Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy is the first movie in the series to turn the franchise focus toward the Cosmic end of the Marvel Universe. As pretty big Guardians fans ourselves, we just had to talk about the movie. Probable spoilers after the break: welcome to the Chat Cave.
Patrick: I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the line, I’ve lost my taste for movies that don’t take place on Earth. There are obviously a ton of exceptions — Star Wars, Alien, Pitch Black — but by and large, my patience for shit happening to made-up places has waned considerably. It is remarkable how well Guardians of the Galaxy forges an earthbound experience when we don’t spend any time on the planet outside of the cold open. (Also, cold open in a Marvel movie — I think that’s a first.)
This all hinges on Peter Quill and that magical little cassette tape labeled “Awesome Mix Vol. 1.” Because he left earth in 1988, his entire lexicon of pop culture references is hilariously specific. Even if it doesn’t make total sense that Quill would know who Jackon Pollock is, it’s even more impressive that screenwriters James Gunn and Nicole Perlman stuck jokes in his mouth that a contemporary audience might get. When they’re back on the Milano (which, I assume is itself a reference to Alyssa Milano), Peter calls Rocket “Ranger Rick.” I guess Ranger Rick is still in circulation, but the reference doesn’t have nearly the cultural currency it would have had 26 years ago.
Then there’s the music. Oh my God: the music. That first volume of the Awesome Mix is pretty heavy on 70s and 80s pop rock tunes, but it cuts a wide enough swath that just about everyone in the audience is going to find “their” song in the soundtrack. For me, it was David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” which played as they approached Nowhere. Peter clearly loves all the songs, but I love how explicitly he claims “Hooked On A Feeling” as his personal piece of property. It tethers the character to his humanity, but the whole soundtrack tethers the audience to the film — who cares if we’re not on Earth? Plus! I could watch baby Groot dance to I Want You Back on loop for 10-hours. Get crackin’ Youtube!
Greg: Full disclosure: Patrick and I saw a late night screening of Guardians Of The Galaxy together (I wanted to hold hands, but I was too shy), and I don’t know about anyone else in that room, but I was puzzled at the seemingly missing trademark “bunch of issues flipping to form Marvel” logo that starts each of their films/whets my excitement and appetite. When Gunn and editors Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne, and Craig Wood smashed-cut from the heart wrenching opening to that logo, and I realized the simple trick that had been played on me, my excitement knew no bounds! (I can’t be the only one who gets excited for dumb things like delaying a logo until after one scene, right?)
Speaking of heart wrenching, this entire film surprised me by how nakedly emotional and poignant Gunn and Perlman were willing to get — not just with relatable situations like a boy watching his mother succumb to cancer, but totally alien situations like a wisecracking raccoon watching his gentle, limited-vocabulary-using friend succumb to a selfless act of sacrifice. When Rocket (played superbly by Bradley Cooper, who genuinely surprised me by not using his natural timbre and instead crafting a sticky, gruff, and believable tone for the character) sits, holding a cup with the remains of Groot, and openly weeps, the raw, unfettered emotion was contagious. Ultimately this is a story about friends being the family we choose, and each Guardian gets a moment to express this simple, beautiful fact quite splendidly.
I don’t want to end my section on such sentimental nonsense, however, so I’ll conclude by relishing in the gonzo comedic energy that crackles through the entire thing. Dave Bautista plays Drax (and Drax’s character game of taking everything literally) with such emotional earnestness that I pretty much laughed at all of his laugh-lines, to the point that I wanted him to do more — when Gamora took Quill’s summary of the town of Footloose as having a “stick up their butts” literally, I thought that should’ve been a Drax line for sure. Patrick alluded to the Jackson Pollock joke made by Chris Pratt’s rambunctious Quill, but it ain’t no highbrow New Yorker punchline — it’s a straight up, nonsubtle cum joke. The fact that Marvel Studios, owned by the Walt Happiest Goddamn Place On Earth Disney Studios, allowed this insanely vulgar and blunt of a joke to make it into the final cut of their latest four-quadrant tentpole blockbuster makes me feel like we’re in a bit of a golden age of superhero cinema (DC/Warner Bros movies that aren’t directed by Christopher Nolan notwithstanding).
Spencer: I absolutely loved this movie, y’all — you have no idea how hard I laughed at this thing — but I do feel the need to address some of the flaws, especially in the midst of such glowing praise. Much like Christopher Eccleston over in Thor: The Dark World, Lee Pace is wasted as Ronan the Accuser, whose intensity mostly came across as blandness to me; the shallowness of his personality is only matched by the shallowness of his goals. Karen Gillan fares far better as Nebula; Gillan injects genuine anger and jealously and even humor (I laughed every time she yelled at someone to get out of the way) into a character who didn’t ultimately get all that much time to shine. I hope we get to see more of her. While this is a small complaint, I do think there was some sketchy stuff with the girls in general, be it the lingering male gaze shots on Gamora (I’m thinking specifically as she climbs the stairs in the Milano) or Drax’s calling her a “whore”; I get the joke of Drax immediately defending her afterwards, but still, the set-up was more uncomfortable than funny. Also, this is just personal taste, but Yondu was way too campy, and took me out of the film a bit every time he showed up on screen.
Ultimately, though, I genuinely loved just about every aspect of this film. It succeeded in replicating the feeling of wonder that Star Wars gave me as a kid, bringing to life a gorgeous alien world of infinite potential yet tying it firmly into the Marvel universe despite not making one reference to an Avenger. It also succeeded in being a well-balanced team movie, giving every Guardian multiple chances to shine and using their various skills in tandem in the most interesting and exciting of ways — this is the type of interplay I look for in team books/movies, and man did Guardians deliver. The action worked, the music worked, the effects worked, the humor worked, the emotional beats worked — I could nitpick a lot of small stuff here and there, but I really don’t want to, because those moments didn’t really detract from the fun of the film for me.
So hey, what did everybody think of the end-tag? Every single person at my showing who waited ended up either confused or angry. I don’t think these teasers necessarily have to have big revelations or anything, but I still felt disappointed at how insignificant and irrelevant it ended up being.
Drew: Yeah, I can see how the end tags of 2s Thor and Captain America might have calibrated our expectations for bigger mythological teasers (like revealing that both the Tesseract and the Aether are Infinity Gems or the presence of the Maximov twins), but honestly, I think I prefer something that fits with the tone of the movie over something thrown in just to tie things together. And actually, the more I think about it, the more significant it is that the Collector was actively pursuing a second Infinity Gem…he’s definitely up to more than we see here.
Anyway, the thing that most impressed me about this movie was how believably it kept the team together. It’s easy for a well-known team’s cooperation to feel kind of obligatory (Avengers fought really hard against this for the first two acts, and it only kind of worked), but each reason for why this particular group of individuals would band together felt totally natural, in spite of being somewhat unexpected. More importantly, the movie was surprisingly emotionally satisfying. Each character had their own arc, but all fit into a kind of “Misfit Toy” mold, making their friendship feel totally understandable (and makes them even more relatable to their nerdy fan base).
Surprisingly, Rocket’s is one of the most emotionally naked performances in the movie. All of the Guardians are somewhat guarded (ha), but his walls seem to fall the hardest. Actually, if I had to single out an arc for working the least for me, it would be Quill’s. After that cold open, Gunn and Pearlman make it perfectly clear that Quill is NOT a brooding, angst-ridden Batman-type, which is an important tone to establish, but I’m not sure they ever get further than that. Why is he hiding from Yondu? Does he actually see Gamora as different from his previous conquests? Maybe it’s just that everyone else has such clear motives that his subtler ones don’t read, but seriously: what was he doing with his life until he was given the opportunity to save the Galaxy? It’s a small nit to pick — I genuinely didn’t think we’d get a solid handle on everyone’s motives, but I think I’m surprised that I found myself relating to the (half-) human the least of all of these characters.
Seriously, though, this movie was wall-to-wall entertainment — I can’t wait to see it again!