Friday, August 22, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Marvel's Cinematic Universe has grown in popularity by featuring some of the lesser known heroes from their comic books. When its latest movie installment was announced, few people had any idea what to make of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014); it was an obscure title that had less notoriety than that of Thor or Hawkeye. But when the trailer was released, everyone was psyched to catch this sci-fi action movie. And it did not disappoint.
Brash adventurer Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a powerful villain of the Kree race with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits--Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting raccoon; Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree-like humanoid; the deadly and enigmatic Gamora (Zoe Saldana); and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand-with the galaxy's fate in the balance.
Part of what made this such a fun movie was the diversity of the characters. It's funny that DC comics has been so hesitant to make a Wonder Woman movie on the grounds that audiences simply aren't ready for something like that. Then Marvel goes, "Hey! Here's a heavy weapons wielding raccoon and a talking tree! Have fun!" Rocket is a hilarious  pint-size tough guy who is a bounty hunter, a mercenary, and a master of weapons and battle tactics. He's not like a ridiculous throwaway furry sidekick in the middle of The Avengers; he was genetically created to be a mean fighting machine. Peter Quill is kind of a mix between Han Solo and Marty McFly in that he travels around space, making out with hot alien girls, and acting like a rogue, while looking for a higher purpose. Quill also has an obsession with 1980's nostalgia, which makes for some great lines and funny references. Gamora is a rebel formerly aligned with Ronan and seeks to overthrow his plans from within; she's also a very lethal assassin. Drax is a warrior in search of vengeance after Ronan killed his family; he's very literal minded which creates a lot of comic relief, even though Drax is oblivious to it. Finally there is Groot. He's an innocent; everyone starts out as a miscreant except for Groot, who is a hundred percent deadly and a hundred percent sweet. All of these characters have their moment to shine and all of them get great lines. Each character was fun, relatable, and even lovable from the start.
Guardians of the Galaxy reminded me a lot of the first Star Wars movie. There is a group of ragtag rabble traveling the galaxy to stop a tyrannical villain and they meet a variety of delightfully engaging characters along the way. In truth, Ronan gets more lines and screen time than Darth Vader did in that first movie, but doesn't have nearly the presence. Most of the Marvel villains, apart from Loki, have been pretty generic and uninspiring. They're evil for the sake of being evil. Other characters were great, and if you've been watching other Marvel movies you'll see some familiar faces. The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), The Other (Alexis Denisof), and Thanos (Josh Brolin) return from other movies. The cast also includes Nebula (Karen Gillian of Doctor Who fame), Nova Prime (Glenn Close), Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), and John C. Reilly as a Nova Corpsman. There's even some cameo voice over work from Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, and Seth Green. As was the case for Star Wars characters, few are granted much depth in Guardians, though we get a sense of their personality and history. None of the characters in Star Wars would have been that interesting without giving them the chance to develop further in future movies. Similarly most of the characters and storyline in Guardians should be taken as they are. We know we'll see them again in the future where they will develop even further.
The special effects here are stellar. Groot and Rocket are CGI animated, of course. There's lots of highly detailed digital backgrounds and green screen stunts, and it all looks fantastic! The resulting visuals look gorgeous and really help sell the setting of the movie. While there is a lot to take in, you should still watch for the many easter eggs strewn throughout the movie. There are lots of references to other Marvel movies and storylines that have yet to become movies, tons of 1980's nostalgia as per Quill's preferences. Some of it is easy to miss, and some of it went right over my head because I'm more familiar with Marvel's earth-heroes, not the cosmic heroes.
The story is a bit of a mess, but it's an extremely good-natured mess, full of humor and warmth. It's got kind of a Sci-fi B-Movie soul (also much like the original Star Wars) and it encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you're not quite sure what's going on. It's a simple story with lots of plot holes in it, but the sheer fun and energy of the movie overshadows these lapses in narrative. It's a lighthearted and self-referential comic book movie with loads of action and fight scenes, some laugh-out-loud moments, and some surprisingly touching scenes as well. The humor is occasionally juvenile, but even then it's in a witty sort of way.
The music was almost a character unto itself; it's a collection of 80's classics that blended beautifully into the story. Sometimes it was used in to ramp up the energy of action scenes, while other times it was used for humorous irony. Following the debut of the trailer, Blue Swede's version of "Hooked on a Feeling", which was prominently used throughout the trailer, went up 700% in sales the following day.  Not only is the movie great fun, but the soundtrack is also worth getting!
Guardians of the Galaxy was far better than I had anticipated, and I was already hoping for a good summer blockbuster. Director James Gunn tossed together a dizzying blend of superhero bravado, outer-space adventure, and off-the-wall comedy while introducing the world to some of Marvel's strangest and most enjoyable characters. The story has some weak points to it, but the funny antics and edge-of-your-seat action will keep you from dwelling on them too much. The movie is much more fun than should be expected this time of year. I highly recommend seeing this in theaters, and getting a copy when it becomes available on home video.

A note on the post-credit scene: You should of course stick around for Marvel's traditional post credit scene. I half expected a teaser for, like, The Avengers 4, or something. I won't tell you what it is, but it introduces another very obscure character. I laughed, but it made me wonder if they're actually going make a movie for this character, of if they were just joking around. That would probably be even weirder than putting a gun-toting raccoon on screen. At any rate, I laughed.

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