Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Cinema File #374: "Guardians Of The Galaxy" Review

However much money Guardians of the Galaxy ends up making, and it appears that it will be substantial, it will be quite some time before it technically makes a profit. Oh, it’ll make back its budget and then some, if it hasn’t already, but to be truly comprehensive, one must include the $4 billion dollars Disney spent to purchase the Star Wars franchise, which in the wake of this film’s outstanding success both creatively and financially appears to have been completely unnecessary and shortsighted. There is no way that J.J. Abrams, for all his talent with popcorn cinema, could ever make a Star Wars movie even half as good as this movie, and that was true before the last minute re-writes to accommodate the broken leg of one of its many geriatric stars. In any case, now we have two Disney sci-fi franchises about rag tag anti-heroes fighting intergalactic evil. Do your best to pretend to give a shit when they trot out the other one.

The story follows Peter Quill, a misfit space pirate known mostly to himself as Star Lord, who teams up with a motley crew of aliens including a pair of bounty hunters, a renegade assassin, and a revenge hungry warrior to stop a fanatical warlord from destroying an entire planet. Quill is basically a slightly less handsome but thankfully age appropriate Han Solo, a planet hopping vagabond mostly out for himself since he was abducted from Earth in the 80’s. Never without his trusty walkman, he dances around the galaxy stealing anything of value, until he comes across one of those infinity stones we keep hearing about, forcing him and his similarly unscrupulous shipmates to man up and become the heroes literally no one, including the Guardians themselves, think they can be. Again, sort of like Star Wars, except with characters that are actually interesting.

Guardians of the Galaxy is by far the best Marvel movie released in the cinematic universe’s somewhat informal “Phase 2,” and easily in the top five best Marvel movies of all time, which is bordering on ironic considering how obscure the property is even to most hardcore comic book fans. Making a movie about the second incarnation of a group that didn’t even get their own comic until a few years ago is like making a Big Hero 6 movie (oh wait…), or an Ant Man movie (oh wait…), or a relaunched Howard the Duck movie (oh wait...okay, that’s still not happening). Its lack of significant connections to the rest of the Marvel universe in context, setting, and tone is its greatest strength, starkly separated from the increasingly homogenized mainstream continuity of the other films. No one on the business side ever thought it would ever be as big as it turned out to be, so no executives were invested enough to fuck it up.

The best part of Guardians is, well, the Guardians themselves, an ensemble where every character, even the drunken cybernetic raccoon and the giant tree monster who can only say his name, all have moments to shine and justify their importance to the story. It would have been so easy to make them one note cliches, all fitting stereotypical sci-fi roles that are instead cleverly subverted the longer we stay with them. The aforementioned raccoon, a wacky sidekick in any other movie, simmers with an inferiority complex just under the surface, and a stoic, self evidently bad ass warrior alien, basically a big shirtless tattooed Worf, becomes one of the funniest characters in the movie, his literal minded-ness making everything he says unintentionally hilarious. Just in general, the humor in this movie is on a level unseen in the Marvel universe up to this point, so central to the movie that it almost comes close to undermining the balls to the wall action we all came to see.

Most of the credit must go to the director James Gunn, whose sensibility it all over this movie, which isn’t as much of a given as it should be with Marvel films. As Disney insists more and more on cookie cutter executions for its films so they all fit together, Guardians is a fluke that may just right the ship and convince them to give more leeway to directors with unique visions in the future, even if the collective result of the franchise might feel a little bit disjointed in retrospect. Originally coming from Troma, Gunn is on paper the last guy you might expect to make any Disney movie let alone one with as much riding on it as this, which coincidentally makes him the perfect person to make a movie all about the last people you’d ever expect to go up against the series big bad Thanos and win.

Well, actually, they only face the main villain indirectly through his subordinates, notably Ronin The Accuser, a blue skinned tyrant upset over a treaty his people recently made with their ancient enemies. Following the old ways, he teams up with Thanos to gain the power to destroy them once and for all, and unfortunately that’s the most character development we get for a guy with a rather complicated backstory and personality in the comics. Its one of the few things in the film that isn’t chock full of creative ingenuity, standing out as the lone boring element of an otherwise rousing adventure that’s irrepressibly entertaining pretty much from beginning to end. As with most big budget sci-fi action movies, its basically a series of explosion fueled set pieces strung together by Save The Cat artifice, but its clever enough and wall to wall funny to the point where you barely notice how little actually gets accomplished. It isn’t as intellectual as Snowpiercer or even as novel as Edge of Tomorrow, but as mindless fluff goes, it’s hard to deny its charm.

At this point, to say that Guardians of the Galaxy is a must see is sort of redundant, as by now you’ve either already seen it, or have absolutely no interest in seeing it. All I can say is that if you happen to be in the latter group, maybe reconsider giving it a chance. Even if you’re not a huge fan of science fiction and all the lasers and space ships in the trailers put you off, know that this is actually one of the more relatable and heartwarming Marvel movies as well, more so than you might think for a movie with only one human character. I literally can’t think of a person who wouldn’t find something to enjoy in the film. Its so unabashedly crowd pleasing that I’d almost accuse it of pandering if it weren’t so earnest and exuberant in its desire to entertain. In a year that is shaping up to be one of the best for sci-fi movies in decades, it may technically not be the best, but its definitely one of the most fun.

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