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Weekend Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy

a motley crew in outer space that aren't afraid of bright colors


The Marvel Universe movies could have not existed before Right Now. Yet, for all the technological advances and computer wizardry that have made The Avengers possible, the magic still comes from the humanity of the actors. No amount of technical prowess can make you care about Iron Man if a great actor hasn’t sold you on the bravado and change of heart of the man inside the suit. Captain America’s shield and super strength are great but his adventures don’t work if Chris Evans’s star turn isn’t so perfectly pitched to invoke fantasies of the nobility of a bygone American era. (Without the humanity it’s just Transformers and nobody wants that -Shut up. I’m in denial about those billions). With GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Marvel Studios has gone Cosmic opening up a whole new movie wing for their ever-expanding universe. As they leave Earth behind, have they found a way to retain the humanity?

Yes and no. But not in the way you might expect.

It helps of course, on a superficial level that the movie begins on Earth and shamelessly pushes collective 80s nostalgia buttons by making Peter Quill our hero, relentlessly nostalgic about that era. We first meet him as a little boy in 1988 and his most cherished possession twenty some years later when the movie takes place isn’t any of his impressive weapons or starship but a walkman with a cassette tape called “Awesome Mix Tape Volume 1”. It also helps that Peter Quill is played by endearingly simple Andy from “Parks and Recreation” a.k.a. Chris Pratt.



Pratt’s new body may be imposingly hard, with all its cuddly body weight chiseled off, but those years of familiarity have given him a phantom comfy-ness. The actor's comic gift doesn’t exactly give Quill much in the way of character - he’s basically Han Solo lite - but it does give him and the movie a great sense of humor; one joke he makes about a black light is uproariously funny and will thankfully sail right over the heads of the little kids who will enjoy this movie most.

The hero is a ‘type” and each character basically only has one distinguishing trait in both personality and appearance: Drax (Dave Bautista), a red skinned strong man who takes everything literally, Groot (Vin Diesel’s voice), a tree monster who knows only three words “I am Groot.” Rocket (Bradley Cooper’s voice), a genetically engineered raccoon that is a hot tempered genius. They’re broadly sketched but entertaining.

Screen shot 2014-08-01 at 9.29.03 PMBut the true problems lie elsewhere. Humanity is hard to come by in outer space so how to care? The numerous names of planets and races and old un-dramatize politics and feuds start to take on a Green Lantern/Phantom Menace (shudder) messy who-cares incoherence. The less said about the villains the better. Marvel Studios has now made 10 movies and, apart from Loki, they’ve yet to figure out how to do villains properly which is a completely odd deficit given their other strengths and the studio’s comic book origins where many terrific baddies can be found. Beautiful Lee Pace is utterly wasted, buried in makeup and costuming as “Ronan the Accuser” a Kree fanatic constantly bellowing death wishes on an entire civilization. Worse still is Thanos (Josh Brolin), the intended ‘Big Bad’ for whatever adventures The Avengers are getting up to come 2018. He floats on a stupid throne in outer space and the image is utterly weightless, devoid of any context, danger, impact or sense of reality… even in this unreality. And don’t even get me started on the sexism. The Marvel Universe now has two women in it (such numbers for 50% of the population!) and they’re interchangeable: Gamora is a clever beautiful assassin and shady double agent who the hero isn’t sure he can trust. Sound familiar? Yup, she’s The Black Widow. Add green skin, subtract personality. (Scarlett Johansson > Zoe Saldana. You know this to be true… and an understatement.)

But I’m underselling the movie. Director James Gunn and his co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman are at their best when they’re playing with these one-dimensional personalities like they’re tricked up action figures with lots of accessories who tell a joke every time you press a button. The movie is colorful and funny which makes it a buzzy tonic to all the morose self-serious action movies (*cough* Batman). I hope other such movies borrow its love of color but I hope they use it with more self-control and taste. (Guardians doesn’t manage to be as unmistakably tacky as Thor’s Asgard but By Odin’s Beard, it tries. Especially when we visit Xandar and see Glenn Close collecting a paycheck. Yikes.)


Today if you can dream it, you can realize it (with a bankroll), and it's often hard to find restraint that avoids visual clutter and finds a rooting human interest. Which is why it’s something of a mystery, that everything that’s most human and moving about Guardians of the Galaxy is computer generated. Its two most indelibly beautiful and incongruously organic images are fully animated: The first involves thousands of spaceships fusing together to form a protective shield against an alien invader and the image plays slow and golden and begins to resemble a honeycomb with the valiant men as admirable worker bees dying for their essential queen; the second serves exactly the same protective spell purpose but on a far more intimate scale as Groot forms a protective circle around the heroes with his multiple branches. Not one bit of either image is real and yet both are comforting and strangely moving.

Maybe Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn’t work. It laughs at its own jokes harder than the audience and it feels slapped together to get from point A (new wing of Marvel Universe) to point B (Sequels! Future Avengers Integration!). Hell, maybe it doesn’t work. We’ll see in a year when the fog of hype calling each new superhero movie “the best ever” dissipates. But IF it does work, and I’m not here to argue that it isn’t enjoyable, what makes it work isn’t the human element. Instead it’s the conjured humanity of two CG creations and their visually startling devotion to each other. In the end the great takeaway is that gun-toting raccoon and his softhearted tough-barked pet tree. That is a strange sentence to type and these are strange movie times we live in when pixels have more personality than flesh and blood .


Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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  1. I thought the movie was fantastic. Didn't see any of the criticisms posted here. The characters were great, the dialog was great.

    Posted by: Brad | Aug 2, 2014 12:28:26 PM

  2. "... these are strange movie times we live in when pixels have more personality than flesh and blood." That critique seems a bit odd since animation has been around for a very very long time. To imply this is something new strikes me as very hollow. Some examples... any Disney animated feature, Gollum in LOTR, King Kong, Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet... I could go on and on. Sometimes a movie is just a movie and is meant simply to be enjoyed rather than over analyzed.

    Posted by: Gerry | Aug 2, 2014 12:49:35 PM

  3. Saw it yesterday and enjoyed it far more than I was expecting. Came out the cinema with a grin on my face and a bounce in my step. The world that was created felt dense without feeling overwhelming. The writing was witty and touching. However, it did feel rushed at times in terms of character development and plot, but more in terms of wanting to know more. Looking forward to more.

    Posted by: Evil European | Aug 2, 2014 12:50:35 PM

  4. Groot is a well beloved King, not a pet, read the comics

    Posted by: Cory | Aug 2, 2014 12:54:05 PM

  5. Saw it last night and loved it. I haven't heard an audience laugh so much in I don't know when. Groot has many surprises.

    Posted by: Raybob | Aug 2, 2014 1:15:05 PM

  6. Terrible movie: there was no good place to get up and go to the bathroom.

    Posted by: Gregory in Seattle | Aug 2, 2014 2:01:30 PM

  7. I enjoy Nathaniel Rogers's reviews. They are somehow both sassy and understatedly thoughtful.

    He should join forces, Marvel-style, with Ari Waldman. Together, they can submit sly reviews of such gay pop culture horrors as MarkE Miller and 'the Day-Drunk Gays'.

    Posted by: Sergio | Aug 2, 2014 2:57:44 PM

  8. I liked that the movie didn't focus on the villains. This wasn't a story about them - who were clear in their fanatical hate - but about the camaraderie of this crew of losers, people who have lost something.

    Posted by: Rob | Aug 2, 2014 6:00:10 PM

  9. I liked that the movie didn't focus on the villains. This wasn't a story about them - who were clear in their fanatical hate - but about the camaraderie of this crew of losers, people who have lost something.

    Posted by: Rob | Aug 2, 2014 6:00:10 PM

  10. "The Marvel Universe now has two women in it"

    As long as you ignore Pepper Potts, Maria Hill, 2 Agent Carters, Sif, Jane Foster, Darci Lewis, Betty Ross, Melinda May, Jemma Simmons, Skye, Nova Prime, and I'm sure there is more I'm missing.

    Certainly there could be more women in lead roles. Dismissing the rest of these women to make a snarky and inaccurate jab comes off just as sexist as the point you were attempting to make.

    (I would actually be ok with everyone just ignoring the hell out of Skye.)

    Posted by: Frell456 | Aug 2, 2014 10:08:04 PM

  11. Lightly amusing and gets jazzier and funnier and more touching as it goes along (despite Vin Diesel ripping off his own climax from "The Iron Giant"). Good soundtrack, aside from Michael Jackson and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough (not bad songs, just overplayed). Don't know if it was worth $10.25, but it was indeed a good movie for seeing with a big crowd on a warm summer Saturday night.

    Posted by: Dback | Aug 3, 2014 1:34:44 AM

  12. Maybe it's just me but this review comes off either a bit bitter, like someone is trying to find a way to make a negative review on something that's getting almost universal praise, or both. And I'm also glad it got pointed out as being sexist already.

    I personally thought the movie was amazing (not as good as Avengers or Cap 2, but still great). The added task of having to introduce not only brand new characters but brand new worlds was done quite well in my opinion. I'll agree it was a lot, especially for non-comic fans (the post-credits scene had many people in my theater asking WTF). But I thought it was a great intro to the cosmic universe with the promise of a lot more to come. I mean hey, Star Wars & Star Trek still confuse a lot of people with their history. Consider how much more backstory there is behind those.

    And that's not even beginning to get into how they're weaving a narrative through multiple movies over multiple years. As a stand alone, the movie is an awesome ride - and I say a must see. As a part of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" as they call it, this is definitely must see.

    Posted by: Cloud | Aug 3, 2014 2:17:35 AM

  13. Absolutely LOVED this movie! And Chris Pratt is all kinds of rip roarin' HOTT! And from what I've heard, he's also very gay-friendly and pro-GLBT equality.

    Posted by: Dr. Christopher Blackwell | Aug 3, 2014 5:10:05 PM

  14. "Scarlett Johansson > Zoe Saldana" No, I don't know that. In fact, I call that idiocy. It's also idiotic to gripe about there only being two women, and then to mercilessly, cruelly, and inaccurately compare them like the are pieces of meat. To be sure, Scarlett was as much the star of the latest Cap movie as Chris was - and they were BOTH amazing. Saldana has proven herself over and over and over as a box office CHAMPION, and her Uhura is totally iconic (and in most ways, better than the original). Get a grip.

    Posted by: Tarc | Aug 3, 2014 11:34:41 PM

  15. Another review, another opinion. Sorry you didn't like it as much as the audience I saw it with in Bangkok. Loud laughter and cheers throughout. Perfect movie? Nah. Great popcorn movie? Absolutely. Heart and humor (plus some well-staged action) can go a long way. Bring on Awesome Mix Vol. 2! (Oh, and Pratt is adorable and this Quill probably saw Empire Strikes Back so maybe that's where he learned his repartee LOL)

    Posted by: Maxim Mooney | Aug 4, 2014 2:22:49 AM

  16. I used to be a huge Marvel comics fan, collected them from childhood till the x-men traded in their costumes for the crappy black leather movie gear. The Guardians were never on my radar during all those years, and even now after seeing this movie they are still characters I couldn't be less interested in. I love Chris Pratt, but the movie left me feeling Meh. I enjoyed the Cap/Iron-man Heroes United cgi movie better.

    Posted by: Chris | Aug 4, 2014 6:29:46 AM

  17. It's a fun cute popcorn movie. I enjoyed it while it was on. Original or memorable? Not really. I find more substance and gratification in the generally superior X-Men flicks and DC Comics movies, well the ones with Superman and Batman anyway. Nonetheless, Chris Pratt is eye candy and has charismatic star power. Totally worth the $20 I spent for the IMAX 3D screening.

    Posted by: SpaceCadet | Aug 4, 2014 1:02:29 PM

  18. My mother recently died of cancer, and the hospital room scene looked a lot like my reality. Needless to say they had me crying at the very beginning and the end.

    Posted by: Mawm | Aug 5, 2014 11:05:41 AM

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