Guardians of the Galaxy (Redux)

 
Ain’t no thing like mecept me”
 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) (Redux)

Something’s been eating away at me since I first reviewed Guardians a few months ago. Whilst I stick by a lot of what I said in that review, I’ve seen it twice since then and I felt my original thoughts needed tightening up. Y’see, I’ve been nigh-on obsessed with the film since seeing it. The downtime between the second cinema trip and the DVD/Blu-ray release have been filled with conversations about it of both the I-can’t-believe-you-haven’t-seen-it and the wasn’t-that-bit-so-awesome-when? varieties. The super-popular soundtrack has also been in heavy rotation on my iPod to the point where I swear it tries to sneak in other tracks for variation’s sake. Not many films these days manage to stick in my brain as indelibly as Guardians has managed. A third viewing on shiny disc has confirmed one thing- it’s not only my favourite film of the year, but it’s moved up to being one of my favourite films of all time and as such, certain points need to be addressed. Oh- if you haven’t seen it yet, thar be spoilers, so just go and see the damn thing and come back.

“I know who you are, Peter Quill, and I am not some starry-eyed waif here to succumb to your… your pelvic sorcery!”

I’m going to skip the plot summary and just dive straight in, because the chances are you’ve seen it multiple times like I have. All my casting notes are the same as well as my assessment of the action beats etc. I want to focus on the meaty script and several problems I had with it on the first viewing.  Story-wise, Guardians relies on familiar tropes, including the standard MacGuffin plot of having an object driving the narrative and where characters go. You could also say that the characters are pretty broad. Of the few negative reviews that exist of this film, those seem to be the main points of contention, including criticising the now-commonplace big Marvel ending that is a gigantic aerial battle. All fair points, but I would argue that picking the film up on these things is kinda missing the whole point. To me, Guardians is like the Indiana Jones films or even the mighty Star Wars. Its very aware of these clichés and uses them to give us something new or sell us on something a bit “out there”. This is blockbuster filmmaking as it should be. It has a smart script packed with fully realised characters and quotable lines, a great sense of wonder when it comes to the deep space locations, decent action and a cracking soundtrack. What I love about it all as well is like all the best Marvel films, it still has the specific director’s stamp on it. Guardians is very much a James Gunn film with his love of wildly swinging tonal shifts, regular casting pool and a real passion for the absurd.

The thing about Guardians is that the character focus is very strong, so much so, the story almost takes a backseat. We get to know these people/animals/tree monsters/aliens over the course of the film. The writers James Gunn and Nicola Perlman ensure that each character has a strong motivation and a real driving purpose. Take Rocket Raccoon for example- from the trailers, it looked like he was just another CGI creation with one-liners, destined to pratfall and do “human” things to get a yuk out of brainless twats. However, in the film, he’s a fully formed creation. He resents humanity and constantly struggles to find his place in the world, always dealing with the fact that he shouldn’t exist.  He’s full of bluff and bravado because they’re his coping mechanisms. There’s one scene where Rocket’s been drinking and is drunkenly waving his gun at the crew, choking back rage and sadness at the fact that nobody takes him seriously and he feels people are laughing at him. In a lesser film, this would have been a gag, but as it appears here it’s heartbreaking. This attention to detail expands to not only our main Guardians, but side characters like John C. Reilly’s Dey. It’s so fucking refreshing to feel like proper storytelling isn’t dead and that even with a megabudget, the little things (Rocket included) aren’t forgotten about.

One of the main things people have taken away from Guardians is how funny the film is. The film is witty throughout and some bits are downright hilarious. What I love about Guardians is how it uses the humour. A lot of the running gags have a huge emotional payoff. Take Peter Quill’s need to be known as “Star-Lord”. He gets frustrated multiple times that people don’t know his supposedly badass outlaw name. It’s a neat little touch, but nothing we haven’t seen before and it smacks of handing out a trait arbitrarily. That is until we learn that “Star-Lord” was his dead mother’s pet name for him and I can barely read what I’m writing right now as the screen has gone all blurry. It’s such a nice moment I get choked up even talking about it. We finally understand why the name was important to him. Very few films can actually make me tear up, but Guardians is definitely one of them. Another example of this is Groot’s repeated “I am Groot”s. Who knew that the repetition of that one line was just lifting our chins up to ensure we get the full force of the “We are Groot” sucker punch? It’s this sort of layering and narrative domino setting that makes me love films all the more.

If you read my original review, you’ll know that I had a problem with three characters- Ronan the Accuser, Nebula and Gamora. My opinion has changed on each. I originally thought that Ronan was a bit of a weaksauce bad guy, but the more I’ve watched the film, the more I realise that’s sort of the point. He’s meant to be out of his depth. He’s a petulant teenager playing with big-boy toys. Thanos is the main dude, but as Drax notes, Ronan is a puppet. He does pose a legitimate threat, but he’s no Loki. Plus, the film is more about the Guardians coming together, rather than taking down an ultra-badass. Chances are the Guardians won’t be able to distract the next big bad with dance moves. Let’s talk Karen Gillan’s Nebula. Nebula is fascinating and has a very odd sisterly relationship with Gamora. She’s really compelling and I’m still a little disappointed we don’t see more of her. Her exit from the film is a bit clunky too, with “sequel” written all over it. Not bad by any means though. Which brings us to Gamora. I initially stated that Gamora is the one with the least focus, but I realise that it’s because her character hasn’t really completed her arc by the time the film is over. Whilst Quill, Rocket, Drax and Groot are all fully on board, Gamora still has a bit to go. She’s almost there, as the little head bobs to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” demonstrate, but she’s still got issues to work through. It’s more of a promise of things to come than anything else and the fact that she doesn’t seem as well-sketched as the others is entirely intentional. My guess is that Guardians 2 will be more about her as well as the mystery of Quill’s father.

“What should we do next? Something good? Something bad? Bit of both?”

So,  on to the main reason I wanted to do a redux review. Guardians of the Galaxy has been one of my most read reviews on this site and instead of being happy that so many people stopped e-shopping or watching naked people do naked-er things to read my nonsense, I cringed slightly because of the four star rating I ended up giving it. For a film that has dominated my thoughts since it came out and has been proven to make me laugh and cry every time, that’s a bit of a slap. I mean, if I can’t give Guardians of the Galaxy a full 5 stars, what the hell can I give it to? It’s an injustice, I tells ya! Anyway- Guardians gets the rating it deserves and I get to sleep soundly at night. Fair deal.

Guardians of the Galaxy

 
I am Groot.
 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t get any less true: it’s crazy to think that back in 2011, Thor was considered a “risk” for Marvel. Two solo films and a billion dollar team up later and the God of Thunder is right at home alongside more “classical” heroes like Iron Man and Captain America. Anyway, the point of all this is that in 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy really feels like a proper gamble: a bold step into the whole “cosmic” element to the Marvel universe and a departure from the costumed heroics we’re used to seeing by now. Whilst I have a working knowledge of Marvel stuff, having read Spider-Man comics for years, I must admit I wasn’t too familiar with the Guardians, only having heard of Rocket Raccoon before, so this “going in blind” to a Marvel movie is a new experience for me and one I relished. Anyway, blah blah blah- point being is that the film is awesome and, if you’ll allow me, I’ll endeavour to tell you why.

“Why would you want to save the galaxy?”

“Because I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!”

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth by aliens at a young age and now lives life as a Ravager, a kind of space pirate. Quill finds a mysterious orb and steals it, unaware that he’s setting wheels in motion that may have huge, and possibly genocidal, consequences. Kree terrorist Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) sends a green-skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after him to retrieve the orb. Unbeknownst to Quill, his boss Yandu (Michael Rooker) has also put a sizeable bounty on his head, leading two bounty hunters, a talking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a humanoid tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) to pursue him. By chance, we also meet Drax (Dave Bautista) a muscled madman with only vengeance against Ronan on his mind. After the group are captured and thrown together, they soon decide to put aside their differences and put a stop to Ronan’s nefarious plans. Sound complicated? It isn’t really. I just wanted to fit in as many of the principal cast as I could and I still missed out Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close and John C. Reilly!. It’s mostly a fast-paced chase for the all-important orb and that’s fine. All the cast are fantastic. Chris Pratt is just teetering on the edge of serious superstardom and watching this, you can tell it’s well deserved. The guy is likeable and charming but can bring the emotional heft when needed. Peter Quill (or Star-Lord) is an interesting concept. Being a product of the ’80s, it’s like he’s emulating Han Solo, but not quite pulling it off. Both Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel do stellar voice work as Rocket and Groot, especially Diesel, who does a lot with very few words. Pleasant surprise of the film is pro-wrestler Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. He gets most of the film’s biggest laughs, usually involving his race’s inability to understand metaphors and his propensity to take everything literally. Bautista plays it perfectly and is a joy to watch. The film does a great job of balancing these big personalities, but some do slip through the net. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora seems to not be given as much attention as the rest of the Guardians. She’s still a solid presence, but I get the feeling a lot of her stuff ended up on the cutting room floor. Big baddie Ronan wasn’t quite as menacing as I’d have liked him to be. He’s no Loki, but he’s no Malekith (the elf guy from Thor: The Dark World who was fucking rubbish) either. He’s more of a Vader to Thanos’ Emperor. Karen Gillan’s Nebula also gets slightly lost in the mix. Let’s hope the sequel does Gillan’s performance justice.

A lot has been made of the more comedic tone of Guardians in comparison to the more straight-faced Marvel stablemates. When the lights went down in the cinema, I plastered a pre-emptive smile on my face, just to save time for when the laughs started. The film then cold opens on a young Quill, in a hospital at his mother’s deathbed. My face fell. It’s a genuinely moving scene and I soon realised that Guardians may not quite be the lark-about space opera I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, when the film gets going, it’s a blast, but it has the balls to strive for something deeper than that. Now, I have reservations in telling you this, for fear of some bigger boys coming to my house and beating me up for being a wuss, but I teared up at several points during the film which was unexpected to say the least. Guardians is brave as hell in the way that despite having a CGI raccoon and tree monster as part of the main cast, it never once treats them as two dimensional cartoon characters.They all feel like real people, not just caricatures spouting witty one-liners. It should come as no surprise to fans of The Iron Giant, but the combination of Vin Diesel and some seriously impressive animation manages to make Groot a hugely sympathetic character, despite being limited to three simple words.

The rest of the film is fast, fun and furious. The action is varied and exciting, the attention to detail is awesome and it all adds up to a hugely enjoyable experience. There’s a brilliant prison breakout sequence and some thrilling aerial dogfights that are just delights. I’m trying hard to not spoil specifics, but this is one of the most visually inventive films I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a goddamn planet that is the severed head of a humongous ancient beast, just floating through space. The Collector’s huge collection has some great visual gags and brilliant attention to detail. Every dollar of the budget seems to have been put up on the screen and that’s to be commended. Marvel Studios has learned the lesson that Hollywood in general consistently fails to take on board: if you’re going to hire a talent like James Gunn, Shane Black or Joss Whedon, for fuck’s sake step back at let them do their thing. In the same way Iron Man 3 was undeniably a Shane Black film, Guardians is definitely a Gunn production, complete with his trademark dark humour. The screenplay, co-written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, is smart as anything and doesn’t feel meddled with. It’s not perfect, as there are some clunky attempts at theming etc, but the very fact that a film with a budget this big, based on characters even the hardcore nerds are only vaguely aware of, has such an uncompromising script is nothing short of miraculous. Also, the soundtrack is amazing.

“Metaphors go over his head”

“NOTHING goes over my head!… My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.”

People who complain of superhero fatigue (dumb people, but entitled to their opinions nonetheless) just won’t have a leg to stand on with this one. It’s a fun space opera that is more sci-fi than anything else. It’s exactly what blockbuster entertainment should be- a fun adventure with characters you can (G)root for. I can’t express this enough- I am now a huge fan of these characters and can’t wait to see where they take them next. The already confirmed eventual meeting of the Avengers and the Guardians has me positively salivating at the prospect. This may just be my new favourite Marvel film. I will have to watch it at least 7 more times before I can be sure. Highly recommended.