August 12, 2014

Movie Mondays: Guardians of the Galaxy

*(To the readers: Sorry for the odd release.  Scheduling error.  So, just consider this installment TALKING PICTURE TUESDAYS!)

Already feelin' a slight Star Wars vibe!

Already feelin’ a slight Star Wars vibe!

Title: Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn & Nicole Perlman (based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning (based on Guardians of the Galaxy by Arnold Drake & Gene Colan))
Distributed By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin
Release Date: August 1, 2014
MPAA: Rated PG-13

In the immortal words of Stan “The Man” Lee, “face front, true believers!” because it’s time for another MOVIE MONDAYS!!! This week we look at the newest release from Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy, based loosely on the 2008 reboot of the comic started in 1969. Is it a faithful adaptation? Not really, no. Is it an entertaining adaptation? Hell yes. Will it satisfy fans? Well that depends on where you stand on adhering to the source material. So, let’s find out just how this movie fares, shall we?

If you’re a die-hard fan of the comic that’s bound to get upset when movie-adaptations take major liberties with the source material, I suggest you walk away from this film and save yourself one hell of a headache. But if you don’t mind the changes, were never a huge fan of the series, or just want a big sci-fi action-adventure movie, then you’re in for one hell of a treat. Guardians of the Galaxy comes across as what it might be like to see a “National Lampoon’s Star Wars” movie or sort of a big-budget adaptation of the sort of sci-fi stories one might find in Heavy Metal Magazine, except without the sexual content. If you didn’t follow either of those examples, Guardians of the Galaxy plays out like a cross between a space opera and a low-brow action flick, with enough high-brow moments to keep everyone interested and invested in the characters and story.

The characters, for the most part, are representations of the comics in name only. For instance, in the film Groot (Vin Diesel), a giant anthropomorphic tree-creature, is a loveable, kind, but not very intelligent. In the comics, Groot is an amazing engineer and super-genius. Drax (Dave Bautista) of the comics is a human that was genetically modified into a highly intelligent and deadly weapon. In the film, he’s an alien who’s quick to brawl because his race doesn’t understand metaphors. This list goes on and on. To those of you who aren’t bothered by these things, this paragraph means nothing for you, however it serves as an illustration for certain fans that might not be too happy with various liberties the adaptation takes with its source material.

Certain characters mostly resemble their counterparts... others don't even come close

Certain characters mostly resemble their counterparts… others don’t even come close

Ronan shops at the all black leather store where the X-Men used to shop

Ronan shops at the all black leather store where the X-Men used to shop

The acting from almost everyone in the cast is terrific, from the smallest of side roles from John C. Reilly and Glenn Close as members of the Nova Corps. (a sort of interstellar police force), to the main cast of Guardians and villains. They all must have heard the quote about “no small parts, only small actors”. Vin Diesel provides the voice and most of the motion capture for his computer-generated character Groot, who can only say one sentence, “I am Groot”. I read an interview stating that Vin specifically asked what each iteration of “I am Groot” translated to contextually for each utterance, and it shows.   Speaking of voice acting, Josh Brolin provides the voice for the background bad-guy Thanos (the background bad-guy also seen in The Avengers), delivering a menacing almost eerie voice for the character. The only complaint I have toward the actors goes to Lee Pace as the villainous Ronan. He’s just sort of there, not really doing much on screen. Maybe it’s less a complaint about him and more to do with what the script gave him for his character.

They all look the part, but they don't act the part.  But the parts they play are well-acted!

They all look the part, but they don’t act the part. But the parts they play are well-acted!

While the acting may be pretty much top-notch from all of our major players, the characterizations for these roles wasn’t quite up to par. All of the actors do well with what they’re given, but what they’re given isn’t very much. None of the characters are given any development. Star-lord is a juvenile would-be ne’er-do-well at the beginning and a juvenile would-be hero by the end. Gamora (Saldana) and Drax are hyper-violent revenge-seekers from start to finish. Rocket (Cooper) is a stereotypical “loveable jerk” with some emotional baggage when we meet him and is the same by the end of the movie. And Groot is Groot. Now, with most movies the supporting cast is set in stone to better serve the main characters development, and with ensemble films, usually a few characters undergo some sort of growth or change by the movies end. In this movie, the basic “growth” is that a bunch of angry jerks who don’t know each other decide to become angry heroes who are now friends. It’s a minor nitpick, but it stuck out as one of the few grievances I found with this movie.

The Nova Corps.  The Interpol of Space.  Or in this movie... cannon fodder

The Nova Corps. The Interpol of Space. Or in this movie… cannon fodder

Another such grievance is in regard to the film’s humor, or more appropriately its level of humor. While the film is most assuredly an action-adventure/comedy, and the comedy is really funny most of the time, there are a few occasions where the “humor” overstays its welcome, and the movie is presented in an uneven tone because of it. There are a few poignant scenes where crass or awkward humor slowly starts to creep in. And that’s obviously the intent; the film wasn’t poorly constructed, it’s meant as a character beat that Star-lord (and it’s ALWAYS Star-lord) is ruining a serious moment by being his awkward somewhat idiotic self. It’s just that these moments happen too often, and more importantly during the big galaxy-saving climax. It’s just little moments of stupidity better suited for some irritating Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn comedy, not a grandiose action-adventure from Marvel. It honestly makes me feel as though this film could have been better than it aimed to be, but lowered the bar to impress the wrong demographic.

Tyler Bates does his best to channel a sort of quasi-John Williams style and delivers a rousing score, full of that larger-than-life adventurous sound one might expect from a magnificent space opera, full of sweeping musical cues that one would expect from a Star Wars-esque type of movie. Everything one might expect to hear is here, from bombastic action pieces full of brass and strings and percussion that intensify and build to crescendo, as well as darker, slower, eerier sounds provided with minimalist touches of a lone string. It’s a very well done, albeit not entirely fresh, score presenting a very traditional take on the sci-fi adventure.

Groot supplies one of many heartwarming character moments.  Right before the climactic battle.  - The Calm before the storm.

One of many heartwarming character moments. Right before the climactic battle. – The Calm before the storm.

This makes the accompanying soundtrack stand out all the more. About a dozen or so songs from the late sixties through the seventies, spanning genres from pop, punk, R&B, soul, and rock are present in this film, and not merely featured in the song, but often taking center-stage. Through a nice little plot device, a collection of music our main character’s mother gave him as a child, songs frequently get played during significant moments and become part of the action, not just background noise. For instance, Star-lord sings and dances to distract an enemy, or picks a fight with someone for listening to his music. . My personal favorite moment of the score is when David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” starts playing as the Guardians arrive at a truly bizarre space station, which just happens to be probably the most “alien” locale of the film.

Yay for pretty space operas!

Yay for pretty space operas!

While speaking of “alien locales” and the aforementioned “sci-fi action”, it occurs to me that I have not addressed an important element of the film – all of the actual sci-fi action-adventure stuff! Well… it’s great! The action scenes are wonderful, presenting a perfect mixture of space opera melodramatics with just enough light-hearted moments to keep it from getting overdone. You get the daring rescues, the noble sacrifices, the awesome one-on-one fights, and more. The set pieces are amazing. From sprawling alien armadas to other-worldly space-stations constructed from the skull of a giant inter-dimensional space creature. It’s some of the best pure space-opera pulp adventure I’ve seen in a long time.

One final thing this critic would like to point out is how mind-boggling happy he was with the after-the-credits ending (or coda if you will)! So happy in fact, that it’s very difficult not to spoil it right now to rave about it. It’s short and sweet and such a nice random bit of fanservice that only certain fans will even get or appreciate, that I couldn’t help but shout with joy and laugh out loud when it occurred. I will say, be sure to stay after the credits for a cameo from a Marvel character that you probably would never have expected to see!

While the movie has its faults, primarily the lack of any in-depth characterization or character growth, and in the occasionally tiresome humor, Guardians of the Galaxy is overall a wonderful movie. Again, fans may take umbrage with how vastly different from the source material it strays, but others might not. If you can distance yourself from the material, or if you’re unfamiliar with the comics, you’re bound to have a good time with this movie. As an adaptation of the comics, this film scores a middling 4 out of 10. As a film on its own merits, Guardians of the Galaxy easily scores 8 out of 10.

Aaron Nicewonger


One Comment

  1. Ian

    Nice! I was pretty ambivalent about this movie, but now I’ll be sure to go see it.

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