‘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. 

‘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.

‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man has been through so much. We’ve seen three different versions of this character and they’ve all made Peter Parker their own. For some reason, Tom Holland is the perfect combination of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions. Thus creating the ultimate Spider-Man that Sony and Marvel has blessed us with. Holland’s first trilogy isn’t perfect, but Spider-Man: No Way Home sure is. One of the most well-written comic book movies since Logan, in all honesty. Everything flowed together nicely, the visuals were great and the third act is something special.

My main issue with Holland’s Spider-Man is that he was always walking in the shadows of someone else. He never became his own man; his own hero and he never had a sense of identity. This is the film where we see that growth, not only as Peter Parker, but as Spider-Man. He needed a film that was just his own. Issues that he had to deal with head-on, without any other hero helping him. This was his movie, and I know that it may seem overstuffed with villains coming in from other universes but this worked. We saw the goofy kid from Queens, the tech genius, and a true hero all wrapped into one.

Never in my life would I have ever expected to see these villains come together in one spot. It has such a simple story and it was executed so well. Parker has to collect these villains and keep them in Doctor Strange’s dungeon until they are ready to send them back to their designated universes. Seeing each of them with upgraded CGI (especially Electro, sorry, Jamie Foxx) was so worth it. It’s like they all fell back into their characters and it was fantastic. Hit the perfect wave of nostalgia for this film and had plenty of references. Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin still reigns supreme and he stole the spotlight.

Spider-Man: No Way Home was perfectly balanced. Jon Watts nailed the humour and emotional moments. No emotional moment was undercut with a bad joke and that third act will make anyone cry. It’s structured in a way that you may know what’s about to happen, but then they surprise you over and over again. What a perfect third instalment to Holland’s first trilogy, I really can’t wait to see him grow as our official Spider-Man. This was truly a love letter to Peter Parker and Spider-Man, Stan Lee would have been so proud of this.


‘Eternals’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Chloé Zhao’s Eternals dives into the story of celestial beings that have been defending Earth for centuries. The reason why Zhao was the perfect choice to bring these characters to life is because of her humanistic lens in grounding her characters. She takes these literal gods and cements them in the humanity around them. Whether it is through the script, or the stunning visuals, Zhao makes sure to make their connection to human life the most important aspect for these characters. That being said, Eternals is not perfect. The main issue the film suffers from is the pacing and the overall structure in executing the story. Despite of this (or perhaps because of this), it is one of the most ambitious Marvel films and it feels like it should be on its own level, away from the rest of the cinematic universe.

Without getting into too many details, the fact that the story spans centuries held Eternals back. The disjointed narrative constantly takes the audience out of the present day storyline and it tends to be a lot to digest. It felt like a very beautiful history lesson with no concrete story to tell. It is a by-the-books superhero film masked by its theoretical analysis of gods living among humans.  For instance, some of the celestials struggle with the restriction of not being able to interfere with human conflicts and wars, especially Druig (Barry Keoghan), who has mind-control powers and can stop the conflict within seconds.  To emphasize these struggles Zhao goes through centuries of human conflicts and shows how each member of the Eternals has had their fair share of doubts about what role they’d play on each. These plot points tend to show their leader, Ajak (Salma Hayek), keeping this celestial family together and in check, but that plotline is told through the perspective of how this struggle affects each of the characters.

Who Is Thena? A Look At Marvel Comics' Eternals Characters - Comic Years
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

There are three characters that really stood out to me, who carried the emotional weight of the film through their story arc; Thena (Angelina Jolie), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), and the abovementioned Druig, all of which had the most interesting journeys. If it weren’t for Jolie’s acting chops as Thena, this could have been a different film entirely. For me, even though Thena was cast aside majority of the time, she really stole the spotlight from everyone else. Her arc was emotional because of how her memories affected her present mental state as the goddess of war. I also appreciated how everything about Thena’s fighting style was graceful and effortless. She truly shined out of the entire cast and I connected with her the most.

After 26 films, the MCU finally has some clear LGBTQ+ representation with Phastos and his family. Brian Tyree Henry brought so much of his natural charisma to Phastos but also presented his connection to humanity through his vulnerability. Phastos is a tech whiz who planted seeds for many mechanical inventions humans would eventually create. Not only did Phastos struggle with the man-made weaponry, but he is also mentally affected by how his technological advancements led to human conflicts and war. How can a god sit idly by and watch the destruction of humanity if it was caused by his own technology? The complexity of Phastos is unmatched in Eternals.

Bryan Tyree Henry's 'Eternals' character Phastos is a queer MCU first : NPR
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

While the characters in Eternals all had their time to shine, some were underwhelming and underused. Ajak is an important character and Hayek portrayed a stern, gentle leader with maternal energy quite well. As much as I adore Gemma Chan, her Sersi did not work for me, and she lacked chemistry with Richard Madden’s Ikaris. If their love for each other is supposed to transcend centuries, and be the central issue in the third act, there needed to be more. There were two other couples in this movie that had more chemistry than they did and that shouldn’t have happened. Thena and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) made me feel their genuine love and respect for each other more so than two lovers who are supposedly selling the love story that holds this film together.

Is Chloé Zhao’s Eternals more mature and different than other MCU films? Yes, it is. Does it suffer from overly explaining the mythos of the celestial beings and disjointed narrative trying to piece centuries together? Yes, it does. I did not walk out of this movie in awe of what Zhao did with these characters because the story wasn’t as engaging as it should have been. Sure, it was emotional and refreshing but I left feeling underwhelmed. It felt like they were going through the motions of a comic book film, while elevating it through the technical aspects, to mask the fact that the story is choppy. Zhao’s style was made for characters like these, and it worked on a more emotional, intimate scale, but handling the scope of this story and how it is supposed to be integrated in the MCU did not work.