"Hey, kids! Wanna watch a superhero movie?"
"It's got all your favorites: Drax, Gamora, Peter Quill, Groot and Rocket Raccoon!"
This is precisely how an invitation to go see Disney and Marvel's latest summer blockbuster "Guardians of the Galaxy" might have gone if you were to attempt it a few years back. Now, however, with a perfect slow-build of engaging trailers, amusing and engaging talk circuit appearances by the cast, and very cool merchandise, lots of people are now ready to go see James Gunn's efforts in a summer blockbuster.
And they won't be disappointed.
How is it possible that a film made by a former Troma director featuring a Marvel property that only die-hard comic book fans would have had the faintest interest in seeing has turned the corner and garnered heaps of praise from both filmgoers and critics? Because regardless of your familiarity with the characters or settings, the film is a warm blanket of nostalgia.
I don't mean nostalgia in the sense of "Ha ha, they're making classic references," or even with the use of a 70's soft rock soundtrack. No, "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a film made for kids who ran around in their back yards with twigs as our ray gun blasters, wiffle bats as our lazer swords, and hunks of junk piled together to make up our space ships, robots and secret bases. It's this sense of nostalgia that makes the film timeless.
The story itself is mechanically sound, rolling out logically from plot point to plot point. Everything is built on very simple frameworks, familiar scenarios, and tried and true storytelling methods. What's important when introducing an audience to unfamiliar worlds, characters and alien entities is finding those hand-holds for us to grip in order to understand what is happening. At no point in the film did I feel confused or lost, but I also never felt pandered to. What really makes the story shine, however, is the care taken to add flourishes and its own little twists on the usual conventions of science fiction and action.
If you haven't noticed it, I'm being intentionally vague in this review because I don't want to spoil the story for you. I actually felt I had cheated myself out of something when I saw it by knowing certain bits of information ahead of time. It didn't ruin the experience, but it made me a little sad that I missed the chance to be completely taken by surprise by everything. Of course, that's the hazard of being me, I suppose.
From within moments of the start of the film, the carefully selected soundtrack punctuates sequences with exactly the right sets of emotions. Whether an ironic strain of Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling" played against some bit of violence or a genuinely sweet moment involving 10cc's "I'm not In Love," every song added to the atmosphere. To explain how amazing this film is, one track I had permanently condemned to the dungeon of schmaltz, that easy listening, manipulative Motown classic, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" gets a call from the governor, exonerating it.
This isn't to ignore the score composed by Tyler Bates, either, which includes one of the most magical and beautiful pieces I can recall from the past several years. I am right now looking to pick up a copy of the "Deluxe" soundtrack that includes both Peter Quill's Awesome Mix and the original music written for the film.
To say this film is about characters is an understatement. While observing them "guard the galaxy" from the variety of perils it might face, I found myself almost pushing the plot to the side at times in order to watch the five pinballs of the main cast bounce off one another. They fight both with and alongside each other, take pot shots, display genuine emotions, and each is given adequate time to grow and flourish. To be honest, when the two hours wrapped up I couldn't wait to learn more about them.
Further, the extended cast included characters I want to see continue forward, particularly those played by Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro. Heroes and villains were both well-drawn with the only exception being Karen Gillan's Nebula, who wasn't necessarily poorly developed, but just seemed to be outshone by everybody else. Rooker, in particular stole a few scenes and got possibly the biggest "that was cool" moment in the picture.
For all of its genuinely amazing qualties, the film lacked any mind-blowing set-pieces; I never felt like I did the first time a Star Destroyer flew overhead, a lightsaber ignited, or the DeLorean exploded into the past when it hit 88. The best way I can describe those mind-blowing moments would be like being back in Junior High and playing "Seven Minutes In Heaven" with that one crush who made your heart stop in its tracks.
Instead, this film felt like a long weekend with the most understanding, beautiful, incredible, funny person you could ever hope to be with. For the entirety of the two hours I felt completely engaged and then a little down when the credits began rolling, wishing for more adventures with this crew of awesome misfits.
If you get a chance to see "Guardians of the Galaxy" in theaters, I highly recommend it, otherwise, HD on the biggest, clearest screen you can find. This is a feel-good film that will leave you humming silly soft rock and pretending your car is a space-ship zipping through the stars.