Friday, August 1, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Since the teaser trailer above came out, this has been the film I most anticipated this year. Without knowing a single thing about the characters, plot, or Marvel Universe that it is based in, I was sold. The teaser conveys a humorous attitude, outrageous characters and spectacular action on a huge scale. I am pleased to report that it delivers on every aspect of that promise. This was the most completely satisfying experience I've had in a movie this year. Any complaints that I have are minor quibbles about the complexity of the story and motivations of some of the characters but none of that matters because I was smiling throughout the film and enjoying every minute of what I was seeing.

Ronan, a xenophobic Kree, set on perpetuating a genocidal war against Xander, is also a vassal of Thanos who desires the Infinity Stone embedded in the orb that Peter Quill, known to himself as Star Lord, has obtained supposedly for the Ravanger commander Yondu. That sentence contains the essentials for the plot motivations of the antagonists of the story. Does it sound convoluted enough and is it filled with enough Alien names to tickle your tongue and boggle your mind at the same time? We are just getting started. Ronan is assisted by the adopted daughters of Thanos, Gamora and Nebula.Quill is pursued by another of Ronans enforcers, Korath  and two bounty hunters seeking the reward put out by Yondu for Quill betraying him. This all happens in the first thirty minutes of the movie so it can be a little overwhelming. The names keep coming as well, there is the planet of the Xanders, their capital city, and their leader. All of which trip off the tongue with equal ease. For the most part, the heroes names are simpler; Drax, Rocket, Groot, Quill and eventually Gamora also. With all that going on you would think you need a score card to keep track of what is happening. The storytelling however is constructed in a fashion that is far more straightforward than the list of characters. The on screen imagery usually tells us quite obviously who to root for and who to fear. So even though it sounds like a Russian novel with an endless list of exotic names, you will be able to follow most of the plot twists very clearly.

Fortunately for us, the plot is the least important part of the film making. This is a movie about character and the five central heroes are all great characters. Peter Quill (referred to as Jason in the teaser trailer?), is the perfect anti-hero for a story like this. We know enough of his backstory to feel some kinship with him and we can pick out his persona within twenty seconds of encountering the adult version of him that we first meet on the abandoned planet.  Basically Quill/Starlord is a cross between Han Solo and Bugs Bunny. He is a thief, scoundrel and smart ass rolled into one. He also has an inflated opinion of himself that is sometimes matched by his ambitions. Chris Pratt is cast in this role for the voice and attitude he can convey. The writer/director also provides him with small pieces of business that suit the tone of the character and the actors ability. In his first scene, he is dancing to his own soundtrack and disrespects the local wildlife in the most amusing ways possible. The voice is not quite the Milquetoast that Emmet from "The Lego Movie " is,  but he never sounds like a badass even though he fights like one. As the story unfold we will learn a bit more about this Terran that most of the rest of the characters underestimate.

Zoe Saldana is officially the biggest female star in the Science Fiction Universe. I have no idea how she is going to keep up with the demands that will be made on her in the next ten years. She has three "Avatar" sequels to film, another "Star Trek" and now this franchise. The fact that she changes skin color for every one of these roles is a side note but it may also explain one way that she can seem to be so distinct in each movie. As Gamora, the assassin and disloyal adopted daughter of Thanos, she is a lot more physical than in either of the other parts. Her motion capture work in Avatar was amazing in the sense of body language but the fighting and action scenes will not compare to what she is asked to do here.

There are three other characters that make up the Guardian team. Drax is a behemoth bent on killing Ronan and then Thanos for the murder of his family. Dave Bautista is a wrestler turned actor. He has the physical dimensions you want for a powerhouse ally in a galactic prison. There is something very charismatic in the way he carries himself and the smile that he gives up infrequently. As a bad guy in "The Man with the Iron Fists" he was stoic and monosyllabic. He repeats those characteristics in this role but adds a touch of warmth and shows some potential as more than just a comic book big guy. The other two characters are computer generated and despite that, they have some of the most human behavior and emotions in the film. Rocket is a genetically and mechanically altered organism that basically is a talking Raccoon.  He is a sly creature with a sick sense of humor and a clever ability to plan and engineer on the fly. Bradley Cooper helps bring some intensity and humor to the character through his voice. Groot speaks only four different words in the whole movie. His lines consist of the same sentence but it is delivered with enough variation that we can tell there is more meaning there. Vin Diesel does the voice work.

There are a dozen other characters that are distinctive enough that after seeing the film you will remember them, despite the name problems. The story is populated with a variety of interesting alien beings. The broker who is supposed to be in charge of the sale of the orb is a combination of a Star Trek character from "The Search for Spock" and Mr. Ollivander in the Harry Potter series. Quill's surrogate father, the Ravager Yondu is Michael Rooker, an actor who has always been a welcome presence in films. In the opening segment Greg Henry gives a memorable few moments as Peter's distraught maternal Grandfather. Up and down the line there are performers doing a good job in a film where most of them are acting against green screens and other characters so heavily made up that it looks like Halloween.

The visualization of the technology and ships and worlds that the characters interact in and with is marvelous. No one stops down to do exposition on most of these things, we just see them work. The story moves fast enough that we get as much background as we need but not more than is necessary. The music is fine but what is going to stand out is the song score that is laden with seventies and sixties pop rock. The way the music is integrated into the story is amusing and it creates some heart for the main character. The choices are sometimes whimsical but that whimsy provokes a laugh at just the right time and reminds us of the spirit that the movie is trying to sustain. The world in this universe is another bunch of planets and that may make the mayhem of destruction more tolerable since it is clearly fantasyland we are playing in here.

This is a comic book movie that I had no knowledge of before the film came out. It feels so much more like the fun type of fantasy story told in the Star Wars films than the angst heavy comic stories we have had in the last few years. This feels like a summer movie. It is on a scale as big as "The Avengers" but it does not have all the baggage that each of those characters bring to their collaboration. I know that all of the Marvel Universe is being tied together here and there, but I hope that I will never see Tony Stark and Peter Quill trading barbs with one another. The sensibilities of those franchises is so different that it is a joy to visit a completely unique spot in the comic universe. I look forward to future adventures with the "Guardians of the Galaxy", let's hope that the light tone and ingenious creativity can sustain these stories without having to venture into other territories.


le0pard13 said...

Seeing this after work today!

Richard Kirkham said...

Come back and let me know what you think.

le0pard13 said...

We all loved this! Man, what a fun time! And I think I've most of the soundtrack on Ye Old iPod already ;-)

Chip Lary said...

I loved pretty much everything about this movie. It was enjoyable from beginning to end.

Richard Kirkham said...

So glad to hear you guys enjoyed it, I was so happy it was great and the most fun imaginable. Heading back next week. If I go through all my CDs (yes, cds) I'm sure I have all these songs as well.

Zach Murphy said...

Great review. One of my favorite films of the year so far. And I think this one stands out from other Marvel films because it's the funniest and most heartfelt.

Richard Kirkham said...

Thanks for coming by Zack. It sure feels different from the other Marvel films.