That being said, I did crawl out of from under my rock to make my first trip to the movies of the summer a few days ago, as there really is no better way to weather a pair of “hurricanes” once your eyes get too blurry to stare at a Word document any longer. Now, on my maiden voyage, did I venture out to see a deep think piece? Perhaps a star-studded bit of Oscar bait?
Heck no…I jumped at the most mindless thing on the menu and practically threw my money at them. The result? Guardians of the Galaxy.
For those of you that were of the uninitiated before this film hit (I am actually proud to admit I am among you), the GOTG is a comic book clan existing in the Marvel universe, the Stephen Baldwin to The Avengers’ Alec, if you will. If this surprises you in any way…well, it should, because this was a very below-the-radar comic book that pretty much stayed there throughout the lead-in to its release, opting for a more subtle marketing push over the direct in-your-face methods employed by other comic book entities. (cough-Spider Man-cough)
By handling the entire thing this way though, the studio was able to both simultaneously present a proven commodity (Marvel) and a complete blank slate….and to their credit it worked. Wonderfully.
Now, I’m the first to admit, I am not a big comic book fan, (with the exception of a few graphic novels, I don’t think I’ve ever read a single one) so please don’t find me an easy mark. I did not walk in already deciding I was going to love it and researching where I could find pre-purchase tickets for the sequel in three years.
The biggest reason for my trepidation, beyond having no familiarity w/ the storyline, was the cast is not exactly one to evoke tons of confidence. The lead, Chris Pratt, is best known for his smirking man-child on Parks and Recreation. His cohort, Dave Bautista, I met once at a fitness expo during his professional wrestling days. Of the three recognizable names on the marquee, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel, only Saldana actually appears in the movie, this time having traded in her blue body paint from Avatar for green. Cooper is present only as a trumped up Philly accent used by a cannon wielding CGI raccoon w/ some breathtaking anger management issue and Diesel says a single line, “I am Groot.” roughly a bajillion times.
You can see my concern.
You can also see why I am not a casting director.
On the whole, the cast works beautifully, which basically is the entirety of an ensemble film such as this. You find the right chemistry, you’ve got a hit. The Avengers nailed it. New Year’s Eve, not so much.
GOTG knocked it out of the park, pairing Pratt as a smirking everyman w/ grand delusions but little else, w/ a dead-serious Saldana, a hilariously humorless Batista, and two CGI characters that provide both levity and sentimentality to the proceedings.
Beyond that though, the biggest praise (and really, it is), I can offer for this film is that it doesn’t succumb to the age-old problem of taking itself too seriously (See: any Tom Cruise movie). It has a winking self-awareness the entire time that lets the audience know it fully realizes it is a modern day space opera filled with talking critters. That isn’t the point. The point is if they can mock a hero’s walk by playing bad 70’s music and having one of the characters yawn while another tugs at the crotch of his elastic body suit, why not? They have gotten just as tired of the traditional action/super hero tropes as the viewers have, and have no problem letting that be known. Even the soundtrack, an unholy amalgamation of classic rock and disco anthems, gets in on the fun.
In summation, I turn it over to a far better film critic than I could ever hope to be, Wesley Morris from Grantland, who stated…”The trouble with what George Lucas has done to the movies is that so many writers and directors and companies have learned the wrong lessons. They’re building myths and monuments and worlds. But they’re not having any fun. Guardians is the first movie since Mel Brooks’s Spaceballs to understand that the Star Wars movies were also comedies.”
Agreed. And for that reason this was a pleasant surprise, certainly worth seeing.