With the summer drawing to a close, one might not look back at the recent months and consider the movies being the most memorable thing about them, as there was no dearth in news, political, economical, or social, worldwide. But because entertainment is quite an important activity in our day to day life, we can at least pay where the credit is due. This year particularly, when the cinematic experience has simply been sublime.
Guardian of the Galaxy following that trait delivers in the enormous promise that its trailers generated. Indeed, when the first one premiered on Jimmy Kimmel Live back in February, and the subsequent release on Youtube, it became an instant hit, garnering mass favoritism with its quirky and somewhat self deprecating sale-pitch. Months passed, and the following trailers only increased those expectations. That humor, that ability to laugh at, and mock one's self, and at the ever expanding genre that they belong to, is the thread that binds all the Marvel movies together. It is the maintained familiarity, no mater if we are taken to the deep space, or to the mythical lands of Norse pantheon.
With GoG, writer(along with Nicole Pearlman)-director James Gunn goes beyond the limits set by the brilliant Iron Man (the first one,) and bravely treads the ambiguous line between what is witticism and what is downright buffoonery. Although frankly, if your superhero roster reads a talking raccoon, and a space-ent with an apparent vocabulary issue, what else you are to do? In comics, the Guardian of the Galaxy is a relatively newer team with the publication history reaching only back to 2008- there was another team by the same name (1969), but that was the 31st century alternative time-line, keeping up with the multiverse shenanigans frequent in comics- though the members, individually, or as part of other rosters, have appeared in various publications for decades. It has been overstated, but in view of loosing the top tier of its characters to other studios, Marvel being forced to use its secondary characters has been proven its greatest boon. From RDJ's Iron Man to Evans' Captain America and to Johansson's Black Widow, those ex-not-so-popular properties have massed a dragon's horde for the studio. And that holds true for none more than the GoG. At least with Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers and the co. people outside the comic book readership had a merest notion of who or what they are and what they stood for. GoG, in that retrospect, was an utterly alien product. The risk was higher than ever, and the expectations it had to meet was colossal. And Boy, does it deliver!
As a movie GoG has no pretension about what it is, and what it wants to be. An entertainer from beginning to end, it strives to keep you seated and hooked on the screen, and succeeds for the most part. The story centers around Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), abducted from Earth at a very young age after his mother's death, and grown up to be this galactic marauder with a distinctive taste in music. As he steals the not-so-figurative orb of plot device, we, the audience, are thrown into the midst of action through engaging storytelling, which, at the same time, is both crisp and clear. Within half an hour we are introduced to the rest of the roster: Gamora(Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of mad titan Thanos, Rocket (voiced by Bradly Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Drax, the Destroyer, the 'Walking Thesaurus' (Dave Bautista), who belongs to a race, that according to Rocket cannot comprehend, let alone use, metaphors. This unseemly bunch of thieves, thugs, assassins, and maniacs are pitted against Lee Pace's Ronan, the Accusar; a radical extremist from the highly militaristic race of Krees. Also in the fray are Karen Gillian's Nebula, Michael Rooker's Yondu Udonta, and Thanos himself (voiced by an uncredited Josh Brolin).
To an extent, GoG is a road movie, which also happens to be a space opera. Gunn masterfully blends these two quite different, and yet in so many ways very similar genres together, creating a vivid sense of insignificance in the vastness of the universe, while still keeping the story rooted into its characters' development. We are also given a glimpse of the outer reach of Marvel's mythology, and if the studio's future projects do get around to explore them, it will be a pioneer territory, as hardly ever before cinema has ventured to answer the big question of 'where we came from', neither from the perception of science nor of religion.
Pratt's boyish charisma lends credibility to a character who is just not a likable rogue, but we root for him from the very first moment as he browses through the ruins of the abandoned planet Morag, with 'Come and Get Your Love' playing from his Sony walkman, and the opening credits rolling. There have been comparisons made between Quill, who stubbornly insists to be called Starlord time after time from people after people, and Han Solo himself. And yes, to a degree, it makes sense. But the major difference is that, in the first movie of the second trilogy, Solo while one of the protagonist, wasn't necessarily the one with whom we were supposed to relate. Quill, on the other hand, in the sea of aliens with superpowers, and aliens with strange idiosyncrasies, serves that very purpose.
Saldana is as good as a green alien warrior of awesomeness as she was as a blue alien warrior of awesomeness. Is she being typecasted, who knows. But if the result of that is playing the pivotal female leads in the biggest summer blockbusters, then why the heck not? Diesel, as always, is a revelation outside his action-adventure comfort zone. This is the second time (after The Iron Giant) he has proven the less can amount to so much more. With only three words. arranged always in a similar order, the man brings forth a kaleidoscope of emotions. As he says them that one last time, we can't help but whisper along with him, our eyes hardly remaining dry. Bautista, even if the weakest link as an actor, still manages to fulfill the role he was meant to, the perfect juxtaposition of humor and pathos.
It is that juxtaposition which saves the gun-slinging, foul mouthed raccoon, and in turn the movie itself, from becoming a caricature, and to stand out as a continuation of the superhero genre. Cooper, in his brilliant, cohesive, fast-talking, obnoxious best explores the classic nuisances of an anit-hero. Somberness is often succeeded by pure sarcasm, self-destructive, self-serving psychosis reluctantly ascending to heroism. It is also that same humor and pathos, or lack thereof, that makes the villain of the story the single biggest flaw about the movie. And that is frankly, confusing. Lee Pace surely has the range, if his past works are any proof. Why not allow him the same levity as the rest of the cast, and instead make him yet another generic baddie with no depth whatsoever?
Overall, GoG gets a solid A for its script, direction, graphics, and acting, and for its unusual and nostalgic soundtrack. If there are small gripes here and there, well, that's what the sequels are for.