Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

*For those interested, I did a big run-down of all of the Avengers movies to date. Here's the post.

Director: James Gunn

Spoiler-Free Reaction

If you haven't seen the movie yet and are asking yourself, "Would I enjoy it?", here's a simple test: Have you seen any of the previews that show the talking raccoon and the sentient tree creature? If you have and you did not roll your eyes at the ridiculousness of it, then you need to go see the movie.

This movie is plenty of fun, though it fell just a hair short of my expectations. Now I must admit that my expectations were extremely high, given the strength of several of Marvel's Cinematic Universe movies of late, so this is not to say that Guardians has any major issues. Minor ones, certainly, but they really don't detract from making it a great return to the unfiltered fun of sci-fi adventure films of a few decades ago.

There's nothing exactly novel about the basic story: immensely powerful and destructive object is coveted by megalomanical bad guy - in this case, a genocidal zealot named Ronan - and a band of reluctant rogues must join forces to stop him. This movie, though, turns a lot of the details on their ears, making the rogues a bit odder than your typical big budget action flick. In fact, it's probably the most bizarre grouping of heroes to be featured in such a well-funded movie. And it works, for the most part.

Don't laugh too hard - this fuzzy little guy carries large
sections of the movie. Who thought that a successful update
to the Han Solo character could be so bizarre?

While the plot itself tries to be a touch too intricate, the story does what it needs to - gives the five main characters a reason to fight through various obstacles and enemies, bond with one another, and fire off plenty of great banter. No, not every joke is a home run, but there are certainly enough to carry the film.

The basic characters are intriguing and full of potential. Some of that potential is met, most notably with Rocket and Groot, but it falls short with others. This was probably my single biggest disappointment in the  movie. I feel that more could have been done to define, solidify, and showcase all five of the 'Guardians' abilities and personalities.

The cast is, my eyes, nearly perfect. Nearly. Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista nail their parts as Star Lord and Drax, respectively. The voice acting by Bradley Cooper is an absolute highlight, and yes, I suppose I can say that Vin Diesel does fine with the many intonations of the phrase "I am Groot." However, I have to say that I found Zoe Saldana far too relaxed in her portrayal of Gamora. This characters is supposed to be a jaded, stone-cold assassin, but this doesn't always come through. Some of this is the dialogue, which wasn't always consistent in tone, but I felt that Saldana might have played it a bit icier.

The visuals are what you would expect, especially if you've seen Thor: The Dark World. There are plenty of vibrant landscapes and epic, fast-paced space battles. The CGI is top-notch, but there's a bit too much of it for my taste. Call me old school, but I still yearn for the lower-tech days that called for more use of models for the spacecraft fights. Segments of the movie blur into a massive multiplayer online video game, best fit for excitable pre-teens.

I know this all may seem like a lot of criticism, but really, all of it is fairly minor. Thanks to some humorous dialogue, the casts' ability to sell it, and a relentless attitude of irreverence towards overly serious sci-fi action movies, it's hard to imagine many people simply not liking Guardians of the Galaxy.

Spoiler-Laden, Detailed Thoughts (mostly little gripes, really):

The opening of the movie is a tad sappy, though it doesn't dwell too long on the source of Quill's emotional baggage. Think of it as a blessedly shorter version of the tear-jerking opening of Pixar's Up.

I was also a bit disappointed by the fact that the majority of the aliens were basically painted humans, with perhaps a prosthetic set of ears or headgear. I expect that from Star Trek TV shows, which had budget constraints and had to pump out 24 episodes every season. I don't expect it from a one-shot movie that has Marvel's exploding nine-digit budget to play with. I mean, if Lucas could do it in 1977 in Star Wars, and del Toro could do it in 2004 with Hellboy, couldn't we have gussied up a few more six-armed or three-headed weirdos? If not, at least give me a brief, plausible explanation as to why the Xandarians all look exactly like humans.

Drax and Gamora - they're cool characters, but ones who
I feel were never given their true moments to entertain
through administering more serious beat-downs.
Am I the only one who was a tiny bit underwhelmed by Gamora and Drax? The former is billed as a galaxy-class assassin, while the latter is spoken of as a terrifying juggernaut of rage. This had me hoping for a true demonstration of their supernatural abilities in the forms of hordes of enemies falling under the blades and fists of these supposed death machines. Yet this never quite happens. Sure, they each knock out their share of opponents, but we never get the grander scale arse-whooping by the protagonists that we get in nearly every Avengers film. Think Iron Man vs. terrorists in the first film. Thor against the frost giants. Captain America montage versus Nazis and Hydra. Hulk versus the entire Centaurian army. That kind of arse-whooping. Quill gets some of this, and even Groot and Rocket have their moments of badassitude. So why not the two members who are presented as possibly the most fearsome of the crew? It was disappointing.

There also seemed to be a slightly lax attitude towards certain details in the story. None of them destroys the plot, but they certainly could have used a little more thought. One such is how Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot are initially captured on Xandar. The latter three are all hauled in by the Xandarian police force for starting a shoot-out in an attempt to capture Quill for the reward on his head. However, we later learn just how intelligent and resourceful Rocket truly is, and how much Gamora is supposed to be. Yet this cunning assassin and bounty hunter never once realized that starting a shootout in a public square would result in their apprehension? It's a bit sloppy, both on the characters' parts and the writer's part. This is one of several minor oversights that, while not ruining anything, prevents the tale from being as tight as it could be.

To be clear, I did really enjoy the movie. In fact, I'll likely go see it in the theaters again, and this is the true test of whether a popcorn movie has done its job. This movie does its job.