GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Review: "Something Good. Something Bad. Bit Of Both."
This weekend, Marvel Studios released their most ambitious film-to-date, Guardians of the Galaxy. Is it any good? Well, hit the jump to find out what I thought of it.
Something Good, Something Bad...A Bit of Both
SOMETHING GOOD - (Review Contains Mild Spoilers!!!)
Memorable Scenes: First, the mad dash for the Orb on Xandar is a fun and thrilling sequence. It does an excellent job of introducing Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) to his soon-to-be buddies Gamora, Rocket and Groot. Second, the escape from the space prison (The Kyln). Actually, most of the scenes from that portion are highly-entertaining. But it is the escape itself that offers the most dazzle. It was unique and more importantly, inventive. This is where Rocket's humor and ingenuity really shine through. Lastly, there are two emotionally powerful scenes that are strategically used to bookend the film. They involved Peter and his relationship with his mother. They're both beautifully crafted by director James Gunn.
Rocket Raccoon & Groot: These two characters are incredibly well done. Digitally, both appear to be interacting with the live-action actors just as well as The Hulk did in The Avengers or Gollum in The Hobbit. Rocket is by far the most realized character in the film. His emotional baggage comes through loud and clear with an impressive voice performance from Bradley Cooper ("The Hangover"). And you've gotta love the vocabulary-challenged character known as Groot. That big lovable plant is one of the few characters that actually has super-powers and it is a blast to watch him use them. Though, his one-liner "I am Groot" does become nauseating, but by the time the film nears its conclusion you realize the purpose of the repetitive phrase. The payoff is satisfying.
Visuals: I saw the film in 3D (Not IMAX). Gorgeous looking film. The sets are very impressive. They transport your mind to another world. Remember how we got a small glimpse of Oa in Green Lantern? And Asgard in the two Thor films? Well, Guardians of the Galaxy actually delivers the goods on the out-of-this-world environments. It might just be the film's greatest strength. Very important for the viewer to believe these events are taking place in a galaxy far, far away. And I did.
Exposition: I bring up exposition a lot when judging a film. Why have your character verbally share information when it is much more interesting to show us. Simply put: show, don't tell. Guardians of the Galaxy does a LOT of telling and not a lot of showing. Let's use the recent Fargo mini-series as an example of great storytelling. Specifically, we'll use the mysterious hitman Lorne Malvo, who was magnificently played by Billy Bob Thornton. His character is an evil, manipulative son of a bitch. Know how we know that? Cause they show us! We actually witness Malvo: instigating a savage attack between two dim brothers, killing a dog, going on a killing spree in an elevator, issuing menacing threats to a police officer and mail room attendant. That's just a small sample of the badass moments we see. You get the point. No character in the show has to tell us how terrible Malvo is, we see it. The point is drilled into our brains with brilliant visual storytelling.
Examples! Gamora, she's a deadly assassin, right? Who does she kill? Oh, nobody. We're told she's a dangerous gal, but for the most part we only see her kicking and punching. There's really no hint of danger to her character at all. They may call her the "Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe" but that's not the case from what I saw.
She's also Thanos' "favorite daughter." Man, I bet there's a great scene that shows us Thanos favors Gamora over his other daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan), right? Nope! Thanos, for no apparent reason just decides to call Gamora his "favorite daughter." This is a cheap bit of storytelling if you ask me. Poorly manufactured to create tension between Gamora and her sister Nebula.
Then there's the scene involving Drax, Rocket and Groot on Knowhere. We see all three of them gambling and drinking at a bar. While that is going on Peter is letting Gamora listen to music with his Walkman. Their tender moment is quickly interrupted by sounds of chaos coming from behind them. By the time Peter gets over there Drax, Rocket and Groot are in the middle of a drunken brawl with each other. We're told the reasons for the fisticuffs by an agitated Rocket. Once again, we're being told what happened and not shown. Seeing the remnants of a fight between three of your leads without seeing how it came to be is lazy writing. I WANT to see Rocket pushed over the edge with rage. A missed opportunity.
Those are just a few examples. The film is littered with exposition. I would provide more examples but I really don't want to give a lot away. If you've seen the film most of you should agree with me... begrudgingly. I'll offer a few more samples in the various categories below.
Forgettable Scenes: The film loses its footing once it gets to Knowhere, a world inside of an enormous decapitated alien head. From the dive bar, to the meeting with The Collector and Drax's encounter with a certain baddie there's nothing here that is all that memorable. Sadly, Benicio del Toro isn't given much to work with here. I would also like to point out the final scene with Ronan. It has some cringe-worthy goofiness that would be more appropriate for an animated Disney film from the 90's. Thank goodness the film didn't end on that low note.
Weak Villains: The one area that most Marvel films are lacking is with the villains. Most of them never come across all that sinister. I mean, we certainly hear about their malicious exploits but we hardly get to see them do anything shockingly evil. This is of course the price that you pay for making films that are family-friendly. The big-budget films that they churn out can only show so much in order to preserve that PG-13 rating Marvel covets. In Guardians of the Galaxy, we're told about the evil deeds of Ronan but we hardly get to see him do anything all that evil. Yeah sure, he kills someone right when he is introduced, but we have zero connection to the victim. Near the end, Ronan unleashes his power and there's a mass-death, but once again we don't really have a connection to the victims. I just shrugged my shoulders and I said to myself, 'That's too bad for those folks.'
Thanos, he's the "most powerful" being in the universe. Of course, we never see him demonstrate any of that power in the film. Outside of him making Ronan a little weak in the knees with a threatening tone, he doesn't have much of a presence. I don't expect we'll get the full unveiling of Thanos' wrath until Avengers 3, but it would've been nice to get a taste of what's to come.
Death Fatigue: I call this the Firefly problem. If you've ever watched Joss Whedon's sci-fi/western television series you are well aware that all of the main cast at some point almost die. Some experience a near-fatal event numerous times. It isn't too much of an issue for Firefly because deep down you know Whedon has never been shy about killing off beloved characters. A near death in one of his projects has a bit more impact. As for Guardians of the Galaxy it too relies on a lot of scenes that push characters to the brink of death. By the time we get to the big finale it is incredibly hard to get emotionally invested in the inevitable moment(s) of will this character or will that character perish.
A BIT OF BOTH
Soundtrack: Ever since the first trailer featured the sounds of Blue Swede's "Hooked On a Feeling" we knew this film was gonna have a healthy dose of 70's pop. At times, the song choices are near-perfect and blend seamlessly with the story, such as the song (can't remember which one) Peter is listening to as he prances to the location of the Orb. However, there are other times in which the songs don't work so well. The Runaways' “Cherry Bomb” drowns out dialogue between the group as they are hatching a plan. I would still strongly recommend picking up the soundtrack if you like sounds from the 70's.
Alien Makeup Effects: There are some really interesting designs for some of the alien species in this film. Too bad most of these interesting creatures are stuck in the background. The aliens out front and center look way too humanoid. It is a bit distracting when you look at Michael Rooker's Yondu (Michael Rooker) and all you see is Merle ("The Walking Dead") with a blue tan wearing minimal facial prosthetics. For me, slapping on blue, pink, gray or green body paint isn't helping me buy into the outer-space elements. Heck, the Xandarians/Nova Corps are just humans with bad haircuts. If that is all you need to be an alien than every member of the French World Cup soccer team is suspect.
Additionally: Marvel updated the look of Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) from the last time we saw him in The Avengers. Not a fan of it. Once again, they added human-like facial features. I assume this is to make Thanos look more like Brolin. I DON'T hate it. I'm just disappointed with the humanoid-alterations.
Humor: I give the film credit for providing some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Some of the best bits of humor come from a sequence with a no-name prisoner and his knife. As for the main cast, Rocket easily provides the most chuckles. I would say he's eye-poppingly good at pulling someone's leg. But like Thor: The Dark World the movie doesn't know when to turn off the rapid fire quips and take itself seriously. As an example, I think the funniest film Marvel has produced is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. With that film, there isn't an endless barrage of jokes. This allows the jokes that are used to have a lot more impact. Remember, less is more.
Drax: In the film, professional wrestler Dave Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer. It's a mixed performance. There's things I liked and things I didn't. He seemed to be at his best when he was acting as the butt of Rocket and Peter's jokes. His comedic timing was remarkable. Bravo for that. Now to the negative. Dave's character, Drax, seeks to avenge the murder of his wife and child. But he doesn't come across as a guy that has lost his family. When he comes face-to-face with Ronan, the man who killed them, he doesn't emote any of that rage. Yeah, he screams and shouts but it has as much oomph as a Chihuahua's bark.
Final Thoughts: Overall, the film has more good scenes than bad. Surprisingly, for a film that features a bunch of no good outlaws it is incredibly kid-friendly. With a few snips here and there the film could have easily been PG instead of a soft PG-13. I would certainly recommend seeing it, but keep your expectations in check. You'll laugh, you'll groan and you may even shed a tear. It may not be Marvel's best, but it does offer some of their best scenes.
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