Okay, pumpkins, it's official. Hold the Phone! Stop the Presses! I want a full court press conference called Right Now! I don't care who's using the White House rose garden at the moment, I want them cleared out and room made because I have an announcement of no small import.
Young Son Actually Liked A Movie!
Believe me this is no small thing. Time and time again Young Son has demonstrated a capacity for being cynical that surpasses even mine (and that's no mean accomplishment). He is not impressed by Orson Welles, Judy Garland or practically anyone who possesses a smidgen of talent. He laughs nastily at each TCM tribute. "Doctor Who" leaves him cold, and as for "Star Trek" . . . well, we'll get back to you on that.
So when he remarked that he actually liked "Guardians of the Galaxy" I had to conquer a sudden urge to fall over in a dead faint. I also started looking for fiery bloody hail to start falling because, to my way of thinking, the First Trumpet was about to be sounded.
I guess it should then come as no surprise that I rather liked the film too (even more so after having to sit through Regal Cinema's reel of film trailers advertising the upcoming Sucky Films for the remainder of 2014). But you people had pretty much come to expect that. I've got an excuse: I'm an incurable comics geek. Young Son, on the other hand, possesses an intellect which is vast, cool and unsympathetic.
In the meanwhile, though, you'll just have to put up with my comments. And, as before, since we're dealing with an adaptation of a Marvel comic, we once again open with the:
Official Uncle Mikey Marvel Comics Movie Geek Checklist.
1. Benicio del Toro reprises his "Thor: The Dark World" role as The Collector, which was an enormous plus for me. Hard to imagine this was the scruffy one-note kid who didn't impress me in "Licence to Kill" (but, then again, not a whole lot in that film impressed me).
2. Okay, pumpkins, the Marvel movie franchise is definitely gearing up towards the Infinity Gauntlet storyline. This isn't necessarily good news for me personally as I felt that plot was woefully overblown (as was the "Winter Soldier" storyline for the Captain America film). Frankly I'd like to see something more classical, like the Sleepers or the Inhumans.
3. We get our first Marvel film look at the Kree. The bad news is that we didn't get a look at the Kree Supreme Intelligence. Maybe this will eventually lead to a Captain Mar-Vell storyline but, considering the way the Xandar Nova Corps was depicted here, I sort of have my doubts.
4. During an explanation of the Infinity Stones I thought I was catching a glimpse of one of the Celestials, but am not certain. I'll have to commune with my brother geeks and see what is determined.
5. The movie's version of Yondu (one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy) was far and away an improvement over how he was depicted in the comics. Trust me on this one.
6. Nice end credit scene. Not wanting to throw in a spoiler but, if this is more than just a one-time joke, then the Marvel films might be taking a weirder turn.
Watching James Gunn's film put me in mind of DC's "Justice League" comic. Or at least the incarnation which was created by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis back in 1987. In that series you had costumed superheroes who did all the usual stuff which every other superhero was doing. The important difference, however, was that Giffen and DeMatteis were also depicting characters who were acting much closer to reality than their counterparts. Things were happening to these characters that you expect would happen to ordinary people who elected to put on outlandish costumes and fight crime. They were having arguments, making occasional mistakes and laughing at the stupidest jokes.
In brief: "Justice League" was fun to read.
I had the same experience with "Guardians of the Galaxy". After Nolan's Batman trilogy, and several of the earlier Marvel films, it was something of a joy to sit back and take in an adventure film that wasn't afraid to take a slightly lighthearted approach. Yes, the crisis was serious . . . yes the odds were stacked against Our Heroes . . . but Dunn made plenty of room in his movie for smiles and giggles. I'm definitely going to have to pay closer attention to Gunn as he may yet turn out to be a major player in the Marvel movie franchise. Not only Gunn but Nicole Perlman, who assisted on the plot and screenplay (learning that she is involved in the "Black Widow" screenplay gives me reason to smile).
Based on the second incarnation of a Marvel comic title (this written by Britishers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning . . . and believe me, anything would've been an improvement over the original version), the story involves a group of misfits, each of them possessing various levels of bad-ass, banding together to save everyone (or, in this case, the people of the planet Xandar) from Certain Destruction. Of course first they have to learn to work together and keep from killing one another. You've seen variations on this theme dozens of times before, pumpkins. "The Dirty Dozen", Soderbergh's "Ocean" franchise, practically every heist film and "behind the lines" war movie ever made . . . the formula is carved in stone. A good director and screenplay and cast can take such a formula and make something worth seeing.
Gunn and Perlman are that good.
And it doesn't hurt that the cast assembled for the film managed to operate like oiled clockwork. I've seen Chris Pratt before, but this time he made me pay close attention. As Peter Quill (the lone human of the group, and self-proclaimed "Star Lord"), Pratt comes off like Han Solo, only with better weapons and a lighter outlook on life. If "Guardians" had been a British manor-home style of adventure story, Pratt's character would best be described as a "cocky little bastard". Armed with little more than a tape cassette deck filled with hit tunes from the 70s and 80s, Pratt's too self-confident for his own good, and he's just one jet pack malfunction shy of getting royally stomped. In short: the quintessial action hero. But Pratt gives the audience a cherry on top by being wholly unpredictable. In a climactic tense moment he comes face to face with the film's main villain. Whereas other such characters would reach for a weapon (secret or otherwise), Pratt suddenly breaks into an impromptu dance routine.
Crowded into the situation with Pratt is Zoe Saldana as Gamora: green-skinned interstellar assassin/eye-candy. I was enjoying Saldana's work in Abrams' otherwise atrocious "Star Trek" reboot, as well as her role in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl", but here's where her genre work might actually take full wing. In "Guardians" she manages to out Milla Jovovich Milla Jovovich, and next to her Scarlett Johansson is practically wheelchair bound. Of course motion-capture technology could make even me look badass (and possibly physically attractive to boot) but, as with most of the cast, Saldana makes interacting with her fellow actors seem far too easy.
Nicely counterbalancing Saldana is Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer: one man killing machine and apparently invulnerable to everything up to and including humor. I usually don't expect good acting from pro wrestlers, and Bautista didn't impress me at all in the generally unimprssing "The Man with the Iron Fists". But, among James Gunn's other talents, I'll probably have to add the ability to find hidden potential within people. Bautista's Drax is appropriately hell on two legs, as befitting the plot. But his best moments come when he's bouncing lines back and forth between the other characters. If the dialogue in "Guardians" made me smile more than the action, then Bautista was one of the major reasons. And, as one of the final sequences in the film demonstrates, Bautista can milk a silent reaction to perfection.
The other two members of the team are more special effect than actual on-screen presence, but I'm not holding it against them. I think I have seen Vin Diesel's best film work ever as the voice of Groot: the living tree with a rigidly single-track mind (and who's a heck of a lot more fun to watch than Treebeard in Jackson's "Ring" films). My respect for Diesel rises for taking what was literally a one-note voice role and running with it, and if he turns out to be the most popular character in the film then it'd be a deserved honor. In one of the best scenes in the film our heroes are stuck in prison and working on a complex scheme to break out. They're in need of a special battery which is out of reach, and are discussing all sorts of ways and means to acquire it. While all the talk is going on, however, Groot is calmly wandering off in the background, and the audience is laughing its jock off as he (I guess Groot is a "he") blithely rips the battery off the wall and brings it back.
Bradley Cooper provides the voice of Rocket Raccoon: diminutive anthropomorphic utility infielder and all-around smart mouth. Gunn's nimble direction once again comes into play here, and Cooper's vocals work well meshing with the others. His role is to essentially play Brad Pitt to Pratt's George Clooney, and the two of them act as if they've been living next door to each other all their lives. Once again I cannot overemphasize the chemistry exhibited by the characters in this film. There're a few brief moments of slowness, but otherwise everything snaps and everyone plays off one another to distinction. The only thing which might surpass the patter are the action scenes which are, praise Jah, well-choreographed for once (kudos to cinematographer Ben Davis, as well as a list of effects people which ran almost as long as the movie). None of this turn the camera on, stick your fingers in your ears and pray everything works out business.
By comparison with the people mentioned above, there's little to go on. I was looking forward to "Guardians" mainly to see one of my favorite Marvel villains . . . Ronan the Accuser . . . finally brought to the big screen. Lee Pace certainly looked the part, but here's where I think Gunn and Perlman needed to read more classic Marvel comics, or at least attend Stan Lee Comic Villain Dialogue 101. I don't think Lee (who has another small but nifty cameo) would've minded having some of his stuff lifted.
I had never been a large fan of the Xandar Nova Corps (Marvel's low-budget answer to DC's Green Lanterns). Maybe they've improved in recent years. But in "Guardians" they've been wussified into yet another ordinary planetary defense corps (and yes, you have to be a comic book geek to actually write lines like that without breaking expression). As the Nova Prime, Glenn Close is phoning in her performance. I certainly don't mind seeing Close in movies, but for God's sake give the woman something to do. Small wonder Xandar had to bring in a crew of over-the-top outlaws to haul their chestnuts out of the fire. By comparison, Michael Rooker's Yondu is light-years beyond the one-dimensional way the character was depicted in the comics; managing to be nasty and nurturing all at the same time (hey . . . tough love). And speaking of people in the movie who turned out better than they were handled in the comics: Karen Gillan's Nebula manages to match Saldana's Gamora punch for punch. Gillan uses the determined glare she learned during her days as a "Doctor Who" companion to good effect here, and she almost managed to steal whichever scenes she appears in.
A brief word about the soundtrack. If anyone years ago told me I'd be smiling while listening to Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)", I would've hooted like a loon and told said person he or she was crazy.
Well, maybe Gunn is a madman. Or a genius (depending on how thin that dividing line is). Punctuating Peter Quill's human origins with a variety of pop tunes made for several nice moments in the film (although, were I Gunn, I think I could've found a better version of "Cherry Bomb").
As with so many other films I've discussed here, "Guardians of the Galaxy" isn't going to fool anyone into thinking it great cinema. But it's a lot of fun to watch, and it poked me in all the right places.
Even more impressive: Young Son liked it.