DAMON Smith reviews the latest releases including sci-fi sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, historical romance The Promise and the 19th-century drama Lady Macbeth.

l GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (12A, 136 mins)


Released: April 28

In the first film, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) escaped the clutches of space pirate Yondu (Michael Rooker) to galvanise a motley crew of mercenaries comprising green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), vengeance-seeking warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and cute tree-like sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel). For the sequel’s tongue-in-cheek opening salvo, expertly choreographed to ELO’s foot-stomping anthem Mr Blue Sky, the Guardians face a razor-toothed beast that intends to steal the Anulax Batteries belonging to high priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) and her Sovereign people. As a reward for laser-blasting bravery, the snarky heroes take delivery of a prisoner: Gamora’s estranged sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), who suffered grievously at the hands of their tyrannical father, Thanos. Soon after, The Guardians encounter an omnipotent being, Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s missing father. “If he ends up being evil, we’ll just kill him,” Gamora tenderly assures her sceptical and teary-eyed companion. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 confidently spices a familiar brew with sinewy subplots and the introduction of Gamora’s much-abused sibling, plus Ego’s underling, Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Pratt and Saldana turn up their heat on the “unspoken thing” between their comrades, while Bautista’s hilariously literal hulk offers Peter the benefit of his romantic wisdom: “You just need to find a woman, who is pathetic like you.” Computer-generated double-act Rocket and Baby Groot scene-steal with aplomb, enriched with Cooper and Diesel’s vocal performances.

RATING: 8/10

l THE PROMISE (12A, 133 mins)


Released: April 28

The extermination of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, which Turkey has repeatedly refused to acknowledge as genocide, provides a turbulent backdrop to Terry George’s earnest period romance.

Opening in the splendour of 1914 Anatolia, The Promise contrives a love triangle between two Armenians and an American as the prism through which to refract sickening images of barbarism during the First World War. Writer-director George, who was Oscar nominated for his riveting 2004 picture Hotel Rwanda, conjures shocking tableaux like a river bed cluttered with dozens of lifeless men, women and children, their blood seeping into the fast-moving waters.

“Our revenge will be to survive,” the stoic heroine tells her lover in response to the senseless loss.

The scope of George’s vision, with its panoramic vistas, expertly choreographed riots and battle scenes on perilous mountain terrain, recalls sweeping 1960s epics such as Doctor Zhivago, which captured the cost of war through the eyes of lovers caught in the crossfire.

The Promise doesn’t possess the emotional depth of David Lean’s masterpiece, and the 133-minute running time feels padded, but there are moments of heart-wrenching beauty and brutality concealed within the pedestrian narrative.

Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) is an apothecary in the village of Sirun and he yearns to study medicine in Constantinople.

Unable to fund the three-year course himself, Mikael agrees to marry his neighbour’s daughter Maral (Angela Sarafyan) in exchange for a dowry of 400 gold coins that will finance studies in the capital.

Separated from his bride-to-be, Mikael befriends Emre Ogan (Marwan Kenzari), whose father is a powerful figure in the Turkish military, and he falls head over heels in love with his uncle’s houseguest, Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a fellow Armenian.

“You make me feel like I’m at home,” Ana tells Mikael sweetly.

Unfortunately, Mikael is already promised to Maral and Ana has a partner, an American journalist called Chris Myers (Christian Bale), who is reporting on escalating tensions in Turkey for the Associated Press.

Eventually Mikael returns home to the mountains to fulfil his marital pledge and forget about Ana.

“Whatever happened, that was another life,” counsels his mother Marta (Shohreh Aghdashloo). “You told me that you would grow to love Maral, and you will.”

The Promise is a sluggish rifle through pages of disputed recent history, which aligns itself with the Armenians as they search for an escape from their war-ravaged nation.

Isaac and Le Bon catalyse simmering screen chemistry, while Bale casually embodies a western observer with a conscience, who defiantly defends his actions.: “Without reporters, the Armenian people would disappear, and no one would know.” Through the lens of George’s picture, one harrowing version of events comes into focus, very slowly.

RATING: 6/10

l LADY MACBETH (15, 89 mins)

Drama/Romance. Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Christopher Fairbank, Naomi Ackle. Director: William Oldroyd.

Released: April 28 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Hell is murky, but the rugged, windswept landscapes of Northumberland are grimmer still in director William Oldroyd’s impressive debut feature.

Adapted by scriptwriter Alice Birch from Nikolai Leskov’s 19th-century Russian novella, Lady Macbeth Of The Mtsensk, this gripping tragedy resets the sex-fuelled skulduggery to Victorian England, where women are treated as commodities by glowering husbands. Disobedience is punishable with retribution and humiliation behind closed doors, where bruises can be concealed beneath corsets or voluminous gowns.

The anti-heroine of Lady Macbeth, portrayed with scorching intensity by 19-year-old Florence Pugh, openly defies these well-worn social conventions to pursue her own selfish agenda, leaving devastation and a mounting body count in her wake.

When her snarling father-in-law demands, “Where’s your husband?” she meets his coldness with venom and snaps, “Wherever you put him.”

Pugh is beguiling in the demanding central role, replete with an unwavering accent, and she commits fearlessly to breathless sex scenes with co-star Cosmo Jarvis that light the fuse on explosive desires, percolating beneath the surface.

When one of the characters sees through this facade of youthful naivete and tearfully exclaims, “She’s a disease”, a cold prickle of fear traces down our spines at the likely fatal consequences.

Teenage bride Katherine (Pugh) is sold by her father as part of a property deal and she is consigned to a miserable, loveless marriage to a swarthy brute called Alexander (Paul Hilton), whose father Boris (Christopher Fairbank) runs the local colliery.

Their first night together is devoid of passion and Katherine submits to her husband’s demands.

“Take your dress off and face the wall,” he barks, admiring the nubile flesh of his quivering possession.

When Alexander and Boris are unexpectedly called away to deal with an explosion at the colliery, Katherine seeks out excitement in the company of rebellious groomsman Sebastian (Jarvis), whose cocksure swagger kindles sparks of an extra-marital affair.

Katherine brazenly flaunts Sebastian in front of the other staff, including her maid Anna (Naomi Ackle), unconcerned by the potential stain on her reputation.

Boris and Alexander return unexpectedly and the forbidden lovers snigger in the face of shame to forge a murderous pact that will allow them to retain their lofty position in the household.

“You know I shan’t be parted from you, Sebastian,” gushes Katherine to her paramour. “I’d rather stop you breathing than have you doubt how I feel.”

Filmed on location in County Durham, Lady Macbeth is largely faithful to the plotting of the source text, apart from an emotionally chilly denouement that showcases Pugh’s mastery of her character’s poisonous emotions.

Supporting performances are solid and Oldroyd spares his leading cast few blushes in scenes of wanton carnal desire.

Production design, including Holly Waddington’s costumes, evokes the period with stylish restraint.

RATING: 7/10