Saturday, August 9, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

  I'm a comic book nerd, yes. I have boxes of comics, true. Yet I wasn't the least bit familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy when I heard this movie was coming out. I didn't make an effort to acquaint myself with their paperback adventures before I saw the movie either. Yet, damn. The trailer made the flick look like a lot of fun. A rag tag team of mercenaries and outlaws who've banded together to stop a ruthless space-tyrant from destroying the entire galaxy...? Hell yeah, sign me up. I love movies like that. If this is tl;dr for you, just believe the hype. 'Guardians delivers on all the promises the trailers made. It's incredibly fun, action packed, and full of heart. Go see it.

 Ooga chaka. Ooga, ooga. Ooga chaka. The words have become nothing short of a mantra for fans of 'Guardians. The song by Blue Swede was first connected to this movie by one of it's trailers. It was catchy. It worked. It got the song stuck in everyone's head, and subsequently... the name of the movie along with it. Yet, what I didn't expect, what I wasn't prepared for, is how much better that song works in the context of the movie.

  The lead of the movie, is a guy named Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). In a way, he's like a walking, talking, time capsule. When he was 9, he was abducted by aliens. So since then apparently, he's been kicking around the cosmos being a 'legendary outlaw'. He calls himself "Star-Lord". One of his most prized possessions is his old Walkman cassette player. He only has one tape, labeled "awesome mix vol.1". I'm not really spoiling anything here folks, there's so much more to all of this that I'm intentionally not revealing, but trust me when I say I am getting to a point here.

  Quill is a man out of time and without a family, so when someone takes his Walkman from him, and starts listening to Hooked on a Feeling, he goes to get it back. Clearly about to get his ass kicked, he still manages to say "Not Blue Swede man, that's MY song!" Quill is protective of his Walkman like nothing else in the entire galaxy. It's more than a cassette player to him. You'll see why. But once we understand that, we realize that when he says "that's MY song!", he's defending one of the last sacred ties he has to Earth. It adds this whole nother layer to his character, as opposed to him just being a generic Han Solo knock off. He's defensive as hell about his things, and a little vulnerable because they're his last connection to Earth. I love it. I feel as if I've gotten a little sidetracked though, but I can go right into talking about the soundtrack from here.

  "Awesome mix vol.1" provides the songs for the movie, and dear God, it's fantastic. It's even better how they incorporated all these classic songs into the movie: through the main character's Walkman and his old mixtape. It's perfect. Perfect. Not to mention, refreshing. I love hearing these songs, and to have em all in a fun space adventure like this could've been a tacky disaster, but James Gunn knew what he was doing. He infuses Guardians of the Galaxy with an ever-present sense of retro pop-culture. Our hero isn't a Captain America type. He doesn't take time to solemnly contemplate his life, he's content to believe he's an amazing heroic outlaw while he sings along to Come and Get Your Love.

  But "Star-Lord" is just one fifth of this team, crashing into the picture with no measure of tact but plenty of style is Rocket and Groot. Rocket is a genetically modified Raccoon, and Groot seems to be a large... sentient... plant. Thing. Either way, they're a ridiculously fun duo who have real onscreen presence. It's easy to forget these two are computer generated. The actors doing the motion-capture and voices for them, (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively) are simply great. Rocket and Groot could've easily been relegated to simple comic relief by a lesser director, but Gunn knows these two have a lot of heart, and he does them both justice. So much so, I was misty eyed at a certain part towards the end.

  Next up is Gamora. (Zoey Saldana) Again, this could've been such an easy character to get wrong. I can't get into her backstory too much without giving away plot points I'd simply rather not.  Suffice to say, she's a character who grows throughout the movie into someone we end up genuinely caring about. When she starts to open up to the other protagonists, we also start to warm up to her. Saldana brings her endearing toughness to the role as only she can. She seems to have an amazing penchant for playing alien females who learn to tolerate a brash and immature lead. Hmm...

Lest we forget Drax (Dave Bautista). Whoever wrote his dialog deserves a handshake. Drax got his fair share of chuckles, without becoming comic relief. In fact, that can be said for everyone in the cast. It's just really snappy and witty dialog. Drax is no exception. He's a hulking badass who simply wants revenge for the death of his wife and kid. He's very direct about this and more than anyone has to learn how to rely on teammates. What's interesting about Drax is that he cannot grasp the concept of metaphors. He is 110% literal about everything he says, all the time. There's a moment when he opens up to the others and you can just feel the raw sincerity in what he's saying. Kudos to Bautista for taking those extra acting classes upon finding out he got the role. That kind of dedication and passion really shows.

  And it shows in the entire cast. Everyone is totally committed to bringing their A game. Chris Pratt deserves special mention though. Going from a purely comedic persona, to something of a real badass is no small feat. He has infectious charisma, perfect comic timing, and a mean glare that could burn a hole in a Stormtrooper. Not to mention he has sculpted his body to fit the hero look. So much kudos to Pratt. He's a fantastic Star-Lord, and I look forward to seeing lots more of him in the future. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the villains. Lee Pace plays Ronan the Accuser.  He has palpable on-screen presence and manages to chew enough scenery to come across as a truly evil bad guy. He can't help it if he's the most 2 dimensional thing in a very 3 dimensional picture. He serves his purpose. Be evil. He does it well.

  Then, playing the Emperor to Ronan's Darth Vader riff is Josh Brolin as Thanos. His performance is all too brief, but he has a lot of gravitas in the few minutes of screentime he has. When he shows up, it's chilling. You clearly get the vibe that he is not one with whom to mess. Which brings me to my next point, the visuals. They're simply fantastic. There has to be at least a cool dozen scenes I wanted to freeze and somehow produce wall-sized posters of so I could stare at them all day. Visually, this movie is the best kind of eye-candy. It's not just full of computer generated ships and lasers, it's all put together on the screen with artistic flair. These guys knew what they were doing. There are moments in the movie that are downright gorgeous to look at. They literally leap off the screen in IMAX 3D as well. Which was put to great use here as I never felt that I was looking at a flat image, there was a great amount of depth and quite a few pop-out scenes that never managed to feel pretentious.

There's probably a half dozen things I've neglected to talk about, but overall Guardians of the Galaxy is a ridiculously fun movie that overcomes any flaws it might have had with charm, grace, beautiful visuals, spot-on humor, and incredibly fun action scenes. It's the most fun I've had rumbling around in space since the original Star Wars. It even manages to be more fun than say, Serenity. In a mad scramble looking for movies to compare this to... I couldn't even come up with an adequate shortlist. Too many space faring movies are dark and droll. This is a movie with the all the right ingredients to put the magic back into Saturday matinees. One of Marvel's best movies so far. Hands down.

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