The Films of James Gunn
Slither (March 28/06)
That Slither filmmaker James Gunn cut his teeth on various Troma flicks doesn't come as much of a surprise, given that the movie essentially plays out like a typical Lloyd Kaufman effort - except with far superior performances, special effects, and production values. Gunn, making his directorial debut here, infuses Slither with an off-kilter sensibility that lends the film an appropriately campy atmosphere - although the distinctly uneven pacing and lack of character development prevent it from becoming as much fun as Gunn clearly wants it to be. The story transpires in the small Southern town of Wheelsy, where a whole host of colorful and quirky characters must contend with an alien invasion that transforms unwilling hosts into blood-thirsty zombies. It's clear almost immediately that Gunn has been inspired by certain genre efforts of the '80s (including The Thing and The Blob), and as such, Slither generally feels like a throwback to films of that sort. Gunn has smartly peppered the cast with charismatic and talented actors - including Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker - the majority of whom are, unfortunately, saddled with characters that come off as archetypes more than anything else (ie the earnest cop, the sleazy mayor, etc). And though there are a number of genuinely thrilling sequences spread throughout the film's running time, the movie's erratic structure ultimately transforms Slither into a less-than-memorable piece of work.
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Guardians of the Galaxy (August 9/14)
Based on an obscure Marvel comic book, Guardians of the Galaxy follows a ragtag group of superheroes (Chris Pratt's Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana's Gamora, Dave Bautista's Drax, Bradley Cooper's Rocket, and Vin Diesel's Groot) as they reluctantly combine forces to take down a nefarious figure known as Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Filmmaker James Gunn, working from a screenplay written with Nicole Perlman, does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the larger-than-life storyline, as the movie boasts a lighthearted and effortlessly entertaining opening half hour that seems to promise a fun, old-school adventure. It's clear, too, that the roster of uniformly affable characters goes a long way towards perpetuating the likeable vibe, with Pratt's star-making turn as the movie's cocky protagonist matched by a supporting cast rife with charismatic, memorable figures. The film begins to stumble, then, once the focus shifts to a narrative that's almost distractingly convoluted, as Gunn and Perlman suffuse the dense storyline with references and plot devices that generally soar over the average viewer's head - with the presence of obscure, Marvel-specific elements only exacerbating the movie's increasingly esoteric, uninvolving vibe (ie it becomes more and more difficult to work up any real enthusiasm for or interest in the protagonists' mission). Gunn's ongoing emphasis on CGI-heavy and aggressively generic space battles doesn't help matters, while the seemingly endless final stretch ensures that Guardians of the Galaxy concludes on as anticlimactic a note as one could've possibly envisioned - which is a shame, certainly, given the preponderance of decidedly above-average elements within the production (eg Pratt's completely endearing performance is alone almost able to compensate for the film's various missteps).
Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (June 26/17)
A marginal improvement over its lackluster predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 follows the first film’s ragtag band of space heroes (Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Dave Bautista’s Drax, Vin Diesel’s Baby Groot, and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon) as their bond threatens to break after Star-Lord reunites with his long, lost father (Kurt Russell’s Ego). Filmmaker James Gunn does an absolutely smashing job of immediately drawing the viewer into the overlong proceedings, as Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 kicks off with a seriously entertaining opening credits sequence that seems like it’s going to be the highlight of the entire picture (and indeed this is ultimately the case). And although the various performers are as charismatic as one might’ve anticipated – Pratt is especially winning here – the movie, perhaps inevitably, segues into a meandering midsection that’s bursting with needless diversions and subplots (ie Gunn’s screenplay could’ve used some major streamlining). The vibe of pervasive wheel-spinning persists throughout and yet it’s clear that Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2’s narrative eventually does come together, with the film benefiting substantially from Russell’s typically strong turn as the mysterious figure who triggers the predictably larger-than-life third act. (It’s worth noting, however, that the movie’s final stretch, which is rife with over-the-top special effects and action, isn’t quite as intolerable as most other comic-book movies of this ilk.) It is, in the end, clear that Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 falls right in line with the many, many other movies contained in Marvel's cinematic universe, as the positive impact of the film's handful of stirring sequences is dulled considerably by an almost excessively flabby atmosphere (ie why are all of these movies well over two hours?)