When you've got a talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper, giving the film's best performance) as one of your main characters, you can tell you're in uncharted territory. In many ways, "Guardians of the Galaxy" is the weirdest, most unique Marvel film yet; a bright, gorgeous , funny, adventurous, pop-space-opera like hasn't been seen in ages.
On the other hand, "Guardians" often feels all too familiar with its city-destroying finale lifted wholesale from "Star Trek Into Darkness," and a generic villain (Lee Pace in a wasted role) and his disposable army virtually identical to the Dark Elves in "Thor: The Dark World." Karen Gillen's Nebula is a thousand times more interesting than Ronan-- with actual specific motivations and a discernible personality and everything-- but she's underused and relegated to flunky status. I yearn to see another villain with the spark of Tom Hiddleston's Loki.
This also marks the fourth Marvel film in a row to have a major character die and then bring them back to life within the same film. Where are the dramatic stakes? Isn't the emotion of Drax comforting Rocket severely undercut when the latter's loved one returns from the dead in time for the [admittedly funny] mid-credit scene? The film's shining moments of empathy and beauty (the opening in the hospital, the planning scene where they all assume they're headed to their deaths, "We are Groot") sort of feel a bit empty in retrospect.
Worst of all, for every [small] step Marvel has taken so far in regards to positive female representation with characters like Pepper Potts and Black Widow, there's several moments in "Guardians" that set them back about five (Gamora being called a "whore" by a character whose defining trait is his literalism probably takes the cake).
For all of the film's charms-- and don't get me wrong, there are many (Seriously Cooper is amazing)-- the film left merely satisfied, but not enthralled.
"Days of Future Past" is the best X-Men film yet, with uncharacteristically fluid direction from Singer and a surprisingly thoughtful script.
Even after 14 years and seven films, Jackman continues to surprise as Wolverine, here delivering his best turn as the character in a story that trades the angry yelling and slashing for a humbled sage-like wisdom (as Logan and Xavier essentially switch the mentor-student role). Jackman is smartly kept on the sidelines though, as the emotional center of the film lies in the heartfelt performances of McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence. Hoult is better than ever here as well, and this is the first film of the series that doesn't feel bogged down with needless, empty supporting characters (although Peter Dinklage feels wasted in an underwritten role).
It's hard not to notice some weirdness that the film--rooted so blatantly in metaphors of civil rights and racial/gender inclusiveness-- is essentially about 4 white guys arguing over the actions of one woman, but the film ultimately has a solid moral core (even if some of the execution feels a bit misguided). It's rather refreshing to have a comic-book blockbuster featuring a climax with world-ending stakes that is entirely dependent upon a character choosing NOT to fight/punch/shoot/kill someone.
In fact, the movie as a whole is surprisingly light on action; Evan Peters (who gives a wonderful performance, despite a visual design that is somehow simultaneously blandly forgettable and horrifyingly garish) gets the most memorable moment in the film, but even that sequence is less about the action than it is about pitch-perfect comic timing and one of the best needle-drops in years.
The film is not without its faults, but it makes for an excellent close to the previous cycle of "X-Men" films, and continues an exciting trajectory that began with "First Class."
Gareth Edward's direction in "Godzilla" is right on the money; he knows how to frame and pace a sequence for maximum efficiency, and most importantly, he knows when to hold back ("Jaws" is an obvious influence) so when the film does completely cut loose, those moments feel earned. It's a welcome respite from the manic, blown-out, weightless, empty spectacle of the typical modern summer blockbuster, with fantastic creature designs and an utterly spectacular final battle sequence.
The film's script is a mixed bag. There's virtually no internal drama in the whole film, so while it's refreshing to see military characters that are actually competent at their jobs (there's no hot-headed, nuke-crazy generals to be seen) and a hero who spends time simply getting things done instead of feeling sorry for himself, it also means there's not much to feel invested in during the non-Monster scenes. The film feels primarily interested in big ideas about humanity's relationship with nature, but has very little concern for paying off personal thematic arcs or supplying anyone with a personality more than skin-deep (This especially makes the convoluted series of tragic back stories that pile-up in the first 30 minutes feel like a bit of a waste).
Still, there's a great deal that works (and seriously, it's worth seeing if only for the last 30 minutes). "Godzilla" is a flawed but admirable modern take on the kaiju genre.
"X2" has several terrific sequences (particularly the White House siege and the Wolverine vs. Deathstrike battle) and more great work from McKellan and Stewart, but Singer's aesthetic is still a bit bland and the script feels somewhat mismanaged in its construction. The love triangle between Wolverine, Jean, and Scott probably fares the worst (particularly as Cyclops simply disappears for the middle 80 minutes of the film), which means the majority of the character beats are simply retreads of what we already know from the previous film. Even the tragic ending holds little emotional resonance.
Jackman is still charismatic as ever, but the constant reminders of how cool he is grow tiresome (especially when the script constantly undercuts the fun energy of Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler-- because we wouldn't want the X-Men to be too comic-booky, would we?). A solid sequel.
McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence are great in the first truly vibrant, adventurous X-Men film. Although the supporting cast gets severely shorted (with cringe-inducing dialogue, clunky characterization, and some fairly problematic racial undertones), Kevin Bacon makes for a fun Bond-inspired villain and the Cuban Missile Crisis finale really delivers. Magneto: Nazi Hunter is worth the price of admission alone.