Monday, August 11, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy - 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy" - 2014
Dir. by James Gunn - 2 hrs. 1 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

By now, I have a good expectation for what I want to get out of a "Marvel Movie."  I mean, after three Iron Mans, two Captain Americas and two Thors, and the best of the lot, "The Avengers," there's a certain approach, charm, and skill that are an expected part of the package.  Thankfully, the first movie since the first "Iron Man" that doesn't have any real continuity propping it up completely fulfills that promise.  "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a little funnier, a little weirder than the "Avengers" line of films, but still has the familiar banter set against people in very tight outfits punching the crap out of everything in sight.

Peter Quill, you may know him by his other name, Star Lord (Chris Pratt), is abducted from Earth as a child, and has grown into something of an a-hole (the film's words, to be clear).  He's like a younger Han Solo, looting everything he can get his hands on (including, and especially women).  One of his jobs involves retrieving an orb from a desolate, formerly populated planet, but it turns out that he's not the only person interested in it, nor the only person on the planet.  A lot people are very focused on this orb, which eventually lands Star Lord, a pair of bounty hunters in the form of a very unpleasant intelligent raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a giant tree person named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and a cosmic deity's adopted daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) in the slammer together.  With Drax's (Dave Bautista) help, they all break out of this space prison, with the goal of selling the orb, getting rich, and heading their different ways.  Which is, of course, exactly how things play out.

On one hand, I kind of envy people who are introduced to material like this for the first time, and through film.  Being a long-time comics reader, a talking raccoon bounty-hunter and his tree-based Chewbacca is the sort of thing that you just take for granted in comics.  That's not to say that it doesn't come across as weird when you're reading it, but it's there in ink just like everything else, and you accept that things like this are part of the deal.  But if you don't have that background, a film like "Guardians of the Galaxy" might come off like a surrealist action film, where insanity is the rule, and nothing makes any sense.  It would be awesome to see "Guardians" under those circumstances.  But I knew about Rocket and Groot way before the film, so I wasn't really struck by the weirdness of them.  They're just characters, albeit ones you might not run across in real life.  One of the achievements of "Guardians" is that both characters (well, all of the Guardians, really) are well-rounded enough that you can just take them as characters, and not have their very existence be a hit-or-miss joke.

Visually, there's plenty to feast on.  The cosmic backgrounds that are a part of the Thor films are everywhere here (and so much fun to look at).  There are tie-fighter...  I mean spaceship shoot-outs, there's hand-to-hand combat, there's chases, there's escapes...  I know that I keep making "Star Wars" references here, but "Guardians" really feels like a film made in the Cantina, in a world made up solely of Cantinas.  Only instead of the Cantina band, we've got Star Lord's mix tape of '70s and '80s soft-rock hits.  Normally, I'd instinctively hate anything that borrows so heavily from "Star Wars," but it works here.  "Guardians" is tight, action-filled, clever, and layered with great dialogue (there are at least a couple of instances of people misunderstanding Star Lord's colloquialisms, to great effect).  It's also been cast extremely well; Pratt is a great lead character, because he's able to be crude and awful at times, but with a lack of malice that suits the movie well.  Dave Bautista (WWE's Batista) does a great job playing a straight man, and also seems comfortable spending an entire film with no shirt on.  Rocket and Groot are fun together, and are integrated into the live-action material seamlessly.

In a broader sense, the one thing that I hate about the Marvel movies is that they've applied the "Fantastic Four" bickering-family dynamic to every team, and every interaction, and yet we still don't have a good FF movie, and even if they completely nail it next time around, the dynamic will seem old, or at least familiar.  Each of the teams (at least in the comics world) have their own personality, but the Guardians interact in pretty much the same way that the Avengers do.  And both teams act the way that the Fantastic Four do/did originally.  That's perhaps my only complaint about "Guardians," that there's a plug-and-play element to the interaction between the characters, even if the details do keep the characters distinct.  Also, in "Guardians'" favor, Gamora used the phrase "pelvic sorcery," which goes a long way with me.

I think there's almost no way anyone's going to be disappointed with "Guardians of the Galaxy."  If you've been on the "Avengers" ride since "Iron Man," no problem.  If this is the first "Marvel Movie" you've seen, probably even better!  "Guardians" is a fun ride, tonally consistent with the films that have preceded it, and has a lot of familiar faces in it.  I was happy to see the bit on the credits that said the Guardians would return.  I'm not sure what that means - another film, or being incorporated into an Avengers sequel - and I'm not going to research to figure it out.  I'll be happy to see them show up again in whatever form.  Any complaints that I have with "Guardians" is pretty much down to having seen enough movies in this series to start seeing duplication in structure and approach, and that I was never a fan of the comics, but I still enjoyed the film, and I'm pretty sure everyone else will, too.  It's a crowd-pleaser, not a challenging art film, and it delivers completely on that front.

3.5 / 5 - Theatre (3D)

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