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WATCHING THE MOVIES: Guardians of the Galaxy

We reach the wacky space adventure portion of the Marvel Rewatch.

Happy Semi-Annual Patriots Greatness Celebration Weekend! I only had time for one movie this week, as we remain in the movie industry’s doldrum-filled winter dumping ground. Thankfully, it’s a good flick!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

When it entered theaters on the heels of a killer 80s-tinged marketing campaign, no one quite knew what to expect from Guardians of the Galaxy. I mean come on: a talking tree, a raccoon, some blue dude, some green lady, and a human dude with a funky mask team up to save … the galaxy? In space? The concept was way the heck out there. No one knew who any of these people were.

James Gunn and the team behind Guardians obviously didn’t see this lack of familiarity as a disadvantage. Instead, it gave them near-unlimited freedom to be as out there as possible, to define their own world separate from the rest of the existing Marvel films. But there’s always the risk odd sci-fi stories run of being too divorced from reality, leaving them either flat and devoid of feeling (After Earth), too off-the-wall for most to follow (The Fifth Element), or just long, messy exposition dumps (Jupiter Ascending).

Like so many other Marvel films, this one bets that well-defined characters working through a simple problem in a fun-to-watch way will overcome our initial skepticism of difference. The primary problem here isn’t “how will the Guardians defeat the bad guy,” though. It asks whether five broken beings can become the Guardians at all.

Let’s start off with Peter Quill, the human man-child at the center of the Guardian ensemble. Kidnapped by aliens from Earth as a child after he runs from his dying mother’s bedside, we first see him engage in derring-do as he jams out to his Walkman while stealing the orb which will serve as our McGuffin. Confronted by bad guys, he quips a bit then makes his escape. Already we can tell from how this guy acts that he’s more loose with his moral scruples than any of our Marvel heroes so far.

More than that, though: Peter (self-nicknamed “Star-Lord”) operates on feeling and instinct so often and so bigly that it could be a superpower. His heart is huge, especially for the things (and later people) that he loves. He holds tightly to his desires and takes big risks, but runs from pain. In fact, Peter’s contribution to villain Ronan’s defeat is one particularly hilarious example of his instinct-driven genius/insanity. It foreshadows his eventual downfall when fighting another purple-faced Infinity-Stone-wielder in a later movie too, but to say more would spoil things.

Every other Guardian has a way they escape from their problems and keep everyone at bay: Gamora’s ice-queen demeanor; Rocket’s kleptomania and sarcasm; Drax’s singleminded desire for revenge; and Groot’s … okay, Groot’s the loveable if word-challenged exception.

And they all have a similar lesson to learn: choosing to care about others is better than choosing to be alone. Though there’s heartbreak and strife that waits for the fighter, fighting to save the helpless is better than turning tail. Sacrifice is greater than cowardice.

At first the Guardians, even when they’re together, work separately. Whether it’s their prison break or their tussle with Ronan’s men on Knowhere, each one of them pursues their own ends. It’s only when they choose to care about something greater that they join hands and achieve victory as a team, without losing anything that makes them uniquely them.

Now for the broader plot. It’s MacGuffin-driven, which would normally drive me batty, but this is a situation where it’s done right. This MacGuffin has been subtly built up by references to Infinity Stones in prior movies, it’s fundamental to the plot, and its danger is specific: if the Guardians do not stop it, a planet of innocent people who mostly live in a city that suspiciously looks like futuristic London will all die.

Thanos is finally here too, in a near-perfect cameo. All he does is talk, and yet with Josh Brolin’s voice booming from his towering throne, you instantly feel his power and authority. He’s not someone to be messed with, and he’s far scarier than the overacting, goofy Kree fanatic Ronan.

Yeah, Ronan is a wonderful example of a bad Marvel villain. A good deal of the first few MCU films have one-note overdramatic baddies who just want power so they can rule/destroy wherever the hero feels at home. Think Obadiah Stane from Iron Man or Malekith from Thor: The Dark World. More often than not, frankly, these villains are mere vessels for the real scary thing – whatever object or puppetmaster gives them their power.

The direction’s great, the cinematography’s interesting, and the nostalgic soundtrack is an absolute smash. I remember that big smile I got when I first heard Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” backing Guardians‘s first trailer. So many little music choices like that elevate this film.

If I had to sum up my thoughts, then I’d call this the first fun Marvel movie. Its sole truly weak spot is its villain, but other than that, it’s a sensational success.

RATING: 9/10

If you have a movie you’d like me to review, leave me a comment below! Until next time … roll credits.

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