Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Guardians Of The Galaxy”


guardians

Here’s a question I can’t see any rational human being asking themselves, but apparently someone did : what would happen if you took bog-standard Marvel Studios super-hero fare, threw in a couple dozen extra jokes, and scooped a heavy layer of incredibly lame ’70s “power-pop” numbers like “Please Go All The Way” and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” on top?

The answer, of course, is director James Gunn’s newly-released Guardians Of The Galaxy, and if I’d been that hypothetical irrational person I just alluded to maybe I’d be a couple million bucks richer thanks to this film rather than sitting at home writing a review of it. So kudos to you, whoever you are, for your idea to bring this C-grade (at best) team of also-rans from their frequently-cancelled printed pages (there have been, what? Four or five Guardians  series to this point, and none has lasted more than a couple of years) to the big screen and making DisMar — a studio that has apparently entered “too big to fail” territory — hundreds of millions in box office receipts. I hope they compensate you handsomely, though given their track record I wouldn’t bet on it.

As for the rest of us, well — if you like this sort of thing, then this will be the sort of thing you like, but if you don’t, you won’t find much here over and above what you’ve already come to expect, despite the best efforts of Gunn (who also co-wrote the script with Nicole Perlman) to inject a little bit of personality into the proceedings. Any Troma alumnus who makes it to the big leagues like this (which reminds me, be on the lookout for a “blink and you’ll miss it” cameo from Lloyd Kaufman — oh, and one from Rob Zombie, too — and one from Nathan Fillion — and one from — well, you get the point here) deserves a pat on the back, to be sure, but there’s only so much our intrepid former low-budget maestro can do in the face of Marvel’s juggernaut-by-the-numbers style of production. Truth of the matter is, take out those couple dozen extra jokes and horeshit songs I mentioned and this thing is completely indistinguishable from its peers like Iron ManThe Avengers, or Captain America. Not that many folks seem to mind — but we’ll get to the sociological implications of this flick in due course.

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First off, credit where it’s due : Chris Pratt has displays admirable “regular-guy charisma” as Peter Quill, the self-proclaimed “Star Lord,”  leader of our planet-hopping mercenary crew; Zoe Saldana continues to her series of impressive acting turns as Gamora (and looks damn good in green body paint);  pro wrestling star Dave Bautista showcases a surprising level of humanity for a bulky alien brute;  and Bradley Cooper brings a fair degree of enthusiasm to his voice-over work for Rocket Raccoon. Vin Diesel could probably be said to do a decent enough job as Groot, the living tree, as well, but I think he just recorded one line that they play over and over again in an endless loop, so let’s not go too overboard in praising his efforts.

Anyway, the cast is good — even if its two most accomplished members, Glenn Close and John C. Reilly, are given precious little to do — but the material they have to work with is positively atrocious, and you know the old line about trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. By and large the “humor” in this film feels forced and pre-planned (“okay, it’s been two minutes — time for another semi-snappy one-liner”), and when Gunn tries to play it straight, the emotional “beats” he’s going for fall flat and and hit the ground with a thud. Some of the pseudo-momentous dialogue in the “important, character-defining” scenes is so strained I literally had to wince. Ladies and gentleman, this script is just plain bad.

It’s also incredibly simple and, frankly, hackneyed. At the end of the day all we’ve got going on here is a regulation-issue “misfits forced by circumstances to work together and find their inner heroism”-type story, with a dash of “keeping a dangerous object out of the hands of the wrong people” thrown in for good measure. All the CGI in the world (and frankly some of that is surprisingly half-assed given this flick’s enormous budget) can’t cover that fact up, nor can all the precisely-timed melodrama, cribbed-from-a-greeting-card catch phrases, or mega-noisy battle sequences. I give Gunn props for trying to bluff his way to being the last guy at the table, but in the end he can’t do much about the fact that Marvel has dealt him an empty hand. Shoot — his two most interesting characters are pieces of computer animation that aren’t even really fucking there.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-rocket-with-gun

I do believe the director and his cast tried their best to incorporate some heart into their beast — the kind of heart that Rocket’s creator, Bill Mantlo (and please, I implore you, do what I did and donate the same amount of money you paid for a ticket to this movie to help pay for Mr. Mantlo’s continued medical care by visiting gregpak.com/love-rocket-raccoon-please-consider-donating-to-writer-bill-mantlos-ongoing-care/ —- last I heard, Marvel’s not giving this guy a dime) always brought to his scripts — but the “Marvel Method” for films is as set in stone as it always has been for comics : give the punters the illusion of something different, but for heaven’s sake, whatever you do, make sure you’re not actually doing anything truly different at all.

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I’m slowly coming to a depressing conclusion, though — maybe the problem isn’t everyone else, maybe it’s me. The entire goddamn world is part of the Merry Marvel Marching Society now, and try as I might, I just can’t get on board. When Gunn shows Stan Lee behaving like a lecherous old creep in Lee’s studio-mandated cameo this time around, the audience in the theater howled with laughter and all I could think was  “hey, wait a minute, don’t they get it? This is what the guy is really like!”

And then it occurred to me — maybe they do get it, they just don’t care. Yeah, Lee is a rather slimy individual who takes a lot more credit that he deserves for pretty much everything, and yeah,  he’s left a trail of destitute and broken actual creators in his wake, and sure,  he even stole the idea for “his” Stiperella TV show from an honest-to-goodness stripper who he regularly spent all that money he earned from other people’s labor on, but — Stan Lee “won.” And American society loves a winner, right? We barely blink an eye when Wall Street scumbags fleece us out of trillions of dollars in order to save them from a mess they created by dint of their own greed and hubris, but when poor single mothers get  a paltry $200 a month, we’re up in arms. We even have the temerity to call them “takers,” while referring to those just-mentioned white-collar crooks as “the productive class.”

Yeah, they’re so “productive” that they can’t even run banks that make a profit while getting free money from the rest of us in one hand and charging us interest with the other. But I digress. America is no longer a nation that roots for the underdogs, or the “have-nots” — we’re too busy giving everything we’ve got the the “already-haves.” And maybe it’s high time I learned to check my brain in at the door and play along. It would save me a lot of grey hair and I’d probably find it really easy to make new friends.

What kind of friends would I be making, though? The folks in the theater I saw Guardians Of The Galaxy at laughed at every one of those cookie-cutter one-liners I was bitching about earlier. They got lumps in their throats at all the plastic-passioned “emotional turning points.” They hooted and hollered at the pre-determined outcomes of every generic battle. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, exactly when they were supposed to do it — and all I wanted to do was stand up and scream at the top of my lungs : “Dear God, is this really all you fucking people want?”

Apparently, it is.

19 responses to “Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Guardians Of The Galaxy”

  1. Agree with most of what you said. Especially the one-liners. What bothered me the most about the humor was after every joke, I swear the characters slightly winked at the camera and everyone paused like “Get it? Huh? Huh? Funny right?” I still had some fun, especially towards the end when they focused more on the actions and not the “in-jokes”.

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    • Glad you were able to get at least some enjoyment out of it — the whole thing just left me feeling overwhelmingly depressed, and not just about the movie, but about society in general, as you can probably tell.

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      • I’m afraid that this is one of those cases where I’m going to have to disagree with both you. I enjoyed the film, the music, the performances, and the humor. Far from leaving me depressed, this is one of the few films this year that left me feeling happy as I walked out of the theater.

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          • Well, there’s nothing wrong with being in the minority and one of the guiding principles of this site is that it’s often more interesting to read a contrarian view than to just read the people who are safely repeating the conventional wisdom. I, for instance, absolutely hated Avatar and, what’s interesting, is that I had a lot of the same criticisms for that film that you have for Guardians of the Galaxy. (Just substitute James Cameron for Stan Lee…)

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  2. You know, as directionless as this rant is at times (you lurched from GotG all the way to Wall Street), I get it. We should expect more from movies, even from blockbusters about talking raccoons in space. But complaining because people laughed at the jokes? This is like when “film critics” tried to review “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and were baffled by the fact that they were the only ones in the theater not laughing. And if you don’t like the music, then I suppose that’s just a matter of taste. (Personally, it was the first teaser with “Can’t Fight This Feeling” playing that first convinced me to give this movie a look, but, to each their own.)

    But you don’t have to assume that people are mesmerized by Marvel and -that’s- why they love this movie. “Transformers 4” was formulaic, too, and people at least have the decency to (hypocritically) pretend to hate it while spending a billion dollars on it. Not every Marvel movie is a hit, and audiences are not shy about expressing how they feel. They laugh because the jokes are funny, and they cheer because they actually like the characters.

    Speaking of the characters, if I’m remembering correctly, wasn’t “Star-Lord” a space cop in the comics? Pretty much the opposite of a “legendary outlaw”. It’s always difficult to develop multiple characters within the same two-hour movie, which is why the so-called “Marvel Method” is becoming the go-to method for shared universes. On the other hand, I definitely don’t believe it’s the only method, and I hope future movies give these characters more time to grow.

    Of all the characters in the movie, I felt Rocket really did have the most character development (shoddily-handled at times, but still believable). And Vin Diesel’s single line of dialogue was still distinct every time he uttered it. You can actually feel as if he’s participating in the various conversations. It was an impressive bit of voice-acting, all things considered.

    There’s quite a bit to criticize about this film, but I think you’re being unfair in more than a few of your points. (Except the points you made about Stan Lee, that is.)

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    • Hey, at least we can agree that Lee is a sleazy character! I’ll take that. As to your questions about the Star-lord character, he started out as kind of a freelancer of sorts, then hooked on with a cop-like agency, then became an outlaw — man, it’s all pretty confusing. If you want a real head trip, though, go back and look at his original “origin” story and see how thoroughly that’s been sanitized over the years.

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  3. Pingback: Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods | Through the Shattered Lens

  4. A great written review. But I would have to disagree with you, even though there were some parts that were very fake (such as groot’s sacrifice at the end and some of the humour), I am willing to overlook these as I had such a great time watching it and it’s also good to see a superhero movie with lots of colour and light throughout it and it was generally well acted. The problem is the I know my enjoyment of this film will be decreased when Marvel will combine the Guardians with the Avengers (I really dislike the Marvel Cinematic Universe) instead of allowing to keep this story on it’s own, in a Star Wars kind of way, without inference from other story lines .

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    • Thanks for the kind words, I’m glad you enjoyed the film, most people definitely seem to have done so, I just couldn’t grasp the wavelength everybody else is on, apparently.

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  5. Pingback: For Your Consideration #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (dir by James Gunn) | Through the Shattered Lens

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