From its downbeat opening with no sudden reset following the Infinity War, there is a sense of finality to Guardians Vol. 3, a rarity in comic book movies that serves to heighten threats as characters are stripped of impenetrable plot armour. Where Vol. 2 explored Quill’s origins, Vol. 3 focuses on Rocket with flashbacks to the cruel animal experimentation that created him (featuring the sweetest otter committed to film). Unfortunately the conceit that makes this relevant leaves Rocket separated from the team for much of the film, negatively affecting their dynamic particularly during action sequences — the smashy action is a far cry from the creativity Gunn unleashed in The Suicide Squad, and it is only in a corridor fight near the end of the film that we finally see the musically choreographed teamwork that elevated previous Guardians volumes. The Guardians are in their element during rollicking galaxy-traversing adventure and there is plenty here, which allows them to avoid the malaise of mediocrity that has characterised Marvel’s recent output. There are visually inventive new locations like a bio-engineered space lab, but also disappointing choices like the mundane (and nonsensical) Counter-Earth. Uneven pacing arises from a combination of the long running time, the repetitive flashback structure and the introduction of two antagonists — the egomaniacal High Evolutionary is driven by a single obsession whilst Adam Warlock, whose introduction was teased at the end of the previous film, is relegated to a background presence repeatedly crashing through walls. Gunn’s greatest skill is allowing emotional beats to resonate even within a comedic framework and, as he leaves Marvel to become DC’s Kevin Feige, this is a fitting send-off to a team that is unlikely to be seen in the same form again (I could have done without the perfunctory post-credit sequences). The Guardians trilogy has always been about family and loss, Vol. 3 capitalising on long-running arcs that allow characters to grow and find acceptance through letting go of their respective pasts.
MCU Phase 5: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 | The Marvels | Captain America: New World Order | Thunderbolts | Blade
“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.”
Although Her is ostensibly science fiction — one of its central characters is a sentient artificially intelligent operating system — Spike Jonze approaches this ambitious film as a traditional love story in which one of the participants simply lacks corporeal form. Theodore and Samantha’s chemistry rests as much on Scarlett Johanssen’s charm and curiosity through just a disembodied voice (no doubt recorded with a great deal of direction when she replaced Samantha Morton who originally voiced the role during filming) as it does on Joaquin Phoenix’s presence onscreen. Jonze uses the premise of this unusual relationship to deconstruct the loneliness of modern life as we regard one another from an increasing distance and — one decade and a global pandemic later — his vision of how our computer-dominated society is evolving feels eerily accurate. Theodore, sympathetically underplayed by Phoenix, is a kind and creative man struggling with divorce and, although he has friends and colleagues who like him, only his OS seems to understand how to support him. Whatever one’s view of the relationship, its effects on Theodore are tangible, and that is where Her, with its non-judgmental perspective, truly fascinates.
“This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”
With ten years spent building up characters, this is an event movie unlike any to date. Much like the first Avengers movie, I came away impressed firstly that it did not buckle under its own weight. In particular, the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the rest of the MCU cast works expertly, aided by James Gunn apparently writing their dialogue. Despite threadbare development to date, Thanos becomes a villain with whom one can sympathise, convinced his actions are necessary even as certain acts pain him. Although the number of fight sequences is exhausting, there is sufficient creativity and some memorable tag team moments. Infinity War stands up to a second viewing but whether its stature lasts will depend on how satisfactorily certain choices are explained by the final instalment next year. In assuming a working knowledge of the majority of the heroes, their backstories and their interpersonal relationships, Infinity War does not really work as a standalone film but it mounts a compelling argument that, for monolithic franchises, this may no longer be an appropriate test.
“Any other team wins the World Series, good for them. They’re drinking champagne, they get a ring. But if we win, on our budget, with this team… we’ll have changed the game. And that’s what I want. I want it to mean something.”
Billy Beane, General Manager of Oakland Athletic, bucks tradition by adopting statistical analysis to identify undervalued players to fill his team’s roster on a limited budget. Despite being based on a true story, we are given relatively little insight into the statistical philosophy behind “Moneyball”. There is plenty here to enjoy for those uninterested in baseball, but it is clearly designed to resonate more with fans of the game, with significant time dedicated to reliving Oakland Athletic’s winning streak. The film then meanders, uncertain how to conclude, and feels overlong as a result.