Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Marvel-ous Summer Finale: Guardians of the Galaxy Combines Sci-Fi Action with Heart

The gang's all here: image courtesy of Marvel, Inc.
An outlaw.

A racoon.

A tree.

An exiled warrioress. 

A warrior out for revenge.

A more motley crew one could not imagine, and yet they are bound by a common problem - each are ultimately alone, until they discover one another. 

Teamwork, the power of nostalgia, and the importance of friendship are all themes that elevate Marvel's latest film, Guardians of the Galaxy, from popcorn status to something entirely more profound. It is a character-driven film, and while the plot is interesting, what is more compelling is how the characters come to trust and respect one another, and heal each other from their self-made prisons of emotional isolation, created to protect them from the traumas of their shadowy pasts. If you're a fan of Cowboy Bebop and The Fifth Element, chances are you'll love this.

The film begins introducing our hero, Peter Quill (played by the welcome fresh face Chris Pratt) as a child, and how he ends up being carried off into space, with only his backpack, walkman, headphones, and his "Awesome Mix Vol. 1" to remind him of home. The walkman becomes not only a device that links Quill to his past life on earth, but a touchstone of continuity throughout that allows for poignant moments that take the edge off of Quill's swagger and bravado as the self-proclaimed "famous outlaw, Star-Lord." For children of the 80s such as myself, who are now about the age of Quill, hearing these tunes of our childhood creates an immediate sense of familiarity in an unknown universe. Were I hurtling through outer space at a breakneck pace, it would be nice to hear "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" to help me get through one more day.
Comic art for Guardians of the Galaxy. Image courtesy of Marvel, Inc.

Quill meets along the way Gamora (Zoe Saldana, well on her way to becoming the queen of sci fi), Drax
(Dave Bautista), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Rocket (voiced with plenty of snarl and sarcasm by Bradley Cooper). They make an uneasy alliance with one another to bring down the baddie (Ronan, played by  Lee Pace in ridiculously heavy makeup), who is working with Thanos to gain world domination and destroy the world of Xandar. Thanos gets cut out of the picture once Ronan gets his hands on the ultimate weapon, ultimately found in an orb that Quill steals for his employer/adopted dad. Glen Close makes a welcome appearance as the buttoned-up Nova Prime, the leader of the Xandar world, and I was happy to see a cameo of Benicio Del Toro dolled up in a blonde David Bowie-esque wig as "The Collector."

Director James Gunn, known for his work on 2004's Dawn of the Dead, takes a page out of Joss Whedon's handbook, including quirky, offbeat humor to lighten up intense sequences. Amid the glut of CGI and action scenes, there is a basic truth encapsulated in the character of Groot - nature's capacity for survival and regeneration trumps any high-tech gadgetry the universe can create, a recurring theme in much of Hayao Miyazaki's films (and if you haven't seen one, get out from under that rock that you have been living under immediately). Groot is easily the most powerful of all of the characters, and yet he is the most humble, only repeating one phrase "I am Groot", which depending on how it is said can encapsulate a whole spectrum of feelings.

The characters grow into one another, much like Groot's vines wind around them during a particularly moving sequence when they are huddled together as one. They are, as Quill proclaims, "All losers. Each one of you has lost something." Each are individuals whose lives have been torn apart. Rocket is perhaps the most tragic of all -he was literally taken apart and pieced back together again - and is light years away from being your standard cute, talking animal. Despite dire circumstances, they create family from the frayed edges of their lives.

I only wish there had been more detail regarding Gamora's character and her relationship with Thanos and her adopted sister, Nebula. Spending more time on her would've made her a more fascinating character to me, but as-is she is the least compelling of the band of misfits. 

It is an age-old story, but one that when told right, never fails to be successful in its retelling - you don't have to be blood-related - or even be from the same planet!- to be family.

Toby sez: 

Well-developed characters and the nostalgia factor makes it a strong conclusion to the summer movie season.  



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