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Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel has been on a roll in the last few years. In a way, Marvel has become its own brand name in movies. Case in point, this film begins with the Marvel logo as if it WERE the title of the movie (a move I actually did not care for, but back on track). They have cranked out movies with household names such as Spider-man, Iron Man, X-Men, and of course The Avengers. But how do they fair when they release a film based on a lesser known franchise? That's the answer we get with Guardians of the Galaxy.
The story of Guardians of Galaxy is about Peter Quill AKA Star Lord, a former Earthling (who is half-alien) who was taken to space as a boy and has developed a niche as an interstellar rogue. He gains control of a MacGuffin... I mean orb that makes him the target of bounty hunters and other villains. While on the run, Quill teams up with fellow bounty hunters Groot and Rocket Raccoon; Drax a musclebound warrior and Gamora, an alien assassin. The heroes learn of the orb's true power and embark on an adventure to keep the orb out of the hands of the bad guys.
Like many superhero films, Guardians of the Galaxy is really more about the characters than the story. Peter Quill is enjoyable as a lovable rogue with a goofy side. His prized possession is his cassette player which plays his favorite songs from Earth because it reminds him of his late mother. A lot of humor comes from him using his knowledge of Earth culture and sayings that the aliens do not understand. Gamora is a tough alien assassin with a soft side. Her soft side does not feel like a stereotypical woman, and the strong side does not feel like overcompensation so the film hits a good balance. Rocket Racoon is... a raccoon. Rocket can walk and talk, and he certainly does talk - dishing out one liners while showing a devilish side and a bit of a temper. His counterpoint is Groot, a gentle giant of a walking tree who can only say "I am Groot." Although his vocabulary is limited, his facial expressions show a ton of character. Rounding out the group is Drax, a beast of an enforcer who is out to avenge his family, but has a hard time understanding English idioms.
The cast is one of the surprising aspects of the film as it has one of the most eclectic casts in any recent blockbuster. While some may scratch their heads at the names on the poster: A sitcom actor as an action lead? A pro wrestler? A Dr. Who companion as one of the villains? The only real A-lister doing a voiceover part? The out-of-box thinking paid off as all the lead actors filled their roles so well that I bought all of them in their roles. In fact, this film does a better job of establishing its characters and defining their personalites than either X-Men or The Avengers.
There are a few trademarks audiences will be expecting from a summer Marvel superhero film. One of them is action scenes. The filmmakers did not reinvent the wheel with the action scenes in this film. They are the kind of action set pieces audiences have come to expect from big-budgeted action films. There are the one-on-one fights, attacks on cities, space battles, and yes, they are a bit overlong. But they are exciting, well-shot and plenty of fun.
James Gunn has had sort of an unusual career before this - In addition to working on Troma films (For those who do not know what Troma is, take my word, they are not movies to share with the kids) to writing the live-action Scooby-Doo films, Gunn's work has raged from underrated gems such as Super to rubbish such as Movie 43. Without question, this is a starmaking film for Gunn, and hopefully, he will have more opportunities to flex his filmmaking muscles.
Humor has also been a big factor in Marvel superhero films. And Guardians of the Galaxy is the funniest Marvel film to date. The humor comes from a lot of angles: character dialogue, Rocket's one-liners, Groot's awkwardness, Quill's frequent use of Earth pop culture to oblivious aliens. Like a lot of humor, this deserves to see rather than described, but there are plenty of out loud laughs in this film. Most of Marvel's films are action movies with jokes thrown in, Guardians of the Galaxy could be considered a full-blown action comedy.
In addition to being funny and a good action movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is simply one of the best-looking films of the year. The use of vibrant colors makes each shot look like a work of art, no doubt drawing from the comic book source material. Special effects are nothing new in Marvel movies or action blockbusters, however they play a crucial role in this film. I have long been an advocate of practical effects over CGI, however I acknowledge that characters such as Groot and Rocky Raccoon would have been impossible any other way besides CGI (at least without looking cheap). One of the marks of good CGI is do I believe what I see is really there? And... I did. The special effects were so impressive that Rocky Raccoon truly looks as though he is genuinely interacting with the other characters. When the lead characters climb Groot during a prison break, it looks like they are actually climbing a tree. Guardians of the Galaxy rivals heavyweights such as The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Lego Movie for best LOOKING movie of the year.
Guardians of the Galaxy, however, does have a few faults. As much as I like Star Lord, there is one irksome part of his character. He is a womanizer, which is tolerable, but the obnoxious part is the way the film resorts to the cliché of saying he's a womanizer, but he becomes sensitive all of a sudden as soon as he meets Gamora. Gag! Also, the film beginning with the death of Star Lord's mother is a pretty bleak way of opening what is - for all intents and purposes - a feel-good sci-fi adventure film is a pretty jarring transition. IMMEDIATELY after his mother's death, Peter is abducted by aliens, which only makes the transition all the more awkward. To be fair, the backstory does work, and I like how it ties into something as simple as Quill's love for his cassette. However, it could have been handled better.
Villains are a big draw in comic book movies, and the villains of this film are not the most memorable. Then again, after Dane DeHaan's rampant scenery chewing in Amazing Spider-man 2, there are worse things than not being memorable. Also, surprisingly, the normally sweet Karen Gillan does do a good job as the cold hearted Nebula.
Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is not much new, but everything done right. Yeah, we have seen the ragtag group of heroes. We have seen space battles and action set pieces. However, Guardians of the Galaxy succeeds by combining those elements with winning characters, good humor, and plenty of energy. While I can already name better films of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy has my vote for best superhero movie of 2014 and best comic book movie of 2014. The film ends with the bold claim "The Guardians of the Galaxy will return". I can not wait until they do.
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