Friday, August 1, 2014

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

As I sit and recount the experience of seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, I find myself sipping a lemonade and listening to the soundtrack and realizing that, at it's heart, this isn't a huge mindless space epic or a complex comic book movie.  It's not simply a story of beating the evil or saving the world.  At it's heart, it's a story of a boy and his relationship to his mother.

I'm trying to think of other movies that deal with such a relationship, and my mind fails me.  I can name any number of father/son, mother/daughter, siblings, and even father/daughter movies, but no mother/son ones come readily to mind.  The Blind Side, A. I., and Throw Momma From The Train.  I guess Psycho counts.

However, look at the structure of this film.  As a child, Peter Quill loses his mother and is soon taken off to space by aliens.  No explanation is immediately given as to why they're there, why they took him, or why, once he has his own ship, he doesn't go back home to let his family know he's alive and doing fine.

The only remnants he has of a life on Earth are relics from a time gone by.  TV show trading cards prominently showing Alf, a troll doll, and his most prized possession, a mix tape (yes, a cassette.  Remember those?) made for him by his mother and the accompanying Walkman to play it.  This is, of course, a magic mix tape, able to pick the perfect song for any occasion, starting at just the right moment so the last song isn't just wrapping up.

An intimate moment with Gamora is overlaid with Elvin Bishop's Fooled Around And Fell In Love, a moment at the beginning is perfectly lead off with Norman Greenbaum's Spirit In The Sky, and a moment where Peter (now Starlord, a name more perfectly picked by a child on an adventure I don't think has ever been made) brings heavy violence to some people between him and his goal is to Escape aka the PiƱa Colada song.

Lord knows that every time I hear that song, I want to hurt someone.

At every moment, Peter is guided by that mix tape and, by proxy, his mother's spirit.  He even connects with other wayward "youths," the aforementioned Gamora who has some serious father issues, Drax, a mountain of muscle grieving the loss of his wife and daughter, and Rocket and Groot, a talking raccoon with a penchant for smart talk and guns and his "muscle," a walking talking tree that can only say "I am Groot."

Turns out there's a lot of meaning behind those words, and depending on how the emphasis is placed, it's surprisingly easy to understand him.

The story is extremely loyal to Marvel Comics (with a few big shifts where needed), which I think both helps and hinders the story.  Things happen so quickly that it feels like something a child attempting to lose himself after the death of a loved one would come up with ("and then there's this green woman who wants to fight me but she kinda maybe likes me, but then there's a talking raccoon and a tree, and then we all break out of prison and there's this bad guy with a hammer and...") but I think it might lose people not used to the mythology.  There's certainly enough characters introduced that it becomes hard to keep track of who's primary and who isn't.

The movie, while busy at times, does remember it's supposed to also be fun, and the humor had me laughing often, though a few jokes felt rather forced in, as if to keep younger viewers entertained (a strategy session involving Rocket and a group of outlaws comes to mind).  It must be difficult to keep a balance between talking animals and threats like Thanos and Ronin working in the same universe, but for the most part the movie does it well.

The movie is also surprisingly self-aware, twisting a lot of the superhero conventions and action movie tropes on it's head (a dramatic walk down a hallway by the main characters is mixed with yawns by said people), and seems just as willing to poke as much fun at itself as science fiction classics.  There are a lot of Star Wars homages (not surprising, since Disney owns them both), and even Peter comes across as a young, slightly more disreputable Han Solo.

The movie, watched by someone who knows the difference between the Kree and other alien races, who is aware of the relationship between Gamora and Nebula, and can recognize a lot of background characters, the movie is both a great way of opening the cinematic universe to more characters and stories as well as a solid comic book movie.  To people who don't understand why a talking tree would only know three words or why the planet Xandar might look uncannily like something from Mass Effect, I might recommend some reading before sitting down to watch.  It's probably the last movie I'd recommend to people who aren't comic book fans from the Marvel films, but as a fan of these characters, it was everything I wanted.

Also, the post-credits scene had my jaw on the floor.  I can honestly say it was the last thing I expected, but considering something I mentioned above, it makes perfect sense.

No comments: