Anyone who knows me would tell you that superhero films aren’t my niche. The same can be said for comics and American graphic novels reading-wise. They just don’t appeal to me, and I’m not sure I could give their avid readers a good enough reason why. I have nothing against the books, films, or the people who do enjoy them. I just have a harder time getting seriously invested.
With that said, I like Batman a lot. More than a lot. He is the only superhero I ever consistently cared about, and despite no one figuring out his identity (though it should be obvious), he felt like a hero who could really exist in some capacity. He has gadgets, money, and way too much time on his hands. I loved watching The Animated Series growing up because it was dark and edgy, but also embraced its silly, cartoony side for a lot of fun and dramatic scenarios.
And when picking movies to see with a crowd of friends, I have noticed that Marvel tends to take its comic superstars and franchises and convert them into general crowd-pleasing fare that anyone can come in and watch and not get horribly lost along the way. Whether that is bad or good is up to interpretation, but no one can deny that butts don’t fill the seats.
So while spending time at a family gathering, I was perfectly happy to go with the kids to see Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Plot (with some spoilers)
In keeping with the overall tone of the movie:
Peter Quill is a human who was born on Earth, then abducted by space pirates. He grows up to become a thief for hire, and one day he ends up stealing an orb of indeterminate power and origin (as much as I could gather) that could level entire planets, if given over to the wrong hands.
He also has a big affinity for mixed tapes (the gifts from his dearly departed mom-tivation), listening to them throughout a lot of the film.
Along the way to semi-discovering his morality and deciding what he’s going to do with the valuable and dangerous pool ball (that doesn’t remind me of the map from Treasure Planet one bit),
he meets the other “guardians.”
Gamora is the adopted daughter of a powerful supervillian named Thanos (who might also be a space god, for all I know). She was “tortured” and trained to be a powerful assassin, and then gets loaned out with her sister to Space Hitler (Ronan), to retrieve the orb and destroy a race of people he doesn’t like. She plans to betray everyone and sell the orb before she discovers its destructive power. Then she wants to put it away somewhere safe, where no one could ever get their hands on it again.
Unless they steal it, of course.
But as we all know, something stolen once can never be stolen again.
Rocket Raccoon is some kind of genetic experiment deadly teddy ewok, and he made his own minion in the form of Groot (excuse me, I Am Groot), a giant stupid tree man who follows him around and acts as his partner in crime. They initially seek out Quill (also known as “Starlord”) because stealing the orb set a hefty bounty on his head, and they want it. Rocket is probably the least morally sound member of the group, despite most characters accusing Quill of that.
Drax the Destroyer’s family was murdered by Ronan. He looks like a generic prisoner stereotype (but in Space!); big and burly, with red tattoos. His race is highly literal (note: the original definition of “literal”), and struggles to understand expressions, metaphor, and subtlety.
Only Gamora and Drax seem to have a sense of honor at first, despite one intending to betray her employers and the other being a highly dangerous space prisoner, but together, the fight to save the planet Xandar and its people from annihilation.
Also, there are some space police who do things, and there are the space pirates that do things.
If it sounds silly and simplistic the way I phrased it, it’s because it is. Whole-heartedly.
I liked it more than The Avengers, but mostly because it didn’t take itself as seriously, and even parodied a bunch of superhero and movie clichés. It focuses on what it thinks the audiences needs to know and care about most, and leaves other details to the wayside, with little nice scraps of fan service here and there, as you might expect.
But at the same time, I’m not sure it’s a movie I would go out of my way to see again. It was a fun theatre experience, and once is perfectly enough for me. And while poking fun at clichés, it makes a pretty big walking one itself.
What I Liked
The simple plot.
“Here is a thing. Everyone wants it and it can destroy the world,” made a lot more sense than the blue cube from Avengers. Still not sure what it does or how, but it didn’t feel as important to know as with the Tesseract.
“The orb is one of several, and it has world destroying force.” Okay, so it’s a futuristic space-nuke. Makes sense.
The main characters are, for the most part, very fun and enjoyable to watch, and I didn’t feel bad when they got their asses handed to them. That’s because they usually deserved it. Many of them have charisma, but also some moral ambiguity with regards to what their individual goals are and how they’ll go about accomplishing them. Weirdly enough, the mutant raccoon man seems to be the designated straight man in this story, while also being a decent comic relief. Of course, Groot is the comic relief that stole the show in my theatre.
I liked when Drax did something stupid and arrogant (I won’t spoil it), and apologized, but the rest of the gang said, “Sorry doesn’t fix it.” That’s a surprisingly mature issue that people sometimes face in real life. While we’re encouraged to make nice and forgive people who hurt us, intentionally or otherwise, apologizing doesn’t always cut it.
The music was good, but then, it’s hard to go wrong with classics. I get the feeling Quill will be especially popular with hipsters.
What I Didn’t Like
I’d argue the simple plot is a bad thing here if it was clear that the movie wanted to elevate itself on some level. But you know what is kind of lame?
The characters are too simple.
Even if this was poking fun at other movies, the people we follow still need some substance to them. Their personalities and motivations are so by the numbers that while I enjoyed watching them, I never really cared about them. I didn’t see them growing as characters or feeling like real people (who you can relate to/empathize with on multiple levels); most egregiously with Gamora. General badass with skills does not a dynamic character make, or a strong female character for that matter, and I wasn’t sure if her delivery was trying to be hardened, stoic, and a bit stilted due to her past (which would have been good to see, even if it was in flashback), or just wooden. Sometimes she was catty or bossy, but that was it for her personality. And her sister(?) Nebula is even worse.
I also didn’t care about the universe or the planet getting potentially blown up. I felt so disconnected from this world and its inhabitants that I could only really care in the most basic sort of sense. People are going to die, and that is bad.
The plot may be simple, but the overall story and the universe are vague and distant. I don’t get how this world is set up, or how it functions. At least with the Star Wars prequels, I knew who was who and which cities and planets were particularly important. Who rules this world? How are the planets governed, and is there a greater government keeping tabs on things, or just those police people who seemed to be concerned with that one planet? Why is Space Hitler upset at these people he wants to blow up? Okay, he’s part of a fanatical group, but seriously, why?
Most importantly, why should I care?
Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I don’t think these were very well explained. And movies only really work when the illusion of reality is strong (meaning this could be a real place with real people you’d meet and you get sucked into the stories and inner workings).
The opening scene was needlessly dramatic and jarring compared to the tone of the rest of the film. And Quill doesn’t talk much about his childhood before or after the incident. It would be fine (his mother’s death is a big turning point in his life, after all), but it felt manipulative. Like the film makers wanted to force a connection between the audience and Quill (or between them and his mother) only seconds after being introduced, and without even a couple words to describe character. Bullied. Smart. Hesitant. Something like that. I had to guess what kind of kid Quill was and what he was feeling by face alone, so it wasn’t the smoothest transition into the next scene’s, “Look how much he’s grown! Adult Quill! Wow, what a totally different person he is now!” feel.
I guess we can assume Quill and his mom were cool because they listen to mixed tapes, and because Quill never upgraded to a iPod. Cool and retro…and nice, I assume?
Why did I need to see every excruciating moment of her death? And I’m not even sure I understood Quill’s dilemma in that scene either.
I usually cry so easily, and likable or at least nice characters dying typically results in that effect. Ask anyone. I cried when Ash Ketchum got turned to stone in Pokemon: The First Movie. I’m a sappy, living waterfall.
I only cared about one death in this film. Make of that what you will.
The ending will give you strong “the power of love and friendship!” vibes, which may leave a weird taste in your mouth if you can to this movie for snark and funny, mindless action. Not bad, but as I’ve said, nothing different or interesting in its delivery. And Peter Quill becomes a Gary Stu in a dumb twist that had no legit setup.
And no, I will not accept the comics as an explanation. A good filmmaker should take issues and plotholes into consideration and address them. Whether or not the plot-convenience eagles had motivations to keep them from being always useful in the Lord of the Rings books is irrelevant to the movies if the movies themselves never address them. Books and movies are not interchangeable.
And when Quill learns the shocking truth about himself, it takes away from any message about the strength of the human race (or even just one person in general), which is what I gleaned from his character and his whole place in the Guadians.
But that’s just me.
All in all, this is a fun movie. Incredibly fun, but also shallow and somewhat insubstantial. It is true movie cotton candy: sweet and tasty, but not filling, nutritious, or uncommon. Go see it, enjoy it, but don’t give it as much thought as I’ve tried to. I’m not sure it deserves all that much.
*Images are not mine. They belong to Marvel/Disney