Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy is arguably Marvel Studios' biggest gamble to date. It's based on one of the more obscure teams of Marvel heroes, specifically an incarnation of the team that appeared in a series that only ran for two years, back in 2008. (Of course, Marvel revived the series in anticipation of this movie.) I imagine that when the film was first announced, I wasn't the only nerd who had to flock to Wikipedia to find out just exactly who or what the Guardians of the Galaxy even were.

Like many of my fellow nerds, I had faith that Marvel would deliver a solid movie. After all, Marvel Studios has had an unbroken string of hits worthy of Pixar, starting with Iron Man. (Not to be confused with properties Marvel licensed out to other studios, such as X-Men, or Spider-Man, which have certainly had their shares of hits and misses.) However, many were worried that Marvel was bound to stumble eventually, and that when it did, it would be with the crazy space-adventure movie, starring characters nobody ever heard of.

If Marvel does eventually stumble, it sure as hell isn't with Guardians. I'm not going to be so bold as to say that it's on par with a movie like Star Wars: A New Hope, but Guardians certainly captured the feel of A New Hope in ways that the prequel trilogy didn't. Guardians is full of the roguish space cowboy types that made Episodes 4-6 of Star Wars so enjoyable, and that were strangely lacking from Episodes 1-3.

The fact that Guardians worked so well as a movie is actually a bit surprising. On paper, it sounds like it should be a bomb. Of the five heroes, only one is human. Of the four non-human protagonists, one is a talking raccoon, and one is humanoid tree, capable of only saying the words "I am Groot." While the current trend of comic book movies is to tone down the more comic-booky aspects of the source material when adapting things for the big screen, such as dropping code names or costumes, Guardians fully embraces its comic book origins. Characters retain their names such as Drax the Destroyer and The Mad Titan Thanos. The story has the Guardians trying to stop a villain named Ronan the Accuser from trying to destroy the planet Xandar. This sounds like it should be the sort of movies nerds make fun of for years, as the worst possible idea anybody could come up with for a summer blockbuster, and yet it's proven to be one of the best ideas to come around in a long time.

Quite frankly, I'm sure that if this film had come out twenty years ago, it would have bombed in theatres, having been torn apart by 90's critics for it's wild and fun nature, and unabashed comic book feel, only to re-emerge as a cult classic after finding its audience on video. In other words, Guardians would have experienced the same treatment The Fifth Element received.

Yet, Guardians works as a movie, even if it doesn't sound like it should, because the filmmakers know when to play things for laughs, and when to play it straight. Despite the unquestionably sci-fi pulp nature of this film, the film never treats the story as being campy. It's loaded with (sometimes incredibly juvenile) humor, but treats its core story as earnestly as every other movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The cast they lined up for this film is perfect, and there are a few unexpected performances among them. Obviously, Zoe Saldana is great as Gamora, but having seen her in Star Trek, there's no reason to expect anything less. No, the bigger question was how Chris Pratt would do as the main character, Star Lord/Peter Quill. He's certainly developed a loyal fan base from his role as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, but aside from his voice-over work in The Lego Movie, he had yet to take on the leading role in a movie. Considering how much hoopla he's generated over getting in shape for this film, he better get used to sticking to that regimen because he's definitely proven he can helm a movie, and not just as a comedian.

The performances that really surprised me were from Karen Gillian and Dave Bautista. I had only seen Gillian as the kind natured Amy Pond on Doctor Who, so it caught me off guard how frightening and intimidating she was as the villain Nebula. As for Bautista, when I saw the trailer, I figured he'd been cast as Drax the Destroyer strictly for his size and muscle mass, but it turns out he's got a knack for delivering deadpan comedic lines, some of which make up the best moments in the movie.

Finally, there's Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser. I've been a fan of Pace ever since his roles in Pushing Daisies and The Fall (which is easily on my list of top 5 movies.) Personally, I think he's one of the most underrated actors out there right now. This film is unlikely to boost his standing, but only because he's heavily costumed and covered in makeup. As Ronan, he is perfect in the role, giving his all portraying a villainous force to contend with, but you can tell he's secretly reveling in playing the character.

It actually shocks me to say this, considering how 3D adverse I am, but this is actually a film worth seeing in 3D. The first time I saw Guardians, it occurred to me it might actually be worth watching in 3D. When I saw the film a second time (yes, it does warrant watching twice in cinemas,) I did not object when my friend wanted to catch a 3D showing, and it certainly made for a more enjoyable second viewing. Not only did the film have dazzling visuals and a brilliant color palate, but every shot was composed in a way that it was clear that director James Gunn wanted it to look good in 3D. Even though the film was originally shot in 2D, they did a great job converting it into 3D so that everything from the wide-angle shots of deep space to the close up shots are not only easy on the eyes, but add to the immersive experience.

(Originally, I was going to comment that either they did an impressive job converting Guardians to 3D, or I've just gotten used to watching 3D movies, but I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in 3D over the weekend, and that is a terrible, terrible conversion job. So yes, I can safely say the conversion job in Guardians is well above average.)

Now I can't talk about Guardians of the Galaxy without mentioning it's soundtrack. It's one of the first things about this film that grabs you. In particular, the opening credits gets its hooks into you with a scene featuring Peter Quill trouncing about a barren planet to Redbone's hit, "Come and Get Your Love." The film makes heavy use of 70's pop hits, but every one of them is as perfectly selected and placed as if it were in a Quentin Tarantino film. So for any parents out there with young kids, get ready for them to develop a sudden interest in the music your mom and dad listened to growing up.

For a summer that's felt like it's lacked a solid, knock-it-out-of-the-ballpark hit, Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that should have been the anchor for the July 4th weekend. It may have been an audacious move on behalf of the marketing team to give this film the tagline, "You're welcome," but the film backs that tagline up, as well as prompting me to say, "Thank you, Marvel."

No comments:

Post a Comment