‘Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

For many years the Guardians of the Galaxy have become everyone’s extended family in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They are one cohesive group that treats each other like family. That dynamic is something that The Avengers couldn’t grasp. And that’s what makes the energy for both groups so interesting. Like Thor, the Guardians, especially Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), have lost so much. This Holiday special goes back to the beginning of Quill’s galaxy quest with Yondu (Michael Rooker), and Kraglin (Sean Gunn) remembers one specific moment that ruined Christmas for Quill. After Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) hear this, they go on a mission to bring Christmas to Quill on this new planet and restore his Christmas spirit. The one person that does come to mind for Drax is, of course, Kevin Bacon. Writer-director James Gunn takes Drax and Mantis on a sleigh ride to Earth in this Marvel special presentation to give Quill the ultimate gift. It is a fun way to close out phase four and still leave a little surprise for the future of the Guardians. 

Like all Gunn projects, the soundtrack is one of the most important aspects. He does handpick some of the best-hidden gems that will pull on memory for audiences. From the opening credits, the songs set the tone for the rest of the film, and they kick in at the right moment. Mantis and Drax are front and centre in this special presentation, and it was nice to see them go on the journey for Kevin Bacon. They have become a comedy duo of the Guardians family, so for them to venture out together made sense. Mantis also feels guilty because she has a secret that she shares with Quill later on. Mantis also gets a bit more reckless and physical in this presentation than in previous films, which is entertaining. For some reason, Drax’s schtick is getting old, and he’s not as funny as he used to be. The jokes aren’t landing in the same way, making for some awkward screen silence between him, Mantis, and Kevin Bacon. 

The special was fun for the most part, but it shied away from exploring Quill’s past with Yondu. Kraglin telling Mantis and Drax the story was convenient for the special and was just a way to give Quill Kevin Bacon. And the way that this unfolded was a bit underwhelming. The Quill we knew from before would have reacted differently to Kevin Bacon. In a way, it felt a bit out of character for him. Pratt also looks completely different as Quill. He looked defeated, uninterested, and out of it in this special. Sure, he lost Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and is still trying to process it, but it didn’t feel like Pratt was present. It feels like Quill has lost all hope in everything around him, and when Mantis tries to restore that, it falls a bit flat. A level of detachment from Quill makes this special feel a bit odd for his scenes specifically. There are great moments in this, but it felt off. There was also a different version of Groot (Vin Diesel) that they never really dive into, and it would have been fun to see him a bit more. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is the epilogue of phase four as it handles Quill’s past and how he’s currently feeling emotionally. The soundtrack made Mantis and Drax’s Earthly adventure incredibly fun for the most part. After many years of Kevin Bacon not making an appearance for Quill, this was the best way to bring him in. As much as we all love the Guardians, much like the original six, it feels like the characters have been exhausted, and it’s hard to develop them further. If this presentation shows anything, it’s that Vol. 3 is coming out at the right time to wrap up this band of misfits. The group of them have been a wonderful, crazy family for a very long, and it is time to say goodbye to these characters. Especially because Gamora was Quill’s whole heart, and without her presence, you could feel his emptiness. The holiday special will begin streaming on Disney Plus, on November 25th. 

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When Chadwick Boseman was cast as T’Challa, many didn’t know the impact he was going to make. The character of T’Challa grew into a diplomatic, noble leader of Wakanda over time. Not only was he regal at all times with his demeanour, but he had such a playful side that he shared with Shuri (Letitia Wright). He started as a young man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and became a King to everyone. Boseman’s presence was felt throughout Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and the emotional weight of this film is one of the reasons this felt as draining as it did. Director Ryan Coogler had an impossible task at hand, and he was able to create a complex sequel. He incorporated many layers to suit his cast’s needs, the MCU’s grandeur, and the fans. Grief is the main theme explored as this film’s overarching theme and how everyone grieves differently. That pain never fades, instead, it manifests into other forms of expression. 

There are many moving parts to this film, and at times it can be a bit dense. After the death of King T’Challa, Wakanda lost its protector, and they appear defenceless to other nations. While grieving, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) intimidates the UN Board of Directors, who have been challenging Wakanda’s hold on vibranium. Meanwhile, the CIA has been digging in the ocean for vibranium using a detector made by a scientist. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, they find it and uncover a new nation of people called the Talokan with Namor (Tenoch Huerta) as their god. With a series of misunderstandings about who is after the vibranium and hurting members of the CIA, the Talokan and the Wakandans come face to face. This side of the story is fairly standard and is a good way to introduce Namor in the MCU. What matters most about the geo-political storyline is Namor’s backstory and what ruling means to him. 

Coogler had to bring the audience back into a further developed Wakanda and have everyone grieve over T’Challa together. On top of that, he had to create an entirely new world for audiences to connect with. He was able to construct a connection with those on the surface, and those underwater, who have experienced similar obstacles in their lives. The grieving process is shown through Namor and Shuri extremely well. Shuri has internalized her pain and sees death through a more scientific lens. Whereas Queen Ramonda believes in connectivity to the ancestral plain, and uses spirituality to comfort her. Namor’s grief is tied to a different emotion where he becomes vengeful over the protection of his people. The entire second act dives into both sides and the roles Namor and Shuri must play for their kingdoms. Moreover, the introduction of Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) can be considered the fun puzzle piece amid all this sorrow. Each piece is assembled to move the narrative forward, but it still felt a bit overwhelming. Yes, there can be layers, but it felt like two strong ideas were being pushed into one story. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a beautiful tribute to T’Challa and Boseman’s legacy. The entire cast gave such powerful, emotional performances, especially Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. The costume design by Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter was incredible, as she had to design for a whole new nation while upgrading the Wakandan wardrobe. Ludwig Göransson’s score was a bit more subdued compared to its predecessor. It’s not like it went unnoticed, but it wasn’t as integral to the feel of the story as it was in the first one. There are a lot of wonderful things about this film, but from a technical standpoint, it just doesn’t feel polished. The editing is probably the most jarring as the pacing suffered throughout the lengthy runtime. The one thing that did improve from the first film is the special effects and the fight choreography with the new suits was strong as well. This film is strong because of the emotional connection that many of the fans have with these characters, but certain aspects didn’t work for the film in its entirety, and it ultimately suffered from sequel syndrome.

‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is now the first character in the MCU to have four instalments in his franchise. After watching Thor: Love and Thunder, it looks like the legend of Thor is just getting started. Co-writers Taika Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson wrote a simple, heartfelt story about who Thor truly is and what it means to be a god. The way that Korg retells a story about one Thor adventure with the Guardians at the beginning of this film felt very campy and playful. Something that works for the Thor we know from Thor: Ragnarok. But, Waititi also added a bit of darkness from Avengers: Endgame to carry with Thor. The one thing that can be said about this fourth instalment is that there was a balance of everything and it wasn’t overly like previous installments.

Thor embarks on a journey unlike anything he’s ever faced — a quest for inner peace. However, his retirement gets interrupted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a galactic killer who seeks the extinction of the gods. To combat the threat, Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who — to his surprise — inexplicably wields his magical hammer. Together, they set out on a harrowing cosmic adventure to uncover the mystery of the God Butcher’s vengeance. This movie is probably the most contained story in phase four and it felt nice to sit with these characters. Everything that happened in this movie worked for Thor and added to his character development moving forward.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Bringing Jane Foster back to wield mjoliner brought so much heart to Thor: Love and Thunder. It seemed without Thor opening up to the idea of love and being open to new people, he lost himself. Not only did Thor lose Jane, but he lost Loki, Heimdall, and all of Asgard. He was grieving, and no amount of distractions could help him heal. Watching Thor slowly open up to the possibility of loving again and learning to trust again will resonate with audiences everywhere. Additionally, Natalie Portman gives an incredibly grounded, emotional performance while still having fun as Mighty Thor. Portman truly brings out the best in Hemsworth and their chemistry carried the film. From an awkward first encounter to playful banter, and a final act that will make you cheer for them, it was the perfect way to bring her back into the fold. 

Love and loss can also manifest into something dark and cold, which is what was shown through Gorr the God Butcher. Christian Bale was the perfect choice to play Gorr, but like every other MCU villain, he was underused. It would have been great to see more of him and to explore his character a bit more because of his title. Bale added a more seasoned performance alongside Portman, and it just goes to show that they are truly some of the best actors of our generation. They both brought the emotional depth needed to connect with these characters and they still had fun playing around with the lore. King Valkyrie had a more authoritative role, but even Thompson managed to have some fun with the sisterly bond that developed with Portman. There were some great girl power moments between them. 

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Thor: Love and Thunder is the best MCU project that has come out of phase four. It is contained in the Thor universe, has a wonderful journey of self-discovery for Thor, and explores the unifying theme of love. It’s thoughtful, heartfelt, and a lot of fun. Waititi’s humour is all over this, but it isn’t over the top or dumbed down. It will feel like you’re sitting down around a campfire listening to stories about Thor’s adventures with his friends, and there is something so wholesome about that. Hemsworth adores this character and you can see that in this instalment. He cares about his journey and how Thor can keep evolving. The post-credit scenes are very strong, and possibly the best out of phase four as well. It felt like Thor in his most natural state and that’s a wonderful thing considering everything that he has lost. On top of that, the soundtrack has stolen my heart and there are some pretty cool action scenes. 

Thor: Love and Thunder will be released on Friday, June 8th! Don’t miss this in theatres. 

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Diving into the multiverse is always a dangerous feat. Not because of magical creatures, witchcraft, or breaking dimensions, but because of how many possibilities there are. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) explained all of this in Infinity War, but now, it’s visually explained to audiences through Sam Raimi’s vision. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has Raimi written all over it, but the script, which was written by Michael Waldron unfortunately clashes with his ideas. Madness and chaos are always welcome when discussing the multiverse, but if it’s disjointed, then the grand scale of the story gets lost. In a way, it did feel balanced, but it also didn’t. It’s a conflicting movie with very strong elements and some fumbles along the way.

Raimi opened Multiverse of Madness with plenty of action as he set up America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) and her purpose in the universe. Even though Chavez doesn’t have much screen time or even much to do other than being protected by Doctor Strange, audiences will get a feel for her character. Gomez grows on you as the film goes on because of her quick backstory and her power set. When Chavez meets Earth-616 Doctor Strange things get interesting. The first act is straightforward and Waldron allows Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) her time to shine. Every single scene with Wanda Maximoff is played out and Raimi let those scenes breathe. The contents of the Darkhold are explored through Scarlet Witch and Raimi makes it a visual spectacle by leaning into those horror elements.

Sam Raimi was able to pull elements from his previous films to make an MCU horror film to be remembered. From the extreme close-ups to wide shots, to stunning transitions, Raimi’s mark was made in the MCU. He knows how to build anticipation and create so much tension by filling the room with silence and he lets the visuals speak for themselves. The sound design combined with his camerawork for certain scenes, plus the genius score by Danny Elfman presented the horrific side of the Scarlet Witch and what Doctor Strange is capable of. This is a visual feast to finally show off their power set and it worked for what it was. At some point, the story did lean more towards Wanda and we lost Strange a bit.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a film that has two conflicting ideas and it seems like certain elements were placed there out of convenience. If it weren’t for Sam Raimi’s style and love for horror then this wouldn’t have been enjoyable. On the surface, it’s a very fun, chaotic, and interesting movie, but once you dive into the character arcs, that’s where it falters. Even though it may feel enjoyable, you still leave the theatre wondering what actually happened and where Doctor Strange even goes from here. The takeaway from Multiverse of Madness is that Elizabeth Olsen continues to shine in this role and no amount of screen time will be enough. And even though this is a sequel to the first Doctor Strange it could not feel more detached from that world that was created.

‘Morbius’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The Sony Spider-verse continues to produce unique origin stories that have a darker tone. The studio has managed to create films centered on villains, who are really anti-heroes in their own standalone. It offers a refreshing look at the Marvel universe when diving into new characters that we wouldn’t have given much time to as a one-off villain in a movie. It’s actually really nice to watch a movie like Morbius amidst the MCU films because it offers a missing piece that the MCU films could also benefit from. Fortunately, Multiverse of Madness will dive into that darkness because of Sam Raimi, or else the horror elements are never really explored in the other films.

Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is a biochemist that tries to cure himself of a rare blood disease. But when his experiment goes wrong, he inadvertently infects himself with a form of vampirism instead. This synopsis is exactly how linear the story is and it is not overstuffed with cameos or set up to another film (until the mid/post-credit scenes). Sure, Morbius mentions Venom, but it wasn’t forced, it was just playful. The audience is able to connect with Morbius on an emotional level because of how he was treated as a child with a rare blood disease. He was gifted as a child and wanted to cure his disease. He also wanted to help his close friend Milo, who suffered from the same thing.

Even though Jared Leto has an Academy Award, he was born to play Michael Morbius. He played the doctor and the vampire quite effortlessly. He brought the physicality when morphing into the vampire side of him and presented himself in a more reserved manner when taking on the role of the doctor. It is a Jekyll and Hyde situation, which is why I really enjoyed this. On the other side of this, Milo (Matt Smith) ends up using this serum to kill the demons from his child because he was bullied. He so desperately wants to fix the past, that he somehow destroys his future in the process it. Smith and Leto had solid chemistry and each had strong individual performances. It is sad to see that Adria Arjona had a minor role as Doctor Martine, but she really helped the audience sympathize with Morbius.

Morbius directed by Daniel Espinosa is one of the more interesting origin stories to come out. The one thing that impressed me the most above all else is the VFX work in this film. Being able to explore his power set in the way that it was visually presented made me like the character even more because it just looked so cool. Even when Morbius was morphing in and out of his vampire side it was seamless and looked great. Unfortunately, you could definitely tell that this film suffered in post-production as the story felt a bit disjointed and certain scenes were placed out of order. It wasn’t too jarring to sit through, but the simplicity of the story and cool action scenes from Morbius made for a fairly engaging origin story in the Marvel Sony-verse.