Saturday, April 29, 2017

Doctor Strange Spoiler Free Review

Doctor Strange, 4.5 Stars out of Five.

Doctor Strange, I’ve come to review you. After 13 other movies, the most recent of which had broken up The Avengers, and 142 hour-long TV episodes, some recent of which had hinted at the more mystical elements (such as the Hand in Daredevil season 2, the dark matter from Agent Carter season 2, or Ghost Rider from the then-current episodes of Agents of SHIELD), we finally see the mystic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We’re introduced to it when we see Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his disciples steal a few pages from a forbidden book to perform a ritual that kicks the plot into gear. After a visually stunning fight with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, the Celtic woman, not the Asian guy) in the mirror dimension, they escape. Cut to Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon, who performs brain surgery while doing music trivia (fun fact, the first song we hear with him is the same one on the tape in Karen Page’s car from Daredevil season 2), which I’m not even sure is legal. Come to think of it, there are so many small issues with Doctor Strange, they pile up. After handing his patient off to another guy, he’s pulled out by Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) for a second opinion, and saves a man from brain death and being harvested like a corn field in fall. This sequence and his interactions with Christine and other personnel develop him as the snarky, arrogant jerk we know for the last few minutes before his car crash (also fun fact, at the end of the credits, they have a “don’t text-and-drive” PSA written in) that destroys his hands. After Western medicine fails him, it’s off to the East for holistic medicine, and after being saved by Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), he meets the Ancient One, and what follows is his ascension to earning the name Strange. However, the timing is never clear. My best guess is it could be a year, or several, ending in the release time’s present. A quick “time doesn’t pass in this place” line would have helped, but the placement of a modern tablet in Doctor Strange’s apartment makes it seem like that’s the case, but one does not simply learn so much in so little time, and Christine mentions an extended “I haven’t seen you” period. It’s really strange, and feels like Marvel let the ball drop in terms of continuity keeping. That aside, the characters were great, whether it was Doctor Strange and his brashness or Mordo and Wong’s more stoic natures in contrast to that, which provided great humor. The visuals are also brilliant, and do not need to be completely believable given the less-than-believable scenarios presented to us, but it all contributes. Michael Giacchino’s score also contributes to the weirdness with a sudden reversal tune used for Doctor Strange’s intro to the multiverse crash course, and Eastern instruments to reflect the setting and tone. The humor also contributes to not boring the audience, and mostly clean language makes it appropriate for all to engage in it. So unclear timing aside, it’ll just get stranger when he unites with the Avengers in Infinity War and its sequel.

Movie Chat: Captain America: Civil War

This week, on my second of the delayed Movie Chat episodes, I go to war with Captain America: Civil War!

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Friday, April 28, 2017

The Woodsman Spoiler-Free Review

The Woodsman, 4/28/17, 4 Stars.
Ever hear the story of a pedophile who regretted his actions and tried rebuilding his life? We’ve heard true-life stories of ex-cons trying to reintegrate into society and see it in other media, but I personally have never seen this type of movie. We open with Walter (Kevin Bacon) being paroled after twelve years in prison for raping young girls. The fact he even had those urges in the first place make him immediately unrelatable and no relatability of any other character, even the detective who says what is likely on most of the audience’s mind about Walter. To be clear, this movie does not glorify pedophilia, but depicts Walter trying to overcome the urge, resist temptation at a couple of points in the 87 minute runtime, and generally build a new life for himself. They waste no time showing him get reintegrated into society by showing him get a job at a lumberyard, meeting Vicki (Kyra Sedgwick), who is one of the few women who works there, and forming a consensual adult relationship when they make use of a different type of wood than what they usually use. Throughout, he attends therapy, which I’ll assume is court mandated, and is tempted to recede to his old ways. He also observes another pedophile he nicknames “Candy” (Kevin Rice) offering candy in front of the school he can see from his apartment window. For those wondering how he that was legal, his positioning was the legal minimum distance, which he says in a voice-over is “320 feet.” The story is told coherently, and Walter has a satisfying character arc I won’t detail here, but will say avoids glorifying pedophilia, because if it did, I would rate this movie negative five stars out of positive five stars. That may be because they never actually show him do his thing, with the most erotic scenes being between him and Vicki, both of whom are consenting adults. If they showed him actually do the deed, nobody involved in this would ever work in film again. That aside, everything else advances the “reintegration and moving on” narrative in some form or another. The soundtrack by Nathan Larson conveys the feelings from this, and is notably absent in scenes like Walter’s therapy sessions. Actually, the soundtrack has a notably small presence in this film. That’s fine, just like the utter lack of humor. To me personally, the lack of humor here is better, because there is absolutely nothing funny about child molestation. The other thing they could have toned down was the salty language. Do people actually swear that much? Maybe in more intense situations, but I felt some profanity lost all meaning by the end. Overall, The Woodsman does a seriously good job dealing with a very serious topic, without glorifying the sin of child molestation. We at least understand that Walter regrets what he did, and if you want to see how, watch for yourself.

Movie Chat: Unforgettable

It's been too long since my last Movie Chat episode. Between a birthday party, a play, and school, I've been occupied, but better late than never, time for Movie Chat: Unforgettable. Is it a forgettable movie or a memorable one? Watch/listen to find out!

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Captain America: Civil War Spoiler Free Review

Captain America: Civil War, 4/22/17, 4.5 Stars.

Avengers, disassemble! We’ve seen the Avengers fight two faceless armies, so now, it’s time for them to fight: each other. Before that, we start with Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) going on one of his brainwash missions, where we learn how he’s used and see just how strong he is when he sends a car into a light pole with his bare hand. Fast-forward to the present in Lagos, where the Avengers are assembled! Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) cover the ground, while Falcon (Anthony Mackie) takes the skies. When they realize their target is headed somewhere else, enter Captain America (Chris Evans), who kicks butt, and after a cool fight sequence, Crossbones (Frank Grillo) sets off a suicide bomb, but Scarlett Witch throws him up and a building gets blown up. After that, she’s confined to the new Avengers facility, and what follows is Batman V. Superman if it had had 12 previous movies and 120 episodes of television under its belt: the consequences of vigilantism, and the Russo brothers do an amazing job of presenting both sides of the conflict, where nobody is right or wrong, just bringing their viewpoints to the table. Vision (Paul Bettany) brings a logical view based on calculations, while Captain America makes it clear that their hands are still the safest to be in. All this leads to the airport battle promised by the promotions, then the real climax, which takes a long time to get to. However, the plot is coherent, and you know what’s going on and why. The effects are, once again, stunning, especially at the airport fight, but it’s the conflict that’s at the heart of this. Henry Jackman also does another great job with the soundtrack, which captures all the appropriate emotions, such as Winter Soldier’s eerie motif, which comes into play when he’ll be the most dangerous to anyone. Despite all the darkness, Marvel still brings some good laughs so we don’t forget they’re human beings at the center of the conflict at the end of the day. They also use saltier language than most of their movies, but it’s all called for. Overall, Civil War is a reminder that actions have consequences, and adds a layer of reality to this universe by having that be the case.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Unforgettable Spoiler-Free Review

Unforgettable, 3.5 Stars out of 5, 4/21/17.
Unforgettably decent. Unforgettable opens with Julia (Rosario Dawson) in a police interrogation room where she’s accused of murder, and some pretty solid evidence is thrown at her. Rewind six months, and we see her at her farewell party, where her boss describes her new work-from-home-with-her-fiance arrangement as it is, and starts up the recurring phone-call relationship that comes into play later on. We then see Julia start her new life in Southern California, where she moves in with David (Geoff Stults), who shares custody of his daughter Lily (Isabella Rice) with his psychotic ex-wife Tessa (Katherine Heigl). The story then begins when Tessa starts destroying David and Julia’s relationship in an attempt to make everything perfect. At least for her. The plot uses up time, and isn’t painfully slow or fast, but has a few notable holes I’ll let you find on your own. Nothing hand of the writer (which rears its head), but certain details that would involve spoilers. In terms of characters, the main cast of Julia, David, Lily, and Tessa are relatable for the most part (with Tessa’s psychotic tendencies making her the least relatable of them). Julia and David are cohabitating before marriage, like more people today are, and Lily is living the life of a kid with divorced parents: splitting her time between parents, and seeing them occasionally interact on not-so-friendly terms. However, in her case, it gets deadly as most of the plot revolves around Tessa setting Julia’s abusive ex, Michael Vargas (Simon Kassianides) up to “reunite” with her, in a truly twisted manner. Julia, David, and Lily are shown as a modern family (in their case, a child with a parent and stepparent) haunted by crazy exes, but they felt like puppets who were just being manipulated by the director, for no other reason than to follow basic steps. While a few holes remain in the plot, they play with visuals in a really fun manner, like when Tessa breaks in to take Julia’s things and further her devious plot, they shoot it from first person, which adds to the mystery and is just a fun shake-up. It was also intensified by Toby Chu’s consistent and well-used soundtrack that really captured the freight of an abusive ex returning to haunt Julia and a psychotic ex-wife haunting David, who he only stays in contact with because of Lily. It was all serious with salty language, and nothing light or funny here. Then again, nothing light or funny in this movie either, because the movie was devoid of humor in any way or form, and I feel a few laughs would have made me care more for these characters, but I didn’t get even a chuckle out of any of them, except maybe when David made a toast at his bar’s opening, but again, they felt like puppets of the director. I think Rosario Dawson is great at acting, but she does what she can with what she gets: a decent thriller with a unique premise, but otherwise, unforgettably decent.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Movie Chat: The Matrix Revolutions

The end is here. I've officially completed the Matrix trilogy. Now it's your turn: take the red pill one more time to see the truth behind what I thought of The Matrix Revolutions.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ant-Man Spoiler Free Review

Ant-Man, 4/15/17, 4.5 Stars.

When Marvel first announced their bite-sized hero was getting his own movie, you probably thought it was just a “tale to astonish,” and then a horror story behind the scenes when there was a shakeup in director and script. Well, I can say that those stories were clickbait stories to scare the fans, because Ant-Man is a great movie. We begin with a flashback to 1989 where Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) confronts his SHIELD associate Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), along with Howard Stark (John Slattery) and fan-favorite Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). After a brief scuffle where Hank punches out Mitchell, he quits SHIELD. This sets up the plot, but first Marvel logo and our introduction to the main protagonist: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who’s just getting out of prison. After getting picked up by his friend Luis (Michael Pena), he stays with him, gets a job, gets fired, then gets back into the burglary game so he can make enough money to pay child support to see his daughter. Upon this heist, he discovers the Ant-Man suit, and what follows is preparation for and execution of a heist that he, Hank, and Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) put together when Darren Cross’ (Corey Stoll) version of the suit is ready. This all moves at a pleasant pace, and no major holes are to be found. However, I have to say the CGI’s obvious fakeness reared its ugly head every now and then. I know I shouldn’t be too hard on them for that, but it just didn’t stick for me. However, I have to say that they did a great job of developing the main characters: Scott, Hank, and Hope. Luis and his crew were likable for being comic relief, but that’s about it. I also have to say they made this relatable for single dads with Scott’s motivations, because well-meaning parents like that exist, and others would just say “yeah, that would be me in that situation.” Christophe Beck’s soundtrack is as quirky and fun as the characters, and is kept out at the right moments. Finally, Marvel’s humor shines through, as always, especially when you mix Luis and Scott’s roommates with Hank and Hope. It’s cool, they keep the language clean, with a few appropriate slip-ups here and there. Overall, Ant-Man is the smaller, more intimate Marvel movie that Marvel Studios will probably decrease on over time, because they’re ramping up to Infinity War. Enjoy this modest stakes film that could have been one of their TV shows, but instead, got to be a movie.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Matrix Revolutions Spoiler-Free Review

The Matrix Revolutions, 4/14/17, 4 Stars

A revolutionary trilogy ends with a visually stunning but horribly paced epilogue to the previous movie. We pick up where we left off at the end of The Matrix Reloaded: Neo (Keanu Reeves) in a coma alongside Bane (Ian Bliss) who is actually a copy of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) going commando to the real world. Meanwhile, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and the rest of Zion get ready for the final battle to end the war. Meanwhile in the Matrix itself, Neo is wandering around, but long story short, gets back to reality after a philosophical conversation. Neo and Bane wake up, and what follows is what really could have been the second half of a Matrix sequel constructed from Reloaded and this one. Let me explain: Reloaded was the preparation for the battle at Zion, and this was that battle and the conclusion of Neo’s character arc for the whole trilogy. These two movies could be edited into one movie lasting 2.75-3 hours when you cut from both, and would have made sense. As a result, this movie’s pacing is inconsistent, going from slow build-up to maybe catch the viewer up if they had only seen the first two when each were released. Long story short, it loads really fast, then slow, then fast, like a computer with an inconsistent connection, and it’s as annoying as that. Otherwise, the plot coherently wrapped up the story of Neo in a neat little package with a few loose ends should Warner Bros. demand a “Matrix Rebooted” or some other movie. On the bright side, I can happily say I finally came to care about the main cast after three movies. If you think of the trilogy as one story (especially the second and third as two halves of the second half) then this is where Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and one or two others are really characters you care about. It also helps they’re shown with more of a sense of humor than they had in the first one. They manage to change the way I see the characters, but what remains consistent are the amazing visual effects, whether it be the last Matrix fights, the Zion battle, etc, the Wachowskis give us a parting gift in the form of all-out CGI fights that work where they’re placed. However, in the final battle, I have to say their lightning use was excessive to the point I’m still squinting from it as a result (and I thought JJ Abrams has a problem with lens flares). Also, there was some obvious product placement in the train station early on. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but in the world of the Matrix, it felt so out of place, seeing a Powerade poster in a train station in the Matrix itself really took me out of it. I’ll give them this though: they had it in green, just like the lighting tone they kept for the Matrix scenes, to remind us which reality we’re seeing. What also distinguishes the realities is Don Davis’ soundtrack, which does what it’s been doing since before Neo took the red pill: conveying the appropriate emotions at the right times. Overall, The Matrix Revolutions is a sloppily paced, and visually stunning-yet-hard-to-look-at-sometimes end to an otherwise grand, deep, philosophical Matrix trilogy, with the characters finally becoming ones I can say “I care if this happens to that character or not.” Not every trilogy ends on a high note, but some end on lower ones than others.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Movie Chat: Avengers: Age of Ultron

It's another episode of Movie Chat this week across three platforms. Heads up: they'll be a day late each next week due to Easter, so enjoy these for now!

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron, 4/8/17, 4.5 Stars.
There are no strings on this review, which is why I will write my mind. We begin with the Avengers assembling for a raid, the last in a string of several between Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and this movie (Guardians of the Galaxy takes place on the other side of the galaxy, so the only impact is the Infinity Stone thing). They jump right into the action, and after a successful victory, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) examine their finding: Loki’s sceptor from the first Avengers movie. After using it to create Ultron (James Spader) who goes on to wreak havoc, they go to party with the other Avengers and other characters: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), various World War II vets I can guess are friends of Captain America, etc. After a light party game of “lift Thor’s hammer if you can,” the story really gets started with Ultron emerging, raging, and basically acting like every evil robot in every evil robot movie ever, with a twist of Jarvis (Paul Bettany). What follows is a global game of tracking Ultron and his two goons: Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson). There are no strings on them, but there were so many strings on Joss Whedon that he snapped. You can tell by how much foreshadowing they did for Phase 3: Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and of course, Avengers: Infinity War. It’s like a test reel for Avengers: Infinity War with a bunch or references to the other stuff, and the groundwork for Civil War laid down too. The plot is coherent, but there are so many references to future MCU movies that they could have cut some and still made it work. However, they manage to keep the characters in good order, and Ultron is actually a better villain than others give him credit for: his mind is childlike, he’s exposed to too much, and as a result, wants to simplify things. And he plans to do so with a complex plan to wipe out humanity. The visuals of that plan are stunning, not quite topping the Battle of New York from the first movie, but still looking cool. What also comes close to as good is Bryan Tyler and Danny Elfman’s soundtrack, which conveys all the appropriate emotions and is used appropriately. And finally, despite the abysmal situation, the humor works well, and the foul language is minimal, and funny when Cap scalds Iron Man for it, and it returns to haunt him here and there. So ultimately, Avengers: Age of Ultron ultimately marks the beginning of the end of the Age of the MCU as we knew it. Let there be no strings on them from here on out.

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Matrix Reloaded Spoiler Free Review

The Matrix Reloaded, 4/7/17, 4.5 Stars
Initializing… Welcome back to the world of The Matrix. The story kicks into high gear right away when we see Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) riding in on a motorcycle, blowing something up, and then getting into a fight with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), where she gets kicked out and shot. Will she survive? Before learning that, the story rewinds to Neo (Keanu Reeves) waking up next to Trinity on their way to Zion, the last human city on Earth that was mentioned, but not seen. Now it gets to be seen. Neo’s conflicted by the vision he had, and goes through an internal conflict of how to avoid that vision coming true. While on Zion, we learn a little more about the human resistance against the machines, and Neo gets an interesting scene with Councillor Hamann (Anthony Zerbe) where they discuss machines and control in a truly philosophical manner that is still relevant today in the smartphone era. Before that however, we get to see Zion in all its scope and after the announcement of Morpheus’ (Laurence Fishburne) discovery, they party like there’s no tomorrow, and most notably in their sex scene, we get better development of Neo and Trinity as lovers, but it is not enough to layer them like I think they should be, and while I can say this sequel adds more human-character moments that give us the tiniest bit of non-distracting comic relief, I still think character development is weak in this movie, but they do improve. Hamann is also in control of when the plot advances, which is why he lets Morpheus take his crew and the Nebuchadnezzar out to meet with the Oracle (Gloria Foster) who instructs them to track down the “keymaker” to find a way to end the war. What follows is another romp through the Matrix like the first movie, but the stakes are higher, and the action is increased. However, there is a clear middle chapter/part one of two feel to this I can’t shake, because while this is the middle of a trilogy, it was filmed back-to-back with the sequel, and there are a few loose threads left at the end of the movie. I won’t punish it for that, because it still felt like its own thing. Otherwise, the plot is fast and coherent, with some good story symmetry and a whole lot of cool action. Some of it feels really fake, like Neo’s flying looking obviously CGI, but considering it’s only done in the fake reality, I can let it slide on the grounds of “It’s in a computer,” and most computers (even today, over a decade later) don’t render perfect realism, and back from the first movie, it’s the lighting distinction between the two worlds. I’d also like to say that everything felt like it had its place, whether it was the twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment) who seemed like the featured muscle, the addition of Link (Harold Perrineau) to the crew, or the city of Zion and its big orgy scene, it feels like there’s a reason to it, especially if you consider they show that kind of action to show how human the people Zion are. Don Davis returns to score for the humans and machines, and his soundtrack is the right amount of techno whether in the Matrix itself or not, especially Burly Brawl, the music that Neo’s fight with the multiple Smiths is set to, which conveys the appropriate emotions of the situation (fast and advanced). It’s also withheld in a pivotal scene I won’t write about here, but I will say it really emphasizes how important the dialogue is, and leave it at that. As for humor, there is no dedicated comic relief, which would have been really out of place in this kind of movie, but as I said earlier, the more human moments of Neo, Trinity, and even Morpheus drew a chuckle out of me, but no major laughter. Even the twins have a small moment that’ll make you go “heh,” without being a distraction. And once again, the language gets a little salty, but nothing excessive or heavy on the salt. Overall, The Matrix Reloaded is a fine follow-up that still doesn’t make me care about the characters, but is only worse for the dangling plot thread or two clearly there for the sequel released six months later.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Movie Chat: Guardians of the Galaxy

It's Marvel Madness! I'm so ready for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, so time to start building hype with the first one, then the other MCU films between them. Until then, check out Movie Chat: Guardians of the Galaxy!

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Movie Chat: The Matrix

This week on Movie Chat, I connected myself to The Matrix. So now you have a choice: click one of the links below to see/hear what I thought, or go back and live in ignorant bliss of my opinion. Either way, views/listens would be nice.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 1 Spoiler-Free Review

Guardians of the Galaxy, 4/1/17, 5 Stars.
After my fourth viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy, I can officially say I’m hooked on a feeling that this will go down as a great classic the Library of Congress must preserve! I say that because everything clicks in this fun, hilarious adventure across the galaxy that’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but still its own thing. We start with Earth in 1989 where we meet Peter Jason Quill on the day his mother dies in a heart-wrenching opening scene that immediately makes us sympathetic to him, after which, he’s abducted by aliens in almost classic “I know a guy who knows a guy” style. Fast forward 26 years and to the other side of the universe, and we’re reunited with the boy, now a full-grown man: Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). We get to see him dance before he has to fight his way out of some abandoned building that houses a MacGuffin orb that’s related to another MacGuffin orb from another movie. After failing to sell it, Star Lord gets thrown in prison with his assailants and future friends who fight in a public space: Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel). They meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and together, they escape their prison. What follows is an epic, visually stunning, fun romp across the galaxy to stop Ronan the Destroyer (Lee Pace) from carrying out Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) will and collecting the orb. While Ronan is reduced to a loudmouth villain, he makes his threat level serious. The characters who could have been reduced to two-dimensional archetypes, but thankfully aren’t, are the guardians themselves. We get hooked on Star Lord from the moment we meet him as a child to his dance sequence and all his other acts of stupidity heroism, and a bit of both. Gamora is a violent assassin who develops a conscience and we’re given a good reason why. Rocket and Groot are two oddballs who are just fun to watch interact with each other and everyone else, and we’re given good reasons for why they are the way they are. And finally, Drax is just a maniac who’s obsessed with avenging his dead family, which sounds two-dimensional, but it works into the misfit angle of the team. Each of them get their moment and you really feel for them, which may seem absurd. The visuals for Rocket and Groot especially sound absurd too, but they’re rendered so well, they feel like they belong, whether it’s seeing them alongside their live-action cohorts, or their characterization as misfits. The CGI on them and other parts of the movie are brilliant throughout. And of course, everything is there for a reason, which makes the movie go by faster. The soundtrack is also brilliant in the way they use classic rock songs that may seem unnecessary, but are fun all the same. There’s also an orchestral score in case you forgot, by Tyler Bates, who’s no John Williams, but certainly makes his own great sci-fi soundtrack. Overall Guardians of the Galaxy is a funny, kinda-clean movie that boldly goes where no Marvel movie has gone before: space, the final movie frontier. These are the voyages of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Their ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new (yet slightly familiar) movie experiences. To boldly go where no Marvel movie had gone before.