Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel's Risk Paying Off

     You have to give Marvel credit: though one could claim that their plan for cinematic domination is all about the money (since they release numerous films with advertising tie-ins every year), they continue to produce great products--entertaining blockbusters that have as much heart as fun factor. Earlier this year, Captain America: The Winter Soldier showcased a more realistic version of a Marvel story with hand-to-hand combat and a plot that played with present-day tensions. Guardians is on the opposite end of the spectrum, a universe-spanning good vs. evil story full of aliens and magical devices and an array of unique creatures. It's much more Star Wars then The Avengers. But that's not a problem: Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun and amusing time, a much more lighthearted and goofy Marvel film containing extremely likable performances from just about everyone involved.
     Guardians is a fairly unknown story to those outside of the comic book stores (myself included), but Marvel and director James Gunn create an instantly likable world. It feels like you've known these characters for years, and you root for them with as much passion as you would Iron Man or Thor. Our Guardians are a rag tag group of characters that come together (through their own reasons and motivations) to stop a ferocious villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), who has gotten his hands on a world-destroying orb and has a big-ass war hammer. Peter Quill aka Star Lord (a funny and lovable Chris Pratt) is our main hero, hunting for rare space booty like a futuristic Indiana Jones. Because of certain events, he's paired with the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a Raccoon and Tree duo named Rocket and Groot (the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel), and a muscled freak named Drax (portrayed by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista). The humor and interplay between the un-trusting character is the key to Guardians' success. Bautista, in particular, shines, switching between violence and humor like a pro.
     Like many of these comic-book films, the plot deals primarily with the recovery of a world-destroying device containing a God-like power that every single character wants for different reasons (money, power, etc.) There are a couple dozen bit players (most notably Michael Rooker, who portrays Yondu Udonta, a blue bandit with a fun and dangerous weapon), and since the plot jumps around different alien cultures and worlds, it may seem like you could get confused. But if you focus on the fun, Guardians of the Galaxy becomes quite lovable, like a mischievous puppy that's cute and fun but occasionally does something to annoy you.
     Guardians packs hundreds of jokes and winks at the audience into its 2-hour runtime, and like most humor geared towards a large audience, some of it is amusing and some of it is expected and predictable. I found Rocket to be be the least charming of our main five characters, and not because of Bradley Cooper's voicework: because of the script. I know Rocket is supposed to be obnoxious and sarcastic, but he went a little too far to be fully enjoyable for me. Luckily, Chris Pratt and Dave Bautista show a great comedic chemistry. Many people know that Pratt is good with humor (with his stints on Parks and Rec and a few films), but Bautista is the big surprise. Sure, the WWE is essentially acting: but Bautista is such a natural that you could see him becoming the next Rock, starring in franchises of his own.
     I went to Guardians of the Galaxy at the midnight showing on Thursday (which actually played at 7:15pm). It wasn't the best decision: the crowd contained a couple of guys (probably die-hard fans of the comics) that laughed loudly and uproariously at every single joke or half joke in the entire film. Sometimes you couldn't even hear the next line. This was extremely aggravating. So it's a testament to Guardians of the Galaxy that I still found it a funny and entertaining time. It's enough of a hit to be the start of another worthwhile franchise, and I think the second film--building on the humor-filled space opera of the first film--could reach another level of greatness in a Galaxy far, far away.     (B+)

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