Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
Usually when you’re introduced to a movie through its first theatrical trailer or teaser, you’re given an insight on what you’re to expect through the course of watching the film. With the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, however, right from the first poster itself, there was no way I could get to put my finger what to expect from it. Then came the first trailer to explode the universe, and to that I could only say:
“This looks… weird.”
And I wasn’t the only one. There were quite a few people around me who had the same reaction toward the first look of the movie. Could this possibly be Marvel’s biggest risk? I could only speculate so much till the second trailer – driven more toward the subtle tease of some plot points than the previous one – arrived, all thunder and lightning.
Thai is exactly when I knew that this was going to be something I was going to have a ball watching.
Marvel, meanwhile, takes the huge risk of bringing in directors not quite familiar with the tropes of the genre. With the likes of independent drama directors like Jon Favreau (Chef, Made), one-film-old Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer), and horror enthusiasts like Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell), Marvel’s track record of pushing through with bigger gambles has mostly paid off. Which is what makes the inclusion of the talented James Gunn (Slither, Super) in the director’s chair for this new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe so much more exciting. Gunn – through the course of his slightly recently acquired directorial status has taken quite a few risks, coming up with absolutely radical decisions on the basis of the tonality of his movies.
Of course, the absolutely radical choice of the film’s star cast also raises a few eyebrows. With the studio bringing in more and more performers and turning them into the faces of the heroes they attempt to adapt to screen, everybody was awaiting the film’s cast with bated breath. This is why when the revelation included the likes of Chris Pratt (television’s Park and Recreation), Zoe Saldana (Colombiana), Vin Diesel (The Fast and the Furious franchise) and Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook), eyes were definitely raised. Nobody has seen the likes together on screen before.
This was a game Marvel had to win. It was a big gamble; a start of a new series with a fearless director, a surprisingly fresh cast and trailers that show that this was not just going to be a way different film for Marvel, but also had huge potential.
And like always, I always land up to find out if movie gambles shine like a star or plop down only to do the walk of shame later.
What’s it About?
Earth. 1988. Young Peter is devastated. He can’t wrap around his head that he’s about to lose a lot more than he can handle. He runs to escape when he suddenly finds himself being abducted by a UFO. Sixteen years hence, Peter Quill (Pratt) has grown to call himself Starlord, a thief. Little does he know that the next artifact he’s about to rob will change his life forever.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Movies are made to entertain us. And when Marvel makes a movie, you’d probably know as a potential viewer that you’re not going to be watching a Stanley Kubrick or Lars Von Trier film. Their movies, much like the brand of comics and graphic novels they grew from, are larger than life. A lot of the time, in the name of making “unapologetic entertainment”, writers, directors and studios tend to take way more liberties in means more than one. Franchises like The Fast and the Furious and Transformers, among others, are sheer examples of the more balanced audience being taken for a ride they may not like. And while the presence of such movies is debatable more than questionable, the fact remains that when liberties are taken in a script, the writers must ensure that they look highly believable in the process of being translated. Otherwise, in all honesty, the purpose of taking liberties loses its charm. This is where writers Gunn and Nicole Perlman write in a surreal adaptation that takes a whole lot of highly absurd liberties and turns them up into risk-taking tonally fused scenes that – when executed by Gunn on screen – work big time. The characters of the protagonists are fantastically written, and provide more emotional depth and connect to the audience – especially looking at the characters of Groot and Rocket, which are MAJOR risks, and might I add; they have been written and executed so well it’s blowing my mind. Let’s just easily agree here that James Gunn directing a relatively radical Marvel comic book series in comparison to their other greatest hits is a gamble very well strategized, and has succeeded to a large extent.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have problems. While the tonality of the film is expansive, vibrant and unpredictable, it is the antagonist’s character graph can’t seem to contribute much to the film as a whole more than just being the quintessential bad guy. Now that isn’t a bad thing and doesn’t ruin the film at all, but it would definitely be much more interesting to have him be a lot more than just ‘the bad guy’, a fact I probably couldn’t stress enough in my last review.
Where the film also gets it right is the technical ambitiousness it succeeds in. Ben Davis (Seven Psychopaths) succeeds in directing a whole bunch of beautiful moving frames, blending it perfectly into the film. Some of the scenes are – but naturally now – recorded in high-speed to achieve the delicious (but normally highly overused) slo-mo effect. Here, however, the slow motion is used more for achieving the right amount of stylistic impact in places than as an exhaustingly overstuffed gimmick. What helps the cinematography is the absolutely detailed production design of the the movie, that shows the many portions of its universe in all its glory. This is – of course – supported by fantastic 3D modeling that rightly achieves the look and feel of a movie set entirely in space. Where the 3D modeling also works is also with the characters of Groot and Rocket – flawless, to say the least. It’s a great thing though that the movie doesn’t entirely depend on CGI when it’s possible. There’s a basic mixture of CGI and practical effects that achieves a very interesting equilibrium in the movie. The movie uses a lot of parallel edits and match cuts to its effect, making the film pop out and feel more dynamic than it could otherwise have been. The editing trio of Craig Wood (The Ring), Fred Raskin (Fast Five) and Hughes Winborne (Academy Award-Winner of Crash) come together to form a film that’s both fluid and fast as the same time. The movie has rhythm, which the editors are definitely instrumental in bringing out. That Wood has also been proficient with handling the edits of popular music videos shows here in some very, very fun sequences. And finally. The score by Tyler Bates (Watchmen), is a heady dose of epic emotion, fast-paced action and dramatic revelation. What really gets to you though is the eighties soundtrack, which adds a lot of character to Pratt’s protagonist in many ways. The Orb is to the film what the “Awesome Mix” is to Pratt’s emotional journey – a McGuffin.
To Perform or Not to Perform
The movie has a very interesting set of performers bringing to life a relatively new – and radical – set of characters. It must therefore have been a very difficult process to make the choices they’ve made; but in the end, the makers have chosen the cast well.
Chris Pratt is an absolute breath of fresh air in this role. Known more for his bumbling sense of humor in Parks and Recreation, he’s able to handle bouts of emotion, proactivity and unpretentious humor smoothly. He is fantastic, and successfully makes a character pop out and relate to you as an audience member. It – of course – definitely helps that the character is so well-written, and not just a caricature. Zoe Saldana is great fun to watch. She’s confident, agile in her action and handles her mixture of vulnerability and strength with panache. Dave Bautista is charming mainly because of the character he plays. He has potential to make the transition, but in places he does feel slightly off-kilter. Not that it matters, because he mostly hits the right notes. Lee Pace embodies Ronan wonderfully, and has a very strong performance, but his antagonist is just conventionally one-dimensional, which is unfortunate, because he performs the part strongly. Karen Gillian is another confident addition to the cast. As Nebula, she stands out, and it shows. John C. Reilly has a slightly toned down role in comparison to his other more comedic ones. While he does get a few moments in the sun with his brand of humor, it’s a good thing it isn’t shoved down the audiences’ throats. Michael Rooker as Yondu is another very interesting character played to the hilt, with Rooker’s performance coming out as a very enjoyable one. Vin Diesel voices Groot, and he does a great job of it. The voice in itself embodies the childlike character’s all-important aim to spread life and happiness in spite of death – which makes this particular character a breath of fresh air. Bradley Cooper gets a meatier, riskier voice as Rocket, and god is he hilarious! Rocket – like Groot – is a hit-or-miss character to write and execute, but the execution and voice performance come off surprisingly successfully.
This is – in the longest time – Marvel’s first film different from their usual successful ilk of superhero flicks, that actually makes a big mark. A visual masterpiece, Guardians of the Galaxy is filled with equal dollops of humor, action and emotional resonance that brings the audience a fantastic larger-than-life intergalactic adventure that definitely calls for a big screen experience.
Needless to say, I’m going for a second helping as soon as possible.
Star Rating: 4 / 5
PS: If you’re wondering if there’s a post-credits sequence, yes there is. Is it worth it? Not as much as expectations go. But stay for it anyway; you’ll get out with a big grin on your faces.