Thursday, August 14, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy

"I have a plan."
-Peter Quill (Star-Lord)-
"You've got a plan? Okay, first of all, you're copying me from when I said I had a plan."
-Rocket Raccoon-
"I'm not copying you, I have a plan, that's not that unique of a thing to say."
-Peter Quill-
The Cylons has a plan too. Part of me almost wishes it wasn't a Marvel film tied into everything else to come, but that really doesn't matter.
Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) unleashed the kind of energy and fun I haven't felt since Serenity (2005), Firefly (2002), Farscape (1999-2004) and the classic Star Wars trilogy (1977,1980,1983) a long time ago in..., well you get the idea. Gosh those Star Wars prequels just didn't have it. And by it, I mean smart dialogue and humor, and likeable characters all to fill intelligent scripting. Only television's ongoing seemingly endless Doctor Who captures that kind of wit and humor and energy, with any consistency, which makes that series so damn special.

By and large, I'm simply down on the overly serious tone of Marvel films and/or superhero films in general at the moment. And some of them are very good mind you. Gosh, there was a time when I pined for a live action adaptation of my favorite comic books as a child. Today, The Avengers (2012) was mind numbing and even the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was even a bit overdone for my taste.

Without question I was always a Marvel kid. I bought the occasional Brave And Bold or Metal Men or Doom Patrol comics but I just generally devoured all things Marvel. So you would think the arrival of The Avengers (2012) and other properties to live action would be welcomed, but I have grown weary of these productions. When I watched Joss Whedon's The Avengers it more or less hit me like a loud, comic book version of Michael Bay's Transformers films. It just bored me to tears with a giant ass thud. I didn't experience the ingenuity and fun of Whedon's previous Firefly. It was just a big, loud superhero smack down. I thought, was this really the work of the man behind Buffy? But I know I'm in the minority there. It just didn't work for me and I have a plethora of the classic George Perez run of The Avengers comics and I still treasure them today.

Today, when I visit my favorite science fiction sites it seems nine out of ten headlines center on superhero properties. Good grief. Boredom. I'm positively bone tired and bored of hearing about every last detail associated with these many projects. Whether it is Ben Affleck or Quicksilver or Ant-Man or Spider-Man or Iron Man or what the hell ever I've simply been overcome with apathy for these properties and the day-to-day minutia that seems to excite journalists coverage of even the slightest leaked set photo or costume change or actor signing. Argh! I tell you I couldn't wait for these comic books as a child to arrive in my mailbox. I rushed as quick as I could to the store on my spray-painted black bike with white banana seat. I couldn't wait to set my eyes on the latest issues loaded into the metallic HEY KIDS COMICS! spinner rack at the local pharmacy. But today I'm bored to tears by each planned new superhero film. There is rarely one that excites the imagination. Real science fiction and real science fiction coverage. Where has it all gone? Well, Guardians Of The Galaxy was something of an exception to the routine Marvel film rule.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is high flying space-faring adventure stuff of the Indiana Jones and classic Star Wars variety. I simply must relent. I could care a hoot about tying it into the Marvel universe. It stands on its own as a film populated by a world of colorful misfit characters as much as the original Guardians Of The Galaxy appealed to me oh so many years ago.

I never knew this Guardians Of The Galaxy as much as I never knew half of the X-Men characters people yearn for in the films. Wolverine, Cyclops, Colossus, Storm and Nightcrawler. Those were my guys. As for the G team - The Guardians Of The Galaxy I adored and collecting began with a series called Marvel Super-Heroes in 1969. It presented the first appearance of Guardians Of The Galaxy. I still have a copy of that issue. I recall the Guardians Of The Galaxy in Marvel Two-In-One (1974) with The Thing and seeing them work alongside The Defenders (1975) against the evil Badoon. I was a young boy in 1976 when I reached up and purchased Marvel Presents Guardians Of The Galaxy #4 (the first appearance in their own book was Marvel Presents Guardians Of The Galaxy #3) off a comic rack it became an early Easter present from my Gram thanks to a visit to Adams' Drugs. I often pulled out tracing paper and colored and drew images all over the tracing paper from that comic book and others. That book had pencil and ridge marks all over the images. I should have had stock in tracing paper. There was no shortage of it around. Those were the days.

There were no talking trees or raccoons in my Guardians Of The Galaxy either, but the super group was a fascinating mix of multi-cultural styled space heroes. There were: 20th Century astronaut Major Vance Astro after years in suspended animation heading to Alpha Centauri, Martinex T'Naga, a crystalline man from Pluto, Captain Charlie-27, a Jupiter soldier (and looking a lot like Paul W.S. Anderson's Soldier) and the blue-skinned Yondo Udonta, seen in the film, but complete with a Mohawk back in the day, a noble savage from Centauri-IV. The team was later rounded off with an Arcturian named Starhawk and a Mercurian female named Nikki. This was the band of heroes I knew and loved and would have been over the moon had they filmed. When I had heard James Gunn was making the picture I was hopeful I might see the old group I loved, but it was not to be. It seems everything I like or believe in politically and culturally is about as square as it gets today. Can you imagine Martinex as square? Jagged maybe. Nevertheless, maybe one day they will make an appearance.

Having seen the wildly funny creep-out that was Slither (2006), also with actor Michael Rooker, I actually had a lot faith in Gunn to make a fun picture. You had the feeling he had the passion for a project surrounding superheroes that were less known than the X-Men. I mean these guys are right up there with The Alien Legion. (I'd like to see that one too.) It takes a believer to go there. Gunn is an original and, like Daredevil, without fear.

Today's Guardians Of The Galaxy is led by human Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, Gamora, who looks like a green Orion-like slave girl from Star Trek, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon and the root brute with a big old heart named Groot. Each is wonderfully developed in a short period of time. Gunn infuses his film with a good deal of heart and emotion sometimes absent in comic or film.

There isn't much I'm going to add to this brief commentary that hasn't already been said or that is already summed up out there regarding plot. It's a cliche at this point, but it's true. The bottom line is Guardians Of The Galaxy is the most fun a Marvel film has ever delivered. It's also the most fun a summer film has delivered in some time. It's a good, old-fashioned science fiction adventure and it's a hell of a great blast at cinemas. Maybe old-fashioned fun isn't dead.

With Godzilla (2014) I found the whole affair slightly laborious and uninvolving with a dreadfully boring lead and I stand by my assessment of that film earlier this summer. It was a struggle to truly sing its praises. Guardians Of The Galaxy is unquestionably a different kind of film but is just pure, spirited fun. Gunn talked of making a film that made you "feel" like you felt watching the films you enjoyed when you were a kid. Star Wars. Indiana Jones. And yes, Guardians Of The Galaxy is that kind of film. It's as if Gunn found a shot of 1970s and 1980s styled adrenaline for the arm. You know I do not give out praise lightly when it comes to superhero films, but this Marvel film is less like a band of superheroes and more like the kind of heroes we experienced when we watched Han Solo, Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker tackle the Storm troopers. When Solo ran after the baddies he was then sometimes chased back in the other direction. We laughed. We understood their bravado and their good sense to turn tail and run for a time. They were like ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances and Guardians Of The Galaxy captures the essence of regular folks cast together to form a united front. Like the makeshift family forged in Farscape, here too these men, women, plants and animals forge friendships, quibble and, in effect, a family. This Marvel film had me marveling.

And Gunn's film echoes that past it channels by threading his picture with a slough of classic 1970s pop in Awesome Mix Volume 1 and tying that soundtrack directly to his lead Quill and his past. Each song makes some of the sequences an absolute howl of a good time. Weaving music and story and an ensemble cast, Gunn somehow makes it all seem so effortless. What Gunn may lack in experience with complex action sequences he more than makes up for in passion, vision and enthusiasm. The music underscores his excitement and the emotional resonance in play between these likeable castaways. What's not to like in a mix tape made for those they love?

As mentioned, in recent history, films like Serenity and TV series like Firefly and Farscape captured the good humor and the sense of friendship and camaraderie that developed between unlikely companions. Those series endure because of their beloved characters and Guardians Of The Galaxy will too. It isn't long-winded and full of hot air like so many superhero films. It doesn't waste its breath on origin stories. How many times do I need to see the birth of Spider-Man? We don't care and we don't have to care. The audience is smart enough to put the pieces together and in all of the excitement and in this unlikely union that is forged, something happens, we do indeed care. We actually care about these characters of our own volition. They are funny and by gosh, Groot (apart from physical necessity), Drax, Rocket Racoon, Gamora and Star-Lord are all likable despite their differences. Peter Quill is like John Crichton or Han Solo reborn as much as Guardians Of The Galaxy is pure space opera reborn. Credit goes to Marvel certainly. Credit goes to the man who made all of this possible - Stan 'the man' Lee (who makes yet another cameo), but most of all credit goes to Gunn. His personality is all over this thing as writer and director. He deserves it.

Moments of magic are sprinkled in with all of the mayhem. Yet, it's the character exchange and banter portions of this film that really have you cheering. And fortunately there is plenty of it throughout.

For all of my griping of Marvel, I look forward to seeing another. For once I really wanted more. For once I actually didn't want to see the movie end. It's been awhile since I felt that way about a summer spectacle (except Pacific Rim) and especially a Marvel film. Like a visit by Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares at the end of righting a restaurant, this film dish was a fresh, tasty, original treat popping with flavor.

I've been hard on Marvel of late with the endless sea of films it has managed to foist upon an apparently superhero hungry public, but this space yarn was truly one of the best pictures Marvel has made. That's purely subjective of course, but my hopes for Guardians Of The Galaxy noted during my 2013 year in retrospective definitely panned out. And while I may be there to knock down The Avengers and the truly tired Spider-Man/Green Goblin storylines I have to give props where props are due - Marvel. I mean it's actually kind of hard to believe that a comic concept I once held as a young boy featuring a relatively unknown group of heroes would be all the rage in 2014. But Marvel, through Gunn, shot this one out of the park. This one is all about chemistry and feeling between a human, a tree, a big thing, a green chick and a raccoon. I---I----I--- I'm hooked on a feeling and Guardians Of The Galaxy is bursting with loads of it. Now bring on the Alien Legion.

For additional perspectives on the film check out Radiator Heaven and The Film Connoisseur. Some great observations are made on Marvel villainy though I did enjoy the Ronan/ Nebula combination as one of the better villain combinations. Karen Gillan as the feisty Nebula was a treat if slightly underused a la Darth Maul as noted by Radiator Heaven.

Here is a selection of my own Guardians Of The Galaxy classics.


Roman J. Martel said...

I'm going to check the movie out this weekend. Looking forward to it, I've been hearing a lot of great things about it from folks I trust.

I'm gonna have to agree to disagree with you about the Marvel movies. I actually think they've been doing a good job trying to bring fun back to the theaters. (I can only speak of the films up to "The Avengers", I haven't seen the next wave of "Iron Man 3", "Thor 2" or "Captain America 2" yet.)

Ever since "Dark Knight" most of the action, fantasy, and adventure flicks have all wallowed in grim, dreary soul searching. "Man of Steel" was a perfect example of this, but there are plenty others (the remake of "Clash of the Titans). This is getting really really old, really really fast. At least to me.

So when something like "Pacific Rim" comes along and seems to be having fun with the premise and realizes that it is OK to crack a joke once in a while, I appreciate it.

The Marvel flicks, pretty much from "Iron Man" forward have all had a lot of humor in them. Not all of it was terribly successful, but at least they were trying. I thought some of the fish out of water material for Thor in his first movie and "The Avengers" was pretty darn funny. Downey Jr.'s Stark has lots of great lines.

Now, I was never much into comics as a kid. I was into "X-men" in the mid 90s for a while (back when Rogue was still dressing in yellow and green). So I can't say how well these movies compare to the source material. But as a movie goer I really had fun with "The Avengers". I think Whedon did a fine job with his trademark dialogue, and the got to inject plenty of fun vs battles before the big blow out at the end. I'm wondering if your expectations were what ended up affecting your final appreciation of the film. I have to give the man credit, because a super hero film of that scale had never been attempted before. I think he got all the moving parts in place and delivered on some excitement and fun. Pretty much a solid summer film. Not Whedon's best, but certainly one of the better super hero flicks I've seen.

Anyway, I turned this into a defense of "The Avengers", and I didn't want to do that (too much). :)

I do agree that we need to lay off the super hero flicks. Having five or more ever summer is just going to kill the whole thing faster and faster. And like you said, good solid sci-fi is getting lost in the mix. Maybe "Star Wars" will switch up the gears in Hollywood. But it is hard to say. They really love milking the cash cows to death.

Franco Macabro said...

Im also a comic geek, I mean, I have that first issue of Guardians of the Galaxy from the 90's, glad to see Yondu on the movie! He looks a bit different, but its him alright!

And how cool is Star Lord! At one point he reminded me of The Rocketeer with that mask and jacket!

Cool comic book collection man!

And how about Howard the Ducks cameo? Ha wasn't the George Lucas version of Howard the Duck, but something closer to the Marvel Comics version of a HOward the Duck movie be on the horizon from Marvel? Hmm...directed by James Gunn?

le0pard13 said...

Great to have your thoughts on this, G. Informative read. Although we differ on this year's Godzilla, I do share your enthusiasm for Guardians of the Galaxy.

SFF said...

Hi Roman.

Been busy as a bugger.

So what did you think of the film yourself?

Enjoyed your thoughts here and yes I know we are on opposite ends regarding The Avengers. That's okay.


Thanks for writing Fran. Loved your post. Read it before I went to see the film.

Loved the Howard The Duck bit, so true to the comic in design.

And liked your point about The Rocketeer.

Thanks L13.

I will watch Godzilla again - I think. : )

El Vox said...

I've yet to see Guardians. I have to admit, that the trailers didn't exactly appeal to me, maybe for the same reasons that they did to you, in that they seemed like a light, fun type movie. But it's gotten such good reviews from some of my other friends, I should try and make a cinema showing. And I know... I'll probably like it.

I don't have a problem with the super hero films, in fact, I've enjoyed most of them. I just think maybe they are overdoing the genre a bit too much, and I hope they don't overdo it to the point they alienate fans, which I know they have with some.

I own a copy of The Avengers movie, and like it along with with Capt America first feature. I wish DC would follow suit and make some films from their heroes aside from Batman & Superman.

If I had a gripe it's in the over saturation, and I don't think Hollywood makes enough, I guess what one would call them, serious films, dramas, etc. But hey, I'm as much a fan of the big action stuff, I can't complain too much as long as they're made well.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the shout-out to my own review.

Much like Roman, I have been enjoying the Marvel movies since the first IRON MAN one and felt that they have got a lot of it right. Hell, the THOR movies even got me re-interested in that title again and I sought out a few trade paperbacks reprinting Walt Simonson's awesome run.

I thought GUARDIANS was a nice way for Marvel to change things up and bring us into their Cosmic universe in a big way. The film is just flat-out entertaining and really reflects the sensibility of its director, which not all Marvel movies have done.

I also like the return of the space opera which the STAR WARS prequels almost managed to kill off. Thankfully, Joss Whedon's SERENITY showed how it could be done well as does GUARDIANS.

Good stuff here, my friend!

SFF said...

I like your idea that the prequels killed off space adventure films. Funny. And maybe it did have an adverse impact.

But Serenity and Guardians is much more in keeping with the spirit of the what a fun space opera should be.

Take care JD.