Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Guardians of the Galaxy RETRO-REVIEW

Image Courtesy marvel.wikia.com

I remember when this movie was first announced.  I wasn’t really up on Marvel Comics, though I could vaguely remember reading about a team of heroes from the future led by a human astronaut who underwent body modifications and carried Captain America’s shield.  After Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, I went back and looked up the team and discovered a newer version of the team with a talking tree and a raccoon.

“Psh,” I thought.  “There’s no way Marvel’s going to try to make us buy a talking raccoon and an anthropomorphic tree when they could have a somewhat more realistic concept like the last survivors of several alien races teaming up with a human to prevent any other races from being destroyed.”

Oh, how wrong I was.

Then I thought there was no way that a raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper, a tree that sounds like Vin Diesel, and the funny guy from Parks and Recreation could actually succeed and make sense as part of a world where the craziest thing to-date is the Hulk.

Again:  Oh, how wrong I was.

 Is there anyone else who really didn’t think this movie had a chance before seeing that first trailer?  I thought it was just too crazy, but it actually worked out surprisingly well.  So many things about this movie come together to make it one of the greatest movies in the MCU.  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill was an incredible casting decision, as his brand of offbeat goofiness was the perfect complement for this movie’s offbeat concept.  I wasn’t a fan of hearing a raccoon talking like Bradley Cooper at first, but by about the second trailer I was sold on him.  And Groot seemed like a terrible idea until I watched the movie and he really became the movie’s moral center.  Though this is clearly a superhero movie, James Gunn really takes all of the tropes you would expect from a superhero movie and turns them on their head.  Guardians is a lot of fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it has surprising heart.

Just about everything came together to make this movie spectacular.

Considering the ensemble cast involved in the movie, I was fully expecting most of the main characters to be under-developed, but that really isn’t the case.  All of the heroes—even Groot—have their motivations explored and undergo some transformation from renegades, loners, and outlaws into heroes.  Even background characters like Rhomann Dey receive enough screen time and development to become more “humanized.”  This isn’t all “sunshine and roses,” of course; the screenplay uses quite a few exposition dumps do convey all this character development, although the size of the cast really necessitates the exposition dumps.  There are also a number of places where they don’t explain things, such as why Rocket would be particularly upset when Denarian Saal was killed when they really didn’t interact before that scene.  Yet again, the size of the cast and movie does make it hard for them to include everything, but an omission is still an omission.

Image Courtesy marvel.wikia.com
The runaway star of the show is of course Peter Quill, a.k.a. “Star Lord” (“Who?”), the human protagonist who was abducted from Earth/“Terra” as a child and taken to live in the stars.  He’s an outlaw and loner who doesn’t care about other people.  Ultimately, it is clear that he really hasn’t gotten over the trauma of his abduction, despite the passage of 26 years.  However, he has to mature and start thinking of others when he joins together with the other Guardians and they have to work together to stop Ronan from destroying the planet Xandar.  Quill must put the needs of others ahead of his own in order to save not only his life and his friends’ lives, but also the galaxy.

Of course, what makes a good movie great is the quality of the villain.  Ronan the Accuser is a “Kree fanatic” who hates Xandar and the Nova Corps because of the terrible history between their two planets.  He is working with Thanos, who makes his first extended appearance in this movie, to retrieve one of the Infinity Stones for him.  Ronan is certainly an intimidating villain—at one point he crushed in a Nova officer’s head with his hammer and at another he uses the hammer to snap the Other’s neck, someone whom Loki feared—but that’s about all there is to him.  We don’t get any explanation for his actions beyond “Xandar is responsible for the deaths of my father and grandfather, so I’m going to ‘cure’ it.”  Beyond this, he is a very one-note villain.

A movie like this really needs good visuals and good effects, and it really delivers.  Everything in this movie works incredibly well, from the environments they create to the computer-generated characters.  Two of the five heroes are computer generated, and they are completely believable in just about every scene.  However, there is one scene where Groot just is not generated correctly:  in the Dark Aster when Quill, Drax, and Groot are fighting through the Sakaarans to reach Ronan.  It’s particularly noticeable when Groot sticks his arm through a line of Sakaarans and shakes them around in a narrow corridor, but it’s a problem through the entire sequence.  The lighting for Groot does not sync up with the lighting of the environment.  However, other than this moment, the computer-generated effects are very effective and believable.

I also really enjoy all of the fighting in this movie.  It isn’t as technically complex as something like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the visuals, particularly the aerial battle over Xandar, are stunningly beautiful.

There was no way that a movie about a raccoon and a tree should have worked.  The concept itself was completely insane.  But for some reason this movie works spectacularly well.  The visuals are stunning.  The characters are well-developed.  The story has a lot of heart.  Even though Ronan is another one-note villain, everything else works together perfectly.  All in all, this is an incredible movie.

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