Film: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close
Director: James Gunn
Oscar History: 2 nominations (Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Visual Effects)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars
That has nothing to do with Guardians of the Galaxy, but this is a personal blog so I figured I'd share (see-you have options on what to discuss in the comments!). Guardians, on the other hand, is hardly a movie that you will want to fall asleep through. In fact, it's a rather wonderful relief from the doldrums of this summer's tepid Box Office. After over-serious comic book films and overrated animated fare, it's nice to see a movie that actually knows what its personality is, and doesn't shy away from silliness and comedy and nice, old-fashioned action-adventure.
(Spoilers Ahead) The film is about one of the below-the-line Marvel comic book teams (I only tangentially knew of the Guardians and have solid comic book nerd bonafides, and none of the members under this particular lineup), and in particular about Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Pratt). The film opens with that most cliched of comic book openings, the death of a parent, as Peter's mother lies dying of a disease (that looks like cancer, though I don't know if that's ever confirmed) and she makes a quick mention of his father that goes above Peter's head before slipping off into the abyss (setting up the sequel!). Peter is then abducted by alien pirates (this is a summer blockbuster, after all) and eventually finds himself off stealing elusive artifacts, in this case a deeply powerful orb.
The movie follows this train of thought, and is hardly doing much heavy lifting when it comes to plot ingenuinty. The film eventually finds Quill trapped in a space jail (I am kind of in love with the art direction of the prison, I have to say, even if the planet of Xandar and all other alien cities in movies lately seem to all want to look like Elysium), and teaming up with a motley crew that includes a beautiful green assassin (Saldana), a smart-mouthed scientifically-manipulated raccoon (Cooper), a powerful but audibly-limited tree mutant named Groot (Diesel), and a literally-minded mass of muscle (Bautista). Together they move to try and save the planet of Xandar from an evil alien lord called Ronan (Pace), and watch as the all-powerful Thanos (an unrecognizable Josh Brolin...though he may have been performance capture so that might not be on the Makeup department-the lighting was so dark it was hard to tell) stays on the sidelines, waiting for his chance to pounce (in what will inevitably be an upcoming Avengers movie-perhaps the final chapter in all of this giant Marvel roll-out?). And of course, as this is a summer blockbuster, they are successful.
Let's start out by pointing out where the film doesn't work. Lee Pace's villain is, well, awful. And not in the sense that he's an awful murderer, but in the sense that he's horribly drawn in the film. I don't know why Pace keeps getting cast in such unknowable and underwritten parts (see also his work in The Hobbit, Breaking Dawn, and quite frankly Lincoln), but this is not the way that Hollywood should be treating him after they cancelled Pushing Daisies. I haven't been watching Halt and Catch Fire, but my hope is that that's at least worthy of him (comment section-anyone recommend this show?). There's never any personality in this character-he doesn't have the instant iconography that comes with, say, a Batman villain, and the movie doesn't seem to want to give us anything other than that he's a puppet of Thanos (setting up the next movie) and that he's got an inferiority complex. Next time, let's establish our villains a little better before we destroy them.
I also want to complain about the non-Guardians, particularly John C. Reilly and Glenn Close as the residents of Xandar. Honestly, I've sort of given up on Reilly since his interesting Paul Thomas Anderson days (does anyone get excited when he's onscreen anymore?), but Close still is a draw for me, so why is she dressed like this is Mars Attacks and given such randomly cliched things to say (are all of her lines lifted from Air Force One?). This part could have been given to a far less recognizable actress and we'd have been fine-it was almost distracting to see someone of Close's stature playing this part, knowing how little she had to do.
Aside from Pratt to lend to your ticket price, there's also Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel's hilarious chemistry as Rocket the Raccoon and Groot. Both actors do great (albeit fairly unrecognizable) voicework here, and I love the chemistry. Occasionally characters like these would be milked too often for comic relief or would be too cuddly, but the tone of the film fits them like a glove, and I truly found myself hoping for more of them (I do worry that, like the Minions in Despicable Me 2, they may be overused in the future, however). The remaining two members (Saldana and Bautista) suffer from being too dour and not really in the tone of the film, and Saldana in particular has yet to really impress me in a role, so I'm a bit disappointed that we're going to be left with her as a love interest to our affable Peter Quill. But you can't have a pure winner all-the-time, and this movie's great effects (love that golden fence sequence around Ronan's plane-clearly a solid ploy for adding Oscar-nominated to the film's accolades) and confidence make it more than worthy of a few hours in a darkened theater.
Those are my thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy-what are yours? Is Chris Pratt about to be a movie star (or at least your new go-to fantasy boyfriend)? Where do you think Thanos will fit in the Marvel cinematic rollout (he's had cameos in two films now)? And who ever thought that Howard the Duck would make an appearance onscreen again? Share in the comments!