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Hooked on a feeling or no? – Guardians of the Galaxy

August 1, 2014


  1. Say this for the movie: it’s well-cast. All the actors do commendable work, no one wears their role like an ill-made suit, and the titular motley crew all have entertaining and authentic interpersonal dynamics with one another. A newly-fit Chris Pratt is in the lead as Peter Quill/Star-Lord (who spends the entire movie trying to get people to call him the latter), brandishing gadgetry and a roguish charm unmistakably pilfered from Han Solo. Zoe Saldana, now apparently mandated by the Screen Actors Guild to appear in every outer space franchise going, is the green-hued Gamora, fetching assassin and adopted daughter of, well, someone. More on him in a moment. And rounding out our fleshly Guardians is Dave Ba(u)tista, erstwhile WWE Superstar, as Drax the Destroyer, a big tough guy with no aptitude for metaphor. (Batista is already a superhero in real life, having once Batista-Bombed Triple H while in a full suit.) The show-stealers though are Rocket and Groot, a cantankerous Raccoon and an ambulatory tree, voiced respectively by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. A heavy load of the movie’s jokes and pathos rest on their shoulders, and these CGI creations come through. They’re the most likely to fail, but they don’t, especially Rocket, who functions as a real fur and blood being, with a wounded little soul behind the wisecracks. There’s a brief moment early on, after our heroes are all locked up in space-prison, where we see the literal scars on his tiny back. A lot of affection flows from that quick view. These two guys never become Looney Tunes cartoons, and this is a huge victory.
  2. Our two main villains are Ronan the Accuser and His Gal Friday, Nebula (Karen Gillian). Ronan is played by Lee Pace, a criminally underused actor who I long thought would have made a fantastic Batman. (Batfleck will have to do, I guess.) Alas, he and his wondrous voice are buried under 1000 pounds of costume and makeup, and, though he and his hammer exude a credible amount of menace, he meets the fate of so many comic book villains at the end of the runtime. They don’t always have to die, you know.
  3. It’s not a big shock that Thanos is once more the man behind the curtain, as his name has been bandied about, Josh Brolin was cast as his voice, and his hovering throne appeared in one of the movie’s promotional clips. But his early reveal in one scene — he shows up once more doing his best hologram imitation of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back — is stunning. Jaded moviegoer I might be, but my heart was pounding a tad for it. He doesn’t do much but slowly turn in his throne to face Ronan and then speak menacingly, but that’s all he has to do — and that’s all he should have to do. The animators did a wonderful job melding Brolin’s face into the mix, so that it almost looks like he’s there under make-up. My God, can 2018 come fast enough for this kid who read his copies of The Infinity Gauntlet until they fell apart? Age of Ultron, Shmage of Ultron.
  4. While it’s a nice touch to have Glenn Close and John C. Reilly on board for the outer space shenanigans, Marvel could have saved some cash and hired lesser names for their roles: Nova Prime and a Nova Corps agent. And while having the Nova milieu is neat — their starry ships at one point halt the progress of an alien craft with their version of a Tholian Web — every time someone says “Nova” you keep looking for poor old Richard Rider. And Benicio Del Toro? The Collector had more screen time in the Thor: The Dark World credits.
  5. I’m fairly certain this is the first Marvel film to have semen-centric humor. It involves black lights and Jackson Pollock. Neither condemning nor endorsing, simply noting.
  6. The final action is a variant on what we’ve seen a thousand times before: villain tries to destroy planet with device everyone’s been pursuing up to that point, and ragtag group of ne’er-do-wells do their damnedest to stop him. In this case it’s Ronan pursuing insane Kree vengeance on Xandar with one of the Infinity Gems (the nature of which finally get a bit of an explanation). His whole point is that he’ll drive his gem-fueled hammer into the ground and thereby wipe out all life on that world. And he’s stopped by — Star-Lord singing and dancing. Really. This is a moment that either confirms the movie’s measure of genius or sends it screaming down the drain. While it’s unfair to expect all the jokes in the movie to land — and many, many do — this felt forced and stupid and let the air out of a plot that was already under a degree of indictment for its predictability. I wasn’t offended, but I was nonplussed. YMMV.
  7. Hey, if you’re ever in a giant hulking spaceship that’s about to crash into a planet’s surface, just wrap yourself in some underbrush — assuming any is handy. This will apparently magically save you from both the force of the impact and being hurled violently (one imagines) out of the hull. Maybe we can start installing branches and leaves in cars. Hell, planes.
  8. The great success of the film is decorating and peopling the broader Marvel Universe. Gunn and co. have done a splendid job crafting both the light and dark sides, whether the gleaming streets of Xandar or a mining colony in a Celestial’s head. Ravagers, Kree, Elders of the Universe, Nova Corps — there’s a lot crammed in, and it’s all believable. After a mawkish opening on 1988 Earth, it’s relentless — in a good way.
  9. The post-credits scene? You’re either going to love it or you’re going to hate it. Trapped in a movie he never made?

Guardians is good in a lot of ways, and its humor works more than it doesn’t — and a lot of what didn’t work for me might have been due to the clown behind me laughing far too much at everything, like that lady on Seinfeld. Most importantly, it’s an excellent jumping off point for the broader universe, and the Adam Warlocks and Mar-Vells of the world feel like they could show up at any time. Like Thor, Guardians succeeds where it so easily could have failed. It’s held back from greatness, but it’s eminently enjoyable. The kid in me who used to read the hopeless updates in Wizard for comic book movies that were never made can’t help but shake his head and smile that he just saw a major summer film in which Thanos the Mad Titan threatened Ronan the Accuser. Excelsior indeed.

Three and a half pruney purple chins out of five.

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