Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro

    This was, without a doubt, the biggest gamble that Marvel has taken thus far. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the bigger unknowns that they have at their disposal and runs the risk of coming off as halfway original, which is something that audiences, no matter how much they claim otherwise, don’t like to pay to see (see the box office income of Edge of Tomorrow versus that of Transformers: Age of Extinction for more on this phenomenon). There was a very real chance that this could be the first box office failure for Marvel Studios. Fortunately, thanks to a collection of excellent performances from an extremely likable cast, great writing, and a spot-on sense of humor, Guardians of the Galaxy is liable to be one of the most fun films to come out of this year.

    The movie takes place present day, but in the far reaches of space. Peter Quill, who prefers to be called “Star-Lord”, takes an orb that is also wanted by the villainous Ronan. After escaping Ronan’s henchmen, a fence gone wrong leads to Quill being arrested along with a group of various misfits. After escaping, the five decide to try to sell the orb again and split the profit five ways before they realize the power of the orb and that they must protect it and with it, the galaxy.
    Guardians of the Galaxy’s biggest strength is by far its cast; I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that there isn’t a single bad performance in this movie. The comedic timing, the chemistry, the delivery; it’s all perfect. The highlights are Chris Pratt, who is extremely likable in the lead role of Peter Quill, as well as Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel who provide the voices for Rocket and Groot (Vin Diesel also performed motion capture). Rocket provides a lot of the laughs and a great deal of that stems from Cooper’s nearly unrecognizable vocal performance in the part, while Vin Diesel gives Groot a real sense of character even though he only speaks three words in the entire film, in the same order, over and over again. Dave Bautista also does very well in his blockbuster debut as Drax, proving that he can act and has a superb sense of both his character and the comedy.
    The movie also excels at introducing its characters and immediately giving you a feel for who they are. Again, a huge part of this is the strength of the cast but it also owes part of it to the terrific writing from James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Unlike a lot of superhero origin story movies, this one had to introduce not one, but five different main characters and it does it just as well as any other superhero movie you’d care to name, if not better. Each one of these people is as well-written as any of the other Marvel characters who got their own introductory movie. The writing rarely relies on cliches, and even pokes fun at the rushed romances of other movies (*cough* Thor *cough*) at one point. It may actually be the most well-written Marvel movie we’ve gotten yet.
    This is also undoubtedly the funniest Marvel movie to date. Far too often the humor seems forced in the MCU movies, like the writers will write for a few minutes then ask themselves, “What lines can I shove in there to make this funnier?” In Guardians of the Galaxy, the laughs all stem from the characters and who they are; it’s very natural all the way through. There were very few times throughout the movie where a “laugh line” didn’t hit its mark. This is one of those movies where you’re smiling all the way through. With all that being said, Guardians never really winks at the camera like you may expect. Yeah, two of its main characters (and I’m gonna go ahead and guess they’re going to be its breakout characters as well) are a talking tree and a raccoon, but the humor is all very straight, very natural, and extremely funny.
    Marvel also has a track record for having weak climaxes. They usually come down to two guys beating the living crap out of each other while explosions go off. The only Marvel movies with any real sense of excitement or scale were The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier because they directly defied that cliche. Guardians of the Galaxy is a bit of a mixed bag in this respect. It’s final battle starts out great then gets progressively less exciting as it goes along. The best action scene in the movie is probably an earlier scene that has been shown off a bit in the trailers where the Guardians escape a prison. One of the better action scenes in Marvel’s history, it shows off expert choreographing along with some terrific effects while keeping the ever present humor balanced.
    This isn’t a perfect movie, though, and I’d be lying if I said that there isn’t one scene that really brought it down a level. I want to preface this by saying that I usually don’t give a crap about scientific inaccuracies in movies. Movies are meant to be fiction more often than not, so it’s alright to play fast and loose with stuff like physics. There is a limit, though. There are some things that are just universally known that they apply even in movies. Guardians had a single scene that was just so mind-numbingly out there in terms of impossibility that I have to believe there’s an explanation. Something has to make this scene make sense scientifically because every second it went on brought the movie down lower. It didn't ruin the movie, but it certainly hindered it.
    Still, there’s really only one word that adequately describes Guardians of the Galaxy: charming. It’s a movie that has you smiling all the way through, from beginning to end, and which will have you smiling for days after as you continue to look back at it. The acting is perfect across the board, particularly from Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel. The writing is terrific and rarely lets you down, and it’s without a doubt the funniest Marvel movie yet. No, it’s not perfect; it's climax runs a bit too long, and it's got an...impossibility that needs explaining, but it’s no less enjoyable for it. In fact, it may be the most fun you’ll have had at the movies in quite some time.

Rating: ✮✮✮✰
(3 / 4 stars)

Various Stuff and Such (where I put stuff I couldn’t cram into the review naturally):
-There’s a moment towards the middle of the movie that I’m confident will cause the heads of quite a few comic fans to simply explode. No further comment.
-I can’t speak for the quality of the post-credits scene, as it was not yet finished by the time I saw the movie. The end credits rolled and the lights turned back on to cries of “You b@stards!” and “You sons of b!tches!”
-EDIT: Yeah, back from seeing the movie again. The post-credits's interesting.
-There were a lot of ‘80s movie and TV references in this movie, including what may be the single greatest Footloose reference in the history of man.
-As the trailers promised, the soundtrack is made of mostly of songs from the '80s and the decade(s) before it, and I, for one, loved it. It’s honestly going to depend on how much you like classic rock, though.
-There are going to be a lot of parallels drawn between this and Firefly and Serenity thanks to the similar senses of humor and “lived in” sci-fi atmospheres (though Guardians cranks up the sci-fi and cranks down the western). It also helps that Nathan Fillion shows up at one point in a cameo that was so hard to spot I had to scan the credits to see who he ended up playing.
-”I am Groot.”

-Jeremiah VanderHelm
Wannabe Movie Critic

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