GOTG2

It seems like everyone’s been talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest offering – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2,’ and I’m no different. The film’s been lauded with praise for weeks now, with some even going so far as to say it’s Marvel’s greatest offering yet. But is the praise deserved? Well that’s exactly what I’m going to be addressing in today’s post. I can’t promise it’ll be spoiler free, but I can promise you it’s honest.

On Thursday evening, my friends and I settled down in our seats at our local multiplex to enjoy a double bill of everyone’s favourite intergalactic supersquad. Needless to say, we were hyped. But I can’t help but feel like I kind of shot GOTG’s sequel in the foot by doing this, because honestly, it pales in comparison to the original.

Where the original offered razor-sharp wit and effortless gags, making it a tall order to live up to, volume 2 quite clearly showcases a script that’s been overworked and heaped with needless funnies to the point where it feels forced and tired.  The running gags at Rocket’s expense is a prime example of such. Not only that, but the friction between the film’s characters feels a little superfluous whereas it came much more naturally in the first GOTG where the group first came together.

Not only that, but the entire plot feels rather scattered with out guardians being split across the galaxy and terse subplots detracting from the screen time of much more deserving aspects of Drax and Mantis’ blossoming rapport or Peter Quill’s ‘daddy issues’, for want of a better term. It feels messy, overloaded, in fact, tying in aspects of Nebula and Gamora’s relationship, the bolstering of the Rocket / Yondu alliance, or hiding behind possibly the movie’s biggest marketing ploy, Baby Groot. There are too many threads and needlessly so. Perhaps the Nebula / Gamora dynamic will come into play during Infinity War when the Guardians come to face the pair’s father, Thanos. I can understand the amount of screen time dedicated to Yondu because it further’s Peter’s emotional arc of the film, without giving too much away, but I still feel like the whole thing could have been far more simplified.

However, the film does provide some exciting tidbits for the future, namely the allusion to Adam Warlock, who fans hope to see cropping up in the MCU fairly soon and an astonishing FIVE scenes during the film’s end credits, including more Groot. Personally, one of my biggest hopes for the Guardian’s franchise is that Marvel consider making web-shorts with this particular character, especially after the mid-credits scene this movie serves up. And, given the interest in the character that my friends and I display often enough, I’m willing to hazard a guess that I’m not the only person who feels this way about our tree pal.

Possibly the greatest saving grace of the film is the soundtrack, as one would have expected. Offering cuts from ELO to Fleetwood Mac, George Harrison to Cat Stevens, ‘Awesome Mix: Volume 2’ gives its previous incarnation a run for its money and serves one big emotional punch when it comes to the film’s harrowing climax.

All in all, this instalment leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to the likes of Doctor Strange and Captain America: Civil War. I feel like the pressure to make a funnier, more jaw dropping sequel, has fallen short and leaves me wondering how the Russos, and writers Markus and McFeely, are going to approach dealing with these characters in Infinity War, where, I’m sure, there won’t be as much room for half-assed quips. Will the Guardians simply fall into the role of being the comic relief of the movie? Who knows.

Now, bring on Spidey in July and all-new Thor in November!

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I just finished my very first screenplay

Okay, so. Another update on the creative life of your’s truly. Winter Soldier and Black Widow glorified fanfic (pls employ me Russo Brothers / Kevin Feige / Marvel, together we can rule the galaxy) is now on the back burner. I’ve had a change of plan and I’m not submitting this for the deadline I have this coming Wednesday. But I’m going to talk to you today about the thing that I am submitting and perhaps some of the rationale for the big ole’ last minute switcheroo.

My reasoning for submitting my Marvel project for the deadline I have coming up on the 14th instead of the one on the 7th is that I’m still, very much, in the research phase. I am writing as I’m researching, but at this point I feel like I need the extra week. This is a much more substantial body of work than the module I was initially submitting this for requires so it’s a smart move on my part. I have all my research done on the Russo Brothers’ methods as well as how Marvel television and films are written, so it’s just the writing, the contextualisation is all but done.

The thing that I am submitting, however, is the project I mentioned in previous blog posts about creating short films inspired by the work of Brian Fallon. The idea for the submission is that you’re supposed to produce an homage to peoples’ work, so that’s what I’ve gone and done. I’ve written a screenplay called ‘Mae‘ and it’s based on five of his songs (‘Last Rites‘, ‘Mama’s Boys‘, ‘Here Comes My Man‘, ‘1930‘ and ‘The Queen Of Lower Chelsea‘). It charts the heartbreaking story of our two characters: Mae, a beautiful socialite; and Scott, an insecure wannabe tough guy who essentially traps Mae in quite a traumatic relationship. It was difficult to write in the sense that it touches on a lot of emotional issues, but I feel like the way I’ve ordered the story, it really elevates the emotional stakes even further (I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Star Wars in the machete order? It’s a bit like that). This is something I’m going to be working on in the new year; I have a lot of faith in the project so I really want to see this through and actually make the film.

Again, I’ve prattled on so much on this blog about how influential Fallon is to me and how I view the world (someone even told me that they imagined my mind to look like one of his songs and that, I guess, is what I’m trying to convey), so I don’t feel like I have to explain my rationale for this too much. But for those of you who haven’t heard of Brian Fallon, I have three album recommendations for you: ‘Handwritten‘ by The Gaslight Anthem; ‘The ’59 Sound‘ by The Gaslight Anthem; and ‘Elsie‘ by The Horrible Crowes. Listen to those, and you’ll see, quite plainly, what the inside of my mind looks and sounds like all the damn time!

Oh and it’s the very first screenplay I’ve written on my own!

The Russo Brothers

I mentioned in a previous post that I’d be dedicating an entire article to talking about the work of Joe and Anthony Russo. The duo are responsible for early seasons of ‘Community‘ and ‘Arrested Development‘; ‘You, Me and Dupree‘; and two of the biggest superhero films to date – ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘, and ‘Captain America: Civil War‘. Not only that, but the pair are set to direct the forthcoming Avengers movie – Infinity War.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to be focusing primarily on the pair’s contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as their approach can be directly applied to my own work. I’m going to talk about things I enjoy in their work as a fan and as a creator.

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One of the first things about their work I noticed was their ability to give each main character a satisfying story arc, regardless of screen time. My favourite example of this is Black Panther’s arc during ‘Captain America: Civil War‘. Not only does the story provide him with motive throughout the film but it also quickly gives him a sensible back story, room to develop as a character and sets up a narrative for his own solo film, due out in 2018. This is just one path of many we see during the film, so it goes without saying that Black Panther isn’t given as much screen time as, say, Iron Man or Cap, but he does get a complete arc that feels natural to the flow of the film. This is also, pretty much, a Russo Brothers trademark that you can trace all the way back to ‘Community‘.

Another big draw of their work to me is the real world parallels in their films. There are no aliens destroying New York, it’s not androids gone wrong. We have similar stakes in both Captain America films, but the threat comes from people and political organisations which is all the more chilling. Their work on these films has that real-world parallel. With ‘The Winter Soldier’, it was a Hydra cell operating within S.H.I.E.L.D which essentially plays on the distrust we, as a population, feel towards big sources of power and those who should be protecting us in the political arena. With ‘Civil War‘ it was a little more complex. One way I interpreted that was with regards to the unlimited power the west possesses to meddle in the affairs of other countries during times of unrest. I remember watching an interview with The Russos where they explained the connotations of Captain America to those outside America and the west, and how a symbol of freedom in America can be a symbol of oppression elsewhere. It’s almost as if the Sokovia Accords are a response to this. Like I said, it’s not aliens or androids; it’s people and organisations we have to fear and that’s what makes The Russos’ contribution to the MCU so believable and exiting to me.

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Talking of ‘stakes’, this is one factor in their work that I have a lot of respect for. It would have been so easy to have Captain America kill Iron Man (I thought he was going to the first time I saw ‘Civil War‘, actually) or vice versa. But it would have been an easy way to end the narrative and close the book. ‘Civil War‘, in my opinion ended perfectly, reminding the audience that yes, these superheroes do carry some kind of mortality, but that there is an element of ambiguity as to who was right or wrong and how The Avengers can pick themselves up from this, with the showdown with Thanos around the corner. I never felt those stakes with ‘Doctor Strange‘ and I thought killing Quicksilver to advance Scarlet Witch’s arc in ‘Age of Ultron‘ was a pretty cheap trick. But this is just an interjection…

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One other aspect of their work I want to talk about is their approach to exposition – the big ‘DUN DUN DUUUUUUN’ moment in a film that makes you go ‘holy shit…’ and has your jaw on the floor. I can definitively say that I’ve never seen The Russos once use balled exposition in their contributions to the MCU. I’m going to talk about three big expositions over those two films now. The first being the bunker scene in ‘The Winter Soldier‘ where Captain America and Black Widow find out about Hydra’s operations within S.H.I.E.L.D courtesy of Zola. It’s not balled exposition for the sake of it. Both characters have seen Nick Fury die, Steve came face-to-face with The Winter Soldier, it’s after that iconic elevator scene… The emotional stakes are high at this point. Now the clever thing is, the exposition comes as another attempt is made on their lives; realistically, they’d be dead before they could act on the information they’re given, but it makes no sense to kill your protagonist in the middle of the film, so the exposition provides yet more emotional fuel for Steve’s story to continue. The second exposition I want to talk about is the ‘red herring’ in ‘Civil War‘ where Bucky tells Sam and Steve that he’s ‘not the only Winter Soldier’. Steve and Sam have just seen Bucky in Winter Soldier mode – he’s dangerous and that’s the source of the fear; suddenly, there’s more than one Winter Soldier, and that poses a huge threat to the world. That’s it on the surface, that’s the emotional fuel to the scenario. But this was all part of the film’s antagonist, Zemo’s, plan to lure The Avengers to Siberia once you scratch below the surface. The final example I want to use is the revelation that Bucky killed Tony Stark’s parents. Again, this serves the purpose of reinforcing the division between Steve and Tony at this point but also creating an important fork in the road in terms of Steve’s own story arc and the wider implications for The Avengers. You never once experience a scandal for scandal’s sake in either film, they are always directly tied to the emotional state of the characters at hand and I think it’s a pretty great device to use.

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Lastly – this is more of a comment on The Russos’s engagement with their craft – but it’s a huge comfort, as a fan of these films, that they pay attention to the opinions of their audience. Both Joe and Anthony appear to be huge fans of both Black Widow (it’s nice to see her character being treated with the respect she deserves in their films – I’m looking at you, Joss Whedon) and The Winter Soldier – both fan favourites. So this gives me a little bit of hope that we might see those characters getting their own films or TV series’ in the future.

It also helps that Anthony loves Sebastian Stan’s hair as much as I do.