dir: James Gunn
When I first saw the trailer for this Marvel movie, which was probably playing just before another Marvel movie was about to play on the screen, I cringed inwardly, and sighed melodramatically. I do that, sometimes.
To me, because I’d never heard of these characters or this comic book ever, it smacked of arrogance on Marvel’s part, in that they’re so big now and have made so much serious bank since starting up Marvel Studios, that they could literally put any shit together and expect people to see it because it says Marvel Marvel Marvel all over the place.
Marvel. It had megaflop written all over it. If I had money to bet on its failure, I would have bet everything.
I was sure this film would die a horrible death at the box office, and it would be a stinging rebuke to Marvel’s hubristic attempts to take over the entire world. Stan Lee would have to eat dinner out of a can, they would from then on only make Iron Man movies all the time, more and more ludicrous crossovers like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four versus Loki Loki and more Loki. Disaster on an epic scale.
I’m not going to say that I’m glad I was wrong, because no-one would believe that. I can still be thoroughly sick of the Marvel Machine, and yet still enjoy its more successful outings. Guardians has been ridiculously successful, both money-wise and with critics, and all the negative-nelly naysayers just like me were shown up to be the small-minded, unimaginative hacks that we are.
I’d forgotten the classic adage that you never go broke underestimating the intelligence of cinema audiences.
Guardians of the Galaxy, however humble its origins, is Marvel’s excuse to deliver a big space adventure kind of story that isn’t a million miles away from Indiana Jones or Star Wars. I mean the first Star Wars movie, and in talking about Star Wars, it’s all about having a Han Soloish scoundrel as the main character, in a galaxy that’s different enough to be different, but familiar enough to not be alienating.
As such, the universe out there as depicted is not really that different from anything you’ve seen in dozens of other sci-fi tv shows or movies. I thought, going in, that one of the main characters, being Peter “Star-Lord” Quill would be the only human out there in the cosmos. In his backstory, which comes right at the beginning, he’s kidnapped as a child just after his mother dies, presumably from cancer. Kidnapped by a big goddamn spaceship, that is.
Twenty six years later, he’s a smartarse guy tooling around the galaxy in a spaceship trying to do his own thing. There are mostly alien types all around, but there’s some other entire planet with humans on it. I think it was called Xandar or Nova Prime or something equally stoopid, and its president was played by Glenn Close. John C. Reilly is also on this planet playing a goofy cop, like he could play any other kind, and neither of them is wearing any kind of alien-y makeup or prosthetics or anything.
I have to admit I found that a bit confusing. I mean, is it established anywhere that people, humans, are living on other planets, and we’re cool with that? Like, it’s so unremarkable and commonplace that humanity is already living out there amongst the stars that nothing surprises us anymore?
In truth, I find the idea that “we” are already “out there”, even if it’s just in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, far harder to believe than any kind of aliens, giant green dudes who smash stuff when they get angry, guys with spider abilities and magic hammers.
Because, when did that happen? What’s the origin story with that one? Someone got bitten by a radioactive human, and humans sprang up everywhere? Someone was exposed to some kind of human radiation, possibly a human Charlie Sheen flashing a busload of alien school children, and they all started sprouting human DNA?
These things keep me up at night. The plot for this flick won’t keep me up at night, because it’s as standard and straightforward as any other kind of flick where a bunch of different people are brought together by circumstance or design, who hate each other at first, and eventually they bond and save the day. You’ve seen it a million times before, and I don’t care what you say, you know you have. This should be as familiar to you as the way to drive home, or the scars on your hands.
Peter, using no super special abilities other than a Walkman, a glowy red-eyed helmet and rocket boots, tools around the universe doing whatever it is that he does. He is hired to steal a thing from a place, and he does so. Now everyone wants that thing. People wanting things is the source of all suffering in our lives, says the Buddha, but I don’t think these characters would listen. They all have to have the thing, or their lives won’t be worth a pinch of shit.
Plus I don’t know how well that Buddhist stuff plays out there amongst the stars.
And what is the thing, you so desperately want to know? The thing is… well, what does it matter? The thing never really matters in these movies, whether it’s the Holy Grail, the launch codes, the briefcase or a particular sex tape. The point is it’s the Maguffin, and everyone wants it by definition.
The person/alien/thingie that wants it the most is Ronan (Lee Pace). He is a screaming lunatic who wants the thingie because it will give him the power to destroy a planet called Xandar, where he may have had a bad meal once, or maybe they scratched his spaceship or something. He hates the people who live there so much that he screams himself hoarse saying how much he intends to kill them. Like, he wants to kill them a lot. He never gets tired of telling us how much he wants to murder everyone.
He’s also some kind of warlord who’s killed entire planets or some such, and he has a lot of resources, goons, henchman assassin daughters, spaceships and also he’s very tall, so you’d think he has the natural advantage. Plus I think he follows the advice of self-help gurus and positively visualises what he wants to achieve in order to achieve it.
I know, I know: in a just universe, he’d be the hero and a figure worthy of emulation, but neither this real universe nor the fictional one depicted are at all fair realms.
So Peter wants the thingie because he wants to sell it for lots of money. Ronan wants it to kill a planet. Another bad guy called Thanos wants it because... I don’t know why he wants it, but maybe he’s just succumbing to peer group pressure. Thanos sends his green adoptive enforcer out to get the thingie.
She, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) slaps Peter around, and they tussle in public so much that they get arrested. But before they do, a raccoon-like talking creature (voiced with a New Jersey accent by Bradley Cooper) and a moving, sentient tree like organism (voiced by Vin Diesel), try to capture Peter because there’s a bounty on his head. They get arrested too. Everyone gets arrested and thrown into a space prison. In the space prison, a grey skinned dude who doesn’t ever wear shirts called Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) really hates the green skinned Gamora, and tries to kill her because of something Ronan once did.
Yes, it will come as no surprise to you that at first they all argue with and hate each other, but over the course of several hours, they bond together and become BFFs. No fooling. In fact, they start talking about how they’re great friends and would happily die for each other or at least in each other’s presence within what felt like half an hour of them meeting each other. It sounded to me like maybe they were all so desperately lonely that they latched on to the first people to show them any attention, but seriously, c’mon dudes, way too clingy.
There are action sequences aplenty, and most of them are pretty good. I saw this in 3D, and it looked pretty amazing, and like it had been designed at least in part to be in 3D, rather than as an afterthought in post-production. That’s not to say that the 3D added anything other than the illusion of another dimension, other than a few images of stuff flying out at you, but it worked nicely, especially in flying scenes.
It’s not like I really cared about what was happening on screen during most of these occasions, but I wasn’t bored. It was the humour that kept my interest up, more than anything else. And I mean, there really wasn’t anything else for me intellectually to sink my mind’s teeth into, so from a science fiction perspective, it was a pretty generic and safe experience.
Plus, there were a bunch of moments so cheesy it made me feel like people don't really know what the freezing cold vacuum of space is really like. Wearing a mask over your face that lets your gorgeous hair float free doesn't keep you alive in space: you'd still freeze solid in seconds, it's like 273 below zero out there. And once you were 'saved', you wouldn't easily thaw out just in time for dinner like some snags you took out of the deep freeze that need a couple of hours before cooking. That's just nuts.
And as much as I appreciate a Stan Lee cameo or a Marvel reference as much as the next person (in that I don't, at all) there's all this stuff in these films that I wonder whether we're meant to know or care without being given a reason to.
Benecio Del Toro? What the hell are you doing in these flicks? Are you this desperate for work?
If there was one idea that was ‘new’ and that I liked, it was the place where a mining colony had been formed in the gargantuan head of some long dead being, a place called Knowhere, where miners and machines are mining the raw materials of the head for some nebulous purpose. They called it a “celestial being”, but we all know it’s God’s head. Not only was Nietzsche right, in that God is Dead, but they’re also mining His head for whatever they can get. Never let anything go to waste, that’s what I say.
Throughout there is a fair bit of humour, and a great deal of treacly sentimentality. Since Peter is human, and a human somehow trapped in the 1980s but out in space, he is meant to be the funniest of the group. Rocket, the aforementioned raccoon, is funny at times, but so is Drax with his humourless literalism. A being for whom metaphor holds no traction is a sad being indeed, but at least he’s entertaining to others. Humour is the spice laced throughout, and while some of it might be laboured, it really points to the enjoyable B-movie sensibilities that director James Gunn has displayed in the past, especially in his first flick horror comedy Slither.
Of course none of it is meant to be taken seriously, but it makes you wonder if the other ones, the other Marvel flicks like the Thor flicks or The Avengers are meant to be taken ‘seriously’, and this one is just for laughs, well, maybe none of it can be taken seriously. It’s pretty much the same threat, the same stakes, but I guess when it’s not New York or London under threat, we can exhale a collective sigh of relief and just laugh at the deaths of millions of Denubians or Fallopians or whatever those aliens might be.
If there was a standout character for me, it was the tree, Groot, who has three words of dialogue endlessly repeated but with endless variations. He’s a fairly amazing being, and is well used, whether his abilities are convenient or not. And his friendship with Rocket is the only genuine friendship / relationship in the whole movie that made any sense to me.
There was quite a beautiful scene in a darkened place when Groot manages to bring sweet light to what could have been their darkest moments. And when he finally manages to vary what he says enough to explain why he is risking himself to save them, it was a touching moment in a movie I didn’t think would produce them.
I can’t say I was a tremendous fan of what went on here, and it in no way inspires me to go and find out anything at all about these bloody comic books. But the film entertained me enough, with its Footloose references and deliberately awful 70s/80s soundtrack. Those songs were boring twenty years ago, but they have a new lease on life by sounding great only when you’re on the other side of the cosmos, far from here on Earth.
Guardians of the Galaxy is cheesy, sentimental, bombastic, raucous fun. Even a humourless curmudgeon like me can see that., much as I wish I couldn’t. Doubtless there’ll be a sequel. Doubtless there’ll be dozens more Marvel movies of similar consistency and confection pumped out until the end of time. But for now I’m not totally and utterly sick of them.
7 times Peter “Star-Lord” Quill makes no sense as a character until you realise that his father must obviously be William Shatner out of 10
“I am going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.” – it’s not just you, most people feel like that – Guardians of the Galaxy