Watching “Guardians of the Galaxy”
Just when I’m starting to feel burned out on comic-book movies, I decide that I must see another one. I wasn’t thinking that I absolutely had to see “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the buzz surrounding the movie eventually grew too deafening to ignore and off I went. The film certainly looked like fine, and by the time I got to the theater I had extremely high expectations. Did “Guardians” meet them?
Yes and no. Yes, the film is fun. It has a terrific cast and excellent characters — by the end of the film, you actually care about this motley crew and feel like you want to spend more time with them. It also has an oddball sense of humor, an imaginative visual design and a quick, exciting pace. “Guardians” might be an FX-laden blockbuster that will ultimately connect to the rest of the Marvel universe, but it’s also a comedy that’s most memorable for its wit, one-liners and goofy sense of humor. “Guardians” is a romp — the sort of film you watch with a smile on your face.
That said, I could barely bring myself to care about the story, which is unnecessarily complicated and possibly even sillier than most comic book movie plots. Though I suspect director James Gunn is aware of this, which is why he keeps the focus on the quirky personalties of his heroes and their growing camaraderie, rather than the power-hungry scheming of the evil Thanos (Lee Pace) and his desire to obtain an all-powerful orb called an Infinity Stone and destroy the galaxy. Whenever the film focuses on Thanos, the orb and the possibility of genocide, it gets bogged down by portent and starts to lose its quick and sprightly step. Many have compared “Guardians” to “Star Wars” and it’s an apt comparison — except where the film’s dark side is concerned. “Star Wars” had a villain for the ages in Darth Vader, and “Guardians” has Thanos, who threatens to derail the movie every time he appears. There’s nothing particularly compelling about the orb, either, which functions as the film’s MacGuffin — the desired object that sets the plot in motion.
We’re introduced to the orb in the beginning of the film, when it’s recovered from a tomb by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a Han Solo-like space cowboy who was abducted from Earth by aliens as a child. He soon discovers that the orb is of great value to many people, including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned assassin raised and trained by Thanos. The two are eventually arrested, along with the super-intelligent talking raccoon, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his sidekick, a tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) who can only say one thing “I am Groot.” In prison, they form an alliance with Drax the Destroyer (wrestler Dave Bautista), whose entire family was killed by Thanos. All of the actors excel in their roles, which require them to be convincing as both action heroes and comedians. And they all have their moment in the sun. The filmmakers might regard Quill as the leader of the team, but the Guardians are a pretty egalitarian operation, and every character brings something unique to the table.
What makes “Guardians” special, though, is how affecting it is. Each character, as Quill notes during his inspirational speech to his team, has lost something. Even Rocket, who initially seems to exist simply for comic relief, has real depth. In one surprisingly emotional scene, he lashes out at those he regard him as a freak, yelling, “Well, I didn’t ask to get made! I didn’t ask to be torn apart and put back together over and over and turned into some little monster!” Until I saw “Guardians,” I wouldn’t have thought that a sentient tree would be one of my favorite movie characters of the summer, but Groot wins that award, hands down. He’s loyal and kind, but he also provides the movie with some of its most magical moments, such as the brief scene where he pauses in front of a child, plucks a flower from his bark and hands it to her. Or the scene where SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! where he demonstrates true heroism by surrounding his comrades with his branches and protecting them from Thanos’ wrath.
“Guardians” is an enjoyable summertime movie. At times, I wished it was even more enjoyable — that it was a little leaner and less impressed with its cleverness. But I might be the only person who feels that way. The audience I saw it with laughed all through it, and I suspect that they were responding to its sense of play and clever asides, such as the scene where the crew strides off in slow-motion to do battle, and Gamora yawns. Nobody except Thanos ever seems to take the film too seriously, which works in its favor. I’m looking forward to seeing the Guardians again, warts and all.
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