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Rating History

It Comes At Night
14 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

June 9, 2017

The characters: father, Paul (Joel Edgerton); mother, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo); teenage son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.); dog, Stanley.

Their situation: a fatal and apparently worldwide epidemic has broken out and forced this family to quarantine themselves in a remote cabin in the woods, where they live each day solemnly and with extreme caution, boiling water, rationing food and being wary of any outsiders. The only way in and out of the cabin is through front door, for which Paul holds the only key.

Recently, Sarah's father, Bud (David Pendleton), developed symptoms of the illness and has seemingly reached a point of no return. Paul and Travis carry him into the woods, end his life officially, and burn the corpse. Afterward, life goes on; Paul, Sarah, Travis and Stanley will continue to endure just as they have for some time.

One night, a stranger enters the house. Travis finds him-a young father named Will (Christopher Abbott), and Paul, automatically assuming Will has evil intentions, knocks him out and ties his hands up behind a tree. But Will explains he was just looking for supplies to provide for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and their young son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Eventually, Paul comes to trust Will enough that he allows him and his family to move into the cabin, although he remains suspicious of their motives, as do we.

This is the simple setup for Trey Edward Shults' "It Comes At Night," a horror-thriller that's less concerned about providing answers to traditional plot questions and more about creating tension and showing the dark and survivalist sides of human nature. It's not about events as much as it is behavior and the strain imposed upon us, either by ourselves or by circumstances, when fear and uncertainty prove overwhelming. If someone was to ask me what "It Comes At Night" is about (it's not always obvious, which is refreshing), I would say it's about anxiety, and not about the subject of anxiety, but how it makes us feel the anxiety of the characters.

The question you may be asking is, "How could a film that makes us feel anxious also be entertaining?" Perhaps it's not in the traditional sense, because "It Comes At Night" is certainly not a "happy" or "pleasant" film to watch. But it's effective in the way it grabs ahold of us, winds us up, and makes us empathize with the characters' situation, which is the constant expectation that something dark, violent or sinister is about to happen.

Our conduit into this distressing tale is the likable Travis, through whom we see most of the story unfold and with whom we most identify. We really feel for him as a teenager who's been suddenly thrust into adulthood just when he should be coming of age. On one level, he has a budding sexuality and just wants to play with his dog; on another, he's having bizarre dreams about, among other things, his dead grandfather (hence the "it" coming at night) and wondering if he's getting sick. What Travis experiences and what he witnesses the others do may seem like standard horror fare, but Shults treats the material, even the ghoulish moments, with sincerity and sensitivity so that it grows into something viscerally and emotionally gripping.

Shults' repertoire is short by Hollywood standards, but "It Comes At Night" would have us believe he's an industry veteran. Here is a filmmaker who utilizes all his filmic resources-locations, sets, lighting, sound, actors' performances, editing-to generate a devastating and disturbing effect. Not one of these elements goes unaccounted for and I recognized them throughout, including the sounds of short, strained breaths; close-ups of characters' shifting eyes to suggest mistrust; quick cuts that induce confusion and paranoia; a faint lamp slowly bringing light to a long, dark hallway. Shults puts us in these woods, in this cabin, and next to these people, and we feel what they feel, including the aftermath of a riveting and mournful climax.

I have a feeling "It Comes At Night" will frustrate a lot of viewers because it lacks concrete answers and doesn't venture down a path we expect. We're so used to long-winded exposition that explains everything we think we need to know and have invariably come to believe this is an essential ingredient to a meaningful story. But we often forget that what truly makes for a good story is whether the storyteller can fulfill his or her intention of making us feel "what it's like to [insert feeling here]," which could range from "what's it's like to be a superhero," to "what it's like to not have a date for the prom," to "what it's like to be a soldier in World War II." You name it. The more sincerely the filmmaker can realize this, the more powerful the outcome, and in the case of "It Comes At Night," we very much come to know what it's like to feel the anxiety and psychosis of being trapped in a house with people you don't fully trust. It does this so well, in fact, it's scary, which, in this case, is the point.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (2017)
20 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

June 2, 2017

"Wonder Woman" is not a unique superhero movie just because its protagonist is female, although this aspect alone is worth celebrating. It also separates itself from the pack by telling a thoughtful origin story alongside another, self-contained narrative that's just as engaging, allowing the movie as a whole to not get bogged down by obligatory hero introductions, characters arcs, etc. These are present, yes, but they have a rhythm and strike a balance with the movie's other working parts so that everything feels unified and fluid. Plus, as outrageous and fantastical as the material is, we take it seriously because the filmmakers keep it grounded and unearth real emotion from the story and characters. At a time when a new superhero movie practically comes out once a week, "Wonder Woman" stands out as something special.

All this comes as a real surprise given Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) was first introduced in the bloated, loud and much-maligned "Batman v Superman" (2016), which made it reasonable to expect "Wonder Woman" would be just as overwrought and messy. But if Wonder Woman's own film does anything, it underlines just how under-utilized she was in "Batman v Superman," which relegated her to silent reaction shots and a few fight scenes at the end. As far as any substance or dialogue were concerned, it was severely lacking.

The reason for this may be due to the fact "Batman v Superman" was directed by a man, Zack Snyder, whereas "Wonder Woman" was directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. It seems only natural that a female director would be more in touch with and better appreciate the value of a female hero, and Jenkins, working from a screenplay by Allan Heinberg, shows great affection and respect for her main character, although not necessarily because the main character is a woman. This isn't a "I am woman, hear me roar" project, but rather a "I am a virtuous, compassionate person (who happens to be a woman)" one and it thoroughly wins us over. That it doesn't take cheap and easy opportunities to stress that Wonder Woman is, indeed, female speaks to its confidence.

What's also remarkable about "Wonder Woman" is the way it's able to engross us despite being told as one long flashback, and therefore we know how things will turn out (for the most part). Each aspect of it is given weight and attention, including things as superficial and seemingly assembly-line as the fight scenes and special effects. It goes to such elements can still feel distinct and thrill us when they work with the story instead of being made to overshadow it.

We first meet Wonder Woman disguised (black-rimmed glasses and all) as Diana Prince, working as a curator in the Louvre in Paris. Following the events of "Batman v Superman," she receives a package from Bruce Wayne that contains a picture of her and a band of other soldiers, along with a message asking if one day she'll tell Bruce her story in person.

That's exactly what we get as Diana narrates her life leading up to the photograph, beginning with her upbringing on the mythical island of Themyscira, home of the Amazons, a race of superhuman women who train as warriors. A young Diana dreams of becoming a warrior herself against the wishes of her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), who's told Diana she was carved out of clay and brought to life by Zeus. However, there's a deeper truth to her origin and Hippolyta fears if Diana learns it, she'll be more susceptible to Ares, Zeus' son and the God of War who corrupted mankind and prompted them to attack the Amazons and whom the Amazons believe will return one day. But Diana is stubborn and desperately wants to be the one who wields the sword Zeus left the Amazons in order to kill Ares, and so Hippolyta agrees to let her train under her Aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), who pulls no punches and encourages her niece to channel her true powers.

Diana's story continues and segues into the movie's parallel plot when an American spy named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off Themyscira's coast after stealing a German airplane during World War I. Diana saves him, but he's been pursued by German soldiers, who end up attacking the Amazons with gunfire, leading to tragedy. After telling Diana who he is via the Lasso of Truth, Steve informs her there's a great world war happening "out there" and Diana comes to believe Ares is the sole cause of it. She insists on sailing back to London with Steve and saving the world, but Steve tells her it's more complicated than that, and his mission, at the moment, is to hand over a critical journal he intercepted from the Germans to the British authorities. The journal contains information about a new form of mustard gas developed by the scarred Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya), who's working under the evil and maniacal General Ludendorff (Danny Huston).

In terms of plot, "Wonder Woman" is fairly traditional and safe, and as an adaptation of a DC Comics property, it often mirrors rival Marvel's "Captain America." But as familiar as its developments may be, they don't merely serve as a backdrop for the action sequences. In fact, the movie catches us off guard by allowing its story to actually build toward the action so the action itself takes on greater meaning. It's not on-screen all the time and comes only after the characters speak and plead their case for why any violence has to happen in the first place. So when we see Diana for the first time as Wonder Woman-in full superhero garb and walking toward the camera in slow motion-it excites us because the movie has paced itself and waited patiently for this moment. In the hands of a lesser director, we might have been compelled to laugh and wipe it off as something frivolous or cheesy, but because we respect Wonder Woman and what she stands for, it excites us and we feel like cheering. The movie's closing shot has the same effect and it reminded me of two other indelible superhero movie moments: the scene at the end of "Superman II" when Superman crushes the hand of General Zod; and when Peter Park busts out of the rubble in "Spider-Man 2," essentially becoming Spider-Man again. Such moments are rare but remind us just how invigorating the genre can be.

"Wonder Woman" is not just spectacle, though. The dialogue also carries weight, especially Pine's as he attempts to teach Diana that war is not as cut and dry as she thinks. I was surprised by how much I responded to the movie's underlying themes and the characters' convictions about wanting to make the world a better place. So often we're asked to simply wade through superhero movie dialogue and wait for the action sequences to wake us up, but here both aspects keep us alert.

It's been a while since a movie has given me chills because of how much it stimulated me and centered around a protagonist I truly believed in, but "Wonder Woman" did just that. It's all the positive adjectives you could think of to describe an exemplary superhero movie experience (you know what they are). Sure, there are room for improvements, including Gal Gadot gaining more abilities as an actress, but with the same quality and attention to detail as this first entry, I'm confident any future "Wonder Woman" installments would not only arouse the genre as a whole but perhaps progress it toward something even greater. Who knows, maybe we haven't tapped into all its powers just yet.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
29 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

May 26, 2017

In as little as two weeks, Hollywood has given us installments from two franchises that probably should have ended years ago. Last week, it was the dreadful "Alien: Covenant"; this week it's the so-so "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales." As with many aging franchises, these two have been stretched thin and there seems to be a general lack of effort on the part of the filmmakers to breathe new life into them. Instead of devising an original story first and then shaping the brand around it, their approach is to shape the story around the brand and hope the brand will sell it.

Unfortunately, this method isn't working and I'm willing to bet Disney executives green-lit "Dead Men Tell Not Tales" even before a script was ready. Perhaps they assumed a worthy narrative would magically fall into place just because they had their star, their budget, and a prime release date. And even though the finished product isn't outright bad-and indeed it has some virtues worth mentioning-it lacks the spark and vigor that made its predecessors, particularly the original, stand out as something special.

The evidence is in the lackluster story itself, which revolves, yet again, around the misadventures of the eccentric pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), and the various individuals pursuing him, either for help or to exact revenge. It's been a while since I've seen the other "Pirates" movies, but is this not the running theme throughout all of them, more or less? By entry number five, it's gotten stale.

One of the characters seeking Jack's assistance is the plucky yet impetuous Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), whom you may recall had a curse placed on him at the end of "At World's End," confining him to a sort of sea hell. Henry believes Jack's magical compass can tell him where to find the Trident of Poseidon, which controls all aspects of the sea and can therefore lift his father's curse. Amidst trying to find Jack, Henry becomes smitten with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astrologist and horologist who's accused by the British Navy of witchcraft just because she's into science (and probably because she's a woman with a brain). She's certain the diary left to her by her father contains clues and a map to the Trident. In exchange for helping her escape public execution, Carina strikes a deal with young Turner to guide him to the Trident's location. They eventually join Sparrow and Sparrow's ever-diminishing crew aboard the dilapidated Dying Gull, in search of what most believe to be a myth. Sparrow's primary focus, of course, remains self-indulgence, specifically in the form of drinking rum.

Chasing after them is the vengeful Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard and pirate-hater who craves retribution from Sparrow after he led Salazar and his crew into the Devil's Triangle, which cursed them to a life as incorporeal ghosts. After breaking out of the Triangle, Salazar and his crew invade the ship of Sparrow's old pal, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), demanding he and his crew either help them or meet an untimely end.

Just like the other "Pirates" films, lots of "stuff" happens in "Dead Men Tell No Tales," and while the production is impressive and there some thrilling stunts and special effects sequences-two that come to mind include Jack (and the camera) rotating around in a guillotine and the ocean splitting apart-the underlying plot that brings the various characters and story lines together lacks the energy, wit and, most of all, novelty, required to really engage us beyond just sitting and staring at the screen. By now (and probably as early as four sequels ago), we know what to expect from this series and the bottom line is we've charted this territory too many times before for it to have any real impact as entertainment. The filmmakers seem too willing to just re-use old character and narrative devices instead of taking the time to come up with something inspired.

What's more is the actors appear as if they share my sentiments. Depp and Rush look tired and come across as if they've both just sighed and said to each other, "Here we go again," before dusting off their pirates costumes and going through the same motions as the first four pictures. Who could blame them, though, given the screenplay doesn't give their characters enough new things to do so they can try out different techniques.

On the other hand, Bardem, as Salazar, is a welcome bright spot, and not just because he's a terrific actor and inherently fun to watch, but because he adds a fresh character to the "Pirates" universe. Perhaps if the script had abandoned Sparrow and Barbossa altogether and made the entire story about Salazar it would have been onto something, but it's likely the filmmakers got caught up in the idea that if a "Pirates" movie doesn't have this, that and the other, with the first "this" being Depp, then it's not a "Pirates" movie. But why not make a "Pirates" movie about a different pirate, or at least different kind of plot? The film seems afraid to take any risks.

The good news is that "Dead Men Tell No Tales" is at least always watchable, and despite the story being flat and predictable, I found myself admiring the technical workmanship that went into the production (for instance, the execution and choreography of Sparrow and his crew stealing an entire bank in St. Martin is convincing and lively). However, my gut tells me most viewers will find the movie more ho-hum than exciting. The filmmakers have simply given us more of the same. With that being said, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" does cap the saga in such a way that it lets us believe the studio may be done with it, at least for a while. We hope so anyway, because it's better the franchise end on the average note that it does now instead of a sour one later.

Alien: Covenant
35 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

May 19, 2017

After "Covenant," the "Alien" franchise is one that should no longer be allowed to reproduce. It has hit a new low, one that's so lazy and unimaginative it's as if the filmmakers went out of their way to qualify this latest installment for the Razzies. What went wrong here? How could Ridley Scott, an established, versatile director who more often than not makes movies that are exciting and intelligent, have gotten so far off his game? With "Covenant," he and his team have resorted to dishing out previous "Alien" movie leftovers, and somebody should have told them they went bad years ago.

What's puzzling (and disappointing) is just how early into "Covenant"'s runtime that things start to go sour. Less than a quarter of the way through, the story peaks as far as its ideas, and the tension, atmosphere and visual effects, three key ingredients that made the original "Alien" (1979) so indelible, have been greatly watered down. "Covenant" sacrifices these elements for the same old horror movie gimmicks and devices that are no longer scary or shocking but just plain boring. Deep down, I didn't want to believe Scott would allow the movie to jump the shark so quickly, but he does, and given his repertoire, his poor judgement remains the movie's only real surprise, and it's not a pleasant one.

Does it even matter what "Covenant" is about given that it mostly offers perfunctory creature attacks and silly gore? The plot takes place 10 years after the events of "Prometheus," which, if you recall, was a prequel to "Alien" and sought to explain how the particular alien race featured in this series first came about. "Covenant" continues that theme, more or less, but instead of Prometheus, we follow members of Covenant, a colony ship on a seven-year expedition to a planet called Origae-6, where the vessel's 2,000 passengers (and 1,000 embryos) hope to settle.

But the mission gets interrupted when a sun flare causes damage to the ship and leads to the accidental death of several colonists, including the captain (James Franco), who dreamed of building a log cabin on Origae-6 with his crew-mate/wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston). The nervous and hesitant Oram (Billy Crudup) steps in as the new captain and, following one of the pilots, Tennessee (Danny McBride), repairing the ship's communication equipment, the Covenant picks up a human signal (in the form of a John Denver song) from a supposedly unclaimed, remote planet.

Believing this mysterious planet could serve as an alternative settlement, and one that would require less navigation time, Oram orders a separate expedition to investigate the signal's origin, despite reservations expressed by Walter (Michael Fassbender), an objective, dutiful android who's more sophisticated and less human than his previous model, David (also Fassbender), who served on Prometheus. Once the crew lands and makes their way around the new planet, they come upon, among other things, Prometheus, dark and dilapidated, and start to wonder what could have happened. Before long, some members become infected with a pathogen that's in the air and vegetation. They also encounter a certain character who, as the plot unfolds, reveals a rather twisted agenda.

Beyond that, I'm afraid I can't go any more about the plot without giving away crucial details. What I can say is it answers additional questions about the origins of the aliens we weren't really asking. But even if we had been, the dilemma with these prequels, especially "Covenant," is they only seem to use the origin of the aliens as an excuse to round up a new set of one-dimensional victims and stage hackneyed "gotcha!" and loud-crescendo-type moments that are all too common in the horror genre and have been exhausted by the "Alien" movies alone. John Logan and Dante Harper's screenplay abandons anything remotely interesting about any of the characters or creatures and instead sets up cheesy monster sequences that go all out with the sensational doodads and special effects. In fact, the movie feels like it's in a rush to get to these. It exhibits little patience, quietness or reflection. There's no steady build-up toward anything that would resemble an intelligent or emotional payoff. The movie becomes just a compilation of scenes where characters get infected and vomit, bodies rip open, aliens suction themselves to peoples' faces, ships explode, and survivors run around in a panic. And would you believe there's a shower scene near the end during which two people are about to have sex, only to attacked by an alien, followed then by dialogue such as, "Let's blow this f*!@er into space!" This should give you an idea of the lowbrow quality "Alien: Covenant" has to offer.

And nothing against Katherine Waterston, who is a fine actress with a face that wears a lot of emotion and compassion, but the casting here isn't terribly inspired when you consider she follows Sigourney Weaver and Noomi Rapace as the heroine warrior who must do battle with the alien during the big climax. Her being the lead shows just how lazy this production is because it clings to the same old pattern initiated by the previous installments, including the interception of a signal to jumpstart the plot; the look of the heroine (a brunette with dark, heavy eyes); and how the alien is terminated. Didn't any of the head honchos involved in this picture care about shaking up the "Alien" template?

As much as I don't care to see another "Alien" movie, the ending of "Covenant" would make it seem like the studio and Scott have every intention of churning out at least one more sequel just to have an official "Alien prequel" trilogy, with the events of that would-be film likely connecting to the original film that started it all and thus the saga coming full circle. Perhaps it would feature a young Ripley as she trains for her merchant expedition aboard the Nostromo, while in parallel we learn even more details behind the warning signal that prompted Ripley and company to investigate the planetoid where they first encounter the aliens.

Who knows, maybe such a film could satiate any remaining curiosities we may have about the series' mythology, but if it's anything like "Covenant," it would ultimately be an inferior version of its predecessors. How about an "Alien" movie where no creatures jump out of the dark, no human bodies tear open, and no running, screaming, running through the halls, air ducts, etc. take place? Some might argue such a film wouldn't be a legitimate "Alien" movie. To that, I'd say it would simply be a different kind of "Alien" movie, and different is something this franchise could sorely use.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
47 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

May 5, 2017

Supposed definition of a good Hollywood sequel: a movie that continues, rather than simply repeats, the original story and develops the characters further. If this is true, then "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," a sequel to the much-beloved "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014), should be considered great. Not only does it continue the original's story and expand the characters' personal stories, it does so with wit, humor, and, surprisingly, emotion. And it's real, earned emotion, not sappy or artificial. Nevertheless, fans of the first film, based on a lesser known Marvel Comics property (of course), can rest assured knowing "Vol. 2" retains the same irreverent, flippant attitude to keep things spicy and moving. It's a sequel all right, but it's fresh and exciting and not preoccupied with merely doing the same things as before.

This is all the more unexpected given how financially successful the original "Guardians of the Galaxy" was, which would make one think the studio and filmmakers would try to recreate the same magic to better ensure fan turnout, and thus, profitability. But to the credit of writer-director James Gunn and his crew, the goal seems to be creating another kind of magic, and with new, interesting characters at their disposal and new depths applied to pre-existing ones, they're able to do just that.

Plot-wise, things more or less pick up from when we last left our squabbling interstellar friends-Peter, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a sort of Han Solo wannabe; Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned alien with superhuman abilities; Drax (Dave Bautista), the former human turned muscle-bound being who often breaks out into uncontrollable laughter; Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), the competitive, foul-mouthed raccoon; and Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), a talking tree with limited speech and intelligence but an undeniably adorable face (it remains a mystery to me why Vin Diesel was even cast given that his voice is so electronically manipulated, but never mind).

After the events of the first film, this motley crew of former thieves and hunters have been charged with protecting the chaotic cosmos in various ways, shapes and forms. Their latest job finds them battling a giant, slug-like space creature in order to retrieve valuable batteries for the Sovereign race, and of course the team members are all arguing with one another about how it should be done. Peter thinks Gamora should use a sword instead of a gun; Drax thinks punching it from the inside will do the trick; Rocket thinks he has a better chance of maneuvering around the creature compared to Peter; and Baby Groot, well, he just drowns everything out while listening to E.L.O.'s "Mr. Blue Sky." This diverse unit still has a love-hate relationship, but they know, just as we do, they've become not just a protective mercenary group, but an unorthodox family.

In fact, it will be their familial ties that get tested the most as the plot continues to unfold. After the Guardians defeat the monster and deliver the batteries, the Sovereign leaders hand over Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora's sister, who holds a deep-rooted grudge against Gamora for not protecting her from their adopted abusive father when they were kids. Nebula vows to destroy Gamora the first chance she gets, and as if she weren't enough trouble, Rocket, for no other reason than to prove he can, actually re-steals the batteries they just returned. The Sovereigns consequently send a fleet of drones after the Guardians and nearly obliterate their ship, but they're rescued by the mysterious Ego (Kurt Russell), who reveals himself as Peter's long-lost father (his romantic affair with Peter's mother opens the film).

Ego invites Peter, Gamora and Drax back to his paradisiacal planet and explains he's a Celestial being, or "god with a lowercase 'g'", and that Peter himself is a half-deity of sorts. What Ego ultimately has in store for his son, I'll not reveal, but Ego's pet empath, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), with her bug-like eyes and antennae, has the ability to feel what others feel, and she knows a truth about Ego that she almost reveals to Drax as they develop a relationship of their own.

Meanwhile, Yondu (Michael Rooker), the excommunicated, blue-skinned Ravager who kidnapped Peter as a child because "the boy was good for thieving," answers the Sovereigns' call to destroy the Guardians. But circumstances and changes of heart complicate matters, and it just so happens Yondu and Rocket become unlikely allies against Yondu's once-loyal band of followers.

All of these plot threads eventually come together in a rather traditional climax, replete with all the usual battles and explosions, including an entire planet getting destroyed, but each carries its own weight, and Gunn doesn't allow any of the storylines or characters to get short-changed. He balances all the working parts exceptionally well, and as action-heavy and "comic book-ish" as it is, we become invested in the narrative on more than just a silly and funny sci-fi adventure level. We come to really care about what happens, even more than we did with the original, and respond emotionally to the characters' struggles and growth. The integrity with which Gunn treats the "light and mindless material" encourages us to not let our expectations of the genre dictate our overall impression and we appreciate "Vol. 2" as a thoroughly entertaining movie with lots of heart and intelligence.

Of course, the production values are also top-notch, although with a $200 million budget, how could they not be? It's clearly been money well spent, as the special effects in particular are right up there with "Dr. Strange," another Marvel Comics Universe entity. And for anyone who's seen "Dr. Strange," which I'm guessing will be a lot of the same people who see "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," that's saying a lot.

If nothing else, and whether or not you're familiar with the material, the movie is just a whole lotta fun and embodies what's best about Hollywood blockbusters. Its mix of playfulness, sarcasm, emotion and romance reminded me of the first three "Indiana Jones" pictures, and just like those classics, Star-Lord and company, and the actors who play and voice them, have a lot of chemistry that makes them likable and down-to-earth. Plus, with music artists like E.L.O., Sam Cooke, Jay and the Americans, and Cat Stevens on the soundtrack, it's hard to walk away from "Vol. 2" not feeling happy.

It's funny, but at the end of my review for the first "Guardians of the Galaxy," I commented on the idea of a sequel by writing, "I would encourage the filmmakers to combine their attitude with more depth. As amusing and appealing as the characters are, I'd personally like to see them in a more original story-one with a greater purpose. It'd be great if the filmmakers could retain the movie's current wit and audacity but expand upon the substance." I'm almost certain the filmmakers didn't read my first review, but I am certain they've answered my call.