Hey everyone, remember how we snickered when Marvel announced a movie staring a tree and a raccoon? Maybe you had faith, maybe you dismissed it. It was certainly hard to deny Marvel’s success to that point. After all, this is a studio that turned their “B List” characters in Iron Man and Captain America into their new “‘A List”. Now that we’ve had a chance to see “Guardians of the Galaxy”, its clear that Marvel knows what they are doing. Marvel Studios is continuing to take chances, placing their bets on unknown content (in this case, even unknown to much of their comic book fan base). Fortunately for all of us, those bets are paying off.
Warning: The following is a spoiler-filled post on Guardians of the Galaxy, if you haven’t seen it, most of this will go over your head.
An “Awesome Mix” of What We Love
This movie feels like an instant classic. I hate to open with hyperbole like that, but the movie is just that great. It just hits a fantastic tone and does not let up. From the moment the title comes up as we watch Chris Pratt dance around, I knew I was hooked. The movie started with heart, quickly jumped into comedy, and sprinkled in plenty of sci-fi to keep things interesting.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” channels some of the the great moments of classic movies, like “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones”. James Gunn clearly understood how to best use what worked in those movies, and borrowed as he saw fit. Sometimes he borrowed subtly; other times he openly admitted that our heroes were chasing a mcguffin, like the Ark of the Covenant or the Maltese Falcon. We can see how our characters sometimes provide comedic breaks like our favorite droids. Rocket and Groot also make a great Han and Chewie. Then again, Star-Lord isn’t such a bad Han Solo either. Heck, even the final movie posters reminiscent of Star Wars.
I’ve seen some really strong compliments of this movie, comparing it to a number of classic movies from the late 70’s and 80’s; but my favorite is from Jeff Cannata, stating that this is "The best ‘Star Wars’ movie since ‘Return of the Jedi’”
In fact, did you notice that James Gunn lifts a couple shots straight from “Empire Strikes Back”? Recall the scene in which Ronin call Thanos via a projection that looks very similar to the exchange between the Emperor and Darth Vader. Later, after the prison-break, we also see the shot of Star-Lord coming up from the bottom of his ship, that reminded me of Leia rescuing a hanging Luke and bringing him aboard the Millennium Falcon. This movie captures the look and feel of that era, updating it in today’s style.
I’ve recently seen tweets and comments lamenting that we are missing something in our summer movies. As we circle the 30th anniversaries of “Raiders”, “Empire”, Ghostbusters”, “Back to the Future”, and other summer classics, nostalgic memories remind us of the wonder, laughter, and joy the movies brought to us. I won’t even pretend that we don’t see quality movies any more, or that we no longer go to the movies for a fun afternoon. However, one only needs to look at the “Transformers” series to recognize that the landscape has changed. Marvel Studios has been churning out great work, but “Guardians of the Galaxy” succeeds in harnessing what a generation loved about the movies (and many still do). The movie had great action, yet was lighthearted. It was well cast, and captured an iconic look. It brought back the soundtrack. It was funny in a way that will cause audible laughter upon the fourth viewing. Lets not also forget that we’ll be quoting and referencing this movie for some time (try not to smile the next time you have 12% of a plan, or stop listening to a conversation). I’m struggling to think of what more we could ask in a summer picture. Perhaps I could ask for John Williams, but I think Tyler Bates did a fine job with the score.
This film features an ensemble cast in an extraordinary, unfamiliar world. Their achievement is ensuring that each character is fascinating and fun. Their achievement is so great, I’m drawn to comment on Drax first. That is not what I would have expected. I cannot believe how funny Drax is. Bautista is surprisingly excellent in this role. I could have easily dismissed his presence as someone who looked the part, but he delivers his lines perfectly. Speaking of funner, if you had any doubts that Chris Pratt was a star before, you definitely know now. Pratt seems to be well balanced as an action star. It seems like this movie has catapulted his career forward, and we’ll be seeing plenty more of him.
Rocket and Groot surprised me. I expected the characters to be played for laughs. After all, its hard to take a raccoon and tree seriously, isn't it? Not anymore. My hat is off to the creators for creating such lifelike characters that owned just as much of the screen as their counterparts. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper lend their voices masterfully. The animators sold the illusion, and the writers ensured that these characters were given real moments that highlighted what drove them.
Zoe Saldana has said in interviews that she enjoyed doing sci-fi action movies. Clearly, she recognizes a strength; as she goes a great job in this role. Kudos to the writers and director James Gunn for avoiding positioning her primarily as a love interest. That seems so far from the focus of this movie and feels natural. Gamora may be the least explored character in the crew, as her backstory and turn from Thanos are rushed, but I’m hoping that her story will be further explored in the sequels.
This movie is fantastic and far beyond realism, yet it feels authentic. I credit that to the strong writing, directing, and acting. Who would of thought that there was an emotional core behind Goot, Drax, or Rocket? The writers and director accomplished more in a barroom brawl than many movies do in the first 20 minutes.
Each of these characters could likely hold their own spin-off one day, if needed. In time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw that.
The Rest of the Movie
The action is exciting and fun. I would have been ok if it would have slowed down at some points, but that's not the movie this is. This movie embraces its own craziness. It commits to the world of color and insanity and has fun with it. It turns out to be a good kind of crazy. In the biggest scenes, we can still keep tabs on the action and care about the characters. You can just sit back and enjoy the spectacle, even as you get a sense that there will be more to see when you watch it again. There were some fun creativity in the idea of using mining ships in nowhere to crash into the enemy ships. I felt like something that you would come up with when playing games as an eight-year-old. With a clever line, our heroes dive into the fray in an explosion of color.
And what colorful explosions they were. The blasts of purple, the yellow jumpsuits, and characters of every color under the rainbow make full use of an IMAX projector. “Guardians of the Galaxy” doesn’t seemed to be concerned about being dark, or leaving audiences behind. The creators had enough faith that audiences would keep up.
How Far We Come, And Where We Go From Here
For those who said that DC cannot catch up with Marvel because they're trying to do trying to move the Justice league too quickly, Marvel Studios just showed us how it's done. Instead of solo movies, we are shown pieces of these characters over time. We still don't know a good deal about these characters, but that doesn't matter. We’ll have more movies to watch them. It took so little time for us to grow to love them.
Clearly, Marvel Studios understands but they have a long leash now. Iron Man felt “out there” when it was released a few months before “The Dark Knight”. At that point, we wanted a grounded story. We wanted realism. We wanted it to to feel feasible that Iron Man could exist. We are so far beyond that now that it doesn't bother us to see Howard the Duck sitting in the background over The Collector’s shadow.
By the way, I found it surprising that Gunn went back to Howard in the post-credit stinger. I thought the charter worked well as an easter egg, and didn’t think we needed such a direct shot of him. It doesn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoyed watching everyone react. I just expected a tease of the larger universe. I guess Marvel didn’t want to tease anything else for the Avengers, and the Guardians may still be a bit distant for them (but not for long).
That that's the thought that boggles my mind. The big summer movies with the Avengers will one day tie into the same universe as these five weirdos. It’s fantastic.
Perhaps this is why Marvel Studios is so successful. They're letting these movies stand on their own, while shepherding them along to fit their growing cinematic universe and brand. According to rumors, Marvel Studios can feel like a mothership; wanting to collaborate to the point where it rubs some directors the wrong way. Rumor has it that John Favreau wasn't so crazy about having to do so much world-building in Iron Man 2, and that Edgar Wright didn’t care for the level of collaboration expected of him in “Ant-Man”. I don't know what really happened, and even if that is true, I can respect those directors for feeling that way. That said, I think we are getting a better overall product for the level of care Marvel Studios is putting in to their cinematic universe. Marvel Studios seems to be striking a balance in giving up-and-coming directors enough room to take chances with their characters, yet stregthinging the larger world by ensuring a common story and feel.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is the story of friendship between five losers that were alone in the galaxy. We get to watch friendships formed, as our heroes find other outcasts like themselves. Thats the world we live in today. We may not have green skin and fight like a warrior, be we can all be complete superstars and bad-asses in our own specialties. The world is bigger than ever. We have so many possibilities of what we can do, and who we can be connected with. Unfortunately, when the world feels that big, its also easy to feel disconnected. For all of the great things that come with our connected world, sometimes we feel so alone. Sometimes, we just want to find the one little corner where we belong. We’re looking for our band of outcasts and losers; people looking to get together to do something bad, something good, or something in the middle.
Its hard to write about “Guardians of the Galaxy” without turning into a fanboy. I know that its flaws will surface over the years; and it may be surpassed by its sequel. Howver, at this moment I’m genuinely excited to see it again, and I'm just as excited to see what comes next. I’ve recommended "Guardians of the Galaxy" to just about everyone that will listen (although the box office receipts tell me that I don’t have to). I want to say that this is a movie for people like movies, or the “Star Wars” for a new generation, or movie for the true Marvel Zombies. “Guardians of the Galaxy” may be all of those things, but most importantly, its a movie for everybody, and a damn good one.