role in Hollywood he can get these days. I know Harrison Ford is in it because I remember thinking that he is doing a horrible job of convincing people that he has not turned completely senile. Wesley Snipes is the new addition to the oldies, but he doesn’t offer much apart from a “they went there” joke about his well-publicized problems. Arnie is back, but Bruce Willis is out (complete with a cheesy joke to go along with it). Jet Li makes his usual contract-obligated cameo, and Antonio Banderas is in it for some reason. As you can see, The Expendables franchise has more or less become a charity for old actors who want to keep gettin’ ’em checks. But hey, why blame them for exploiting the market? As long as there is demand there will be supply, no matter how many wrinkles there are. I fully expect Nicholas Cage to be in the next one.

To be fair, Stallone does try to infuse new blood into the series by hiring a bunch of potential box office draws, such as MMA badass Ronda Rousey, Twilight alumnus Kellan Lutz and former welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz. They each get to show off a little bit, but with so many people sharing the same pie it’s not really worth your time if you just want to see the film because of one or two people.

Now that the novelty of star power has worn off for good, The Expendables franchise must turn to action and cheesy humor to make up for it. The action, to be honest, felt like more of the same. I suppose the guns, knives and explosions are arguably bigger, but for me it was a case of different shit, same smell. I do, however, give kudos for the tongue-in-cheek cheesy humour. One of the franchise’s greatest strengths is understanding what a big joke everything is and its stars’ ability to make fun of themselves, and The Expendables 3 is no different.

I understand the appeal of the Expendables concept and why people (including myself) have flocked to it time and time again. The undeniable reality, however, is that the films have never lived up to the concept, and I doubt they ever can. I can see how there are those who still enjoy it, but I’ve become numb and indifferent after three mediocre efforts. I think my wife summed up my sentiments best with her one-word review when I asked her what she thought of it: “Whatever.”

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Escape Plan (2013)

Escape_Plan_2013_Movie_HD_Wallpaper_39985743

If you want a lot of shooting, explosions and incoherent mumbling, then Escape Plan is just the film for you.

Sly Stallone is a sly man who is a master at breaking out of high security prisons. He’s like Michael Scofield, except he gets paid for it and doesn’t need to tattoo the prison’s entire floor plan on his body every time (plus he’s really old and ugly and pumped with steroids).

Anyway, he gets a great offer to break out of an insanely secured private prison, but as soon as he gets there he realizes he might have bitten off more than he could chew. Fortunately for Sly, there’s another clever dude in the prison with him played by the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and together they have to figure a way out of the prison despite the evil warden, Jesus (ie Jim Caviezel), doing everything he can to keep them there.

Look, I was under no illusions Escape Plan was going to be The Shawshank Redemption 2.0. I knew it was going to be silly and cheesy, but I also hoped it would be fun and entertaining. The first half of the film, at least, was exactly that. I had a great time watching Sly figure out ingenious ways to overcome prison security and him slugging it out with Arnie in good natured tussles.

As the film progressed, however, it became clear that the brilliantly concocted “escape plan” was actually just to kill everyone and blow everything up, which when you think about who the lead actors are it suddenly becomes perfectly logical. In that sense I was disappointed because the beginning of the film suggested they would have to come up with something extremely clever, but in the end they just went for the dumbest, and as it turned out, most effective route. That said, Sly strutting around in massive platform boots so that he looks nearly as tall as Arnie made the mission exponentially more difficult.

One major problem I had with the film was trying to decipher what Stallone was trying to say throughout the entire movie. It was already hard enough trying to understand Arnie’s accent, but Stallone was just impossible. All I kept hearing was “ruburuburuburubu” and possibly the occasional “Adriaaaaaaan!” The man needs subtitles, or dubbing, or preferably, both. Accordingly, some of the film’s convoluted plot also went right over my head, though by the end it was easy enough to work backwards and figure it all out.

The verdict? Despite the lack of surprises, Escape Plan delivers in terms of popcorn entertainment, cheesy lines and star power. I just wish the escape plan itself could have been cleverer.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Expendables (2010)

The Expendables is the type of idea that would have been really amazing 15, maybe even 10 years ago: an all-out action blockbuster featuring all the most famous action superstars in the world.

Unfortunately, as often is the case, the idea turned out to be a thousand times better than the actual film.

The Expensables may have Sylvester Stallone (Rocky and Rambo), Jason Statham (the Transporter), Jet Li (the guy with the Kiss of the Dragon), Dolph Lundgren (my personal favourite, Drago), ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Randy Couture (pro-wrestler/MMA fighter), with cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as fine macho actors Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, and beefy funnyman Terry Crews (every time I see this guy I think of White Chicks) (all it was missing were Van Damme, The Rock and Jackie Chan) — but it also has one of the worst screenplays (written by Stallone and David Callahan) for a blockbuster in recent memory.

Virtually no plot, uninteresting protagonists, horrible cardboard villains, even worse female characters, and dialogue that switches between grotsequely cheesy, cringeworthy and WTF — all these faults could have been forgiven had The Expendables simply been mindblowingly exciting and entertaining — but miraculously, against all odds, it wasn’t!

It wasn’t boring or anything, but despite all the fists, knives, guns, bombs, explosions and over-the-top carnage (think Rambo IV), The Expendables was nothing special.  I was particularly surprised by the relative large number of slow and ‘character development’ scenes.  When the action was going at full blast, I have to admit it was pretty good, but there simply wasn’t enough of such sequences.

Again, I go back to the horrendous script and I also partly blame the direction (also by Stallone).  To me, it didn’t feel like any of the action roles were written with the specific action stars in mind.  You would imagine that the film would play to the strengths of each of the action stars, but it doesn’t.  I was appalled to see a hand-to-hand combat scene featuring Jet Li absolutely destroyed by rapid camera movements and cuts.  What’s the point of filming a kung fu master using techniques that would allow any character to play the role?

Instead of roles written specifically for the stars, what you got was the opposite — a bunch of bland, stock standard roles that happen to be filled by past and present (mostly past) action stars.  How is it possible that with so many fantastic personalities that not one character was interesting or featured an ounce of creativity?

As for the performances, they weren’t bad if you factor in the material they had to work with.  With the 103-minute running time, there was really only room for two main leads — Stallone and Statham, with the rest relegated to filling thankless roles and cameos.

The reason I said the idea may have worked 10-15 years ago is because at least some of the stars would have been closer to their primes (and audiences would have loved the cheesy lines) .  With the exception of Statham, all of the action dudes looked and felt too old for their respective roles.  Now, it’s kind of sad to see a bunch of old guys trying to hold on to past glories.

Stallone, in particular, demonstrated perfectly why men over 60 should never use human growth hormones, work out with heavy weights, inject botox, pluck their eyebrows, or try to run with platform boots.

Stallone posing after a workout for the film

Ultimately, The Expendables was a good (albeit aged) idea that ended up as a failed experiment.  It felt as though Stallone had put all his effort into gathering these amazing stars into one film rather than creating a coherent and exciting movie experience.  What a shame.  There was so much potential wasted here.

2.5 stars

(In all honesty this is quite generous — but I have to give big kudos for getting all these guys together, and in particular the one classic scene where all three Planet Hollywood owners — Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger were on screen at the same time.)