By MrMazz 2 Comments
10 films and 6 years in to this proven experiment, it isn’t hyperbole to call Guardians of the Galaxy the riskiest looking venture for the sure footed and colossal Marvel Studios. Guardians is a feature based around an obscure ramshackle team from the Marvel cosmic side of things, defiantly lacking the comic book name power to draw the mainstream. A cultural cache that doesn’t belong to cult famous James Gunn (Slither, Super) either, but it does have the well known TV actor Chris Pratt leading the charge, casting that is spot on and keeping within Marvel’s track record.
Guardians is the weirdest Marvel venture and the studios first real bend into new genre, space opera and action-adventure comedy. The previously released Captain America: The Winter Soldier only portends towards being a political thriller in its second half and succumbs to super heroics for its third act. Guardians isn’t different, it has a massive blockbuster trailer shot filled third act finale involving hundreds of space ships evoking the Death Star run from A New Hope. James Gunn like Shane Black with Iron Man 3 manages to bring some of his personality to bear, just look at how weird this film and the off kilter humor. But like Shane Black, Gunn can only do so much before the Marvel Studio machine takes precedence, it’s these moments that make this film a Marvel Movie, an object part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and not just a really good movie featuring Marvel characters. Those moments hold the film back. By showing a large amount of creativity and uniqueness, Guardians of the Galaxy stands out among its contemporaries but also shows the limitations of the Marvel formula as it stands. 10 films over the past 6 years and the marvel formula is starting to get a little boring.
The first 15 minutes of this film will tell you if you’ll be in or out. Peter Quill(Chris Pratt), he’d prefer you call him Star Lord, explores the remains of a tomb dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” as the credits role. Calling Quill the Han Solo type is incredibly apt; he likely thinks he is Han Solo by this point. Abducted from his family in 1988, Quill works as a low level ne’er-do-well and scoundrel with the Ravagers led by Yondu Udonta(a very blue Michael Rooker). The Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired opening is interrupted not soon after Quill acquires the films macguffin, an orb with an infinity stone inside it. It acts much like the Aether from Thor: The Dark World but is purple instead of dark red this time around.
Quill, The Ravagers, and their various buyers aren’t the only ones who want the orb, what good macguffin isn’t over prized? The Kree terrorist, Ronan the Accuser(Lee Pace) also desires it as part of deal with Thanos(Josh Brolin). The orb sets off a chase plot that ties the film together, allowing for easy transitions from comedic to action beats and somewhere in between. Once again there is no fault to be found in the structure of these films, repetitive as they are.
Quill is eventually captured by Marvel’s space cops the Nova Corp and sent to the space prison called the Kyln along with his future comrades: Rocket, Groot, and Gamora. Star Wars: A New Hope is a major reference point for this film from the grungy sci-fi aesthetic to its use of archetype characters to round out its cast. The films use of archtypes works for the majority of its cast but the attempts to expand on Gamora (Zoe Saldona), one of Thanos’ daughters, is ham-fisted. The film really wants to impress upon you that despite being called by Rhomann Dey(John C. Reilly) a living weapon, assassin and killer during processing; she’s really a good person. How does it go about this? By having Gamora constantly reiterate that the fate of millions Xandarian lives hangs in the balance if Ronan gets the stone. Gamora has suddenly found her heart, somewhere off screen. Reiterating the stakes once or twice would be ok but script turns that into Gamora’s only talking point at times, turning the character into a nag. The film tells more than it shows about Gamora, and making her a physically strong but not really strong character. This is likely due to Saldona’s star power and placement in the films hierarchy as the female lead and perceived love interest to Peter Quill, there must be no doubt that she is a good person. We can’t have our heroes falling for morally grey women.
This is a characterization failure that stands out more when looking at how the film treats its trio of weirdos: Rocket, Groot, and Drax. These are supporting characters, two of which aren’t physically there, and the film is confident enough to let them be weird off in the corner. The films treatment of them nearly lets them run away with the film. It isn’t just because the pair of Rocket and Groot could be this generations C-3PO and R2D2, assuming the robotic duo do not appear in Star Wars 7 – infinity. Their lower status in the hierarchy allows the film to just let them be themselves “Ain't nothing like me, 'cept me” the experimented on, tortured rodent voiced by Bradley Cooper brags. These characters get to operate within the periphery. Only to be focused on in moments of humanity and vulnerability, like a drunken rant in a bar. In the case of the films two CGI rendered Guardians, it is a humanity well rendered. Gunn also does wonders with actor and part time pro-wrestler Dave Bautista, turning the muscle bound actor’s limited range into a terrific comedic engine.
The lack of doubt surrounding Gamorra’s heroic or villainous feelings is what makes this a Marvel Movie; it has the emotional and moral subtlety of Ronan’s hammer. Gunn dose turn this into a bit of an asset at times, using the films eclectic pop soundtrack (a huge improvement of the generic ones most Marvel films have) and references to turn these moments into a delightful bit of camp. The moments where he can’t talk about the great hero Kevin Bacon or set a scene to some 80’s or 70’s pop is when the film noticeably drags to a halt as it drops exposition for characters and objects in the most leaden obvious manner. Sure these moments may be important to other unannounced films or Guardians of the Galaxy 2 announced for July 2017 but they ruin the films flow. This film by its genre is separated from the terrestrial films but when it is forced into dropping lore exposition, the weight of these connections is the films undoing. Guardians of the Galaxy becomes a pretty bird in a gilded cage.
The films epic scale doesn’t leave it wanting for antagonist, you’ve got Ronan, Nebula, and Yondu all circling the film. All this antagonistic force is why Ronan, played by Lee Pace, is one again a forgettable and boring Marvel villain. Beyond a monologue at the beginning meant entirely for the audience, that to its credit is handled decently, he is evil for the sake of evil. Angered that the Kree government has signed a peace treaty with long time enemy’s the Xandarians(in place of the Skrull), Ronan goes into league with Thanos as a means to destroy his enemies. He talks of his religious duty to destroy the Xandarians and his cultures superiority but we are never given a hint of this 1000 year conflict beyond a news flash talking about the peace treaty. It reduces what could’ve been an interesting complex antagonist into a lame terrorist character from some 80’s action movie.
Which is why the cyborg daughter of Thanos, Nebula(Karen Gillan), is the more interesting antagonist in the film. As with Rocket, Groot and Drax the film allows Nebula to operate in the periphery and have Karen Gillan act under an immense amount of make-up and voice modification. We get to see her and be drawn into this damaged cyborg with daddy issues. Which is to say nothing of the relationship she has with Gamora, an under explored element of the film that could have done wonders for both characters.
Guardians of the Galaxy is weird, and I want to see more of it and the places Quill and his motley crew adventure to next. It is the most visually unique Marvel film yet even in the couple moments of incomprehensibly edited action set pieces. It’s just the moments that bring it into the greater marvel lore that drag the film down as it is forced to conform to barriers and a 10 year plan in obvious fashion. Overall this is among the better blockbusters this summer and should be a star making endeavor for director James Gunn and Chris Pratt.