Sunday 3 August 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Groot Point

Guardians Of The Galaxy
2014 USA
Directed by James Gunn
Cinema release print.

I was both pleasantly surprised and achingly disappointed by the release of the new Marvel Phase 2 movie Guardians Of The Galaxy. When the film was first announced as being another of the series in the linking Marvel story arc that kicked off with the first Iron Man film... I was a bit taken aback. The comic this is mostly based on is the 21st Century incarnation of the Guardians Of The Galaxy as opposed to the original 1969 team... and I have not read any of their original stories in any of the various team line-ups to be able to pass judgement on this film as an adaptation. I was, though, very worried about how Marvel would be able to pull off a movie with characters like Rocket Raccoon and Groot in it and still make it fit in with their other properties in such an intimate manner. The various trailers didn’t exactly endear me to the idea of going to see it either.

Sure, the groundwork had been done by Marvel in terms of sowing the seeds for a more intergalactic piece of their giant cinematic puzzle with the Thor films (which are reviewed by me here and here), which are set off-world, so to speak... and, of course, The Avengers movie (reviewed here), which shares a common villain with this one. The character of The Collector, for example, had already appeared in the second Thor movie and Thanos had already been revealed at the end of The Avengers (aka Marvel Avengers Assembled) as one of the major players in the conflict depicted in that movie. However, this didn’t change the fact that I was finding it mighty difficult that a film of this nature, which would probably end up as “just another space opera” (and kinda did, actually), would be able to slot in neatly with the other films in the series without looking incongruous. It’s a lot easier to get these kinds of mismatched crossovers to work in comic books than it is to do it in the movies, I’m sure.

That being said though... I was, as I said in my introduction, pleasantly surprised by the movie. For two reasons.

One is because... it’s not a terrible film. It’s not great but it is at least watchable and has some quite good moments which give it some entertainment value. The other reason is because, as it stands, I think this should just about slot into the current Marvel universe if the producers, writers and directors can do it very carefully and write to the various characters’ reactions and interactions with each other as they meet up in various films. I can imagine, for example, that a well written scene between Tony Stark and Rocket Raccoon would go down a treat.

This film opens very, very strongly with an opening, pre-credits sequence which is guaranteed to tear at the heartstrings and bring trickles of moisture from the audience’s eyes. We see the young Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, as he refuses to hold his mother’s hand and then she dies before he gets a chance to do that. He runs out of the hospital in his grief and is immediately kidnapped by aliens, one of the original members of the 1969 Guardians Of The Galaxy as it happens, although in this movie that character (played by Michael Rooker) is portrayed as a villain rather than a hero.

The cast is strong and the main players... Chris Pratt as Peter (Star Lord) Quill, Zoe Saldana as Gomora, Dave Bautista as Drax The Destroyer, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Racoon and Vin Diesel as Groot... are all really good in their roles... with special mention of Bautista who does a really good job at making me care about his character’s motivation. They all get some really nice dialogue in their scenes and it’s when they are interacting with each other in a way that doesn’t involve people punching, kicking, shooting or stabbing each other to death that their characters really get to shine through.

Similarly, there’s a good supporting cast of particularly reliable actors who are great in this including the always watchable John C. Reilly and the highly talented Karen Gillan, an actress I felt was somewhat wasted in this. She plays it very strong but the scripting seems to be working against her, I felt and the denouement of her character seemed to me, to be a triumph of the “quick technological special effects punchline” as opposed to anything which seemed earned by the main protagonists. It doesn’t help that a similar sequence is used right near the end of the movie either... people seem to be pulling out big guns and unloading them in the direction of the bad guys as a “quick fix” too often in this movie, I felt. It has to be said that Gillan’s portrayal of Nebula marked her out as the only villain in the movie that I felt even remotely intimidated by... so maybe casting her as a henchman... um... henchwoman, in a film which is already full of those kinds of characters, was a mis-step. She needed a bigger role to flesh out, I felt, and I hope the people in Hollywood are taking note of just how good she is at what she does. They need to play to her strengths more, I think.

However, for all of the good stuff... I had a very strong dose of negative vibes from the film also.

It’s a good film, no doubt about it. It’s entertaining when it needs to be and I felt like I could root for all the main protagonists in this one with no trouble. However, the plotting on this one seems a bit obvious and the film, filled with epic action and effects as it is, felt to me to be a bit like overkill when the story isn’t justifying it a whole lot. I would have preffered a much simpler film which doesn’t hurtle you from one scene to the next quite so blurringly. Also, I have to say, that apart from those often but brief bits of shiny dialogue, the whole thing felt kinda dull to me in places.

Of course, it didn’t help that I couldn’t follow the action on this one too easily, either. I’m sure the choreography of the various battles made a lot of sense on paper but, frankly, the way these scenes were edited together just kept losing me. I could maybe see a vague sense of the direction of the thing in the battle scenes but, honestly, I lost interest a little way into most of these scenes because they were either unremarkable, distractingly edited or seemed to be serving a storyline which seemed over simplistic for the “everything and the kitchen sink” attitude which seems to be prevalent for most of the film. About the best action sequence in this is when the five protagonists break out of prison but... that happens fairly early on in the movie and so, as far as action scenes go, you’ve already seen the best one before the film is even half the way through.

Again, I wasn’t feeling the music in this one either... which is strange since the inclusion of music in a diegetic role and as an important component of the Peter Quill character, means that music almost becomes a character in itself in this one. It was a main hook of the trailers too, as I recall, but... although I’m okay with pop music, it’s not really my main source of musical interest and I really didn’t like most of the songs featured in this movie. Tyler Bates score is appropriate and serves the film by giving it what it needs but, again, I didn’t notice anything really remarkable in this one... although that’s not always possible when it gets buried in the noisy mix of an action vehicle like it tends to here. I’ll probably get more of a feel for it if I ever get around to buying the score as a stand alone listen... but nothing in this movie screamed out at me, in terms of the music, which made me want to rush out and buy the score.

And that’s really all there is to it in my view. Guardians Of The Galaxy is not the disaster I was expecting it to be... but it wasn’t that great either. It’s an establishing movie, though, and it could well lead to better things for the on-screen Marvel Universe at a later date, I suspect. If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies in this cycle then you probably won’t want to miss it.. although I suspect it’s not as major a set up for the incidents in next year's The Avengers: Age Of Ultron as I’d initially suspected it to be. In terms of the overall arc I’ve a feeling that this one could probably be dropped out of the equation entirely and the next movie would still make 100% sense by the inclusion of key players from previous movies... so there’s that. Not a movie I will be rushing back to the cinema to see again anytime soon but I’ll probably take another look at it on DVD at some point next year because... I know my mother liked it. As usual with Marvel films now, there is both a mid-end credits scene and a post credits scene and, I have to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither of them are necessary for understanding the next movie in the cycle... but if you are so inclined, you should probably stay for the final drop. All in all though, I wouldn’t exactly say I got hooked on a feeling for this movie.

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