(June 11, 2023) — From 2016 to 2018, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a hot streak only Pixar could rival: “Captain America: Civil War,” “Doctor Strange,” “Guardians of the Galaxy 2,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” Unfortunately, the Marvel movie machine has stalled a bit of late.
I have come out of most of the last 10 MCU films since “Avengers: Endgame” thinking, “Well that was kind of fun.” Aside from the last two Spider-Man films, none of them really wowed me … until “Guardians of the Galaxy 3.”
Director James Gunn recently left the MCU to breathe life into the failing DCU. Other than Gunn’s own “Suicide Squad (2021),” the recent DC films have arguably been worse than those of the MCU. Gunn absolutely went out on the highest note possible with “Guardians 3.”
The Guardians are part of the cosmic superheroes in the MCU, doing most of their work among the stars. They have defeated the vengeance-hungry Ronan the Accuser and Ego the Living Planet, and helped defeat the mad titan Thanos. They were due for a quest with a little less at stake.
In the third film, unbeknownst to the Guardians, a fresh-from-the-cocoon Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) is sent to kidnap Rocket Raccoon. Warlock’s introduction was teased at the end of “Guardians 2.” He is not born so much as created. A being with immense powers, he has the mind of a child. After a vicious battle, the Guardians regroup and set out to rescue their comrade.
The High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) is the one who sent Warlock. As the creator of Rocket, the High Evolutionary has never before, and never since, made a being capable of such intelligence. The High Evolutionary has been experimenting on and torturing animals for decades to create the perfect beings to inhabit his envisioned utopia. Iwuji does a great job displaying the hellbent nature of his character.
As writer and director of all three films, Gunn truly knows and loves his characters. He gives them all space to breathe and have deep, meaningful conversations. I appreciate that Marvel allowed him a full 150 minutes to tell his concluding story of the Guardians.
The Guardians franchise is without question the best in all the MCU. “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” is the best of the best. A
‘Sisu’ takes on the Nazis
There are not much more satisfying things to see onscreen than Nazis getting their just desserts. Watching them get utterly annihilated for 90 minutes in “Sisu” is sheer cinematic bliss.
Cinematographer Kjell Lagerroos and his art department deserve major kudos for the look of “Sisu,” set in Finland during the waning days of WWII as the retreating Nazis have laid waste to everything in their path. Lagerroos drains his palette of color to further emphasize the bleak locale. Everyone is dirty – caked with mud and the detritus of war.
A Finnish ex-soldier tired of war, minding his own business, comes across an immense amount of gold. Along with his trusty horse and loyal dog, the ex-soldier happens past a squad of Nazis going the other way. After they give him lip and try to steal his gold, the ex-soldier wipes out the entire squad.
As word reaches the Nazi leader Bruno – a cold-as-ice Aksel Hennie – about the massacre, rumor travels quickly that the ex-soldier is none other than the legendary Sisu. They remark that the word has no literal English translation. The film’s opening title card defines it as a “uniquely Finnish concept that has a mystical, bordering on magical, meaning that describes a level of will power, determination, white-knuckled courage, perseverance and rational behavior in the face of extreme adversity.” Good luck to the Nazis.
Director Jalmari Helander spends as much time with the Germans as with the Sisu, otherwise known as Aatami. Part of the reason is that Aatami does not speak nor do much else besides kill Nazis.
There is some comic relief on the part of some of the Nazis, something I certainly did not expect.
Rather than use subtitles, Helander wisely has all the Germans speak English with a German accent. By having them speak English, the audience identifies with their fish-out-water mentality when it comes to being in a strange land while having a mythical killing machine on the loose.
However, that is as far as the audience relationship with the Germans goes. We remember these are Nazis, who, among other horrible things, have kidnapped a handful of female Finnish captives; these men deserve everything they get.
It could be argued that 90 minutes of a cat-and-mouse game between one man and a bunch of Nazis could get boring, especially when almost all the dialogue comes from the villains. Superb action sequences where Nazi soldiers tiptoe into a “fog of death” or row into a river of no return keep the film from getting dull.
If you are having a bad day, “Sisu” is the perfect way to turn it around. A-
Spring TV roundup
“Beef.” (Netflix) A darkly comedic drama, “Beef” begins with a road rage sequence that sets the stage for the entirety of the 10 episodes. Steven Yuen of “The Walking Dead” plays Danny, and Ali Wong plays Amy. Danny and Amy come from different sides of the tracks. Their vehicular run-in drives both of them to bring out the absolute worst in the other. Danny drags his brother and cousin into the expanding squabble, while Amy’s husband, mother-in-law and daughter all suffer. While I wish there were more laughs, “Beef” really ups the stakes from episode to episode. Do binge this show; give it time to breathe. You will need the rest.
“From” (MGM+). Epix was a neat little streaming service that never really caught on. It had a great film library and some really interesting original shows. During the 2020 lockdown, everyone got Epix free for a while. I watched the first season of “War of the Worlds” and was blown away. When I switched cable companies, I added Epix for a small price. I knew I really wanted to watch the show “From,” and the first season was great. This spring, Epix rebranded as MGM+ and debuted the second season of “From.”
The show picks up right where season one left off. A busload of people has shown up in the little town from which no one can escape. All of our returning characters were in the middle of something important when season one ended and now have to deal with two dozen newbies that have no idea of the terror in store for them. At night, creepy, nice-sounding people emerge from the woods and butcher anyone who does not have a special talisman hanging from their door. Sheriff Boyd (the always excellent Harold Perrineau) dives deeper into his desire to find out exactly where they are and why the town exists, while his son and others must try and keep the town together in his absence. I appreciate that the showrunners do not allow night to fall during each episode. The suspense is far higher this way. MGM+ is worth the $4.99 price for this show alone. However, there are many other offerings that make it a service to add.
Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.