Guardians of the Galaxy (dir. James Gunn)

Posted: August 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

“Guardians of the Galaxy” may lack originality, feeling like a weird hybrid of Joss Whedon’s “Serenity” mixed with “The Chronicles of Riddick” and a dash of “Star Wars”, but it compensates with interesting characters and not a little bit of charm.  While irreverent and fun, it does feel like the irreverence is held back for the purposes of mainstream audiences (the film is both expensive and meant to fit in with the long range plans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe).  The director and co-writer of this film is James Gunn, a man who probably never thought, after writing and kinda-sorta directing Troma’s ultra-low-budget “Tromeo and Juliet” (a modern day “Romeo & Juliet” adaptation with lesbians, kinky sex, and dismemberments) that Disney (the owner of Marvel) would give him $120 million dollars to kick off a space opera franchise.  Sadly, there’s not much of Gunn in this film.  Oh sure, his brother and Michael Rooker and some of his other repertory cast make appearances (including a cameo from Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman) , but the Gunn who made “Slither”, “The Specials” (a far more unorthodox superhero film), “PG Porn”, “Humanzee”, and “Super” has watered himself down to a more Joss Whedon-esque level of mainstream acceptability.  Yeah, okay, Gunn also wrote the two crappy live action “Scooby Doo” movies, but this guy also once wanted to make a “Passion of the Christ” porn parody and has admitted to having sex with porn stars.  This is the Gunn who wrote the bizarrely moving novel “The Toy Collector”.  I wish there were more of him in the film.

Don’t get me wrong, the film is a solidly enjoyable piece of space opera.  The plot involves a kid who was kidnapped from Earth at the age of 8 after his mother dies, who grows up to be a Malcolm Reynolds/Han Solo-type outlaw.  This archetype is almost mandatory in these films lately, and Chris Pratt does a decent job with it.  Named Peter Quill, or “Starlord” as he likes to be called, he gets caught up with forces beyond his control while attempting to procure an orb of vaguely unspeakable power.  Like the cube in “The Avengers”, this orb is a maguffin.  While I’m getting a bit tired of seeing people risk life in limb over magical geometric shapes in big budget action films (the AllSpark in “Transformers” also comes to mind) I guess it works all right in this film since it seems to be a metaphor of sorts for nuclear weaponry…or something like that.  Whatever. 

Our villain is a guy named Ronan, who is a fairly boring villain which the film briefly tells us is some sort of religious zealot who is unhappy that his people, the Kree, and another group, the Nova Corps, have a truce of sorts wherein, despite their hatred for one another, they have a ceasefire.  It’s hard to watch the film right now and not think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the film was obviously written and produced before the most recent conflict between those two peoples, and in any event any attempt to attach these two peoples as a metaphor for either Israel or Palestine is futile as there’s not enough details to match up.  If anything else, the Nova Corps, made up of seemingly multiple different races, is more like the United States, with Ronan perhaps being a Bin Laden figure.  Honestly, though, the film isn’t really interested in religion, politics, or metaphors.  This set up is just an excuse for the characters to chase something, escape something, procure something, or kill someone.

So Ronan has made a deal with Thanos, a very powerful evil entity in the universe.  If Ronan gets the orb and delivers it to Thanos, then Thanos will destroy the Nova Corps homeworld for Ronan.  Quill doesn’t know any of this from the start, just wanting to fence the orb for cash, but taking the orb gets him tangled up with Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who must really like being in sci-fi movies), a henchwoman of Ronan’s who is looking to betray her boss.  Meanwhile, an anthropomorphic cybernetic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his giant tree friend Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) want to capture Quill for the bounty on his head.  Through a series of circumstances involving a prison break, which also throws a revenge-minded hulk named Drax (Dave Batista) into the mix, these five disparate characters become the Guardians of the Galaxy and join forces to defeat Ronan and save the universe.

Look, the plot is space opera nonsense.  The action sequences, while not boring (thankfully; I find myself bored by many CGI action sequences in films lately) don’t thrill you.  They are visually appealing and the film is enjoyable to look at, even if not particularly original or memorable in its production and art design.  The film’s success hinges on the characters and, while you don’t CARE for them, exactly, they are quite fun to spend two hours with. Rocket Raccoon is delightful.  You may walk into the film not thinking a CGI raccoon that fires guns and is kind of a jackass is a good thing for a film to thrust upon you, but he is a hoot.  Groot, who only ever says the phrase “I am Groot”, is a welcome original and bizarre character who provides a decent amount of comic relief and is visually interesting throughout.  Drax gets a lot of laughs out of the fact that he speaks very eloquently, but is hyper-literal and doesn’t understand metaphors or figures of speech.  Quill and Gamora are a bit more pedestrian but, hey, the film has a giant tree and a raccoon, let’s not get greedy.

The film sometimes feels stilted, overly formal, and pedestrian in its dialogue, with characters making very serious and very grave pronouncements in a very Tolkien-like way.  Other times, the film engages in pop culture references and pumps up a 60s and 70s heavy soundtrack of perfectly mainstream music that everyone will recognize.  The film wants to be “Star Wars” mixed with “Firefly”, and while it doesn’t quite get there, I was happy to be taken along for the ride.  The film is fun, enjoyable, and will produce many a smile on your face.  Marvel took a gamble on making a non-superhero film based on a comic book property not many people have heard of (I’ve never read a Guardians of the Galaxy comic, so I can’t speak to how faithful the film is), and I’m glad that they did.  “Iron Man 2” and “Iron Man 3” pretty much sucked.  I didn’t give enough of a shit to see either “Thor” film, and the first “Captain America” film was boredom personified and a big disappointment, considering it could have captured the retro magic of “The Rocketeer” .  I liked the first “Iron Man” and “The Avengers” well enough, but so far I have not been too impressed with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  “Guardians” at least makes me anxious for a sequel, and hopeful that these guys will meet up with “The Avengers” in the future.

You’ll know when you read this review if this film is for you.  If it is, you’ll like it, probably not love it, but like it enough to want more.  I think that’s enough to recommend it. B.

P.S.: Stay tuned after the credits for a cameo by a character I never thought I’d see on screen in a film again.  I was VERY happy they saw fit to include him.

 

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