Thursday, August 7, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy was written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, and was also directed by Gunn.

James Gunn is no stranger to the cineplex, as he wrote the screenplays for the live action Scooby-Doo movie and its sequel, Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed (meh), along with the 2004 version of Dawn Of The Dead (yay). He also wrote and directed 2006's Slither (double yay).

The Guardians first appeared in the comics waaaay back in 1969, in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. Back then they had a completely different lineup and operated in the 31st century. I'm just guessing here, but I bet they were Marvel's answer to DC's Legion Of Superheroes. They appeared sporadically over the years, getting their own book in the 1990s and most recently in 2008 (which was cancelled in 2010, but will no doubt be returning soon). The film is loosely based on the 2008 version of the team, so don't rush out to the comic shop expecting to find a comic exactly like the movie (although that will probably change soon).

Many industry insiders were certain this film would be Marvel Studio's first big flop, as it featured a very obscure group of characters and its cosmic setting would be too weird for mainstream audiences. I don't know why anyone would think that– Marvel's already made two Thor films that feature alien gods living in a super-advanced He-Man world, and they were quite successful. Fortunately the film appears to have struck a cord with audiences, and is a huge hit. So suck it, naysayers!

The film is fast-paced, has a goofy (in a good way) tone and is probably the closest thing I've seen to the original Star Wars since, well, since 1977.

I hope Warner Bros. is watching this film on a continuous loop, studying every single frame. Marvel's superhero films are fun. DC's are full of mopey, navel-gazing "heroes" who resent their powers and kill more people than they save. Warner desperately wants their own Avengers-style franchise, but it's never going to happen unless they lighten up their movies a notch or twelve.

GALAXY SPANNING SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
In 1988, young Peter Quill is abducted from Earth by aliens. Cut to 26 years later when an adult Quill (played by Chris Pratt), who now calls himself Star-Lord, steals a mysterious orb from the planet Morag. Unfortunately for Star-Lord, pretty much everyone in the galaxy is after the orb as well, including Ronan The Accuser, a radical Kree who's working for the evil Thanos.

Star-Lord teams up with a group of alien misfits, including Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana), who's Thanos' adopted daughter, Drax The Destroyer (played by Dave Bautista), an alien whose family was killed by Ronan, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered talking raccoon, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a large tree-like alien with multiple powers.

Together these misfits must keep the orb out of the hands of Ronan (and Thanos) while avoiding everyone else who's trying to kill them.

Thoughts:
• I think the thing I like best about Guardians is that it doesn't bog itself down with tedious origin stories. Star-Lord comes closest to getting a full blown origin as we see him get abducted as a child, but that's about all the background we get on him.

Each of the other characters got a line of two of explanation, and honestly that's all that was needed. Star Wars did the same thing. We knew next to nothing about Han Solo and Chewbacca, and we didn't need to. They appeared, we learned about them through their actions, and that was all we needed to embrace them.

I wish more superhero movies would follow Guardians' lead here. We don't need an entire film to explain a character's origin. A brief rundown is all that's necessary.

• A big part of the film's success is due to actor Chris Pratt, who lends his goofy charm and +12 charisma to Star-Lord. If you like Pratt on Parks And Recreation, you'll like him here as well. He'll next be seen in the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel/reboot/whatever it is, and I have a feeling that's only the beginning for him.

• Zoe Saldona is now the official Queen Of The SciFi Franchises. She's currently starring in 3, count 'em three huge scifi film series: Avatar, the rebooted Star Trek, and now Guardians. If you need a kickass hot space babe, apparently she's your go-to gal. 

Oddly enough Chris Pratt auditioned for the role of Jake Sully in Avatar, and James Kirk in the Star Trek reboot. It would have been cool if both he and Saldona had been in all three film series.

• Kudos to the effects team who brought Rocket to life. He looked absolutely real to me, and I never once doubted I was looking at a real raccoon (or at least a raccoon-like creature).

Props as well to Bradley Cooper, who voiced Rocket. When I first heard they'd cast him I thought, "Wow, could they have picked a more random and generic voice?" Who even knows what Bradley Cooper sounds like? After hearing him in action though, I think it was the right call. If they'd gone with some kind of wacky Bugs Bunny/Fozzie Bear kind of voice, it would have been too much.

Part of the credit should also go to Sean Gunn (James' brother), who provided the on-set motion capture for Rocket.

By the way, Rocket's been around in the comics since 1976, where he's always been referred to as "Rocket Raccoon." This is of course a nod to the Beatles' song Rocky Raccoon. Now suddenly he's just going with the singular Rocket, like he's Elvis or Cher. I have to wonder if the filmmakers shortened the name because they were afraid it would sound too silly for modern jaded audiences?

Lastly, what the heck is Rocket, anyway? Is he an Earth raccoon, captured and altered by aliens? Or are there animals on other planets that just happen to look like raccoons? Who altered him? Are they saving that for the sequel?

• I honestly wasn't expecting much from the Drax character, but he practically stole the show. I guess it shouldn't be a surprise. Dave Bautista is a professional wrestler, and they're all basically actors to start with, so...

• If I have one complaint about Marvel movies, it's that they don't go quite far enough. Take Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for example. There they included the Arnim Zola character, but he was just a plain old face on a monitor instead of a headless guy with a face on a TV screen in his chest, as in the comics. 

It's a similar situation here. In the comics Yondu has a big red fin on his head. Here he's got what looks like a pale red soapdish glued to the top of his skull. Embrace your weird side, Marvel! You've already got a talking raccoon in your movie. Are you telling me a guy with a fin head was a deal breaker? Go for it! Trust me, the audience can handle it.

• Speaking of Yondu... I like actor Michael Rooker quite a bit, but let's face it-- he's pretty much playing a blue Merle Dixon here. He even has a faux Southern accent! I guess he's from the Southern arm of the galaxy?

• One last thing about Yondu– in the comic he's a skilled archer, sort of like an American Indian, and can control the path of his arrows by whistling. He does that here in the movie as well, but without the bow.

Looking forward to an Avengers/Guardians crossover and Hawkeye vs. Yondu!

• I feel that this is the movie John Carter should have been. It's got a cool retro vibe, and as I've mentioned many times, it's just plain fun. If John Carter had been even a fraction as much fun as this film, we'd be watching Part 3 by now.

• Stan Lee makes his usual cameo appearance in the film, playing an aging Xandarian flirting with a young beauty. Troma Studios founder Lloyd Kaufman also makes a brief appearance when the gang is in space prison. Kaufman is a pal of director James Gunn, and has appeared in all his films.

• Back in 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer, Marvel fans were gypped out of the chance to see Galactus on screen. Fox, who sadly owns the rights to the Fantastic Four, said that the sight of a giant alien in a purple space suit stomping around New York City would look silly and be laughed off the screen. Instead we got a Galactus that was nothing more than a bland, disappointing space cloud or storm or some damned thing.

Guardians Of The Galaxy shows us a brief scene of a Celestial (a race of mysterious gigantic aliens who judge other worlds) destroying a planet, and it looked amazing. There was nothing silly about it at all, and proves there was absolutely no reason why the FF movie couldn't have included a proper Galactus. 

Dear God, if you really exist, please let Marvel Studios reclaim the rights to the Fantastic Four so they can make the movie the characters deserve and we all want to see.

• So we now know the whereabouts of four of the six Infinity Gems. Two to go! 

It's pretty obvious at this point that Marvel is building up to a film adaptation of The Infinity Gauntlet. It was a 1991 comic miniseries in which Thanos gained possession of all six of the Infinity Gems (giving him virtually unlimited, god-like power) and battled Marvel's biggest superheroes. If this is indeed where they're going, it's going to be mind-blowing.

• We got a brief glimpse of Thanos at the end of The Avengers, and he finally appears here in all his suitably awesome glory. Most fans believe that Thanos will be the Big Bad in The Avengers 3. I can't wait!

• James Gunn is great at writing offbeat scripts with quirky characters, but... he can't direct a fight sequence to save his life. Many times during the battles I had no idea what was happening, or even who was fighting who and had to wait until it was over to see which side won. Maybe he needs to hire a stunt coordinator. Or watch some classic fight scenes to see how it's done.

• As much as I love this movie, I can't help feeling that it's pretty much just a big budget episode of Farscape. Earth man gets transported to the other side of the galaxy and becomes part of a crew of wacky aliens who are on the run from a space empire (and everyone else). It's the exact same characters and story! 

You've got the smart ass human leading man, the beautiful and deadly female assassin, the stoic, hulking strongman alien, the wisecracking diminutive alien, and the serene plant-like alien.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. There are no new ideas under the sun by this point in history. I just think it needs to be said.

• Star-Lord and Gamora pay a visit to the Collector, and outer space Liberace with a museum full of rare cosmic artifacts. This scene is a treasure trove of Marvel Easter eggs. 

Among the items in his museum is a Chitauri from The Avengers and one of the Dark Elves from Thor: The Dark World. Supposedly Adam Warlock's cocoon (from the comics) is in there as well, along with a space slug from James Gunn's Slither. Some say they saw Beta Ray Bill (don't ask) in the museum, but it hasn't yet been confirmed.

Cosmo the Space Dog also makes an appearance in the museum. He's a test animal from the Russian Space Program and plays a big part in the comics. Kudos to the filmmakers for making the movie version look exactly like his comic counterpart.

• The film also features an awesome soundtrack full of 1970s and 1980s songs (which are all on Star-Lord's "Awesome Mix" cassette tape). Music from vocalists who could actually sing and didn't need autotune to record a song. 

• Marvel's "12%" in-joke makes another appearance here. In The Avengers, Tony Stark tells Pepper to give herself 12% of the credit for designing Stark Tower. She coyly brushes off his advances, saying they were having 12% of a moment. In Guardians, Star Lord says he has 12% of a plan.

• Peter Quill's prized possession is his 1980s Walkman, which he listens to constantly. He even risks his life to retrieve it from an alien guard.

I'm assuming he's found a way to recharge his double A batteries even though he's on the other side of the galaxy. Maybe he's found an alternate power source? Also, cassette tapes don't last forever. After over twenty years of constant use, his one and only cassette is probably in serious danger of breaking. He needs to transfer those songs to CD or whatever they have in space, pronto!

• Kudos to actress Karen Gillan, who plays Thanos' daughter Nebula. Gillan actually shaved her head to play the role!

• The film plays fast and loose with the effects of the vacuum of space, as Star-Lord leaps out of several airlocks while wearing just his street clothes and his trademark mask. At one point both he and Gamora drift unprotected in space for a few minutes before being rescued, and apparently suffer no ill effects afterward.

Scientists believe you could survive unprotected in space for about fifteen seconds or so before losing consciousness. You might survive a few minutes more before your blood began to boil. No one's a hundred percent sure how long you could survive though, as it's tough to find volunteers to test the theory.

We're talking about aliens and half-aliens here though, so who knows? Maybe they're not as vulnerable to the effects of open space.

One might question why I'm bothering to bring this up in the first place. It's a film about talking raccoons and walking trees, for god's sake, and I'm nitpicking this particular point? Well, yeah, I am. See, my suspension of disbelief is like a rubber band. It can only stretch so far. If you want me to buy a talking raccoon, fine. That's no problem. Throw in a walking tree and space gems and aliens who all speak English, and my disbelief gets stretched almost to its breaking point. Add in humans cavorting in the vacuum of space, and SNAP! It breaks. You have to ground your film at least a tiny bit in reality.

• At the end of the film we learn that Star-Lord is only half human (on his mom's side). So who's his daddy? In the comics his father is  someone called Prince Jason of the planet Spartoi, and I almost fell asleep before I got to the end of that sentence. I'm assuming they're planning something bigger and more exciting for the film, especially since his dying mother said his father was "an angel made of shining light."

• In the final act, Groot envelopes the rest of the team to save them from certain destruction. A teary-eyed Rocket begs him not to, as he'll die in the process. A few scenes later we see Rocket carrying a flowerpot containing a live cutting of Groot. 

Based on Rocket's initial reaction, I'm assuming he didn't know Groot could survive and regenerate. It feels like a scene's missing here; they needed a shot in which Rocket finds a piece of Groot and plants him.

• Why the hell is there no Dancing Groot toy? Seems like such a thing would be a no-brainer. Every kid that sees the movie would buy one. Marvel could be selling truckloads of them right now. Somebody in their marketing department dropped the ball big time.

• At the very end of the film we get a title card saying, Guardians Of The Galaxy Will Return. Just like in a James Bond movie!

• The after credits scene features Howard The Duck, of all characters. He was voiced by an uncredited Seth Green.

When Howard first appeared in his eponymous comic, Disney went ballistic and threatened to sue Marvel, saying he looked way too much like Donald Duck. Which was true. He did look a lot like him. Same curved beak, blue hat and blue jacket with no pants. Disney demanded a list of changes to the character's look, which Marvel implemented.

Now that Disney owns Marvel though, I wonder if all is forgiven and it's OK to use Howard again? Could we even see another, better Howard The Duck movie someday? Time will tell I guess.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is a fast-paced space adventure in the vein of the original Star Wars, but most of all it's just plain fun. I give it an A-.

1 comment:

  1. Since the celestial where introduced to Guardian's of the galaxy, Galactis can be brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.He can be introduced with a different origin like how Fox owns the rights to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch but Marvel got them in the Avengers so Marvel can do the same with Galactus.

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