Guardians of the Galaxy came out last Friday. Obviously, that was too long to wait, so I saw it at 7:00 on Thursday instead.
I had a few problems with the movie, mostly minor, but overall I had a pretty great time watching this.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a scavenger and thief, must team up with a bunch of other misfits, assassins, and talking raccoons in order to stop Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from killing a whole bunch of people with one of those nifty Infinity stones that are always popping up in Marvel movies.
1. Let’s begin with one of the movie’s strengths: the comedy. This movie is funny as hell. The script is great, a perfect blend of offbeat, snarky, goofball humor. There was one joke I kind of couldn’t believe got past the censors. (So to speak.) You just don’t see a lot of jizz jokes in PG-13 action films. Then again, you don’t see a lot of PG-13 actions films featuring gun-wielding raccoons, so. Anything’s possible, I guess.
Every review I’ve read or discussion I’ve seen has tried to come up with what other science-fiction movie Guardians of the Galaxy is analogous to. Like, people compare it to Star Wars, which I can kind of see — if you just sort of take out the Jedis and focus on scrappy Han and Chewbacca saving the universe. (For my money, Rocket and Groot are basically the new Han and Chewy, and I adore them.) Of course, GotG is a little weirder than Star Wars, which is one of the reasons it’s also getting compared to Farscape. (That, and the whole show is about a group of escaped prisoners who reluctantly have to band together to save the universe and, in the process, eventually become a family. I will go into my whole Gamora/Aeryn Sun analysis a little later.)
I don’t know if there’s one show or movie that GotG is exactly like. It’s ultimately pretty light fair, optimistic and brightly colored, but it’s also snarky and a bit demented and has a few surprisingly decent emotional moments. (Although there is one that doesn’t quite work for me, which I’ll get to in just a minute.) Tonally, Guardians feels like something new, something fresh, and that’s always exciting to see.
2. Interestingly, though, one of my minor problems with the movie happened right out of the gate. (If you’re worried about being spoiled for the first five minutes of prologue setup, just skip this whole note.)
We begin our tale with Young Peter Quill and his mother, who is dying of cancer. I was initially surprised we were going with the Finding Nemo approach of beginning our generally upbeat movie with tragic human death, but not particularly put off by it . . . except that Meredith Quill immediately threw me out of the story. She did this in two ways:
A. Her Southern accent? Yeah. This is what happens when an English actor does a Southern accent. And I’m not even good at judging Southern accents because I’m Californian, and I can’t distinguish even a little between the, like, 47 variants of Southern. Still. This is wrong.
B. More importantly (to me, anyway), her cancer makeup seemed awful. Now, I haven’t heard anyone else mention this, so maybe I was just having a weird brain thing that day and her makeup was fine, but . . . I didn’t buy that she was sick, like, not for a second. Her pallor seemed really artificial. She kind of looked like she was wearing a bald cap. And this isn’t something I was expecting to be critical of, either; I have never before, so far as I can remember, watched a movie and been like, You don’t look like you’re really dying. I know; I see dying people all the time, and you are FAKING IT, buddy. But I had a hard time concentrating on the emotion of the scene when I was so hyper aware that she was acting.
3. Which led to another weird nitpick that no one else had, probably because it’s a little silly — I wasn’t crazy about the look of the background aliens.
I mean, I liked that they were colorful — lots of pinks and blues and greens — and I generally liked the look of the main characters well enough. Nebula, for instance, looks interesting. Her skin has texture. She has body parts that she can disconnect. It’s not like someone just slathered her in blue paint and said, “Let’s go.” You know, thought went into her design.
But with a lot of the extras, that’s kind of how I felt: just paint them in primary colors and maybe alter an eyebrow ridge or something. Which is what I expect from low budget SF television shows, but dude, this is MARVEL. Money? Not really an issue these days. Of course, I don’t think this would have even occurred to me if I hadn’t already been hung up on the mom’s makeup, but I just felt like . . . we’ve got this whole galaxy here, right, and all kinds of different aliens running around, and you know the story is going to be bizarre and hilarious because James Gunn is the one directing it, and I just . . . kind of wish more of the aliens’ makeup reflected that morbid kookiness that I’ve come to expect from him.
4. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is all around excellent.
I’ve had “Cherry Bomb” stuck in my head all week and, in fact, am listening to it right now. (And by listening to it, I might mean enthusiastically lip-synching to it, as I am wont to do.)
5. Let’s discuss our main characters, shall we?
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)
Chris Pratt is perfect here. He owns the screen from the first second you see him, dancing through the opening credits, using alien lizards as impromptu microphones. (This is definitely going on my Favorite Opening Credits of All Time List.) As I still haven’t gotten around to watching Parks & Rec yet, I’m mostly familiar with Pratt from Everwood — which, yeah, this is different. I’m definitely interested in seeing more of his stuff.
My favorite thing about reading all the various interviews with Pratt is that he keeps getting all the questions that actresses usually get. I have yet to see an interview for GotG that doesn’t ask about his diet and workout routine to lose weight. He and Scarlett Johansson should really compare notes.
Gamora (Zoe Saldana)
I want to say I love Gamora as much as I love Peter Quill, but . . . that would be a lie.
Gamora’s okay. I think the reason I like her at all has everything to do with Zoe Saldana, whose performance I invariably enjoy in everything. She has a few really great and surprisingly comedic moments in this movie. She also has pretty decent chemistry with Chris Pratt. But as a character, I find Gamora a little lackluster. Backstory wise, she’s basically Princess Kitana, which is fine, but she also reminds me of a not particularly well-developed version of Aeryn Sun, a badass whose been involved in some ugly shit and ultimately becomes a hero, making amends on her journey to self-actualization. (Actually, that’s basically Xena too.)
As an arc, there’s nothing wrong with that . . . my problem has more to do with depth of character. Cause Claudia Black and Lucy Lawless both had multiple seasons to develop that journey, to move past simply being a collection of Badass Chick tropes. Zoe Saldana, on the other hand, not so much, and Gamora — you know, she’s the only female on the misfit crew, and of course she’s the one who feels compassion, who wants to help people, and Peter Quill wants to protect her pretty much from the moment he sees her, and it’s all just . . . she definitely feels more like a collection of tropes than an actual character to me.
Again, if we had more time with her, I might feel differently, but the time we spend with Gamora is mostly time we spend with Gamora & Peter, and so the focus is on UST instead of awesome female character development.
And I like the UST because these two actors really do have good chemistry, but I kind of feel like I’d like Gamora better if she wasn’t anyone’s love interest. Because at the end of the day, even though she has a few good moments, and even though I love Zoe Saldana, Gamora feels more like the Hero’s Love Interest than an actual member of the team to me.
At least she doesn’t constantly need to be rescued, though. I do appreciate that.
Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper)
I definitely had my concerns about Rocket before seeing this movie because, as a general rule, I’m not a huge fan of talking animal stories. There are exceptions to that, of course, but there aren’t many. And a talking raccoon on the other side of the universe who likes to blow shit up . . . well, I wasn’t entirely convinced.
But I loved Rocket in this movie. Bradley Cooper did a great job, I thought — he didn’t even really sound like Cooper to me. Rocket is hilarious and, at a couple of points, surprisingly moving. Like, I did not go into this movie expecting to feel particularly sorry for a space raccoon, and yet? There I was, going awww like a fucking sap.
Come on, Carlie. Get your shit together.
Groot (Vin Diesel)
I really like Groot. I don’t know if I have a lot of deep analysis on why Groot worked for me. He just did. What I’d like to say about Groot has to go in the Spoiler Section, so for now I’ll just say that he and Rocket have a pretty awesome chance of getting Best Dynamic Duo in my eventual 2014 movie superlatives.
Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista)
I like Drax well enough, although I think Bautista sells the comedy better than he sells the raw emotion. Like, Drax has the past that’s often reserved for male protagonists (murdered wife and child), but I don’t know if I ever really feel the anger and grief from him. It’s not horrible. I didn’t laugh at his pain or anything; I’m just saying, I’m more moved by the talking raccoon. On the other hand, Drax is actually pretty funny, and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting him to be. So that was cool.
6. Unfortunately, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) is yet another example of a boring Marvel villain.
He’s not terrible or anything, and I think Lee Pace probably does all he can with the role, but . . . Ronan’s another dude who wants to destroy everything and kill everyone because he’s EVIL. He has almost zero personality . . . which is, admittedly, more personality than Malekith had in Thor: The Dark World, but still. I want MORE from Marvel now. I want them to show me one villain, other than Loki, who I’d give above a B grade to. Because only a few have managed B grades from me; everyone else, B- or under. Mekaela and I’ve been working on a Marvel Movie Villain ranking list, and folks, it’s not good. (I’d post this list, but I’m still trying to decide if I should split it into two — Big Bads and Everyone Else — or keep all the villains together. Also, I feel like I should rewatch a few of the movies I haven’t seen in a while for a fair assessment, which is unfortunate, because I don’t particularly want to rewatch The Incredible Hulk again, among others.)
7. Finally, I definitely like Nebula a lot more than Ronan, but I’ll admit, she doesn’t have a lot to do in this movie.
Considering I also like Karen Gillan quite a bit, there’s probably some bias there. (Although it’s not like I don’t like Lee Pace. Pushing Daisies, anyone?) Mostly, I just wish I had a friend who happened to be a professional makeup artist because I would sit in a makeup chair in a long time if it meant I could do a convincing Nebula cosplay.
Man, that would be fun.
Here’s an interesting thing: our hero has both mommy and daddy issues. Usually, it tends to be one or the other, mostly the latter for heroes and the former for villains, but Peter has a dead mom who he still misses and an absentee alien father whose identity we never learn. He never seems to be too angsty about the whole dad thing during Guardians (because that’s for the sequel), but I like the revelation that Star Lord was something his mom used to call him. Also, that the present he finally opens at the end of the film ends up being a second mix tape. Yup, I totally called that. (Shhh. I don’t care if it was obvious. I called it because I’m a GENIUS.)
Anyway, Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his crew of scavenger cannibal types are the ones who initially abducted Peter from Earth, apparently on a mission to deliver him to his father, which they never actually do.
Honestly, I was really wondering if Yondu was Peter’s dad for a while there — because that would have been kind of hilarious, especially with Yondu calling Peter son and describing himself as an angel. (I’m pretty sure the mom deliriously calls the father an angel or having the face of an angel or something like that.) Oh, also, Yondu wouldn’t let his men eat Peter, which is absolutely the strongest sign of paternal love that I can think of. (I also really like the scene where Peter’s like, “Stop holding that over my head! That doesn’t make you a good guy, NOT eating a child.” Or whatever he actually says — I was going to put this in my Quotes section, but I can’t seem to find it online, and I don’t remember the exact dialogue anymore, dammit.)
Still, it’s probably for the best that someone other than Yondu is Peter’s father. Here’s to hoping it’s not secretly Thanos. (Otherwise, dude’s gonna have some SERIOUS daddy issues after all.)
Okay, so what else do I need to talk about? I was originally thinking about recapping the whole movie, but this review has already taken me a lot longer than I originally intended — damn you, paying job, for getting in the way of my blogging — so maybe I’ll just make a few more random notes before wrapping up:
1. What the hell is Glenn Close doing in this movie?
She’s not bad in it or anything, just . . . she has nothing to do. Her character could have been played by anybody. This woman’s been nominated for six Oscars — I do not understand what she’s doing here unless she really likes Marvel action movies or she has grandchildren who really like Marvel action movies. Even then, you’d think she could hold out for a slightly better part. Unless she’s more important in the sequel or something, but . . . yeah. I’m at a loss here.
2. I still am not a huge fan of Ronan, but I was really happy when he abruptly broke The Other’s neck. I assumed The Other was going to play a much bigger role in the next phase of Marvel movies, and I wasn’t really excited about it, considering that he looked and sounded a lot like an Emperor Palpatine rip-off. When he died, I burst into laughter. Best thing Ronan did that whole movie.
3. Oh, okay. I guess his face was pretty hilarious at the end when Peter Quill distracted him with a dance-off. That whole bit was kind of awesome. There should totally be more dance-offs in superhero movies.
I still want more exciting villains, though. Come on, Ultron. It’s all on you, buddy.
4. At one point, Rocket gets drunk.
Yup. The talking space raccoon gets drunk, so you’re thinking hilarity and hijinks, right? Well, you’re wrong. This is one of those totally sneaky emotional moments where Rocket, all angry and hurt, starts talking about being an experiment and everyone treating him like vermin, and I started feeling bad for him. I have Feels for the TALKING SPACE RACCOON. What the hell is my life right now?
5. I also was all sad when Groot supposedly died, like, way more sad than I would have expected to be about a walking tree. Maybe the film would have been slightly better if he’d actually stayed dead instead of being reborn as Mini Groot — you know, like, actual consequences and everything — but I’m actually totally okay with him coming back. Cause I like Groot. He has this one moment where he’s kicking the shit out of these bad guys, and I’m thinking, Look, this is funny, sure, but I KNOW you’re trying to one-up the Hulk smashing the shit out of Loki right now, and sorry, buddy, but that’s just not going to happen. And then Groot turns around with the biggest, most innocent grin on his face, and I’m like . . . okay, that was pretty good.
Plus, if Groot stayed dead, we wouldn’t get Covertly Dancing Tiny Groot, which is clearly something we all needed in our lives. Basically, everyone I’ve ever met who’s seen this film has decided that they need a Dancing Tiny Groot Plant in their homes, and I am totally on board with that. ThinkGeek, get on this.
6. I’m also glad that Nebula lived, partly because I felt a little sorry for her — I generally feel sorry for the less-loved children in stories — but mostly because I’m hoping she has a bigger role for the sequel. Also, the fact that she outlives Ronan (by totally abandoning him, which, right on, Nebula) makes her a Super Second Banana. Excellent.
7. Finally, about the Post Credits stuff:
A. I loved this: “No raccoons or tree creatures were harmed during the making of this film.” This is excellent.
B. I am significantly less enthused about any chance of a Howard the Duck movie. Holy shit. I mean, I totally laughed, but wow. There was a guy in the theater who was like, “Oh, HELL no,” and I was kind of like, “I’m right there with you, buddy.”
I was won over by the talking raccoon, but guys, I think Howard the Duck is pushing it a little too far, sorry.
Gamora: “I will not succumb to your pelvic sorcery!”
Gamora: “You don’t get to ask questions after the nonsense you pulled on Knowhere.”
Drax: “I just saved Quill!”
Peter: “We’ve already established that you destroying the ship I’m on is not saving me.”
Drax: “When did we establish that?”
Peter: “Like three seconds ago!”
(Peter has — in a nice nod to The Avengers — twelve percent of a plan to basically save the universe)
Rocket: “Twelve percent?”
(Rocket bursts into laughter)
Peter: “That’s a fake laugh.”
Rocket: “It’s real.”
Peter: “Totally fake.”
Rocket: “That is the most real, authentic, hysterical laugh of my entire life because that is not a plan!”
Gamora: “It’s barely even a concept.”
Peter: “You’re taking their side?”
Groot: “I am Groot.”
Rocket: “So what, it’s better than eleven percent? What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
Rhomann Dey: “He’s been traveling recently as Rocket’s personal houseplant slash muscle.”
Rocket: “Metaphors go over his head.”
Drax: “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.”
Gamora: “I’m a warrior and an assassin. I do not dance.”
Peter: “Really? Well, on my planet, there’s a legend about people like you. It’s called . . . Footloose. And in it, a great hero . . . named Kevin Bacon . . . teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that dancing, well. It’s the greatest thing there is.”
Gamora: “Who put the sticks up their butts?”
Peter: “What? No, that’s just a — ”
Gamora: “That is cruel.”
Peter: ” — a phrase.”
Rocket: “Why would you want to save the galaxy?”
Peter: “Because I’m one of the idiots who lives there!”
Gamora: “We’re just like Kevin Bacon!”
Rocket: “That’s for if you wanna blow up moons.”
Gamora: “No one’s blowing up moons.”
Rocket: “You just wanna suck the joy out of everything.”
Drax (to Groot): “Where did you learn how to do that?”
Peter: “I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘I am Groot’.”
Gamora: “Your ship is filthy.”
Peter: “Filthy? She has no idea. If we had a black light, it would look like a Jackson Pollock painting.”
Korath: “Star Lord!”
Groot: “We are Groot.”
I completely dig the offbeat, mischievous sort of misfit humor, and I’m absolutely excited to see more GotG sequels. This movie made a lot of seemingly unworkable things work, and that is no small accomplishment. But I’m definitely hoping for Gamora and Nebula to have better material to work with next time around, Gamora especially, and I’d really like to see a more interesting villain, especially in a weird little universe like this one where a quirky villain could really shine.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. Or, to put it another way, averting genocide is slightly more important than a big score.