Friday, August 22, 2014
Marvel keeps it fun: Guardians of the Galaxy
Since it's announcement, Guardians of the Galaxy has been seen as a huge risk for the currently successful Marvel studios. As the cinematic universe expands, and as the actors who made the universe popular become more famous (ie. Less likely to keep doing Marvel films) , the studio has had to add additional comic book franchises to its tent. Due to the joys of movie copyright, many of the obvious big name books are "stuck" with other studios who are unlikely to release these properties to Marvel/Disney. (X-men, Spider man and the Fantastic Four are all currently off limits) So Marvel took the gamble and have started to produce and plan films based on their less well known lines, after all they made Iron Man a household name when this project started.
The second big risk came from the choice of comic, Marvel's Cosmology is complex and often off-putting to even comic readers. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a basically unknown superhero team set in a weird 1970s sci-fi universe full of aliens and ancient gods. How would that go down?
Well a perfectly timed Hype machine and several well put together trailers later, apparently amazingly well. Once again a Marvel film does the ensemble cast well, something that so many other big budget films get wrong by making the film "the main character and his sidekicks". (It's almost always "his" before you point that out) The Avengers was perfect in this regard, creating solid roles for each of the main and even the minor characters.
The story follows Peter Quill, who nicknames himself "Star Lord", a galactic treasure hunter who was abducted from Earth as a child. While on a job to recover a mysterious ancient Orb for a client (with a good amount of double crossing of his partners) he is set upon by Gamora, daughter of the Mad Titan Thanos who is working for a rogue Kree warlord Ronin the Accuser. In the fight he is also attacked by Rocket and his houseplant/bodyguard Groot, bounty hunters looking to snag a high priced bounty put on Quill by his former allies. (As depicted in the previews) They all go to gaol where they meet a mad man named Drax who swears to kill Ronin for slaughtering his family. The aim is to escape and sell the orb and possibly save the Galaxy along the way.
It's hard to see how that synopsis would go down with a general audience who didn't know who Thanos was, what a Kree was or even may have a hard time accepting a character who is essentially a cybernetic Raccoon. But they do, and it works. Groot is now an internet phenom. Seriously, Groot.
Like all the Marvel titles to date Guardians takes itself exactly as seriously as it needs to, no more no less, it is a super hero movie and it is fun. It is also a great Sci-Fi film of the Space Opera Genre, the worlds it creates are solid and believable and created with some very well constructed mes-en-scene rather than confusing exposition. In fact the most expository parts of the film are quite fun, the now famous line up in gaol was a genius way of explaining just who and what these characters are. The action is also very smooth and has an almost totally absence of annoying cuts or cam shake. In fact these fight scenes are almost totally done straight up, some visual effects but no gimmicks and very good fight choreography. (Better than the choppy flat stuff in the Nolan Batman films and less overly choreographed than the Star Wars prequels)
But it is an ensemble character movie, and that is where it really shines. All of the characters are well fleshed out and have their moments in the spotlight. In fact I found Quill to be probably the most weakly developed character, with most of the development of his background tacked on at the end of the film. I feel a little too heavy handedly as well, his journey from rogue to planet saving hero is organic and works without stuff being awkwardly jammed in at the end.
To this date I don't think there has been a bad film in the Marvel franchise yet, a couple of average films but no bad ones. Guardians is defiantly at the good but not great end of the scale, its not at the heights of Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Soldier , but it is light years (see what I did) ahead of the majority of Sci-Fi action flicks in terms of pacing, story and characters.