Avengers: Infinity War review

For inSing

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Directors : Anthony and Joe Russo
Cast : Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action/Comics
Run Time : 2h 29m
Opens : 25 April 2018
Rating : PG13

We’re going to do things a little differently.

Going into Avengers: Infinity War, you’ve been told to avoid spoilers like the plague, and yet, we want you to read this review, which will be spoiler-free.

This will be a review, and yet not a review. We’re hoping that you’ll read this, but if you don’t wanna, that’s fine.

We’ll say it up front: this is a particularly tricky movie to write a spoiler-free review of, but we’ll give it the best shot we’ve given anything.

Marvel has hyped Avengers: Infinity War as the most ambitious crossover event staged in entertainment media. They’re not wrong. No matter which way you look at this movie, it’s tricky to put together. It’s a puzzle with the pieces constantly moving.

Even with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War under the Russo brothers’ belts, there are still many times during Infinity War when one is wont to wonder aloud “how did the guys from Arrested Development and Community get here?” This is a film with a sprawling scope, even for a genre which is all about scope. The Russo brothers, with the in-built support at Marvel Studios, do a commendable job of wrangling it all.

This reviewer would love to have been a fly on the wall while the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were hammering this out. Imagine all the iterations, all the bits and pieces that maybe didn’t quite work, before we got here.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A studio hasn’t quite been able to announce to the audience “right, you should’ve seen all 18 of these movies, or at least most of them, before you watch this. Off you go, then.” Not even long-running franchises like the Bond movies, Star Wars, or Harry Potter can really demand that, and know that most audiences would have fulfilled that demand. There’s a swaggering confidence about Infinity War, and yet it’s not off-putting or self-congratulatory. If anything, Marvel Studios is deliberately making things really difficult for themselves going forward.

Over the years, the MCU has garnered its fair share of detractors. There are purists, there are ardent fanboys who have fixated on one niggling aspect or another that dissatisfied them, there are those who loyally back the other team (this reviewer has been accused of being both paid off by Disney and being biased towards DC movies), there are those who say it’s all too funny and nothing is taken seriously enough. Depending on the context, some aspects of these criticisms are valid, but it’s important to take a step back and consider all the myriad hurdles that the people making these films have cleared to get here.

At the core of Infinity War is a MacGuffin hunt that has spanned multiple movies, with so much being set up in previous instalments, leading up to this. The film takes inspiration from the Infinity Gauntlet comic book arc in 1991, written by Jim Starlin, and the 2013 Infinity crossover event, written by Jonathan Hickman. Infinity War is the culmination of intergalactic warlord and ‘mad titan’ Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) search for the Infinity Stones. We’ve seen five of the six stones in previous movies, and he’s looking to collect them all.

This is a quest that has attendant consequences and sacrifice, and from the beautifully staged, dramatic and grave opening scene onwards, viewers have a good idea of what to expect. There are plenty of jokes, but unlike in previous MCU movies, this reviewer felt less of a sense that said jokes were stepping on the dramatic beats.

This reviewer wasn’t the biggest fan of Civil War, because there was noticeable bloat and the central conflict didn’t really get enough room to breathe. Weirdly enough, that seems like less of a problem here. Clocking in at 149 minutes and costing an estimated $300-400 million, it seems a foregone conclusion that Infinity War would be more bloated than a beached whale, but it moves with great finesse.

Infinity War could easily have come off as a string of unrelated set-pieces. It’s evident that this was not constructed by devising the set-pieces first, with the plot being filled in around those. Our massive ensemble is handily organised into groups, with said groups meeting and then diverging as the story progresses. The groups all make sense, and there is considerable time dedicated to reinforcing and evolving existing relationships.

The romance between Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) elicited the most emotion out of this reviewer. The Guardians of the Galaxy team up with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and we delve a little deeper into the relationship between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her estranged adoptive father Thanos.

It seems like Markus and McFeely really enjoyed writing the Guardians, nailing the voices of each character. There’s a consistency which feels organic and yet must’ve been challenging to achieve. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) butt heads and egos, while Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) faces more struggles in getting control of his alter ego, the Hulk. A good portion of the film is set in Wakanda, which in Black Panther, has just opened itself to the outside world, its people getting more than they bargained for here.

It wasn’t really that long ago when we thought we’d never see Peter Parker in the MCU, so it’s a genuine thrill to see Holland’s Spider-Man interact with so many characters and feel like he was always meant to be in this line-up.

Thanos feels like an actual character rather than just an obstacle our heroes must overcome. We get just enough back-story and there is respectable gravity to the proceedings. There’s a lot of fantastic acting on display from everyone involved. This is not a movie in which the spectacle does all the legwork.

Avengers: Infinity War is a staggering work of virtuosic audacity. Its filmmakers play the audience like a fiddle. The ending is either a howl-inducing gut punch or sheer genius – maybe both at once. You’re probably going to be frustrated at some point or another, but there will be gasps, there will be cheers, there will be laughter, and depending on how fragile the audience at your screening is, there might be open sobbing.

Given the nigh-insane parameters the filmmakers were working within, Avengers: Infinity War is the best movie it could’ve been.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For F*** Magazine

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Director : James Gunn
Cast : Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 2h 16min
Opens : 27 April 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)

Pop the tape in the deck and pump up the volume, ‘cos Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Pratt) and company have returned. Our loveable gang of a-holes crosses the cosmos in an adventure that brings Quill face-to-face with his biological father, Ego (Russell) the Living Planet. That’s not the only family reunion taking place: assassin Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan), the daughters of Thanos who have long been at each other’s throats, cross swords again. Jolly big guy Drax (Bautista), cantankerous cybernetically-enhanced raccoon Rocket (Cooper) and wee sapling Baby Groot (Diesel) are along for the ride. The team makes a new ally in the form of Mantis (Klementieff), an alien empath raised by Ego. They also make a new enemy: the haughty High Priestess Ayesha (Debicki) of the Sovereigns, who has put a bounty on the Guardians’ heads. In the meantime, Yondu (Rooker) is in danger of being displaced, as Taserface (Sullivan) leads a coup against him within their gang of Ravagers. The fate of the galaxy once against rests on the wildly different-sized shoulders of our ragtag heroes.

Before Guardians of the Galaxy’s release in 2014, several industry watchers were predicting it could be the first high-profile misfire for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Following its rollicking critical and commercial success, director James Gunn was feted as having accomplished the nigh-impossible. Now that the first Guardians film has become a juggernaut and Chris Pratt is an established movie star, that dark horse sheen has worn off. We can imagine Gunn having a mini “now what?” crisis as he was prepping the sequel. He certainly had his work cut out for him, and Vol. 2 retains much of the wacky charm that made the first film as distinctive and enjoyable as it did, while further exploring what makes this colourful cast of characters tick.

Gunn stated in a Facebook post that he dislikes sequels bringing characters back to square one. In Vol. 2, we see arcs progress, and everybody gets their moment in the sun. It’s a precarious balancing act, and at times the push/pull between far-out spectacle and exploring motivations and backstories is palpable. As with several MCU outings before it, there’s the danger of the humour undercutting the drama. However, that’s not as big a problem here, because this is the funniest MCU movie yet. Since there are so many jokes, some don’t land, and the more juvenile innuendos might make parents nervously hope their kids won’t ask for explanations about them later.

In hyping up the film, Pratt promised Vol. 2 would be the “biggest spectacle movie of all time”. As much as Gunn continues to do his own thing, Vol. 2 is noticeably working overtime to top the first one, and this can sometimes be exhausting. The set-pieces are varied and thrilling and the visuals are dazzling, but sometimes there’s a little too much going on – this is most noticeable during the finale. The visual effects work is splendid (apart from one iffy de-aging job), and the environments are consistently mesmerizing. Production designer Scott Chambliss, whose credits include Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness and Tomorrowland, has outdone himself with the cosmic-Rococo palace which Ego calls home. Vol. 2 of Quill’s Awesome Mixtape is the right degree of eclectic: the opening credits unfold to ELO’s Mr. Blue Sky, while the lyrics of Looking Glass’ Brandy become a key plot point.

Gunn’s dialogue preserves the voices of each returning character, and the principals reprise their roles with entertaining aplomb. Pratt has the ‘fun action hero’ thing down pat and yes, gets another gratuitous shirtless scene.

Saldana struts about with utmost confidence, and pulls off a potentially ridiculous scene in which Gamora wields a ludicrously oversized cannon. Bautista continues to prove that he is a gifted comedian, showcasing timing sharper than the daggers Drax brandishes.

Cooper gets some of the film’s best lines, delivering them in the vocal approximation of mange. If you thought Diesel was overpaid for saying the same line repeatedly in the first one, he doesn’t even sound like himself here. Anyone could have voiced Baby Groot. Still, that doesn’t detract from how adorable the character is, those limpid eyes and that plaintive expression sure to elicit “aww”s aplenty from the audience.

Russell is a big get, and if there’s anyone who should play the father of a daring spacefaring scoundrel, it should be Snake Plissken/Jack Burton himself. He’s enjoying himself, and to Gunn’s credit, this doesn’t become an endless string of references to the iconic entries in Russell’s filmography. Like Star Wars before it, Guardians trades in mythical archetypes. This is the tale of a god, the mortal he fell in love with, and the progeny they bore: think Zeus, Danaë and Perseus. The ‘team-up with long-lost dad’ device has been employed in everything from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Aladdin and the King of Thieves. Therefore, even given its fantastical trappings, Vol. 2’s take on things is fairly predictable.

Debicki, looking like she’s escaped the clutches of Goldfinger, is yet another underwhelming MCU villain – but it seems like this was intentional this time around. Rooker gets some surprisingly emotional notes to play amidst a pirate drama in which Yondu gets displaced by mutinying Ravagers. We gain more insight into the rivalry between Gamora and Gillan’s steely, formidable Nebula, and the soap opera-ness is a safe distance from being too cheesy.

Klementieff’s Mantis is a naïf to the nth degree, and jokes are had at her expense while we’re meant to empathize with her. The character’s convoluted backstory in the comics has been handily distilled, and she makes for an interesting addition to the team. Sean Gunn, brother of James, gets an increased part that, if one is being cynical, can be chalked up to nepotism. It’s hard to stay cynical while watching something like Vol. 2, though.

Keep your eyes peeled for several cameos beyond the standard Stan Lee moment, and take a quick glance around the hall to see the cognoscenti nodding in approval when an obscure Marvel character pops onscreen. Five (count ‘em) stinger scenes are spread throughout the end credits. Vol. 2 might not have the same bold, devil-may-care freshness that its predecessor had, but there’s no shortage of vim and verve. The cutest little tree creature you’ve ever seen doesn’t hurt, either.

Summary: While there’s a bit of a struggle in balancing the spectacle with the character beats, Vol. 2 possesses most of the offbeat charm, visual splendour and knee-slapping humour as its forebear.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Warrior’s Gate (勇士之门)

For F*** Magazine

THE WARRIOR’S GATE (勇士之门)

Director : Matthias Hoene
Cast : Uriah Shelton, Mark Chao, Ni Ni, Dave Bautista, Henry Mah, Francis Ng, Sienna Guillory, Kara Wai
Genre : Action/Adventure
Run Time : 1h 47min
Opens : 8 December 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

the-warriors-gate-posterAn ancient Chinese kingdom is under threat, and only one person can save the land: an American teen gamer from the year 2015. Jack Bronson (Shelton) spends most of his time engrossed in an online game, taking on the persona of a fearsome warrior called the Black Knight. His single mother Annie (Guillory) is struggling to make ends meet, and their house will soon be foreclosed on. Jack works part-time for antiques dealer Mr. Chang (Mah), who entrusts Jack with a priceless chest. One night, the warrior Zhao (Chao) and Princess Sulin (Ni) emerge from the chest through a portal called ‘the Warrior’s Gate’ into Jack’s bedroom. Zhao gives Jack the mission of protecting the princess. When Sulin is abducted by barbarians, Jack leaps into the chest after her, and is transported to ancient China. Standing alongside Zhao and with the help of the wizard Wu (Ng), Jack must rescue Sulin from the clutches of the ruthless Barbarian king Arun the Cruel (Bautista).

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The Warrior’s Gate is a co-production between France’s EuropaCorp and China’s Fundamental Films. EuropaCorp’s head honcho Luc Besson produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay with long-time collaborator Robert Mark Kamen. The Warrior’s Gate comes off as an extremely tired enterprise. It’s a bog-standard coming-of-age hero’s journey story, combined with fish out of water hijinks. It also feels horribly dated, as if the filmmakers are scrambling about wondering “this is what kids these days like, isn’t it?” The production notes refer to The Warrior’s Gate as “an action-packed adventure film with martial arts derring-do, seen through the eyes of a Gen Z video gamer and set to a hip-hop breakdance beat.” Excuse us while we roll our eyes. There’s a BMX bike chase scene straight out of the 90s and our hero has a rotund, bespectacled best friend who says “bro” a lot.

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Thankfully, The Warrior’s Gate doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, and several jokes land. It does, however, play the Mary Sue (or Marty Stu) trope painfully straight. A meek teenager who is habitually bullied is suddenly thrust into the middle of a grand adventure where he must beat the bad guys and save the girl despite lacking skills and being unfamiliar with the world. The similarities between The Warrior’s Gate and 2009’s The Forbidden Kingdom are inescapable. In that film, it was a martial arts movie geek rather than a gamer who was pulled through a portal into ancient China, but most of the story beats are the same. The Forbidden Kingdom boasted Jackie Chan and Jet Li going toe-to-toe on the big screen for the first time, in fights that were choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping. The Warrior’s Gate has nothing close to that.

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Shelton, whom teen audiences might recognise from the Disney Channel sitcom Girl Meets World, play the designated white saviour. Somehow, an entire contingent of royal guards who have been trained since birth aren’t good enough to defend the kingdom: we need a modern-day millennial for that. Jack is meant to be a shut-in who gets lost in his video games, but his BMX skills are on par with a professional stunt rider and when we see Jack with his shirt off, dude’s got abs. It’s the kind of role Shia LaBeouf would’ve gotten 15 years ago, and Shelton is frequently just about as annoying.

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Taiwanese-Canadian actor Chao, who starred in the TV series Black and White and its big-screen spin-off, does the stoic action hero thing well enough. You know the drill: Zhao thinks little of Jack, but the two eventually bond and learn from each other. Zhao teaches Jack martial arts and discipline; Jack teaches Zhao to loosen up a little. Ni Ni’s Sulin is the spoiled, feisty princess who spends the bulk of the film in captivity. Mah’s Mr. Chang is yet another ersatz Mr. Miyagi – the presence of that hoary archetype is to be expected, given that Kamen wrote the Karate Kid screenplay. As Mr. Chang’s magical ancient Chinese counterpart, Ng is the playful sorcerer with a twinkle in his eye. He sounds like James Hong as Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda films to a distracting degree.

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Bautista is a bright spot here. He’s having great fun playing the villainous Arun, who appears to be a riff on Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones. He even gets a dim-witted henchman named Brutus. Thanks to his sheer physical presence and comic timing, Bautista comes off as both funny and imposing. Fans of Hong Kong cinema will enjoy the cameo from Kara Wai, who makes a brief appearance as a mountain witch.

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While the sub-par visual effects work is most evident during a fight against a trio of tree monsters, the production values benefit from location filming in China. It’s obvious that Besson is attempting to jump on the Chinese film industry bandwagon, because that’s where all the money is now. The Warrior’s Gate is formulaic and limp, a clear demonstrate of how out-of-touch its filmmakers are.

Summary: American teenager is transported to ancient China, saves the day, story goes just how you’d expect. Keep this gate closed.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Marauders

For F*** Magazine

MARAUDERS 

Director : Steven C. Miller
Cast : Christopher Meloni, Bruce Willis, Dave Bautista, Adrian Grenier, Johnathon Schaech, Texas Battle, Lydia Hull
Genre : Action/Crime
Run Time : 1 hr 47 mins
Opens : 15 September 2016
Rating : NC16 (Violence and Coarse Language)

marauders-posterIt’s time to plunge back into straight-to-DVD action thriller purgatory with Marauders, which is being theatrically-released in places like Russia, Kuwait, and here in Singapore. Branches of Hubert National Bank, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, have been hit by brutal bank robberies executed with utmost precision. FBI agent Jonathan Montgomery (Meloni) is put in charge of investigating the robberies. Montgomery is at loggerheads with local Cincinnati cop Mims (Schaech), whom Montgomery believes is trying to sabotage the investigation. Stockwell (Bautista) and Wells (Grenier), agents working under Montgomery’s command, find clues pointing to T.J. Jackson (Battle), a rogue Special Forces soldier. Only problem is, he’s dead. As Montgomery digs further and the bank robbers strike again, he is convinced that the bank’s CEO, Jeffrey Hubert (Willis), knows more than he is letting on.

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Marauders has mediocrity coming out of its ears. At first, it seems like the film might have a certain stylishness, and the opening bank robbery is staged fairly well. However, any attention the sequence might have earned quickly falls away as the leaden and airless plot unfolds. Being convoluted is not the same thing as being compelling, and that’s the crucial mistake that Marauders makes. There is an attempt at creating a layered mystery, but director Steven C. Miller’s lack of finesse results in there being no tension or excitement whatsoever. The writing is also to blame: Michael Cody and Chris Sivertson’s screenplay heaves with clunky tough guy dialogue that’s all machismo and no impact. There is potential in the germ of the idea that it’s the bankers and not the robbers who are the ‘real’ bad guys, but even then, that’s been done before and with exponentially more pizzazz.

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This is a film in which one character’s primary motivation is the death of his wife, and another’s is his wife’s terminal illness, both played painfully straight. Christopher Meloni of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit fame has ably played tough guys who are also charming, but Montgomery is a wholly unlikeable character who’s difficult to sympathise with even after we learn his tragic back-story. Willis seems to have settled comfortably into expending no effort at all in disposable action thrillers. Here, he’s playing the head of a bank instead of the typical cop or secret agent, meaning he isn’t involved in any action scenes and thus gets to give an even lazier performance than usual.

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Marauders that would like to think it’s gritty and hard-edged, but Grenier detracts from that significantly. Even at age 40, he’s still too much of a pretty boy to be convincing as a combat veteran-turned FBI agent. Grenier pretty much is his character Vincent Chase on Entourage, albeit less successful. Despite being in Guardians of the Galaxy and Spectre, Bautista is still a mainstay of direct-to-DVD films. For the bulk of Marauders, the physically-imposing actor is seated in a briefing room or at a desk, and is puzzlingly excluded from the bulk of the action.

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Ironically enough, it’s likely that Marauders would have been more watchable if it were merely a run-of-the-mill crime thriller and didn’t take stabs at social commentary. The larger conspiracy is meant to raise questions about government corruption, institutionalised banking and the way the American military conducts its operations overseas, but because Marauders lacks the wit to pull all that off, it ends up being pretentious and boring.

Summary: While Marauders wants to be more than your average direct-to-DVD crime movie, it’s woefully lacking in thrills and its mystery is too muddled to be engaging.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Spectre

For F*** Magazine

SPECTRE

Director : Sam Mendes
Cast : Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear
Genre : Action/Crime
Run Time : 2 hrs 28 mins
Opens : 5 November 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence)
The world’s greatest superspy returns to tackle his most dangerous foe yet in the 24th Bond film. While in Mexico City, James Bond (Craig) discovers the existence of a shadowy terror network known as “Spectre”. Back home, Bond’s boss M (Fiennes) is locked in a power struggle with Max Denbigh aka “C” (Scott), head of the Joint Intelligent Service who aims to abolish the Double-O program. Bond’s allies Q (Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Harris) render their support as Bond pursues Spectre. Through Lucia Sciarra (Bellucci), the widow of a Spectre hitman, Bond finds his way to a figure from his distant past, the sinister Franz Oberhauser (Waltz). Bond must protect Dr. Madeleine Swann, a psychologist with familial links to Spectre who’s working at an exclusive private clinic in the Austrian Alps, from Oberhauser and his hulking henchman Mr. Hinx (Bautista). As the staggering reach of Spectre’s tendrils become apparent, Bond races against the clock to prevent Oberhauser from enacting his devastating schemes.
After winning a long legal battle known as the “Thunderball copyright ownership controversy”, the Bond movie producers finally secured the rights to depict the criminal organisation Spectre, integral to the Bond mythos. Fans were excited at the prospect of seeing James Bond come face to face with the éminence grise apparently lurking behind the shadows since the events of 2006’s Casino Royale. Skyfall director Sam Mendes returns for Craig’s fourth outing as 007, and it is evident that he is trying to hit as many mile markers associated with classic Bond as possible. Craig appears in a white tuxedo for the first time, there’s a scene set in a snowy locale, a scary henchman in the Oddjob and Jaws mould and a tricked-out Aston Martin. Sure enough, there are many moments in Spectre that made this reviewer cheer, but alas, after the smoke clears, it seems that the film adds up to less than the sum of its parts.
On the level of spectacle, Spectre certainly is an accomplishment. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, succeeding Skyfall’s Roger Deakins, crafts many shots that are striking in their elegant composition and breath-taking in their scope. The film’s pre-title sequence begins with a long tracking shot which follows Bond and his companion Estrella (Stephanie Sigman) through a massive procession as part of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Second unit director Alexander Witt and stunt coordinator Gary Powell, both Bond veterans, assist Mendes in assembling major eye candy set pieces including a skirmish to the death aboard a helicopter spinning out of control, a car chase that roars through the streets of Rome and a spectacular plane vs. Land Rover convoy battle in the Austrian Alps – not to mention the single largest explosion ever detonated for a film. This reviewer, along with the majority of Bond fans, doesn’t fully enjoy Writing’s on the Wall, the rather limp theme song performed by Sam Smith. Thankfully, the Daniel Kleinman-designed main titles do enhance its effectiveness. However, there is some imagery that undermines the overall haunting effect of the sequence: expect to hear some tittering from audience members cognisant of Japanese tentacle erotica.
While Craig (in)famously told journalists that he’d rather slit his wrists than play Bond again, he delivers an intense, committed performance, with the character finally getting into the swing of things. As expected, he acquits himself well in the many action sequences and handles the moments of humour better than he did in Skyfall. His portrayal of Bond has sometimes been decried as too self-serious, so it is amusing to see him partake in several well-judged moments of levity that are almost Roger Moore-esque. There is some brooding, to be sure, but Bond gets right in the thick of it and stays there for the duration of the movie.
Christoph Waltz’s casting was met with much fanfare and speculation as to the true nature of his role. Waltz is fine as Oberhauser, but there’s very little here the Oscar-winner hasn’t done before in other roles and this reviewer was expecting him to have more of an impact. All of the primary villains in the Craig-starring Bond movies have been creepy European dudes, and Oberhauser is no exception. The Spectre meeting at an Italian palace, designed to evoke an arcane secret society ritual, is a genuine nail-biter of a scene and is marvellously acted by Waltz. However, when Oberhauser states his motivation, it is disappointingly contrived given all the build-up, since he’s been positioned as this ultimate baddie. Even though there’s obviously more to the character than is told to us in Spectre, the feeling of “wait, that’s it?” is pretty hard to shake.
Seydoux’s turn as the lead Bond girl is understatedly affecting, even if the character isn’t one of the more memorable women in the Bond canon. With Madeleine Swann, screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth are aiming for a character who isn’t either extreme of “fragile wallflower” or “kicker of ass who can give Bond a run for his money”. Even then, the arc in which she is initially sceptical of and almost hostile towards Bond but eventually warms to his charms is very predictable. It is a wonder that the sultry, glamourous Bellucci hasn’t been in a Bond film until now, so it is even more of a let-down that she is criminally underused in an all-too-brief appearance. The Lucia Sciarra character is also little more than the “kept woman” archetype we’ve seen many times throughout the Bond films, from Domino Derval to Solitaire to Andrea Anders.
The support system of Bond’s allies M, Moneypenny, Q and Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is integrated into the plot instead of coming off as ancillary, which is to Spectre’s credit. The crisis at MI6, secondary compared to Bond’s tangle with Spectre but still pretty serious stuff, is rooted in topical security concerns, with C planning an invasive universal surveillance program. Whishaw gets several humorous moments and Q does go out into the field in this one, but it isn’t taken too far (see Octopussy). Scott, best-known for playing the dastardly Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock, is far more restrained here, which means the character is believable but often dull. Bautista as the silent, musclebound Hinx is excellent casting. Henchmen with silly gimmicks are one of the most often-parodied elements of Bond films, so it’s commendable that Bautista manages to hark back to that without taking one out of the movie by being silly.
This reviewer found Spectre agonising, not because it’s a bad film – not by a long, long shot – but because of how unsatisfying it is once one takes a step back. There are a few references to Bond films past that cross the line from “cute” to “smug”. In the moment, it is entertaining and thrilling and there are action sequences which stand up to the most memorable in the series, but the overarching plot, especially where it pertains to the villain, leaves a fair amount to be desired. For a film that hits so many high points, true, sublime greatness remains out of Spectre’s grasp.
Summary: There are thrills and instantly classic scenes galore, but on peeling back the layers of Spectre, it isn’t quite the ghost with the most.
 
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong

Guardians of the Galaxy

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
2014
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin
Genre : Action, Adventure, Sci-fi
Opens : 31 July 2014
Rating : PG13 
Run time: 121 mins

            Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is drawing to a close, the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron imminent. With Guardians of the Galaxy, the MCU heads, to quote Dragonheart’s Draco, “to the stars”. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Pratt), taken from earth as a child, is in search of a prized orb. His treasure hunt sets him on a collision course with some rather colourful characters. These include Gamora (Saldana), an assassin and the adopted daughter of the intergalactic tyrant Thanos (Brolin), Drax (Bautista), hungry for vengeance after his wife and child are slain, Rocket (Cooper), a smart-mouthed, cybernetically-enhanced raccoon and Groot (Diesel), a humanoid tree creature. This unlikely band calls themselves “the Guardians of the Galaxy”, confronting bounty hunter Korath (Hounsou), treacherous zealot Ronan (Pace) and Gamora’s jealous adopted sister Nebula (Gillan) in order to prevent Ronan from getting his hands on a cataclysmic weapon.

            Following the departure of director Edgar Wright and actor Patrick Wilson from the upcoming Ant-Man, murmurs have begun to swirl that the executives at Marvel Studios are exercising too much creative control over their films. That Guardians of the Galaxy even got made assuages those fears at least a little. Producer Kevin Feige says this is the “riskiest movie [he’s] done since Iron Man” and that is not hyperbole. In the hands of maverick director James Gunn, he of Slither, James Gunn’s PG Pornand Troma Pictures fame, GotG is wild, woolly and drastically different from everything else that has come before in the MCU. If Thor, drawing on Norse mythology, was outré, this is certainly even more so. The screenplay which Gunn co-wrote with Nicole Perlman is sharp and consistently funny, irreverent yet far from cynical and alienating (hee) as it well could’ve been.  

            In an age where it feels Hollywood has gotten more and more homogenised, it is refreshing to see a big-budget, mass-market blockbuster that is, well, this refreshing. Spectacle is not in short supply, the world-building on display truly dazzling and electric. For at least a few kids out there, this is going to be their Star Wars: Xandar, Knowhere, the Kyln, the Dark Aster their Tatoonie, Bespin, Hoth or Death Star. These are colourful worlds but they still retain grit and believability. The visual effects work, the character animation on Rocket and Groot in particular, is very commendable. The tree-creature and the talking raccoon both convincingly inhabit the same space as the flesh-and-blood actors, their expressions and movements nuanced and even genuinely moving.

            Chris Pratt is proving himself to be an unlikely but most deserving leading man, shedding the pounds and putting on the muscle to play Star-Lord. His comedic timing and roguish charm combine to make him an ideal protagonist, reminiscent of Han Solo in the best way possible. Saldana continues to hold her own as the capable, commanding action girl of the moment and Bautista brings heart and warmth to the literal-minded, muscle-bound Drax. Taking Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, arguably two of the bigger names of the cast, and having them provide voices for animated characters can be seen as yet another intentionally unorthodox move on the part of the filmmakers. Saying “I am Groot” repeated ad nauseam may sound like an easy paycheck but Diesel, who broke our hearts as the Iron Giant back in 1999, brings that same basso profundo kindness to Groot – and sounds great angry, too. Hollywood superstars with little real voice-acting experience often “die in the booth” –Cooper does not. As the irascible raccoon, he is amusing but also makes the character far more than the requisite funny talking animal and is certainly a better choice than Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey, rumoured to be attached to the part.

            Unfortunately, the film suffers slightly in the villains’ department. Lee Pace delights in being showy and menacing, Karen Gillan is still a knockout playing against type, even painted blue and with a bald head and Josh Brolin’s appearance as Thanos is but a teaser for his later involvement in the MCU. All quite serviceable, it’s just that their confrontations with our heroes are not as dramatic and explosive as they could’ve been. Still, this is at the expense of character development for the titular team and this is more than forgivable. The eclectic supporting cast including names as disparate as Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro and Michael Rooker add a distinct flavour to the proceedings as well.

            Guardians of the Galaxy is everything this reviewer loves about movies, particularly movies that defined his tastes during childhood. There’s action, adventure, humour, visual fireworks and just enough heartstring-tugging sentiment. The soundtrack is excellent as well, Star-Lord viewing his mix-tapes as precious family heirlooms and the only physical reminder of his late mother he has left. And ultimately, this is a movie about a ragtag bunch that may be far-out but are still relatable and are totally the kinds of people (and raccoons and tree-creatures) you’d want to sit in a cantina with and just hang out. Oh, and the post-credit scene for this one is the biggest treat any hard-core fan of the weirder corners of the Marvel Universe could ever want.


Summary: Out of this world.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Guardians of the Galaxy Interviews: Dave Bautista

For F*** Magazine

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY INTERVIEWS
DAVE BAUTISTA
By Jedd Jong
Dave
There’s no doubt that Dave Bautista is a physically imposing man, standing at 1.98 m tall, his bulging arms completely covered in tattoos. At the Southeast Asia press tour for Guardians of the Galaxy held in Singapore, he sported a beard and an ivy cap, looking laid-back and casual. As a professional wrestler going by “Dave Batista” or simply “Batista” and nicknamed “The Animal”, he is a six-time world champion. Currently on hiatus from wrestling, Bautista has turned his attention to the screen and takes on the role of Drax the Destroyer in the Marvel sci-fi fantasy adventure flick.
While he has played a good many giant bruisers, Bautista comes across as an unlikely gentle giant, living up to how he describes himself – as “socially awkward”. Sitting down with F***, Bautista opened up about just how much clinching the role meant to him, how he was pranked on set by his co-stars, the frustration of not being able to tell anyone that he had snagged the coveted part and what he thinks of the Drax action figure made in his likeness.

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Your makeup took four hours to apply…
It took 4 hours to apply, but it also took about 1.5-2 hours to take off. By the end of the film, they got it down to 3 hours application, 1.5 hours removal.
Did it hurt?
No, it didn’t really hurt. It got uncomfortable sometimes; it’s okay. Like a few days in a row, it would be okay, but 4 days in a row you’re no longer comfortable, 5 days in a row you get really itchy and 6 days in a row I just want to peel my skin off. 6 days in a row weren’t all that often, but that did happen a few times. They use chemicals to put it on, then they also use chemicals to peel it off. If they just peeled it off, my skin would come with it because a lot of it was prosthetics glued to my skin.
How did you manage to stay standing for 4-5 hours straight during the application process?
I had 5 people working on me, what they did was I had to stand up but they had these posts on which I could rest my arms with tennis balls on them. Just…I don’t know, I’m a pretty patient person. It was layers and layers of paint and pieces and pieces, I don’t remember how many pieces it was but I want to say like 25 separate pieces that all had to be glued on. They had to do it in a way such that when I moved, it wasn’t wrinkling and folding. My team was so talented, best makeup people in the business. By the end we were like family; I still keep in touch of them. One of them, my makeup artist’s kid, went to Wrestlemania with me. We developed close friendships because we spent so much time together and they were so good about making sure that I was taken care of and that I was comfortable, they were such pleasant people that it didn’t bother me, it just flew by.
Will you avoid accepting a role that involves such heavy makeup in the future?
No, not at all. I don’t know, I mean Drax is the only role that I wanted to do like this. I don’t want to keep repeating roles that are superhero movies. This is like a dream role for me, but I want to do other stuff. I don’t always want to be an actor that’s in makeup, I want this to be that role for me because to me, it doesn’t get any bigger, it doesn’t get any better. I’ve topped out as far as superhero roles go, this is it. I can’t imagine doing anything else [in this genre].
How does being an introvert like you described yourself earlier help in playing this character?
I don’t know if it helps [laughs]. But I think…I don’t know, I don’t over-analyse things. I think that’s the reason I fell in love with acting because it’s an outlet for me, I internalise everything. I usually let everything out at the gym, that’s who I am. Actually, I spent so many years in the gym, I tell everybody it’s my therapy. If I don’t go to the gym, I start getting stressed out, anxious. So I think that kind of outlet lets me be somebody who I’m really not. Drax is very chest-out, a power guy, and me, I get social anxiety! It gives me that opportunity to be somebody that I’m not, maybe somebody that I wish I could be.
You are a collector of vintage metal lunchboxes, which is very retro cool. How do you think the retro element of Guardians of the Galaxy will appeal to audiences? It was awesome hearing “Hooked on a Feeling” in that first full trailer, but there were some fans who didn’t know what to make of it. Also, what do you think of the Marvel Legends figure that’s been done of you as Drax?

I love it. (This writer passes the figure on to Bautista). I’ve seen it; I love it.

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Do you think it looks like you?

Yeah! This is the kind of stuff that instantly turns me into a little kid, like how cool is this?! [Laughs] but as far as like the music…it’s weird, because when you say they hear the music and they don’t know what to make of it I think that every trailer I’ve seen, people have thought ‘the movie’s going to be this, it’s going to be a comedy’ – no, it’s not what you think. Because it’s just so multi-levelled, you just can’t put your finger on it [based on] one trailer that has a bunch of laughs in it because it’s got everything. So no matter what you’re thinking when you walk in, it’s not going to be what you thought – it’s going to be a lot more than what you thought. It’s got something for everyone, it’s just so entertaining across the board. I think James touched on it earlier, but I think that people are, whereas not with other superheroes, at least not so much, that people will be able to relate to these guys. They’re just normal people with kind of troubled pasts and they’ve all got their baggage that they carry around with them and everybody can relate to that in some sense. I think they’re just going to be easier to relate to, the superheroes from Guardians.
What elements of your character do you relate to, and why?

I think kind of the easiest thing and not so much on the level of Drax, but the easiest thing I can relate to is the sense of loss. I’ve lost people very close to me, I’ve lost family members, maybe not even so much literally like lost them because they passed away, but just lost them for various reasons. So yeah, I relate to that, not as extensive as his loss, but kind of the same pain.

Were there any funny incidents on the set while making this movie?

The funny thing about this is that every day was so much fun! There were long, long hours and I think we bonded and became really close because the hours were so long, but at the same time, it was so much fun because James just made everything fun! It was light-hearted and easy-going and it wasn’t like going to work every day, it was like going to hang out with your buddies. Chris is just so funny and Zoe, those two were just, you guys got a little sense of that, she’s so funny and it was so much fun. If I had to put my finger on one thing, there was one day where they decided to have – I think it was kind of a joke thing – but Chris Pratt, they were having like a dance-off on set, it was a big joke and what James did to amuse himself was to get everybody, hundreds of extras and he had the whole cast like dancing, it was kinda ridiculous – but the joke to that was that I was the only one who came on the set without knowing what was going on, the joke was on me and I was like “what the hell are we doing?!” When I saw everyone dancing I was like “oh yeah, now I get it.”

Will we see that as an extra on the Blu-ray?

I hope so, I imagine that they’re going to do something with it, I would love if it were a DVD extra.

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Do you hope that this will spawn a franchise, and how many films are you signed on to?

I hope that it will lead to sequels. How many sequels? I don’t know, you guys know as much as I do. Maybe not as much, because of Marvel’s hush-hush policies. But I really hope this will lead to sequels, because I’d like to see more of the Guardians personally, myself.

There was a photo you posted on Twitter of you at the spa, and some movie news sites ran with the idea that the masks on your face at the spa were makeup tests for Drax. Did you have to hide a lot of details of this film from your family and friends? What were the most frustrating moments of “I wanna tell you, but I can’t!”?

What was so funny is that that picture, I have a friend, she’s a female bodybuilder named Kris Murrell and she’s in L.A., and she insisted that I go to this facial place with her. She’s the one who actually took the photo and posted it and somehow it got twisted into the makeup test for Drax. I don’t know how that ever started, but the hardest thing was because even after I did get the role, for months I was not even allowed to tell anyone that I had the role, it was hard. My friends were still, there were so many rumours that Jason Momoa had been offered the role and my friends were kind of heartbroken for me and I wanted to tell them so bad but I just couldn’t because I didn’t know if they would tell someone, and one person tells another person, and the next thing you know the internet rumours…I did, my manager and my agent knew and we didn’t tell anybody. It was pretty rough because all the rumours were still going around, particularly about Jason Momoa getting the role and I wanted to say “I got the role! In your face!” because it was not easy getting the role, it was hard and stressful and I couldn’t have been any happier when I got it. To have all that joy pent up after so many months of stress, it was hard, not telling them.

Did you tell your family?

I told my fiancée, that’s the thing, I was driving on my way to the gym and when I found out I turned around and went home. She cried with me, she had to deal with the stress of all those months. The downside of that was that I had to say goodbye, she’s pretty busy herself but we were separated for six months (while shooting the movie).

Could you elaborate on the details of the audition process?

The funny thing is when I first had an audition, my agent told me “this is a really long shot but I had to fight to get you in front of them to audition” so I went in not really thinking much of it, I was thinking “I have a shot at this” but at the same time, I really wanted this, I really wanted it after hearing about Drax, hearing about how cool this role was going to be. I went into the audition, I don’t live in L.A. so I flew out there just to go this audition and was flying off the next day, and Sarah Finn who is the casting agent called me and asked me if I would stay in town and come back to read for the director. I was like “wait a minute, I wasn’t expecting this!” My hopes started to be elevated, but also my pressure started to be elevated, so that night I didn’t sleep. Anyway, I went back to audition, and like James said earlier, I just clicked with him right away, I was at ease with him right away. I went to that and it went well and went on the side a few times to audition, I went back for another audition, then I had a screen test, then I had a screen test with Chris [Pratt] and then I’d come over for makeup tests. With auditions, screen tests and makeup tests, I probably went in 7-8 times. This was over 3-4 months, and this all waiting, this is not even having been given the role yet! So each time I went in, my hopes got higher higher and higher, but each time I went in, I was also afraid that I was going to get the call that said “you didn’t get the role” because then I would be heartbroken. It was a stressful, stressful period.

Drax’s spirit is that of a human being whose family has been killed by Thanos, that spirit transplanted into a powerful alien body. How did you try to bring across the humanity still inside Drax?

You know, I didn’t put too much thought into it, I pretty much…I just tried to put myself in that place, how would you be if your family was killed in front of you? I put myself in that place emotionally and I never really thought of that being the “human” side of Drax, I just thought of that being the “husband and father” side of Drax.

How familiar were you with the Guardians of the Galaxy Comics before you were given the role?

I wasn’t, I wasn’t familiar with them at all and that’s been brought up a lot. I’m right there with everybody else, I had no idea, I had never heard of Drax, but the one thing that made it very challenging was I just couldn’t find that much reference material, because I wanted to be prepared for this audition to have some sense of who Drax was but really, I didn’t have any reference material, he’s changed so much throughout the years. The one thing that I saw that I connected to was in the latest version of Drax in the comic, I related to him visually because I looked at him and said “he looks like me” [laughs). But I didn’t…when I auditioned, when I played the part of Drax, it’s just how I perceived he would be so it’s just a huge part of me. I didn’t rely on any reference material, it was just how I would be.

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James Gunn said earlier that “there are more outsiders than insiders”, would you like to elaborate on that?

He was just saying that I think if you ask any person, if you asked all of us individually if there’s something provocative, something you feel like you have social anxiety about, there’s something you feel like other people couldn’t relate to you about, I think everybody would probably say “yes”. I think some people just come to terms with that, they accept it about themselves and they know they’re awkward and they’re comfortable with it. Then there are those other people who have that as well, but pretend like they don’t and I think it’s just become more common, people are more open about being socially awkward, I’m socially awkward. If you look at me, I look like a big jock. I’m like a big musclebound jock. Socially, I’m just awkward but I came to terms with it a long time ago because I look like this (motions to himself) but inside I’m like this (hunches up). I look like a big jock but really I’m a big geek, but I think people are more open about it, you’re not an outcast anymore, you’re more open now. Everybody’s just kind of open about it, they’re open about their geekiness.

I did a movie called The Man with the Iron Fists

Bronze Body!
Brass Body. He’s my buddy and he’s the director, his name is RZA, he’s from one of the most famous rap groups ever and most people would perceive him to be kind of thuggish, kind of hardcore, from the streets. He comes to me and says he’s a big nerd! He’s always been a nerd his whole life. To look at him to hear him, you wouldn’t think it, but talk to him for 10 minutes and you’re like “okay, he’s a nerd.” He came out and said it to me, and I said if this guy, this hardcore rapper, can say he’s a nerd, then you see how things have changed. It’s okay to be a nerd, you don’t have to be embarrassed about it.

Each member of the Guardians is a misfit or outcast in some way. Did the cast get time to rehearse and work out the dynamics amongst the team or did it develop on set as you were filming?

That was cool, I think it developed more as we bonded more, the more time we spent together the more time we got to know each other. I think that because of James, who was so particular about who he wanted for each of the certain parts, he said he wanted all of us to have chemistry, he doesn’t want any prima donnas on set. Thanks to him, he got him. We all had chemistry and we bonded and I think it really comes across, as we were filming we felt comfortable with each other, while we were shooting there was no awkwardness and we all trusted each other. Chris and Zoe in particular, they knew that I was a little insecure about my acting because it is new to me and this is a huge step to me and I don’t try to hide it, I was very open about it, very open that I was nervous, and they were always comforting to me, complimentary and helpful so we did, we bonded and they helped me elevate my acting.

Was it filmed roughly in sequence?

No, it was all over the place. We shot between three studios and many separate locations, but the sets were immense, just crazy. When I walked in [the Kyln prsion set] it was crazy, this thing was 360 degrees it was like being in a real prison, the biggest set I had ever seen in my entire life, it was so elaborate, it was crazy.

On Guard! Guardians of the Galaxy in Singapore

For F*** Magazine

ON GUARD! THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY IN SINGAPORE
By Jedd Jong for F*** Magazine 11/7/14
Photos by Tedd and Jedd Jong

Here in Singapore, we’re hooked on a feeling and high on believing after director James Gunn and stars Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista journeyed from the furthest reaches of the cosmos to our sunny shores. The Guardians of the Galaxy Southeast Asia press conference was held on Thursday, 10 July at the Marina Bay Sands convention centre. Before that, we were treated to a tantalising 17 minute preview of the film in IMAX 3D. The sequence showcased the titular team after they had just been formed and flung into a space prison called The Kyln. Packed with humour, action and attitude, it was an exciting way to whet the appetite for what Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige has called “the riskiest movie I have made since Iron Man.”

The titular team consists of a thief, an assassin, two thugs and a blade-wielding psycho. “I’m going to be arrested for inviting such company to peaceful Singapore,” host Glenn Ong remarked. Gunn, Saldana and Bautista took to the stage at the press conference to the strains of Blue Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling, one of the songs on Star-Lord’s “awesome mix tape”.


Right off the bat, director Gunn took charge, opening with “look how pretty Zoe Saldana looks…and look how pretty Dave Bautista looks too!” The director, known for his background in edgy, low-budget cult horror flicks, let his eccentric side show when he commented that Marc Quinn’s giant baby sculpture, residing in the Gardens by the Bay, as his “favourite thing I’ve ever seen in [his] entire life”. When asked about the humorous tone of the film, Gunn said “I think that really Guardians of the Galaxy is about characters. I think that these characters are in and of themselves funny, so it wasn’t so much a matter of me trying to pack in the comedy, it was just letting these characters and these actors here fully express themselves so that the humour was able to come out in a natural way.”

When Ong reminded all present not to broach personal questions, Gunn sportingly leapt in with “You can ask personal questions of me – ask about my personal life, my love life, my cat, I’m an open book, ask away! I’ll give you all the gory details,” to uproarious laughter.


Turning to pro wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista, Ong jokingly said to the 1.98 m tall man, “thank you so much for increasing the average height of people in Singapore, for this week at least”.

Bautista said he still finds his fame and recognition “weird”. “I don’t know man, I think inside I feel like such a normal guy and also somewhat of an introvert too,” he said softly.
“Yes, he’s very shy,” co-star Saldana confirmed.

Commenting on playing a physical brute, Bautista observed “that’s always been the easy part for me. I’m a physical guy, working out is kind of my thing, it’s my release and my therapy, so physically it wasn’t as tough as it was as just stretching myself as an actor. It’s all kind of new to me, it’s such a large role, stepping on stage with some of the best and most talented people in the world, actors and directors, it was challenging.”
Elaborating on the character of Drax, Bautista said “he’s always described as this warrior who’s hell-bent on rage, I always say ‘no, at the core of Drax, Drax is heartbroken over the murder of his family and he’s just this very vulnerable guy.’ Very literal, and there’s that insane side, that sociopath side – I don’t think Drax knows it’s wrong to kill people,” he laughed. “Actually, he’s got a heart that’s bigger than his brain, he’s a very noble character and his core is his heart.”

It became very clear that Bautista was a surprisingly sweet, shy person behind his musclebound exterior. When a reporter asked if he shed a few tears upon receiving the news that he would play Drax, Bautista replied “It was true. I literally broke down, it wasn’t a few tears! I was driving…I literally just broke down, I drove home, I was a mess…It was a big deal to me, I can never explain how big it was to me, it was a life-changing moment.” He confessed that the transition from wrestling to acting was far from an easy one. “My first acting gig, I did as a favour for a friend and I realised two things: one of was how hard it was and two was that I loved it, I wanted to pursue it. There’s just not a lot of similarities, the only similarity is that cameras are pointed at you and that’s all it is. Wrestling is so broad, so conversational and acting is so much more intimate and intimidating!”



He continued, “It was hard for me to leave behind wrestling, and I worked and struggle, worked and struggled and auditioned I finally got the dream role of a lifetime, it was like make or break, I pretty lost everything I gained while wrestling, I lost it all because I took a chance on myself because I was passionate to pursue it. So it was worth a few tears, I broke down. It meant that much to me.”

Gunn was moved by Bautista’s earnestness. “From the beginning, sometimes you meet actors that you really like as people and you really want to get them the role but they aren’t right for the role, you give the role to the person who deserves the role and from the moment I met Dave, he and I have a sort of connection. Within minutes of talking, I kind of liked Dave and I liked him so much as a person that I was rooting for him to come through, through a series of screen tests and a lot of different things he had to go through to try and get the role, and when he proved himself to be by far, the only person we ever thought of for the role was Dave Bautista despite some stuff that the press might have said, Dave was the only person we offered the role to because he was the best. Dave actually was that good, it was touching for me and I say this of all the cast: they’re people whom I really like as people, but they’re also the best people for the role.”


Zoe Saldana said she had stayed up all night to watch the World Cup semi-finals game and was overjoyed that Argentina emerged victorious. In spite of this, she looked alert and radiant. Even though she was contacted directly by Gunn for the part instead of having to go through multiple auditions, she still found it a nerve-wracking experience. “The first thing you feel is flattered, super-blessed, your ego gets a little peaked a lot, but the second thought is absolute panic because if you say ‘yes’, there’s a lot of expectations lying on your shoulders because work that you’ve done before has [been] brought [to] the attention of this awesome director and he’s relying on you delivering what he’s seen you deliver before, which he thought was so cool.”

Saldana was hesitant given the demanding nature of the role, but decided to leap right into it. “ I was a little nervous when they said yes, and then they told me about the 5.5 hours of makeup every day, and then they told me about the shooting it for five months and we were going to be shooting it for six day weeks, and there was going to be a lot of action and fighting and rehearsals and then I said ‘okay, yes’. I kind of went ‘okay, I’ll do it, I’ll do it!’ because I didn’t want to realise what I was getting myself into but it ended up being a great experience, because it had everything that I grew up wanting movies to have: it had action, it had comedy, it had a lot of imagination and the story was really complete and all the characters had such a beautiful journey from beginning to the end individually, but also as a collective, and I thought ‘this is a great ensemble picture to be part of’.”

On being the only female member of the Guardians, Saldana said “It feels great, it’s empowering because I know that it delivers a very strong message to young women that besides being beautiful and delicate flowers, that you can also channel your strength and not be afraid of it. It’s very rewarding when you know you can climb a tree, or you can grab a weapon, even though we’re in the world of make-believe, you can see yourself kind of doing all these things and you feel very empowered.” She was grateful that she was not alone – Gamora has a fearsome adopted sister whom she clashes with. “I’m actually very happy to say that I’m not the only female in this cast and Karen Gillan, who plays Nebula, did an amazing job and it’s really great to know that I was sharing screen time with not only amazing male actors, but also with another female actress because sometimes being the only female actress can be a little lonely.”

Gunn chimed in with “Karen and Zoe were a lot of fun to watch on set because they had a huge fight scene, with these two super-powered females fighting each other, and it was like two female Clint Eastwoods battling it out and duelling and all of a sudden I would yell ‘cut!’ and they would go ‘tee-hee hee hee! Hee hee hee hee!’”

Gunn was given the job of taking the wild and woolly Guardians and making them movie stars to stand alongside their better-known Marvel counterparts. “I feel like because Guardians of the Galaxy in the comics, they are not quite as well-known as say Captain America, Iron Man or the Avengers, I felt like that gave us a lot of freedom to really create the cinematic version of Guardians of the Galaxy. And I think that Guardians of the Galaxy is more at home on screen than in the comic books, and it is first and foremost a cinematic property, so I felt like it really gave me a lot of freedom to do something interesting with it and create loveable characters.”

Ong did a double take. “Did you just say ‘loveable’?”

“Yeah, they’re ‘a bunch of a-holes’ but they’re still loveable characters, even Drax!” Gunn affirmed.
Marvel movie fans have wanted to know the extent of Avengers director Joss Whedon’s involvement with Guardians, and Gunn confirmed “Joss and I have been friends for a long time, he read the script and gave me notes on the script, and the biggest note he gave was to make it ‘more James Gunn’. And I said ‘it’s your funeral’.” The character of Thanos, who first appeared in the mid-credits stinger scene in The Avengers and who is a major player in Guardians (played by Josh Brolin) is a figure who will link the earth-based Marvel movies and the “Marvel Cosmic” ones. “I pretty much had free rein and it wasn’t so much about making this movie lead somewhere but it was about creating a great foundation so that it could lead somewhere, you don’t want to just have ‘fill in the dots’, we want to create something that has substance that we can believe in it, that’s really exciting and real and true. Then it gives a lot of the fans some of the answers [that] we leave unanswered so that there are places to go, for the Guardians to go in future,” said Gunn.



Gunn maintained that he was given a satisfactory degree of freedom from the Marvel Studios higher-ups. “I pretty much do what I believe [in] and I don’t approach a small movie like Slither or Super any differently than I approach a big movie like Guardians of the Galaxy. I do everything I can with my heart, as true as I possibly can, and I’ve been very fortunate in my career thus far to have producers like [at] Marvel to let me have free rein and do something really creative and excellent even though it’s for such a large budget.”
Guardiansis really about a group of outcasts, a group of people who feel like they don’t belong, coming together, finding something within themselves that they didn’t know was there – something heroic, something wonderful and very simply something good,” Gunn said pithily. “And I think what the movie is about includes all of us, no matter what country you’re from, no matter what part of the world you’re from, the love of ourselves and each other and finding the good within ourselves. And if there’s anything that makes this movie worthwhile and worth spending two years of our lives doing nothing else but this film, is for people to be able to walk out of the theatre feeling a little better about themselves, feeling a little better about the person they were sitting next to in the theatre and feeling a little better about the world in general.”

James Gunn couched Guardians of the Galaxy as a movie made by outcasts, about outcasts and for outcasts. “I think one of the things about Guardians of the Galaxy is it’s about this group of oddballs, outcasts who are plucked from obscurity in Marvel Comics and turned into these big movie stars, and I think that we’ve talked about this a lot, that we all feel like that. My last movie cost $3 million, it was an independent film, Dave is a wrestler whom people didn’t think of as a real actor, Zoe has been pushed to the sidelines for her whole life because she’s a person of colour from a place that not everybody is from in this industry, Chris Pratt was a chubby guy when he got this role, Vin Diesel’s a weirdo, Benicio del Toro’s a weirdo and the biggest weirdo of all was Michael Rooker. We were just a group of oddballs and outcasts and came together to make this movie and made something we all feel really good about. The parallels are very interesting to me all the time and I think we all feel this way, that through the process we’ve come to love each other. You’ll hear us all talk about how much we love each other and you hear this on all movies. The thing is, usually they’re lying but this time, it’s true,” he concluded to applause. 



Saldana said what was on everyone’s minds: “part 2, everybody!”

We definitely like the Guardians enough to want to see more – like the Jackson 5, we want them back!

Guardians of the Galaxy opens in Singapore on 31 July 2014.