Wednesday, August 6

Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Studios, 2014)

Directed by Peter Gunn

I am Groot.

I am Groot.

I am Groot.

I am Groot.

We are Groot.

[And now, a translation courtesy of Rocket:]

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this movie; this “review” is more about my reaction to it.  My wife and I went to see it opening weekend, an early-evening 2D screening on Saturday night.  The theater was probably 60-75% full.  We both enjoyed it a lot.  In fact, she probably enjoyed it more than I did. 

Yeah.  That is what I said.  My wife probably enjoyed this “comic book movie” even more than I did.  Amazing.  What that says to me is that this movie is going to be a big hit, maybe not Avengers level, but on up there, and maybe not even the biggest hit of this year, but I would wager that’s only because of its debut rather late in the summer movie season.

It has a lot going for it – good special effects, an engaging story, attractive characters, the “cute” factor (a talking raccoon and a talking tree, albeit of limited vocabulary), a mixture of action and humor (although they inexplicably spend a good bit of the movie setting up a particular joke then don’t take advantage of it – maybe it was so obvious it would have seemed cheap, as well as being a bit earthy).  It ties into the larger Marvel Movie Universe mythology that is slowly being built – the mad god Thanos from the Avengers after-scene is the overarching bad guy although he only appears briefly; the plot centers around another of the Infinity Gems that have been glimpsed in other Marvel movies of late … implicitly it somehow plays into what’s developing for the next Avengers movie or perhaps the inevitable one after that. 

And yet, my overall reaction to it, despite my enjoyment, is basically meh.  It certainly was not excitement, and I didn’t leave the theatre already saying to myself, “I need to see this movie on the big screen again.”  Even though I did not go back for a second theatre screening of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier or X-Men:  Days of Future Past, I certainly considered it in both cases.  And when I got home I told my son, “It’s good … but you’ll probably like it better than I did.” 

Fundamentally, I think it’s because I basically have no history whatsoever with these characters.  Other than a hardly-remembered cross-over appearance in the Avengers comic book during the period back when I was reading it during the 1970s, I have never encountered the “Guardians of the Galaxy” at all … and if I’m not mistaken those Guardians of the Galaxy are not even the same characters as the ones who appear in this movie!  As I understand it, there is no connection between those Guardians and these Guardians beyond the name they share as a group.  These Guardians are an assembly of pre-existing Marvel Comics space characters who are first brought together as a group only a few years ago.  The only one of the characters I have ever read anything about is Star-Lord, and that in a single more-or-less standalone story sometime in the late 1970s, maybe early 1980s.  I remember virtually nothing about it other than that I liked it – it was by Chris Claremont and John Byrne doing something a little different during their X-Men days.  Thanos I’ve encountered a bit more than that, sure, but I never really cared that much for him and pretty much always considered him what he basically is, Darkseid-lite.  (Sadly, when/if-ever DC finally gets a live action Justice League movie out there with Darkseid as their most likely Big Bad, most of the movie-going public are going to consider him to be the rip-off.  Marvel is trumping DC at every turn in the movies department.)  But the long and short is, I have no connection with these characters.  In a sense, therefore, I’m approaching this movie from the same vantage point as everybody else.  And the truth is, these characters did not resonate with me like the Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, even Thor did. 

Really, other than the pretty tenuous Marvel Comics/Marvel Movie Universe connection, this is just another Star Wars style space opera.  Which are, frankly, a dime a dozen.  I’ve seen comparisons with Firefly.  This is not Firefly.  There’s none of the richly drawn character development or even the snappy dialogue that Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon instilled in that late, lamented TV series.  The story beats were pretty predictable – and in fact one of the biggest laughs from our theatre audience came when, utterly predictably, movie-specific “Big Bad” Ronan the Accuser is revealed to have survived “certain death” according to the main characters’ Plan A, a kid in the back of the theatre (who sounded like he was no more than ten at the outside) shouted, “I knew he wasn’t dead!

Vin Diesel’s refrain as the “dialogue” for Groot that I jokingly put forward as the ur-text for this review (and which, yes, Rocket Raccoon could interpret as having more meaning much like Han Solo could understand Chewbacca’s grunts and yowls), really embodies the main character-plot of this film.  A friend of mine characterized the movie as basically a love story between a sentient raccoon and a sentient tree, and there is that, but I would characterize it more as a standard story of a group of misfits being thrown together, initially as adversaries, then as allies, becoming friends – Groot’s final words, quoted above, where he expands his “vocabulating” by a third to include the concept of first-person plural, were spoken when he is sacrificing himself for the others.  (Don’t worry – Rocket finds and plants a shoot which takes root….)  Greater love hath no … tree? ….

So, the movie is not without heart.  It’s not a waste of time or money.  Nor is it, however, anything really special.  I figure it is going to make a really big splash – the first weekend box office take seems to bear that out – but ultimately it’s pretty forgettable.  It was good for an entertaining evening out with my wife, for a good number of laughs, but not much beyond that.  It is a quintessential “popcorn movie.”

But, as such, I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!
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P.S.  Do not, however, bother hanging around for the inevitable Marvel Movie Universe after-credits scene.  If you expect insight into coming MMU films, you will be disappointed.  Of course, if you are a fan of one of Marvel Comics’ more unlikely, off-beat, parody creations from the 1970s (one that, ironically, Disney at the time had a severe problem with but that George Lucas saw fit to bring to the big screen – and now they're all one big happy family...), your reaction may be totally different from mine….

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