Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

A-Holes Assemble! (An Introduction.)
A Thief, An Assassin, Two Thugs and a Maniac walk into a bar.....
And here we have the last film of Marvel's Phase 2 before the phase ends with The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy is also the first new property to be introduced in Phase 2 (which has been otherwise entirely composed of sequels to Phase 1 films) and as I have mentioned previously in my articles about the superhero genre (It's Marvel-ous and Masks, Capes and Bloody Fists) that Guardians could have potentially been the most dangerous instalment in Marvel's current run of movies due to just how far out there the films concept is when compared to other Marvel stories.
Until now the most science fiction-ee fantasy-ee character has been Thor and now audiences are being introduced to a Galaxy of crazy including (but not limited to) a talking tree and a talking raccoon but incredibly Marvel have once again pulled it off.

When thief Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) steals a mysterious orb desired by the villainous Ronan (lee Pace) he is forced into a partnership with ex assassin Gamora (Zoe Salanda), Drax (Dave Bautista) a revenge driven brute, a humanoid tree creature called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and a trigger happy Raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) in hopes of passing the orb off to a buyer before it leads to their deaths, but when the group becomes aware of the orbs true power they must make a last desperate stand with the fate of the entire universe hanging in the balance. 

The film is directed by James Gunn a newcomer to the Marvel Universe who's previous work included films such as 'Slither' and 'Super' with 'Guardians' being his blockbuster debut and the man shows real talent because the film is phenomenal! 
From its surprisingly emotional opening until the closing credits (and beyond: Post credit sequence) the film carries real heart and emotion (in my second viewing a particular sequence got me feeling all emotional and I had seen the outcome once already!), the film is brilliantly funny (in fact much funnier than I expected it to be) being consistently comedic throughout and boasts fantastic action sequences, in fact I would go as far to say that it is easily one the best Marvel films to date and considering I regarded Marvel's last (cinematic universe) film Captain America: The Winter Soldier as being one of their best to date I think its fair to say the future looks bright indeed. 

Hooked On A Feeling. (Finding it's Place AS the Marvel Universe.)
It's surprising just how small this new installment into the Marvel canon leaves us feeling about the scope of Marvel's universe up until this point, not that Guardians leaves the previous stories feeling inconsequential, but up until this point Phase 1&2 have been set primarily on earth (with a few trips into the nine realms courtesy of Thor&Thor: The Dark World) but now Marvel begins to tread into a infinity larger universe.

I would ask how the universe of 'Guardians' works in collaboration with the Nine Realms (is it a realm itself? is it part of a single realm? is it the space between realms? am I reading to much into this?) but I fear the answer would make my brain bleed: (if you should happen to know the answer and can word it in a way that doesn't blow my tiny mind please leave a comment below) 

I Am Groot. (I Am Groot.)
I Am Groot.

Let's Be Bad Guys. (The Characters.)
Guardians is a strange film compared to Marvel's other line-up because like The Avengers it is an ensemble piece where as all the other Marvel films (Bar the Avengers) have revolved around a single hero but unlike the Avengers the films character have not been introduced individually previously, so the film has to introduce audiences to five brand new characters from scratch while setting up a vast universe of different races, cultures and planets, Not easy. 

- There's Another Name You Might Know Me By. (Star Lord.)
There is no arguing that Chris Pratt's Star Lord/Peter Quill carries a strong resemblance to heroes like Indiana Jones and Han Solo who breezed cool, battling evil with a coy smile and a witty one-liner, charismatic and yet a slight oddball with his childhood on earth filling him with stories and phrases the rest of the universe cannot understand (The Legend Of Kevin Bacon).
Chris Pratt is fast becoming a household name through his appearances in blockbusters such as The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel Jurassic World, while completely deserving his ever growing fame bringing such a sense of fun to the screen and while Guardians is is first leading role in a live action blockbuster his performance will certainly guarantee him many more in the future.

- Going Green. (Gamora.)
Zoe Salanda plays Gamora the adopted (in a manner of speaking) daughter of the titan Thanos (His version of adoption involves murdering your parents and subsequently your planet before your very eyes: he's a fun guy) but having grown disgusted by the actions of her dear-ol-dad plans to betray him and strike out on her own, with Zoe Salanda playing Gamora as very vulnerable as she tries to rediscover her sense of right and wrong following years of serving under those with little regard for the concept of either.

- Metaphorically Challenged. (Drax The Destroyer.)
If there is one actor who's performance succeeded in defying my expectations it is Dave Bautista's Drax The Destroyer, I had seen Bautista act only once before in Riddick and while his performance wasn't bad his role was little more than the muscle bound henchman so I was surprised to find just how enjoyable and complex this role of Drax is, providing many of the films funniest lines due to his inability to grasp metaphors ("Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it".) in fact I'm pretty sure that if Marvel ever does reach a Guardians/Avengers cross-over stage watching Tony Stark and Drax try to have a conversation may be one of the funniest things of all time, and yet his character also is largely sympathetic as he crusades for vengeance for his wife and daughter who were murdered at the hands of Ronan.

- Ain't No Thing Like Me, Except Me. (Rocket Raccoon.) 
Guardians's largest hurdles were always going to be presenting an audience with a talking raccoon and a talking tree in a way which wouldn't seem utterly implausible (good will and suspension of disbelief greatly helping of course.) and a large deal of the success of these two characters (and they Are two of the films biggest success's) can be attributed to the characters voice actors with Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper.
Rocket is the unique product of illegal genetic testing on  "lower-lifeforms" (in this case a Raccoon) and despite being somewhat of a genius (where weapons are concerned) his animal origin leads many other characters to look down of him adding a degree of complexity to the character as he constantly feels unappreciated and belittled by others, this combined with his healthy desire to blow things into tiny bits  makes him a somewhat trigger happy individual.

- I Am Groot. (Groot.) 
Groot is a sentient tree creature that serves as Rocket's muscle voiced by Vin Diesel despite only having a three word vocabulary consisting of 'I' and 'am' and 'Groot' exclusively in that order but despite his limited linguistic options Vin Diesel and the effects team are able to portray a great deal of emotion through the delivery of those three simple lines but what would you expect from the voice of the Iron Giant? 
Groot's personality is also largely helped by the fact that Rocket begins unintentionally translating for him meaning that each "I am Groot" has its own unique sentence and meaning behind it even if Rocket is the only person capable of understanding it. 

- You Stand Accused. (Ronan The Accuser.) 
The one area in which Marvel's cinematic universe seems to struggle these days is that their films lead villains often seem under developed (with the exception of Loki but he has had two films devoted to his motivation which basically consisted of 'I want to be King!") and here once again the villain feels underused, but to be fair the film is required to set up the world, five main characters, numerous side characters, the races, the technology and so the naturally the slack is going to be felt somewhere and while Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace)'s motives do not require much explanation (he is out to destroy the planet Xandar because his race (the Kree) have a long and bloody history with the Xandarians) and in a way the little screen time devoted to him is a blessing as the single minded emotionless, stiffness of his performance sets up one of the films best jokes.

- Lovable Misfits. (The Rest.)
Michael Rooker plays Michael Rooker....sorry Yondu, a blue alien who is the leader of a pirate-like army known as the ravengers and Peter Quill's former mentor, now double-crossed by Quill (who takes the orb for himself) he places a bounty on his ex-protege's head, Michael Rooker has always been a hugely enjoyable actor to watch (who didn't love to hate him as Merle Dixon on The Walking Dead?) and once again he spends the entire film apparently enjoying every moment of the role and proves to be pretty deadly with his arrow.
Benicio Del Toro also returns as The Collector following on from his introductory post credit sequence at the end of Thor: The Dark World and while his role goes little beyond explaining the Orb's power and origin his appearance does add a great sense of scale to Guardians as the scope of his collection creates both numerous Easter-Eggs and a feel of the universe scale and variety.
Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou) are servants of Ronan adding a few more foes for the Guardians to face off against, Korath works well as a lead henchman while Nebula's inclusion seems to be more about setting her up for future appearances in the Marvel/Guardians universe.

Awesome Mix Vol. 1. (The Music.)

Guardians also has the most unique use of soundtrack compared to any other Marvel movie as Star Lord uses the his tape player taken along with him from earth to play classic songs from the Eighties while the music is diegetic sound (part of the film world) the film dramatically blares it louder than life to dramatize key moments (such as Peter Quill escaping a space prison jet-packing through space to Escape - The Piña Colada Song or planning for the big battle to Cherry Bomb.)
In fact my favorite scene of the film is the opening title sequence as Chris Pratt's Star Lord dances his way through an Indiana Jones-esc tomb to 'Come And Get Your Love' by Redbone oblivious to the destruction around him lost in the song.
The soundtrack also features other 80's classics such as Blue Swede's Hooked On A Feeling, as well as songs by David Bowie, The Jackson 5 and The Runaways.

A Bunch Of Jackasses Standing In A Circle (References.)
It wouldn't be a Marvel film without references to other characters in the cinematic universe and while the films distance from both Earth and Asgard should limit the connection to many of Marvels other movies the nods to here are a few that I noticed.
  • The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) returns after his Thor: The Dark World after credits appearance.
  • Laura Haddock who plays Peter Quill’s terminally ill mother Meredith Quill appears in Captain America: The First Avenger asking after Caps autograph.
  • The Collectors collection features: Cosmo The Space Dog, A Dark Elf From Thor: The Dark World, a Chitauri from The Avengers, a cocoon rumoured to hold Adam Warlock (which was also glimpsed in Thor: The Dark World's post credit scene), and Howard The Duck.
  • Thanos's speaker The Other (once again played by Alexis Denisof) returns after his appearance in The Avengers
  • Thanos (now voiced and motion captured by Josh Brolin) returns after his Avengers Post Credits appearance in a much more prominent role possibly gearing up towards The Avengers 3. 
  • We are introduced to the Third (confirmed) Infinity Stone of the Marvel Universe (The Forth if it does turn out that Loki's Sceptre holds the mind stone).
  • Stan Lee makes his regular cameo.
  • (Rumours also state that Beta-Ray Bill a horse faced Alien that can wield the power of Thor is also stated to be held within Tivan's collection but this has so far gone unconfirmed)
  • (In a Marvel unrelated cameo one of the Slugs from James Gunn's previous movie Slither can be seen)

I Am Groot. (I Am Groot.)
I Am Groot.

You Gotta Go Through Us. Or More Accurately, We Go Through You. (The Action.)
I feel like Space Battles are becoming rare in science fiction blockbusters, sure Star Wars used to do it well, and the recent Star Trek films had some great sequences in which two ships blow big holes out of one another but it seems rare to see two armies of space faring vessels at war, in recent years Serenity had a fantastic but short battle, while one of  Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith's only redeeming features was the opening engagement but beyond those no other film really jumps to mind, So Guardian's final act featuring an impressive sequence in which The Guardians, Yondu and his army of Ravengers and the Nova Corps attempt to fend off Ronan's army (a sequence that looked utterly fantastic in 3D) is a welcome scene but it's not just space-warfare that Guardians does well Guardians features a strong variety of unique action sequences that make the most of the characters individual styles and strengths.
(Also there is a gun named the Hadron Enforcer.... so cool.)

You're Welcome. (Conclusions.)
I'm sorry DC (I'm not sorry) but I think you've lost. 

With Marvel now able to earn over 90 million in the opening weekend and more importantly a fantastic film from a comic which features a space-faring, talking raccoon while you still worry that Wonder Woman will be too strange for audiences to appreciate leads me to believe that you're done, it may be over. 
In fact DC's rush to imitate Marvel Cinematic Universe seems sloppy by comparison because Marvel have earned their current place through Individual character stories that sets up the Marvel cinematic universe as a functioning 'Universe' and Guardians is another welcome addition to that world, increasing the franchises possible future films in a hundred different directions (but Howard The Duck? Seriously?) 

So just how good is Guardians?
Well currently I have seen the film twice at the cinema (seemingly an unspoken tradition when it comes to marvel films) and I would more than happily go and see it a third time, perhaps even a fourth.
If the film suffers anywhere it that the film threatens to fall into the routine of previous Marvel films final battle in the air, a main character dies but then doesn't but the film is so fun to watch these narrative repeats are barely noticed.
It's a film about friendship, how others can bring out the best in people and help shape them into being more than they were individually, its a space opera in its purest form, its own unique universe that will be built on in future installments but most importantly of all Guardians is a hell of a lot of fun. 

I Am Groot. (I Am Groot.)
I Am Groot.

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