Friday, August 1, 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - Get Hooked on a Feeling

Just go see it.
. . .
No really, go. Now.
. . .

Comparisons to Star Wars have run rampant in the lead-up to the most recent entry in Marvel's seemingly unstoppable run of comic book films, and on the surface that would seem appropriate (because SPACE), but Guardians of the Galaxy is actually playing an even crazier and more refreshing game. For, while the film features crazy sci-fi creatures, starships, and cosmic settings, it's actually got more in common with the unwieldy (and possibly cocaine-fueled) genre films that got made in the wake of Star Wars' success. There's actually more DNA from films like The Ice Pirates, Buckaroo Banzai, and even Big Trouble in Little China to be found here than anything from George Lucas.

(Well, almost anything.)

To be frank, Guardians of the Galaxy is just about a perfect love letter to not just genre predecessors, but the very experience of growing up as a geek in the 80's, right down to its narrative structure. The audience POV character to this nuttiness, Peter Qwill, is abducted from earth as a child after a wrenching personal loss, only these alien Ravagers are an army of pirates that help shape Qwill into an interstellar thief. As an adult, Qwill double-crosses the Ravagers when offered the score of a life-time - a mysterious orb that everyone - from petty crooks to warlords to planetary governments - seems to want. This sets off a chain of events that lead to a price on his head and the resulting twists of fate land him in prison with bounty hunters Rocket and Groot, assassin Gamora, and Drax the Destroyer. The final party searching the orb is Ronan the Accuser, a Kree zealot who wants the orb's power to destroy. . . well, pretty much everyone, really, and winds up giving every one of these initially unfriendly characters a reason to kick his ass.

The five misfits are initially bound together by happenstance, then mutual gain, then finally by a genuine bond forged between those damaged by loss, "losers" who all manage to find a missing piece of themselves in this ragtag company. This is the crucial cog that makes this machine run like gangbusters - the characters work well enough on their own to truly click as a group once they band together, and not only is the chemistry between the actors genuine (impressive enough given two of the five are digital creations), but the cross-double-cross-prison-break-triple-cross-unlikely-alliance whirlwind story gives them enough meaningful action to make the (surprisingly numerous) emotional moments land and jokes land even harder.

Of course, the other part of what helps the jokes land is the actors. Everyone here is good, and the Guardians themselves are all great, but possibly the revelation of the film is Dave Bautista as Drax, an emotionally-wounded literalist who's inability to grasp idiom and metaphor are a great example of even (especially?) the most self-serious characters being perfect fodder for a laugh.

The only real sticking point of the movie is that since the characters and the world all have to get introduced at about the same time, there are occasionally awkward moments where someone tells someone else their back-story in a way that's obviously meant more for the audience than any of the characters. On the other hand, these moments are relatively few given the amount of information the film has to parse out - almost nothing here relates back to any of the other Marvel films, and the number of factions, creatures, and locations make the scope of this film's predecessors seem like small potatoes in comparison. Guardians hits the starting gate like a canon and simply expects the audience to keep up, propelled by the laughs and effects (and functional narrative framework), and never slows up for the lean-but-packed-with-story 2-hour running time.

The other minor complaint that could be leveled at this film is that there's just so much to take in - the film manages to convey a familiar narrative with enough new elements to make it feel fresh and invigorating (with some sights that I can genuinely say I've never seen the like of on film before, and boy has it been a while since I could claim that), but it's so packed with visual gags, quotable lines, and perfectly-timed punchlines that a single viewing is inadequate to fully appreciate the film. Co-writer/Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) has a great eye for action and a perfect ear for irreverent humor, but his real talent showcased in his leap from cult-films to blockbuster film-making seems to lie in paying off obvious set-ups in brilliantly unexpected ways.

Which is more or less a perfect encapsulation of the film itself. The outlandish-but-gritty-and-lived-in visual aesthetic promised genre-savvy fans "Something like Star Wars" while the trailers sold "Something like Galaxy Quest" but the truth is somewhere in the middle. Guardians of the Galaxy a film that wears familiarity with sci-fi tropes on its sleeve but is wholly uninterested in skewering them, an homage but not a parody even when it would be all too easy to be the latter. And this allows the film to come at the viewer sideways, wowing with familiar summer splendor but packing enough weird to really burrow into the heart of an unexpecting audience.

So be warned. Watching the film you might feel more than a little affinity for Qwill, uprooted from your mundane world and thrown into insanity that, while it's filled with unexpected loss and bizarre revelations, ends up providing something you may not have even known you were missing.

1 comment:

  1. Good review! Just saw it yesterday morning! Still taking it all in.