Sunday, August 10, 2014

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Guardians of the Galaxy

DON’T PANIC.  The following film review has been professionally eviscerated and organized into chunks of 150-400 words that will lend themselves well to your daily quality reading sessions on the crapper.  It’s our dearest hope that these portions convey at least a resemblance of the message imparted by the author in the whole, but if not, feel free to leave a complaint by calling the editor of the Alpha Centauri district, as The Guide is being continually revised to reflect our simultaneously growing and diminishing understanding of the galaxy surrounding us.

Guardians of our Galaxy… and some awesome kid.


Peter Quill: A renegade space-hopper, surprisingly dashing and suave for a wanted outlaw going by the significantly more ostentatious if no more memorable title of Star Lord.  Who?  Those uninitiated to the galaxy might naively excuse his criminality as a product of a traumatic childhood loss or (more ignorantly) of his single-to-zero-parent upbringing, but this is far from the actual case.  Quill’s earliest living memory is of helplessly watching his mother succumb to death before his 8-year-old eyes, but this doesn’t pain him nearly much as it might otherwise, precisely because it’s his earliest living memory and neither he nor anybody else could say the first thing about Mama Quill except that she died.  Quill admits to being “an a-hole, but not 100% a di__”, a distinction that sets him apart as a relatively honorable man in a galaxy of thugs and thieves like…

Gamora: A generically badass green-skinned alien babe with a sword; also an orphan and the adopted daughter of the cryptic yet recurring phantom menace Thanos and sister to the blue-skinned warrior Nebula. In the 2014 biopic Guardians of the Galaxy directed and co-written by James Gunn, she’s portrayed by reigning queen of geekdom Zoe Saldana, who extensively trained for the part by playing a blue-skinned alien babe in Avatar and living with a green-skinned alien babe during filming of Star Trek. Gamora appears in various states of undress for the trailers to Guardians, but she’s actually a really sweet, blandly independent girl in real life, so long as you can get past the whole part about being a living weapon.  Incidentally, no man has yet to join his lips with hers, leastwise not in the Marvel Studios fictionalization, which critics have hailed as an encouraging and progressive break from the chauvinistic, patriarchal perspective that’s too often engendered by such archaic male-fantasy movies as Thor, Spider-man, Captain America 1, and Iron Man.

Drax the Destroyer: A brutish goliath of a prisoner who’s more disposed to using his fists than using his mind; compensates for his inability to process figurative language with a vocabulary ripped straight from a thesaurus (just don’t call him one) and a proclivity for ripping out the spine of those who say anything he finds irksome, which he only learns to be illegal really late in his first adventure with the Guardians.  Drax the Destroyer channels his destructive instinct towards the annihilation of Ronan the Accuser, a meanie he’s sworn to unspine in retribution for the murder, not of his parents, but of his wife and daughter, who remain shrouded in mystery even to this day due to the scarcity of any documentation proving their existence or relationship to Drax.

Rocket and Groot: Respectively, a genetically altered, anthropomorphic raccoon and his walking tree pet; both bounty hunters and steadfast partners-in-crime.  Neither has lost a loved one but both feel as if they’re leading lives of isolation: a short-tempered, self-serving gunslinger, Rocket rejects the label of raccoon, saying, “There ain’t no thing like me, except me,” and Groot struggles to communicate with anybody beside the vermin he accompanies, having “vocabulistics limited to ‘I’ and ‘am’ and ‘Groot’, exclusively in that order”.  In this sense, they form a seemingly novel but rather derivative parallel to another, somewhat older pair of smugglers working in a galaxy far far away, one of them a handsome, impertinent rogue and the other a kindly walking carpet whose howls and moans only make sense to the one he calls his master. Even though Groot and Rocket appear to be constantly imperiled in the narrative of Guardians, Marvel insists that “no raccoons or tree creatures were harmed in the making of the film”, as both are brought to life by a top-notch blend of imaginative CGI and voice acting, provided here by an engagingly irritable Bradley Cooper and the amazingly talented Vin Diesel, who reportedly read his line more than a thousand times in several languages because he was so committed to capturing the complicated emotional nuances of his character.

The Guardians of the Galaxy: In spite of their distinguishing quirks and flairs, all five of these oddballs have at least two things in common, one being that their character development is limited mostly to little quirks and flairs, the other that they really don’t like each other at the beginning but eventually resolve their petty differences through friendship and trust when destiny calls them to save the universe from impending devestation.  If that sounds like the plot outline of another uber-commercial Marvel movie, it’s because it is like the plot outline of another uber-commercial Marvel movie, but it’s only rarely as concentrated as its predecessor, being riddled with sci-fi universe mumbo-jumbo, extraneous characters, and too many exceptions to too many rules.  A 30-something-year-old Star Lord is dancing through the dust-strewn hallways of a gloomy junk world when he happens upon an important orb thingamajiger that could be used as a superweapon if the wrong people managed to get their hands on it.  As a matter of fact, just about all the prominent spacefarers in the movie wants to get their hands on it, which by sheer chance ends up driving Star Lord together with the rest of the Guardians-to-be, albeit by landing him inside a meteoric penitentiary where everybody wants to kill him.  Rocket Raccoon has one plan of escape and that plan that involves obtaining a frickin’ quarnex battery, so they have to figure it out!  Groot figures it out but trips the alarm in the process, forcing all our heroes to improvise an action-packed getaway and Rocket to fend off waves of robotic prison guards with a machine gun in possibly the awesomest action sequence of 2014. Oh, yeah.


After hijacking a Lego set-ready starship out of there, the Guardians venture to a system called Knowhere (helpfully identified by setting subtitles) that looks an awful lot like the severed skull of some space giant, probably because it is the head of a space giant.  Here they receive a soporific and incoherent backstory monologue from a white-haired creepy guy named the Collector who looks like a cross between Zeus from Tron: Legacy and Rutger Hauer’s replicant in Blade Runner.  He’s not a pretty sight for the eyes.  The Collector tells them of the “Infinity Stone’s” epic power and it’s around this time that the Guardians recognize the galaxy really depends on them to stop Ronan from devastating everything in his wake, because he’s a bad guy and that’s the kind of thing bad guys do.  For more on the Xandar crisis and formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, turn to page 2,190,489 of The Guide.

Ronan the Accuser: Until the dawning of the era of Thanos, the dominant scourge of the galaxy, responsible for executing all unprovoked and nefarious actions typical of such an office; wears poorly administered facial paint and an ever-gaping mouth that suggests a degenerate descendant of the Joker and Bella Swan.  If you somehow miss his presence or only purpose in the Marvel picture, viz. to give the protagonists somebody to fight, then you must not be paying very close attention, for the Guardians refer to him incessantly and the filmmakers take numerous (now customary for the studio) cuts from the main action to show him and his henchwoman plotting something evil or another. Unlike the main villains of some other Marvel projects, e.g. Loki or Guy Pearce’s bad guy in Iron Man 3 (however confused he was), Ronan isn’t so much a character in and of himself as he is an excuse to make the integral characters do or say things that explain their underlying motives and consciences, if only minimally.

The Galaxy: an ecosystem of monumental proportions, virtually infinite in the diversity of its lifeforms and locales, so big that, by comparison, bigness itself looks really titchy (per The Guide’s definition of “infinite”). Through a wholly remarkable amalgamation of makeup and set design and modern animation, Marvel has created a surprisingly stunning low-budget alternative for those who can’t afford a Hitchhiker’s Guide to travel the galaxy for less than 30 Altairian dollars a day.  It’s just a shame that a movie imbued with so much color and spectacle happens to be so aggravatingly underlit, or maybe this Guide contributor was screwed over by a defective screen.

The Awesome Mix: A compilation tape of Star Lord’s favorite 70s pop/rock hits as bestowed on him by his mother and prominently played through his trusty Walkman; doubles as the official new-old soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy.  Radio disc jockeys from Betelgeuse to Magrathea have speculated that the awesome mix may be Guardians’ most important contribution to a culture which is languishing from quite possibly the worst year in all musical history, an era beset by the sickening beats of such bogon poets as Calvin Harris, Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith, the Why You Gotta Be So Rude band, and the That’s Just How I Feel band.  At the time of this guide’s “writing”, the awesome mix was ranked #1 on the iTunes charts and looked to be projecting a potential revival of the largely forgotten genre of awesome-music. Even a miniscule humanoid sapling can jive to that.  The same cannot be said of the orchestral score, which repeatedly draws upon the ordinary and rote in lieu of anything memorable, playing generically heroic anthems during battle scenes and generically sad piano themes during the few arguably disruptive parts of the film that are intended to make us cry.

The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014 film): Excerpted from Superheroes Are Fictional by Josephos Rex.

As frivolous summertime eye candy, Guardians of the Galaxy is perfectly passable entertainment that does absolutely nothing to reinvent the comic book movie, the space opera, or anything else.  Much like The Avengers of two years back, it’s stuffed chock-full of snappy one-liners, likeable characters, and slickly choreographed action that makes the most of each hero’s unique powers.  Like The Avengers, it was also geared narrowly to a set of rabidly devoted fans who were largely predetermined to enjoy every minute of the film whether or not it had a very compelling story, which it honestly doesn’t.  Where Joss Whedon, working with legends whose backgrounds and personalities had already been established, took the liberty to deliver mostly straight-up action from beginning to end along with scattered pauses for rhetorical sparring matches, James Gunn tries to make up for his characters’ relative obscurity by inserting flashbacks and what I figure are supposed to be emotionally resonant scenes.  The problem is that such moments are neither sincere enough to produce real sympathy nor small enough as not to interfere with the rest of an otherwise lighthearted movie.  In the long run, they feel more like digressions from a generally weak narrative than pillars of a particularly strong one, like emotional backdrops that Gunn tacked on just for the sake of claiming that his film had a “heart”.  The closest the movie ever comes to having a moment of real pathos is a beautiful scene midway through in which Star Lord ejects himself from the safety of his space pod to aid an incapacitated Gamora, voluntarily offering to trade his own life for that of “friend” who’s beaten him up, robbed him of his expensive sphere, and coldly rejected his invitation to dance all in the short two days they’ve known each other.  All told, it doesn’t make a lot of sense why the heck he’d do it, which kind of undercuts the meaning of his sacrifice when you think about it logically instead of focusing on the pretty green lights and weightless, sci-fi romanticism of the visuals. Is he just a gentleman doing as a gentleman ought; has his propensity for chivalrous or sacrificial behavior been demonstrated even once prior to this event?

Aside from the misplaced melodramatic flashbacks, Guardians rarely forgets its soul as a comedy, taking several jabs at the more overused tropes of filmmaking, such as the “five jackasses, standing in a circle” as a symbol of their unity, or the poorly defined superhero who conveniently reveals a new power right when it’s needed, or the protagonist defeating his foe only to discover larger forces at play he must confront in a gratuitous sequel, or the villain who takes forever to finish off the first good guy while the second good guy prepares a sneak attack from behind.  At other times, the movie buys into clichés without acknowledging it as openly, if at all, as when Star Lord launches into a ‘planning montage’ describing the 12% of an idea he’s thought up before he actually executes it in real time, or when a letter from a long-lost relative gives a character who’s losing hope the strength to proceed, or when the heroes knock down the bad guy way too easily the first time for it to be permanent.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the kind of mindless diversionary crowd pleaser that people in on the joke will be reciting ad nauseum for several weeks after its release but whose plot will sooner fade from everybody’s memory than far more provocative and original films like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a modicum of mindless diversion here and there, and the film universe always stands to benefit from some more stupid one-liners, because heaven knows we don’t have enough viral animal memes or comic book gifs clogging up our internet already.

If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, I have no idea whether you’ll like this movie. Sorry.  If you liked The Avengers, I’m not even sure you’ll love The Guardians of the Galaxy, though I would attest their internal conflicts are almost exactly the same.  If you like flashy, feel-good sci-fi pictures about teamwork and talking raccoons and dumb trees and green whores and a-holes and the guy stiff enough to say, “Nobody talks to my friends like that,” after calling them all these things, then I’m high on believing you’ll get a kick out of Guardians of the Galaxy.  I know I did.


Trailer Reviews
Big Hero Six – So, is it Marvel, or Disney, or what?  It sure looks stupid whatever it is.  Awkward silence or awkward noise jokes in the trailer are an immediate tip-off to garbage.
Alexander’s Doubleplusungood Day – Also stupid, except for the kangaroo at the end.
Night at the Museum… Secret of the Tomb? – They didn’t put the 3 in the title because they knew nobody would go to a movie they could watch twice on DVD with the added benefits of Amelia Earhart, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, the T-Rex, Atillia the Hun, and Darth Vader, in descending order.  Oh, and we’ve already seen the giant-monkey-peeing-on-the-city-to-douse-the-fire gag.  Remember the Jack Black Gulliver’s Travels movie from a couple years ago?  No?  Best to keep it that way.
Dumb and Dumber To – Genius title for a stupid movie.  After the Kick-A 2 and the Burt Wonderstone catastrophes, I think Jim Carrey’s still recovering from the fallout from his “gun owners are heartless mother_____s” comment, and the fallout from his “gun owners have very little left in their body or soul worth protecting” comment, and the fallout from the sophomoric, utterly asinine video he made dancing on Charlton Heston’s grave.
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies – The CGI wolves don’t even look that good, and they already used the Pippin song in Return of the King.  Lame.
Interstellar – This is what a good trailer should do: tease some of the film’s standout visuals and tell you just enough about the concept to get you interested but not enough to spoil the movie, a la the Avatar trailer.  Aside from promising a lot of returning Dark Knight actors and Christopher Nolan’s take on space travel, it really doesn’t tell you a lot about the plot, which shows the trailer editor did something right.
The November Man – Based on a thriller I haven’t read and starring Pierce Not Bond Brosnan, it looks pretty boring either way.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but this actually looks halfway entertaining with all the corny jokes and exploding things and Hollywood blade-unsheathing/clashing/swinging sound effects, though you could probably condense all of the good parts down into a two-minute time frame, like so:

2 comments:

  1. What did you think about the part where Rocket asks the nova corp officer if he can take a thing from a person if he wants it more than the owner

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought it was an especially socialist thing to say, of course, the sort of thing you'd ask if you didn't believe in private property rights. But Rocket's just a little monster, so he wouldn't know anything about that.

      Delete

Please be aware that Google/Blogger has a regrettable habit of crashing before you hit the Preview or Publish button, so writing out longer comments separately before entering them into the browser is well advised.