Mister Cinecal

Mister Cinecal

Friday, 1 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Is The Film I Always Wanted As A Child

Children generally don't have high standards for being entertained. That's not to say that they're idiots who'll take anything they're given, but the excitement of a trip to the cinema or a film being brought home on DVD (or VHS to us elderly decaying husks) or the hours spent sat in front of a television mean children are usually more forgiving of films or shows that are bad enough to make their poor parents want to put a bullet in their heads. When I was younger, any film that could give me some wisecracking quips and some nifty fights had my attention, regardless of actual quality. Though people may tire of the superhero genre as it exists today, children are fortunate to have, in Marvel studios, a succession of bright movies with good action, a variety of characters for them to pick as their favourites, movies that are fun. An assembly line it may be, but at least their assembly line is efficient, when it works, it works. Henry Ford made good cars, Marvel make fun movies and Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun I've had in a cinema this year. With funny, cool characters in all shapes and sizes and, you know, explosions in space, it's the film I always wanted as a child. It's Titan AE but legitimately entertaining.

From the very beginning, the tone of Guardians of the Galaxy is made clear. We see Earth boy Peter Quill traumatised by his mother dying from cancer, retreating into the comfort of his Walkman and too afraid even to hold her hand as she goes, before he is abducted by aliens. Years later, Quill (Chris Pratt) is reintroduced dancing and singing with that same Walkman, a roguish space thief, stealing a mysterious orb from the ruins of an old planet. He's good at what he does, but he doesn't take himself too seriously and he immediately betrays the crew he's been with since abduction to sell the orb himself. He's a misfit minus a ragtag bunch, and we've already seen why that is. As it turns out, plenty of people either want to catch up to Quill, the orb, or the people who want the orb. There's Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a 'living weapon' hated across the Galaxy for working for Kree fanatic Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and her 'father', Marvel Big Bad Thanos (James Brolin). Drax (Dave Bautista) a big lug who isn't too bright, desperate to avenge his murdered family, and of course, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and tree person Groot (Vin Diesel), AKA the characters everyone will come out of the theatre talking about, comic relief bounty hunters introduced trying to bundle Quill into a sack. Like the Avengers, they have to learn to work together to save the day, but where Cap and company were handpicked heroes, the Guardians are losers that nobody wants.

With concerns about alienating audiences with weird premises or obscure characters long-since dispelled, it speaks to the confidence Marvel Studios currently have to put out a film with some of their D-Listers, not to mention already planning a sequel for them. Guardians occasionally creaks under the weight of all the new concepts it has to present to its viewers: Infinity Stones, the Kree, the Nova Corps. People may come out still confused as to what these things actually are, but luckily the jokes are kept coming at a good enough rate that you don't worry about it. If you're going to use your CGI raccoon to deliver a lot of awkward exposition, it makes sense to give him all the best lines too. All the Marvel movies have tried to keep a sense of levity, but none go to that well more often or with more success than this one. Some of the jokes are softballed reference humour, but most of them are character based. Marvel knows you don't know these characters, they want to make sure you end up liking them. 

Prevented from using their two most well-known non-Avengers teams, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, Marvel have worked hard at making the team dynamic of the Guardians work and between the chemistry of the actors (some of them being confined to recording studios notwithstanding) and the writing of director James Gunn (Slither, Super...Scooby Doo) and Nicole Perlman, they nail it. The idea of 'family' is emphasised in Guardians of the Galaxy and like the best team-up movies, it pays off to watch the characters come together and become a family. Typical crowd-pleasing scenes of teams at work (prison breaks, drinking, heist planning) are featured and we're given a group that are easy to get behind. Contrast the heroism of Earth's Finest, who only got on the same page to work together when one guy they knew was killed, the destruction of the planet apparently not being motivation enough, with this ragtag bunch, who decide they have to stop Ronan, despite being clearly underqualified, because it is very obviously the right thing to do. 

The criticisms I would have for the film are similar to the ones most comic books movies have. Like most of them, it devolves into a big overdone action sequence that is at odds with the scale of the rest of the film.The audience's attention is split between 3-4 different scenes in the end, it would just be nice to see one of these movies end without the threat of the destruction of a planet at stake, especially when these big CGI action scenes are not really Gunn's strong suit compared to character interactions and practical make up/effect work. Certain story elements are underdeveloped, specifically the Nova Corps and the relationship between Gamora and Karen Gillan's Sexy Tobias F√ľnke cosplay. There's so much effort in some Marvel movies to establish the 'Universe' that not all of them can receive enough attention to matter, and some story elements don't hit the mark because they haven't been referred to in 45 minutes. Who are the Nova Corps and why should we care?
Deleted scene from Guardians of the Galaxy

Saldana's character gets the short end of the character stick in general. Shown originally working with the bad guys, she announces she's not really with them so quickly that it carries no weight, and there really is not question of where her loyalties lie from that point on. Her standing with the villainous characters is a lot of telling and not a lot of showing and it's disappointing to see a character being underdeveloped when there is good potential to be seen. 

Yes the Marvel movies have too much going on and yes they all end in a wearying series of explosions and yes they are all clinically-assembled cashcows but they work, they're true popcorn movies that don't have contempt for their audience and I'd take 3 Guardians of the Galaxyies over another Amazing Spider-Man any day of the week. Absolutely go see this as soon as possible to make sure the audience is as packed as possible, crowds want to love films like this and it's gratifying to sit among them and really enjoy the experience of the story, a story that as a kid could only have existed in my imagination, with talking animals and space adventures and explosions and an adorable talking tree and bright colours etc, etc. When I was a wee nerdling, going to see The Phantom Menace with its trade embargo discussion and joyless protagonists and basically having to enjoy it (I went to see that one twice, God help me) because what else was there?, this was the film I really wanted to see. If some time in the next Phase or two, Marvel could recreate that feeling for kids and adults not like me, giving them the Black Panther, Captain Marvel or Hulkling and Wiccan movies they've been waiting for for so long, then they'd really be on to a winner. Even Ford offered cars in more than one colour eventually. 

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