Movie Review - Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel, you’ve done it again.
How can I best describe the newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy? Well, the short-short version? Everything that DC and Warner Brothers’ Green Lantern got wrong…Guardians got right. So, to make this review easy for myself let’s use that as the guiding outline for what follows.
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill vs. Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan – Once again, Marvel finds an actor that is snarky without being, to quote from Star-Lord, “a 100% dick”. Both movies do that thing where they try to emotionally hook you to the character through childhood tragedy: Quill losing his mother to cancer before being abducted by aliens, Jordan losing his father in a plane crash. So it’s not in the writing. Instead, it’s the actor. And I hate to wuss out and say it’s something intangible…but yeah, it’s something intangible. For example, we all have that one friend. You know what I’m talking about, right? “Yeah, he’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole.” We’ve all got one friend that fits that statement. He’s crass. He’s someone you usually don’t want to take out in public…but at the same time, you NEVER regret taking him out in public…because he’s going to deliver at least one nugget of verbal gold. That’s what Pratt gave to Peter Quill. I mean, the guy calls himself Star-LORD. What an asshole, right? And yet, he’s our asshole. As for Reynolds, well, you can see the previously posted Green Lantern review for that. For you lazy bastards out there though, yeah, Hal Jordan was kind of a dick and not exactly someone we could really cheer for.
Sweeping Space Epic vs. We’re Going Back To Earth Why Exactly? The Green Lantern Corps was founded by a group of immortals who called themselves the Guardians of the Universe. So why, pray tell, did we spend most of the damn Green Lantern movie ON EARTH? The Guardians of the Galaxy actually live up to their name. We see Earth at the very beginning as we’re setting up Peter Quill. Other than that…nope. Not at all. Maybe it’s because, well, we’ve already been introduced to the Collector in Thor 2 and saw Thanos briefly in Avengers, so some of the elements have been shown to us before. Like all Marvel movies, this one does not stand alone or in a vacuum. We know from these prior appearances that there will be some earthly impact somewhere down the road, in other words, Earth will have its turn. In Green Lantern, we have this cosmic threat, Parallax, that’s killing Lanterns left and right, flat out announces that he’s heading for Oa to take revenge on the Guardians that imprisoned him and then…ah, fuck it, let’s take a left and have a snack on Earth? Insert the sound of a record player needle scratching here. Not a single antagonist in Guardians of the Galaxy gives one iota of one shit about Earth. Ronan the Accuser? Nope. Nebula, daughter of Thanos? Nope. The Collector? Not unless they got some cool shit. Thanos? Not right now, anyway…he’s more interested in those Infinity Stones (insert nerdish SQUEEEE here). This movie is confident enough in itself that it doesn’t need to rush back to the mother planet for hand-holding. Sadly, this is something the DC Animated Green Lantern actually got right…both the animated feature and the animated series…I mean, seriously DC/WB, you got this shit right TWICE…sigh.
The Guardians themselves vs. the Green Lantern Corps: Okay, aside from sounding like a pretty kick ass intercompany crossover, here we’ll take a look at each group. In Green Lantern, well, the Corps is full of “rich, interesting people” (yeah, if you get the quote, you belong here!). And the movie even does well to highlight the most interesting: Tomar-Re, Kilowog and, of course, Sinestro. And we get maybe 5-10 minutes with each. Tops. Ugh. We have no reason as to why Tomar-Re is sympathetic to Hal, what the fuck Kilowog means when he says at the end “Can I train ‘em or can I train ‘em?” when he didn’t really do much aside from TRAINING MONTAGE!!! Then there’s Sinestro who’s all angsty-ragey that his friend, Abin Sur, got killed that that he doesn’t like the replacement…then gets the yellow ring at the end. As Mark Strong pointed out, look, the name Sinestro is a bit of a giveaway already, isn’t it? Which, you would hope that the writers would work REALLY hard to at least get you to like the guy…THEN have him turn. You know what we call that folks? Drama.
Christ I’m talking about Green Lantern a lot in the Guardians review…sorry about that.
Ahem, anyway, Guardians does a pretty good job spending time with each of the characters in such a way that we learn their behavior and if we don’t exactly know all of their motivations, we at least get a feel that none of their actions will be counter to who they are. To pull myself away from the GL comparisons, let’s look at each one of the group.
Gamora – She’s kinda the easiest. Yes, yes, we’re given the backstory of her being adopted by Thanos but now plans to betray him…but really, it’s pretty much every character that Zoe Saldana has played, which isn’t a bad thing (we’re not counting Avatar…we don’t like to remember that piece of…ahem. Never mind…another rant for another time). And yes, for whatever reason, she’s pretty hot as a green chick…or maybe that’s just my inner Kirk talking.
Drax – Let’s keep it green for a bit, eh? In the comics, well, when I first came in contact with Drax it was the 90s…in Jim Starlin’s Infinity this, that and the other thing heyday. And that Drax was, essentially, an idiot. With the Annihilation reboot of Marvel’s Cosmic books in the 00s, we see Drax reborn living up to his title…the destroyer. Not much talk and when there is, it usually pertains to destroying something or killing Thanos. The movie embraces this newer perspective (well, first it’s about killing Ronan, then Thanos) but also delivers a bit of a twist, Drax is pretty literal. Plus, I’ll admit, part of the reason I’d wager I was so fond of Drax’s portrayal in the film was that I wasn’t expecting much from him. For better or for worse, no one on the planet has the build of a superhero more than professional wrestlers. In fact, I have to admit that I’m stymied by the fact there’s been as few of them as there have been in the recent comic book movie craze. So, learning that Dave Bautista was going to be playing the role…well, my expectations were suitably lowered. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be funny as hell! And not in the unintentional way that most wrestlers do…but honestly, genuinely funny. Bravo, Dave, bravo.
Rocket – This was the one I was waiting for. And unlike most of nerddom, I was pretty okay with the casting of Bradley Cooper as the voice. But I gotta be honest…for the first couple of minutes he was onscreen and talking…I wasn’t sure if it was gonna work. I dunno what it was…but something felt like it was missing. Thankfully, that feeling quickly went away and by the time we get to the prison break and the drunken fight with Drax in Knowhere, yeah, it was pitch perfect.
Speaking of Knowhere…THANK YOU Marvel for not shying away from any of this. We see the Celestials in this movie. We’re told that Knowhere is one of their heads. Marvel didn’t try to dumb down their cosmic stuff for a mass audience, they expected the audience to either rise up to it or just run with it and given the box office numbers to this point, it looks like they did. And now back to our character analysis.
Groot – I am Groot. I…am Groot. I am…Groot? Okay, okay. Look, say what you will, the fact that, again, Marvel stuck true to the character and left Groot’s vocabulary limited to “I am Groot” just like in the comics…well, I was worried about that and I’m glad they stuck with it. There’s only one minor deviation…and my god…if you don’t get at least a little bit misty when it happens, you’re clearly a soulless monster. It harkens back to one of Vin Diesel’s other voice acting roles and packs just as much impact. If I say anything more than that, I’ll spoil the whole damn thing. To the credit of both Vin Diesel and the animators working on Groot, just with those three words of dialog, they were still able to capture the character fantastically.
You haven’t heard me say much about the villains or the plot yet and…meh. Ronan is your typical fanatic with sadly not a lot of depth. The plot is essentially ‘keep away’. In this instance, it’s keep the Infinity Stone away from Ronan, which, of course, means that at some point, it WILL fall into his hands because, duh, drama. So, Ronan gets the stone and goes after the thorn in his side, in this instance it Xandar, home of the Nova Corps, who has just signed a peace treaty with his people, the Kree, and he’s less than thrilled about it. It’s a good framework for action set pieces and what have you, but the true gem of this movie, the reason to go see it, is how the Guardians team is assembled and how they interact. Besides, with a sequel already confirmed, we can have a plot for the second movie, right? After all, the premise of every sequel is to deliver something that wasn’t in the first movie.
Does it live up to the hype? Is this the new Star Wars? Well, yes and no. It lives up to the hype in that it’s a pretty solid film with no A list actors and no real franchise to speak of. The interaction of the characters alone makes this movie worth seeing. The fact that it’s attached to the other Marvel films, the action and what-have-you? Gravy. But as a culturally defining event like Star Wars? Nah. That’s a little hyperbolic. Still, well worth the cash…even if you only want to watch it and cry, muttering to yourself “this is how they should’ve done Green Lantern.”