Monday, August 4, 2014

Awesome Mix: Volume 1

Year: 2014
Director: James Gunn
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista
Run Time: 2 hours 1 minute
MPAA Rating: PG-13

For any but the most die-hard comic book fans (*coughcoughHenry*), the Marvel Cinematic universe has been wearing out its welcome. Despite the relative merits or deficits of Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Thor: The Dark World (this year also overloaded us with another Amazing Spider-Man and X-Men: Days of Future Past), the overwhelming feeling is that of one long drawn breath while we anticipate Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Notice how none of those films are numbered. No easy-to-follow chronology like Iron Man 2 and 3. That's because Marvel knows that if they give us Cap 2 or X-Men 7, they'll tip us off to just how many of these darn movies they're shoving into cinemas and the weariness will set in like a rot. Again, to be clear, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with these movies, merely that the stranglehold of Marvel in American cinemas has been slowly draining the enthusiasm of the public.

Luckily, almost supernaturally, the company managed to transform an almost unknown series into a ringer. It is quite obvious in retrospect that Guardians of the Galaxy would reignite the Marvel craze like no other film since Avengers for one reason and one reason only. They hired an auteur. Because, frankly, nobody cared about the Guardians of the Galaxy comics, director/writer James Gunn was allowed to make a film imbued with his traditional sense of humor (derived from years of writing for the notorious production company Troma and fighting his way through the horror trenches) rather than just dumping out another homogenized and slick superhero thriller.

Also, considering that he is the man who made this happen, he is nothing less than a god.

So, the story. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an intergalactic outlaw who operates under the name Starlord, abducted from Earth at a young age in 1988 and raised by Ravagers, a roving band of thieves led by Yondu (Michael Rooker of The Walking Dead and Slither), a blue dude with a hella cool magic science arrow.

After some plot happens, Starlord ends up thrown together with a ragtag band of escaping prisoners after stealing a mysterious orb from a deserted planet. These prisoners with their clashing motives and personalities, end up becoming unlikely friends and guarding some galaxies or whatever. 

Anyway, they are Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a wisecracking bounty hunter raccoon, his best friend/partner/house plant Groot (Vin Diesel), an animated tree-being who only has enough intelligence to say "I Am Groot," and Drex (Dave Bautista), a muscle-bound warrior whose race has no concept of metaphor, so he takes everything quite literally to hilarious effect.

Last but (debatably) not least is Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who must have gotten so fit from all the times she had to walk up stairs so we could see her butt), a green alien woman adopted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), this film's obvious sequel tag villain who, despite his vast power and supposed menace mostly just looks like a blue Jay Leno. When Thanos lends her and her sister Nebula (Oculus' Karen Gillan) to the eeeeeevil Ronan (Lee Pace) as assassins, she betrays him in an attempt to obtain the orb he so covets and sell it so she can buy a ticket to a better life.

Any life is a better life with him.

I really don't want to get into the mechanics of the plot beyond the level of character because, let's face it, it's really not important. Everybody wants the MacGuffin. MacGuffin holds infinite power. Bad guy meets with bigger bad guy on mysterious hunk of rock. Stop the bad guy from using it to destroy the galaxy. (I know it's the title, but man what a narrow-minded evil plot. Just one galaxy? Color me unimpressed.) Bing bang boom.

The plot is typical Marvel, but it's the trappings that allow it to transcend as one of the best superhero movies of... definitely the decade, maybe even the century. It's not what you say, it's how you say it. And James Gunn can really... say.

Guardians of the Galaxy puts witty humor at the forefront, shoving action and plot into a secondary position (smart, because it is both of these elements that are the weakest in the film - the first thanks to some occassionally haphazard editing, the second due to a certain lack of emotional heft). This is a witty comedy movie with some superhero elements, not the other way around like your Iron Mans or your Avengers.

Because of its ability to exist almost entirely unbeholden to a truly large-scale story, the characters have room to breathe and bounce off one another, providing thoroughly comic entertainment. By which I mean two things, in that it is consistently, effervescently hilarious and that it provides the joy and amazement of experiencing an actual comic book with all the flash and glamour and not-so-thematic bedazzlement that that entails. Although those looking for a more solid thematic throughline or character arc certainly have material to work with, that's not what we're about here.

We are too cool for school by a considerable margin.

With a fantastic soundtrack of 70's and 80's pop songs that acts as both an ironic underscore to a sci-fi extravaganza and a link to Starlord's eternal childhood and connection to Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy really didn't have to work hard to get me on board (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH'M, hooked on a feelin'). And it shouldn't have to work hard for you either, if you're receptive to a wonderful bit of popcorn movie mayhem.

Of course there are flaws. The largely unmotivated villains are too generic to ever feel like a legitimate threat, despite game performances by two wonderful actors. The editing will occasionally slip up and cram too many images together to make sense of a few sequences. There is a tendency to overexplain plot points in the dialogue. Glenn Close is wasted in a weak "point and gasp" role.

But honestly you don't notice any of that when the lights go down and Gunn hits you with the good stuff. This is his first big break to show off his style to the world and he pulled out all the stops, coordinating gags so effortlessly that they hit with the impact of a missed step when walking down the stairs.

And last but not least, the actors are delightful. The movie with be nothing without them, considering how much of the humor is grounded in their characters and interactions. Chris Pratt is the obvious anchor, combining his awkward and adorable Parks and Rec style with an action hero stud body. If, after this, there's not more Chris Pratt in cinemas, I will personally tear down my local theater brick by brick.

Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are also standouts as comic relief characters that almost supernaturally fail to get on my nerves. The digital animation for both these characters is astounding and their timing is pitch perfect. And Dave Bautista makes you forget he was ever involved in the WWE, a gargantuan feat if you ask me. Only Saldana gives a performance not worth raving about, but in a less-developed, more straight-faced role. You can't blame her for the character. And she does get some great moments.

Anyway. Guardians of the Galaxy. Go see it. It might not be the most important movie of the year. It's not going to change your life or alter your worldview. But if you want to go to the movies and just have yourself a meaty slab of fun, get your tickets now.

TL;DR: Guardians of the Galaxy is a dazzling sci-fi comedy bolstered by impressive performances and an auteur for the ages.
Rating: 8/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Yaaaaaaaas!
Word Count: 1311

2 comments:

  1. I feel like Ronan has gotten kind of a bad rap. Sure, he's basically just kinda there, but I liked Pace's autotuned menace and in the end, is costume design not a far finer thing than motivation? Be honest with me. Be honest with yourself.

    Re: Glenn Close. She is just kind of there, ain't she? I mean, even Del Toro got to have that business with his hands and jowls. Close is just reacting to John C. Reilly saying curse words. (Speaking of Reilly, did you not get the idea that his wife was going to be one of those gross aliens they mentioned in a throwaway line of dialogue, but instead she's a red lady that, even accounting for the quasi-bestiality, is out of his league? A real waste of a comic/sweet set-up.)

    Overall, I'm kind of a little amazed everybody's loving this. But, to be clear, also pleased--it's nice to be on the same wavelength as the general population once in a while.

    P.S.: If you thought my write-up was maybe a bit too inside baseball, I can just see you getting turned into ash like a lover of Zeus, should you ever come back to that comment thread...

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    1. Oh believe me, I have returned. I was only able to survive that comments board with the power of friendship (I held hands with a raccoon).
      And believe me, I do love Lee Pace. And the make-up was incredible. He wasn't BAD by any stretch of the imagination, just... meh.
      And hey - isn't it nice to love something? It's easy to forget that watching movies isn't a job.

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