Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: Defending Awesome Intergalactic Sagas

Marvel is no stranger to Hollywood blockbusters as of late and it goes all the way back to Iron Man in 2007. Since then, they’ve created a massive continuity on screen that boasts some of their top characters, including the aforementioned Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow. They’ve got other movies in the pipeline featuring Ant-Man and Dr. Strange. And they’ve got a hand in the movies they don’t “own” when it comes to film, like Spider-man, the X-Franchise and Fantastic Four. Every movie released is a goldmine, presenting familiar characters to audiences turning up in droves. The common denominator across those films is presenting pretty familiar characters interacting with other familiar characters, usually buoyed by the performance of well-known actors. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t meet any of the above criteria, but it was a ridiculously enjoyable movie nonetheless.
It’s not as if Marvel wanted the movie to be a relative unknown to audiences. The fact is financing Guardians of the Galaxy represented a massive risk for Marvel (and to a larger extent Disney). The thing is that the film worked on so many levels you have to wonder now why Marvel won’t make more movies that feature relative unknowns from within the Marvel universe going forward. These characters are fairly obscure when compared to the Avengers for instance, but director James Gunn gave them an incredible amount of life. Their interactions were so enjoyable that they genuinely felt like a dysfunctional family, forced together by a common goal that only reveals itself after a stolen property fencing gone wrong. They weren’t forced together by an initiative and you could argue their cohesion as a team felt more evident that way.

Part of that appeal lies in the casting. Chris Pratt played the part of Peter Quill/Starlord brilliantly, offering up a level of roguishness and humor that clearly evoked Harrison Ford as Han Solo (or Indiana Jones honestly). Zoe Saldana offered a calculating assassin in Gamora, who even though she’s capable of killing everyone she crosses paths with, she also feels compassion on some levels. Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer offered a very deadpan delivery that was alarmingly entertaining, grounding the film’s humor in the relative simplicity of the team’s make-up. And last but certainly not least are Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as Rocket Raccoon and Groot respectively. The former had a ton of lines that were both crass and poignant in some ways, while the latter had only one line (repeated multiple times) that offered an equal level of humor and sophistication, but in a different fashion.

These characters come from the rather obscure cosmic corner of the Marvel universe; a fact that the film doesn’t shy away from. Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s script opens with a ton of expository at the beginning that clearly establishes the universe for the viewer. And Perlman should get a ton of credit for this, offering dialogue that’s exceedingly witty and very disarming. Perlman is the first woman to write a script for Marvel and hopefully the rumors are true about her being tapped to write a Black Widow film. The rapid-fire dialogue excellently presents the characters and the plot to the reader that’s very easy to follow and invites the viewer into the cosmic universe. There have been minor grumbles that the film has too many plots via the number of “villains,” but they all interact in a way that makes sense and doesn’t feel too overwhelming.

Guardians of the Galaxy as a film could stand on its own merits, even if the Marvel logo wasn’t attached to it. Beyond just being a phenomenal movie, it proved a few major points that Marvel would do well to pursue. The first is that Marvel can make a Rated R movie. Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13, but the language was pretty salty at times in a way that fit with the characters. A more adult film has been something of a bugaboo for Marvel, as there’s the idea that such a movie would tarnish the somewhat family friendly reputation Marvel movies are cultivating. Disney doesn’t really do Rated R, but there are certain characters in the Marvel universe viewers have been clamoring for, such as Punisher and Deadpool. And the reaction to the leaked Deadpool test footage has largely been positive and is something fans would clearly flock to theaters to see.

The second is that the rest of Marvel’s universe is essentially blown open. The cosmic storylines of Marvel have always been pretty out there (figuratively and literally) and the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy opened to such a tremendous amount is pretty encouraging. Marvel took a pretty big risk releasing a movie that features so many relative unknowns. Most of the film’s success is owed to the movie itself, but Disney also did a phenomenal job marketing the movie and giving viewers something to look forward to. Guardians of the Galaxy inverted the traditional transmedia process in a way; instead of seeing the movie after reading the comics, the movie will likely encourage more people to check out the comics after seeing the movie. There’s been a dearth of originality in Hollywood and while Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t completely new, it feels very refreshing and exciting.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a very charming movie that doles out both humor and action in ways that blend together seamlessly. Gunn does a phenomenal job at the helm, directing a film that is rife with heart and emotion that shine through even the crassest jokes. And while the entire cast is exceedingly perfect for their roles (Cooper pretty much steals the show), Pratt is the definition of a new leading man in Hollywood. He’s always been in roles that emphasize different personality traits (he’ll always have a place in hearts as Andy Dwyer/Johnny Karate/Burt Macklin), but his role as Peter Quill felt effortless and natural. Guardians of the Galaxy has already been greenlit for a sequel and with good reason; the film is a fantastic galactic romp that offers scamps with heart and an abundance of good times.

When it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s like the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 says: “I'm hooked on a feeling, I'm high on believing, That you're in love with me.”


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