When Marvel Studios announced Guardians of the Galaxy for 2014, I really wasn’t sure what to think. The Guardians are not characters I was familiar with in any way at the time, hadn’t even heard the name before them, so I was wondering what the hell Marvel was doing by bringing out such an obscure roster of characters for a major blockbuster. And then last year I began reading Brian Michael Bendis’ Guardians of the Galaxy and you could say that I was hooked. Helped that the promos and teasers for the movie were really good and that the casting was interesting as well. Plus, space opera!
Having seen the movie finally this past weekend, my feelings are in bit of a flux. I loved a lot of the action and visually the movie is really stunning, plus Rocket and Groot and Ronan pretty much rocked the movie all the way through. But there were things like Peter Quill and Gamora and Nebula and some bits of the story that I really didn’t like. While Guardians does a fairly good job of bringing this team of mavericks to the big screen, it also represents a lot of squandered opportunities. The story and execution could definitely have been much better, but it is still a fairly decent movie and worth watching.
Note: Unlike the usual Marvel movies, this movie features characters unfamiliar to the larger audience, so I’ll be doing a few necessary info-dumps here.
The Guardians are a team of misfits. They are led by Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, a half-human who was captured from Earth while still a kid by a bunch of pirates and headhunters and then let loose on the galaxy. Rocket and Groot are a bounty-hunter team with a few (minor) criminal records of their own and they are pretty much the heart and soul of the movie, the talking raccoon who was cybernetically experimented on at some point in his life and the talking tree. Drax the Destroyer is a being who lost his wife and daughter to one of Ronan the Accuser’s many terrorist attacks and now hungers for vengeance while hyped up on his tragedy and his arrogance. Gamora is (reportedly) a daughter of Thanos the Mad Titan and she currently serves Ronan the Accuser while secretly wanting to break away from it all.
Having read some of Brian Michael Bendis’ current run on Guardians, I was somewhat familiar with all these characters going in to the movie, and since I’d read the tie-in prelude comics as well, I knew more about them than most movie-goers ultimately did. And I think that stood me in good stead for the movie since I was able to pick out some of the key moments and character twists much better than I expected to. The movie ultimately does a good job of getting the viewer to sympathize and root for these misfits, but the thing is that it often also goes the cliched Hollywood route and thus follows the path of “loud action, dumb story”.
Because that’s what the main story here is when you look at the character interactions between the heroes. The heroes come together out of enforced, required necessity and they stick together because of that.
In a nutshell, I like a lot of what they did with Ronan, who is the main villain of the story. He is a member of the Kree species who recently signed a peace treaty with the intergalactic police enforcers known as the Nova Corps and their homeworld of Xandar. Ronan detests the peace treaty for his father and grandfather suffered for it in some unmentioned way, and so he partners up with Marvel arch-villain Thanos to humble his enemies and make them pay. Lee Pace as Ronan was one of the highlights of the movie though I wish that there had been a stronger arc to the villain. He didn’t quite come across as serious as I’d hoped for, though director-and-writer James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman gave him quite a few kickass scenes of his own, making Ronan into a villain worth contending with and definitely a serious threat.
The primary problem with the movie is that it has too large a cast and that it needed to build almost all of them at the same time since none of these characters have ever been featured in a movie before, unless you count Benicio del Toro’s excellent cameo-run as The Collector and who was last featured in the post-credits scene of Thor: The Dark World. Five main heroes, two main villains, not to mention all the supporting roles, and the film had a tough journey up the mountain. It performs decently, but it could easily have been much better because there was a whole lot of underutilization and misutilization here.
For one, why the romantic angle between Gamora and Peter? Romance and love was one of the ways in which the relationship between these two characters was built up and for me, that distracted from the story. Not to mention that Peter trying to seduce Gamora (more like getting her to “dance”) by letting her listen to 70s music on his cassette player is just… corny.
Gamora definitely came off negatively in all her scenes (almost) because she was basically a warrior character who betrays one ally for another and ends up (somewhat) falling for her new ally and is all caught up in morality and what not. Gamora’s scenes with Nebula, another daughter of Thanos to be featured in this movie, were weak because Gamora used morality to sway her, pleading the greater good. That’s not the Gamora I’ve been reading in Bendis’ Guardians of the Galaxy or Jason Aaron’s Original Sin.
Nebula, for her own part, is basically just a clone of Gamora as portrayed in the movie, minus the romance angle entirely. That’s it. And this disappointed me, because Gunn and Perlman had an excellent opportunity to explore these two kickass female heroes and their relationship dynamic and their competitiveness. But none of that happened. Nebula barely got enough scenes in the movie and she was almost a non-issue right at the end.
By any measure, the true stars of this movie are Rocket and Groot, voiced respectively by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. The latter might actually have played Groot via green-screen CGI capture since there was a video floating around on the ‘nets last year with the actor walking on stilts, approximating Groot’s walk and voicing the character’s trademark and sole bit of dialogue: “I am Groot”. I wasn’t all that into Cooper’s casting as Rocket until I saw the movie, largely because I don’t like the actor, but the movie changed my thinking around. Cooper was perfect as Rocket, and even Vin Diesel did a fantastic job. I would even say that Groot’s facial features somewhat resemble that of Diesel’s!
All throughout the movie Rocket kicks all kind of ass, given some of the best dialogue and the best scenes and what not, and the same goes for the often-literal Groot too. Their dynamic in the movie was almost perfect, especially when Rocket translates Groot’s various “I am Groot” dialogues to actual dialogue that other characters, and the viewers, can understand as well. Their prelude comic was fun too, so that’s another thing going in.
Still, there are a few more things I want to touch up on. The first of these is Thanos the Mad-Titan. In the first bonus scene of The Avengers we found out that the villain Loki and the Chitauri had been given a helping hand by Thanos himself and in this movie we finally get to see him in all his glory. He remains seated in his massive floating throne, true Thanos-style, for all his in-person appearances, but I loved them regardless because Thanos is one of my favourite Marvel villains and also because he is one of the coolest and deadliest and so on. Getting to see a full view of him in a live-action movie, voiced and performed by Josh Brolin no less? Movie gold as far as I am concerned.
Another thing I want to highlight is the movie’s cinematography and the CGI effects in general, because Guardians of the Galaxy looks amazing. This is Marvel’s first full-on space-based movie with aliens all the way and it looks beautiful in almost every way that you can imagine, whether we talk costumes or alien designs, cityscapes or wastelands or even just the shots of space. That is definitely one of the movie’s strengths, by far.
And finally, there is the Nova Corps, a most ineffective bunch of pan-galactic coppers if there ever was one. In the comics, members of the Nova Corps are quite powerful, with a specific suit of armor that doubles as a uniform and what not. Characters like Richard Rider and Sam Alexander are quite famous in fact and have been members of various superhero teams within Marvel. But here, they were all a bunch of local cops, or defense militia at best. The last quarter of the movie makes that abundantly clear. Actors like John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Peter Serafinowicz were cast as three important members of the Nova Corps in the movie and they were all wasted. A damn shame it was. My only hope after this movie for the Nova Corps is that we get to see Richard Rider or Sam Alexander as a Nova Corps officer in a solo movie at same point. That’s the only thing that can redeem the negative characterisation of the Nova Corps in this movie.
To get back to the main cast a bit, WWE performer Bautista as Drax, Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Chris Pratt as Star-Lord were interesting castings, and the actors did a good enough job with their work, but their material was flawed to a degree so the actors didn’t have that such good material to work with in the first place. Drax was a bit too goofy and weird at times, quite unlike his epithet. Gamora is too emotional and moralistic and pleading. Star-Lord is… kind of the same as Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, except with more music and more humour. That all kind of works, I think?
Anyway, to cut a long story short. Guardians of the Galaxy: a good but flawed effort on the part of Marvel Studios. The movie’s sequel was announced just before it was released, and the date is for 2017, so I’m hoping that kinks are all ironed out. Oh and yeah, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, do NOT stick around for the post-credits scene. It is an absolute waste of time and has zero to do with any future Marvel projects as far as I can tell, though some keen eyes may spot something in it that my inexperienced eyes missed. And forgive me, but you all just have to watch the below video, which is the pre-credits bonus scene. I am sure many have already seen it, and with good reason too since it ROCKS.