Friday, August 1, 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy" is Out-of-This-World Fun!

Can you imagine some young-buck producer trying to pitch this idea to some big-wig studio boss of yesteryear’s Hollywood?  Eager producer storms into studio head’s office and starts, “Hey, J.B.!  How ‘bout this? We take five characters from comic books that hardly anybody has heard of (only one of ‘em human, by the way, since the others are a green gal, a walking tree, a talking raccoon and an oversized literal-minded wrestler), and run ‘em all through space spitting out rapid-fire dialogue at each other; we fill the soundtrack with a bunch of songs from forty years ago (that most of the kids in the audience won’t have ever heard of), have ‘em fight a villain that wants to destroy everything just because he can, and make the movie’s climax the almost-destruction of a planet that has nothing to do with any of the characters! Whatta ya think, J.B.!?!?”

(studio boss takes long pull on cigar before speaking…) “Kid, get the Hell outta my office!”

Well, thankfully, old Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer aren’t behind some desk at the Mouse House these days.  Behold the world-devouring behemoth that Marvel Studios has become!  Forget that Disney owns them - the House that Stan Lee Built would be ruling the world right now even without Disney’s might behind it.  Guardians of the Galaxy is without a doubt the most off-beat of all the entries Marvel Studios has created for its Cinematic Universe to date, and if it isn’t the most pure, all-out fun movie they’ve made yet, it’s only surpassed by the original Iron Man.  If ever there was a movie to fit the term “Popcorn movie,” this is it.

Attempting to summarize the plot would serve no purpose other than to create a less-than-stellar impres-sion of the movie, as it boils down to a megalomaniac bad guy who wants to kill everything/everybody want-ing some Orb that contains an Infinity Stone that would help him do exactly that, and lots of disparate characters who at first dislike each other coming together to prevent him from getting it.  It’s not a horribly original idea, but as Shakespeare (or some wise old soul or another) once said, there are only seven or eight really original stories in all of mankind’s history that have ever been told, anyway.  

The Orb, a Hitchcockian “Maguffin” if ever there was one, is never fully ex-plained, other than the Infinity Stone it contains, but who cares?   The beef Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) has with the Kree Empire over their peace treaty with the planet Xandar (just stay with me, folks) is murky at best, but again, who cares? The involvement of the mad Titan, Thanos (an uncredited and unrecognizable Josh Brolin), gives comic-book nerds like me a big thrill, but the average movie-goer may not feel a surge of nerd-gasm over it. Yet again, who cares??? The movie is fun, folks - I mean really, REALLY fun - and that’s what counts.

Rapid-fire smart-aleck one-liners abound here, as all five of the protagonists are very funny, and in five very different ways.  The wise-ass human thief Peter Quill/ ”Star-Lord” (Chris Pratt) seems to draw all the action to him, and will all-but-certainly begin to melt the tough exterior of the green space-ninja-badass Gamora before film’s end (one could begin to wonder just how many colors Zoe Saldana can play over the course of her movie career - I count three so far).  Sure, the Walking Tree only says three words over and over (“I AM GROOT”, croaked to great effect by Vin Diesel), but the timing of those words, and the actions and facial expressions that accompany those words, are priceless.  A computer-generated talking raccoon named Rocket may strike you as ludicrous, and it may very well be, but it works here, primarily due to Bradley Cooper’s voice-over performance, which would be Oscar-worthy if such a category existed.  All five characters fit a stereotype, yet all five seem to be in on the joke and exploit that knowledge to comedic effect.  One couldn’t ask more of a screenplay.  

Director James Gunn, whose primary claim to fame before now has been the indie horror/comedy Slither (which I have not yet seen, but really want to), has created such a fantastic mood for this mish-mash of science fiction, slapstick comedy and buddy/action movie that I marvel (no pun intended) at Marvel’s foresight in realizing how perfect he would be to bring this concept to the screen.  With so much going on in the script, he finds ways to relate important stuff to the audience in a way that we get it, or at least enough of it to keep us up to speed.  His use of the 70s-era pop tunes that litter the soundtrack is one way he keeps us grounded, and are almost part of the overall joke, as the characters all hear and react to them.  They keep us, the audience, rooted in the unbelievable story, too, reminding us that “Star-Lord” is just a dude from Earth, just like us (well, most of us, anyway).  

Guardians of the Galaxy has some of the same “vibe” that the rest of the Marvel movies do, but in some other hard-to-describe way, doesn’t really feel like a part of the same series.  Maybe because there is no “superhero” for the audience to latch on their attention, the movie feels separated from the Earth-bound flicks we’ve seen so far. Nonetheless, with Thanos as part of the mix, and given his post-credit appearance after the first Avengers film, we know all of these paths will meet at some cinematic point in the future, so we have that to look forward to. In the meantime, we have this movie, very possibly the most fun flick of 2014, to revel in, and thanks be to Nerd Heaven that Disney’s studio bosses these days seem to be a little more open-minded than those of olden days might have been.