Sunday, January 25, 2015
Dazzling Guardians Delivers!
Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Reviewed: 25 January 2015
How does it work? A feisty raccoon that fires automatic weapons? A Chewbacca-like walking tree capable of only one line of dialogue? A television actor thrust into the limelight to carry a movie with his charm? A completely new world of planets and creatures and swirling stars and shifting alliances? A heavy opening scene grappling with major grief? A jamming soundtrack of 70's and 80's pop songs juxtaposed against space?
I don't know how James Gunn did it, but it works, and Guardians of the Galaxy is not only one of the best films of the year; it is one of the best films of its kind of recent memory. To throw the mantle of Star Wars around is not something that I do lightly. I did it for Avatar in 2009, and I do it now. I re-watched it after watching it, and I found that each scene has its own beautiful background. Instead of CGI overwhelming and turning my brain off, Gunn and his team have constructed a lush world of landscapes and sky, planets and moons, colors and dirt that feels memorable and unique. And loved.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) finds himself taken from earth after his mother's death in 1988 and transported to a ship of Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), and he opens the film with a quasi-Indiana Jones mission to recover an artifact from a defunct planet. A marvelous fight ensues, and soon, Quill finds himself in league with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a possible ally from the enemies Thanos and Ronan, bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), and muscleman Drax (Dave Bautista). Their mission? To save the galaxy. But imbued in all of this is a wicked sense of humor and fun, as well as the best soundtrack that I have heard in an action film in a long, long time. Gunn takes these characters seriously, but Rocket has an air of impish defiance to him, a sort of Han Solo trapped in a raccoon form that becomes even more fun when juxtaposed against the sage and mighty Groot. Pratt displays charm from the first frame, putting his headphones to his walkman on and dancing his way through a mission, and Saldana gives Gamora a fierceness and a warmth simultaneously. My favorite performance might be Dave Bautista who plays a warrior seeking revenge but can't understand metaphors, and Bautista is given some of the film's best lines. The enemies are sufficiently scary, the back story competently told and not overwhelming, and the pace is strong. Unlike certain films in the George Lucas canon, Gunn feels confident to let his camera tell the story at certain moments by lingering at the beauty of a scene instead of quickly cutting. The action is always clear and easy to follow, and it helps that for the first two thirds of the film, most of it is hand-to-hand until an epic space battle requires the frenzy of flying ships.
Why does this work? It doesn't take itself too seriously, but it does at the same time. The framing device is a very intense one, and Guardians is not short on heart. I felt moved by it in the most rare of ways, and it looks gorgeous. The soundtrack sets the tone, and the bold move of these pop songs echoing through the universe pays off marvelously. There is an alchemy here to the performances and the production design, the direction and the writing. Guardians of the Galaxy is the first movie of my son's lifetime that I cannot wait to sit down with him and watch. It is worthy of comparisons to Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
What a gift.