August 5, 2014

The balanced Guardians of the Galaxy review

Guardians of the Galaxy is the buzzworthy space action flick of the summer, with its August box office record-breakage ($94 million), a trailer that leaves the mainstream audience giggling but with very confused expectations, and the rave reviews from critics and your Facebook friends alike. It's worth the ticket price, but not your first born child, just in case there was any confusion going by what your friends posted in your Facebook news feed. Enjoyable, and nice and short at 121 minutes, and silly. I'll even go as far as to say fun, with characters, and visuals. I'm avoiding modifiers and superlatives for fear of being misinterpreted as having composed what could be called a rave review in any way. I liked it, and I recommend it.

The one bit of hyperbole I will agree with is where Zaki from Huffington Post calls it "the most confident bit of sci-fi world-building I've seen since the original Star Wars," to which I will add, if only because there hasn't been anything close to a strong attempt at sci-fi world building since Star Wars.

But while unique in the immersiveness and detail of its intergalactic universe, and perhaps in its heroes, it just wasn't unique in its story. Swashbuckler and carefree space adventurer with a Han Solo mien foolishly strikes out apart from his treasure-hunting boss and gang of thugs to slip away with the booty for himself: a silver orb thingy that everybody wants and nobody knows what it really is. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is then chased through the galaxy by the likes of bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel, apparently), and assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana). When he ends up in jail with them, they become friends (with the addition of Drax, played by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista), fusing together into an Avengers-like team only much stranger. I mean, Rocket is a genetically engineered raccoon who suffers deeply for being the only of his kind and the mockery that goes along with it, and who knows what Groot is? And why is Zoe Saldana green?

The story from there is that Peter Quill's orb turns out to have some kind of world-destroying cosmic capability that makes it insanely dangerous and it's about to fall into the malevolent hands of some big deal bad guy named Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, who is wonderful and completely unrecognizable, which is less wonderful, because had I known it was him I would have actually paid attention to the otherwise cliche and yawn-worthy big bad guy monologue. The rest of the movie is spent trying to keep the orb away from Thanos and then trying to get it back from him. With giant space ships crashing into planets and all that fun Marvel stuff, plus some fighter pilot maneuvering and hand to hand combat.

I have to compare it to The Avengers — only quite a bit better — in that the first two thirds of the movie are very strong, and the end falls flat. There are a lot of comparable plot points. The defeat of one of the big bad guys is essentially a punch line: in this case there's no Hulk smash, only Peter Quill breaking into dance suddenly at the moment of his defeat, distracting Ronan the Accuser so they can destroy the warhammer and use the orb thingy to kill him (it's a much funnier punchline than "Hulk smash" if you ask me.) There's also the saving grace, which was another problem I had with the Hulk in The Avengers, which actually makes sense in Guardians of the Galaxy — Groot protects the group, sacrificing himself (although he comes back much cuter). None of this to say that Guardians of the Galaxy was bad, just that it had similar flaws.

The jokes and the prison break scene are what make it good. Kudos to Marvel for casting an actor, Chris Pratt, as star hero who can actually do comedy. This could have gone so wrong had they given those one liners to a type cast tough guy action hero. Instead, there's a humorous overtone on a colorful space adventure that will make you smile, even if it's silly, and won't leave you with too many frustrations of the plot-hole or inconsistency variety. How's that for balance?