Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has thus far explored a few of Marvel’s properties, though mainly B-list characters like Iron Man or Thor, characters who aren’t as recognizable as Spider-Man or the X-Men, but would be for those who had been reading comic books for a while. However, in a surprising move, Marvel has decided to give the spotlight to the Guardians of the Galaxy, a team of D-list characters who only the more hardcore readers would know about, yet still might be unable to remember. Even if someone did hear about the Guardians of the Galaxy through the marketing for this movie, they probably also wouldn’t know that the spotlight is on the 2008 team as opposed to the 1969 team (even I had to look that up). Still, the marketing push led to a new Guardians of the Galaxy ongoing comic series in 2012 as well as comics focusing solely on Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon in 2014, the latter of which is perhaps the only member with prior exposure (largely thanks to Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds) and is now, along with Groot, a breakout star.

While I had no idea who the any of the team members were, I did gain an interest when I heard that James Gunn was working on it, as he had previously written Lollipop Chainsaw, a game which I had given a positive review of on this blog (I know about some of his other work, but have not seen any of the movies he was involved in). This interest increased further thanks to the trailers and the one-time-only theatrical 17-minute preview meant to get audiences familiar with the characters. Having now seen the movie during its opening weekend, in 3D IMAX no less, I’m proud to say that not only is it a good movie, but it’s perhaps one of the best MCU movies to date.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka “Star-Lord”, goes to the planet Morag for the purpose of stealing an orb-like artifact with the intent of selling it for a high price. Just as he obtains it however, he is intercepted by Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a subordinate for a Kree named Ronan (Lee Pace). Quill manages to escape, but Korath places a bounty on him, which in turn gets Ronan to send an assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to collect it. Once on Xandar, homeworld of the Nova Corps (i.e. space cops), Quill unsuccessfully tries to sell the orb, only to have it stolen by Gamora. As the two fight over possession of the orb, two bounty hunters, a genetically altered raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and a sentient tree-like being named Groot (Vin Diesel) decide to join in for the purpose of collecting Quill’s bounty. In the middle of the collective struggle however, all four are arrested by the Nova Corps for various crimes and imprisoned in the Kyln (i.e. space jail). During their stay, Gamora is attacked by a group of prisoners due to her association with Ronan, who had killed their families. Just as one of the prisoners, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), is about to kill her at knifepoint, Quill convinces him that Ronan is the one he should be after instead of Gamora; Drax lets go of Gamora and leaves. The next day, Quill, Gamora, Rocket, Groot and Drax all decide to work together to escape the Kryl and figure out what to do with the orb, as well as deal with Ronan and the Nova Corps upon a successful escape.

Left to right: Gamora, Peter Quill ("Star-Lord"), Rocket, Drax the Destroyer, Groot

When watching the trailers, it’s easy to not be entirely sure how the story of Guardians of the Galaxy would work. Once you watch it however, everything falls into place very easily and each point flows very well into the next in a fairly straightforward manner. Since the story deals with the more cosmic elements of the MCU, there is sometimes a bit of exposition each time the characters visit a new world, but this is only when the location is very important to the story and is, mercifully, just enough that you understand its significance and why they have to be there. Despite the number of locations they visit and the characters the ragtag group comes across, it’s very easy to piece the details together and follow along with the narrative. The pacing is done very well, not too fast yet not too slow, and the humor is very well executed, with plenty of moments that will make the viewer laugh out loud. As the plot unfolds however, there are actually a good number of serious moments, none of which really feel out of place. In these moments, the characters actually display a greater range of emotion and often bare their soul to the other members, with kudos to the fact that they are slipped in pretty naturally instead of feeling out of place. As a result, I was able to connect with everyone on a more emotional level and actually feel bad along with them; you may or may not be surprised by how much you can empathize with a cybernetic raccoon by the end.

Ronan the Accuser, the main antagonist of the film.

The ability to empathize with so many characters goes hand-in-hand with the acting and just how good it ends up being. Due in part to a well-written script, each of the actors is able to convey their characters’ emotions and personality very well. Chris Pratt, known for his roles in Parks and Recreation or The LEGO Movie, does a good job portraying a character who takes himself seriously to a hilarious degree. Zoe Saldana, probably best known, by those paying attention to her, as the current Uhura in the Star Trek films, actually does an impressive job as Gamora, sometimes coming off as genuinely threatening as she goes though a nice character arc that sees her connecting more with her teammates. Dave Bautista, a professional wrestler turned actor, is also very capable as Drax, as he is not only physically built for the role, but he displays a good amount of humor and emotion from the loss of his family at the hands of Ronan.

Bradley Cooper, known for the Hangover movies as well as Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, shows off his talent as a voice actor through his portrayal of Rocket, who has an odd sense of humor and penchant for snarky dialogue, though even he has his more emotional moments that you can’t help but empathize with. Perhaps the most interesting of all the main actors though is Vin Diesel, known best for his roles in the Chronicles of Riddick and The Fast and the Furious franchises, as well as his role as the title character of The Iron Giant. His role in this film as Groot has the most in common with The Iron Giant, since, despite having very little dialogue (in this case only being able to say “I Am Groot”), he is capable of a very dynamic range of emotions through different inflections. It’s not hard to see why Groot is expected to be, and probably already is, a breakout character from the film.

The side characters also help bring the story to life, as they do more than just act as scenery. One of these characters, for instance, is The Collector, who previously appeared during the mid-credits sequence from Thor: The Dark World. Unfortunately his role ends up being a little shorter than expected, but his presence is still very important to the plot and Benicio del Toro, his actor, does a lot with his limited screen time, like he was really having fun with the role. However, the villains were also a little flat, in the sense that they weren’t developed as much as the five main characters. Though Lee Pace does a good job in his role as Ronan the Accuser, there ultimately isn’t too much we can gain from the character. Of course, this could be excused by the fact that five main characters are already being set up and fleshed out, so something probably had to be sacrificed and they had more priority. I’d also like to give credit to John C. Reilly and Glenn Close respectively as Rhomann Dey and Nova Prime, both from the Nova Corps, since their characters, though small in their role, are important to the story and they play them well, yet they don’t distract from the lead roles.

I’ve always liked the visuals in the MCU, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a good candidate for having the best of them all. The way space is depicted, you can see a lot of swirling colors and very diverse beings and systems. Every alien is detailed in such a unique way that’s it’s simply amazing they were able to create so much life. I also liked that the film overall had a bright color palette, which aids the more comedic atmosphere. I’d like to give special props to the alien battles, which show off a lot of dedication in making it look totally awesome and unlike anything I’ve seen before. Two of the most impressive individuals to be animated however are Rocket and Groot. Rocket is very lifelike, down to the hair, moving like an actual raccoon and performing certain actions as if they were totally natural, including his very convincing emotional states. Since Groot is a tree-like being, I liked seeing the detail in the wood as well as how individual parts of his body would move or grow; it’s easy in this way to get lost in the details during a first viewing.

Rocket is very detailed (and loves big guns).

As for the music, the score by Tyler Bates is pretty well done and properly aids every scene. In fact, I’ve read that James Gunn actually had some of the score recorded beforehand so that he could film to the music; a little unconventional, but it really did get the job done effectively. What will be most remembered though are the licensed songs, mostly heard via Peter Quill’s mix tape, the most known via ads being Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede, which actually saw a 700% increase in sales on iTunes; other songs include Moonage Daydream by David Bowie and Cherry Bomb by The Runaways. These songs help to establish the cultural frame of reference that Quill has throughout his story, but they are also strangely appropriate to the situation, as though only a ‘70s or ‘80s song would have worked as opposed to a modern recording.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a very good movie. The story is well-written, with plenty of character development and more humor than usual for an MCU movie, but there are still a few serious moments that are pulled off very well and sometimes very subtly. Though the villains are a little flat, their performances are still very good and help them serve their purpose for the story. Visually, this movie is one of the best in the MCU thanks to a powerful mixture of practical and digital effects, plus the score and licensed tracks are well-chosen. Though the movie may not be directly relevant to the overall MCU story just yet, this is still a must-see for Marvel fans, especially since it’s a very good change of pace between the very serious Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. However, I would also highly recommend it to fans of space opera flicks, as without the MCU connections, the movie is otherwise pretty self-contained and very enjoyable on its own. Really, there should be nothing stopping anyone from seeing this wonderful movie.

Also, be sure to stay for the end-credits sequence. I virtually guarantee that you really won’t see it coming.

No comments:

Post a Comment