Back when Marvel Studios announced Guardians of the Galaxy at Comic Con in 2012 as part of their plan for their “Phase 2,” the prospect of getting a strange, irreverent, action-packed space opera (based around some of Marvel’s more obscure characters) made me pleased as punch. Now two years in the future, the Monday after its opening weekend, prospect became pay off.
Before I go any further let me just cover my butt and say: SPOILERS BELOW. If you were planning on reading this review in order to decide whether or not you should see the film, let me put it simply for you:
Yes. You. Should.
Okay. Now that that’s out of the way let’s break down what was working for me in the film…and what was not. Because as smart and enjoyable as Guardians of the Galaxy is, there are still some serious flaws to it that seem to be an ongoing problem for a lot of Marvel’s films (and comic book movies in general), which I want to address.
First I want to praise Marvel for their risk with the Guardians property. The saying goes, “no risk, no reward,” and Marvel Studios is certainly swimming in rewards today with the film’s HUGE opening weekend box office numbers. As of Sunday it had reached $94 million!!! Those numbers are well deserved; Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun and engaging film that is both accessible to audiences unfamiliar with its characters and exciting to those who are fans of the comics. The plot is extremely simple: a rag-tag team of misfits must band together to stop a madman from destroying the galaxy with a mystical artifact that everyone is after. This archetypal plot helps the audience just dive into the action (and comedy) of the film and allows us to focus more on character, than story. And the Guardians of the Galaxy is certainly rich with characters and performances.
Chris Pratt plays a wonderful leading man, full of charisma and snark, as the self-proclaimed Star-Lord.
As Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord, Pratt is the most “human” of the cast and holds onto the things that make him so (such as his walkman and mix-tape) with a “holy fool-like” wisdom; the scene where he explains music and dance to an alien crew mate is just spot on brilliant. While Pratt gets a lot of laughs; the film’s humor rests a lot on the comedic team of Rocket and Groot.
Rocket, a genetically altered raccoon, with a knack for firearms, explosives, and battle strategy, voiced by Bradley Cooper, is just delightful. Cooper does excellent voiceover work here; I’m quite impressed by how he’s created an actual character and did not just lend his “regular” speaking voice to the role. Rocket’s companion, Groot, a walking tree creature, endears itself to audiences in some of the most hilarious sight gags. I have to commend Marvel Studios and director James Gunn in their use of CGI; Rocket and Groot feel more tangible than most computer rendered critters, and the cast does well to make their presence feel weighted and “real” in all the scenes they share with the two.
Rounding out the rest of the Guardians is Drax, a vengeance-driven brawler (who doesn’t quite grasp metaphor) and Gamora, a deadly assassin who, though related to a major villain, beats to her own drummer.
Okay. So as you can see, I like this movie for many of the same reasons fans and critics alike are praising it for: the visuals, the performances, and the fun of it. Also the music–the interweaving of Star-Lord’s mix tape jams into the narrative–is clever, fresh, and serves the story perfectly. But there are two serious problems I have with the film that seem to be becoming a norm for most of Marvel’s pictures, which I must point out here–underdeveloped female characters and utterly flat antagonists.
1.) Gamora is ridiculously under-written and seems to exist in the context of the script solely as a one-dimensional stand in for what the studio knows it needs, but does not deliver–a strong female character. And their writing her as “love interest” (or even a “lust interest”) for Star-Lord just diminishes any importance she has to the story other than “plot device.” It’s almost like they are saying that a female character has no place in a story unless she is tied somehow to a male counterpart. In the comics, Gamora is one bad ass chick, whose backstory is tragic and complex, but the character we get here seems barely an echo of that. I feel when it comes to the character of Gamora, the film does too much telling how we’re supposed to perceive her, rather than showing. This creates a distance and disconnect between the actor and the role, and sadly I just couldn’t become interested in her purpose to the story. This is a shame because the character is absolutely necessary, especially when it comes to Thanos…
2.) Speaking of Thanos, let’s talk about the film’s antagonist(s). The main villain is Ronan, but he serves as a hired gun for Thanos who is searching for an orb that contains one of six infinity stones, a gem that grants its wielder immense power. Whoever possesses all six of the stones gains God-like stature, and in the comics this has been Thanos’ biggest claim to fame as made popular by the early 90’s mini-series, The Infinity Gauntlet.
Here’s my problem. Why the hell does Thanos need Ronan in the first place to acquire the orb for him? It seems Ronan is just another “plot device” to allow Marvel Studios to build slowly to Thanos’ role as a major threat to the Avengers and entire Marvel Universe eventually. I say this because what point does Ronan serve? Thanos is clearly powerful (and feared) enough to go after the orb himself, and in fact, in the comics that’s exactly what he does; he scours the Marvel Universe for the six gems in a two-issue story aptly titled, Thanos Quest.
Thanos rarely employs anyone to do his dirty work; he’s strong enough, smart enough, and vicious enough to do it all himself. That’s another thing: Thanos is supposed to be an extremely intelligent being and “somehow” he didn’t see Ronan’s double-cross coming?!? He’s promised Ronan that he’ll destroy a planet for him to satisfy some vengeance-quest he’s on once the orb is obtained, but Thanos doesn’t stop to think that perhaps Ronan will keep the gem for himself once he acquires it, because frankly, what use does he have for Thanos at this point!?! And let’s talk about this whole “vengeance-quest” thing. Ronan, just like many of the Marvel film villains before him (sans Loki) is incredibly flat–his motivation, far from complex or original. The character here is as one-dimensional as a drawing of a sheet of paper on, you guessed it, paper!
Here’s hoping when it comes time for Thanos to helm the main villain mantle, Marvel Studios writes him intelligently, with the same level of respect that the character demands for himself in the comics. Thanos is a seriously insane threat; he successfully and–thanks to the help of the infinity gems–effortlessly killed off half of the universe’s population just to endear himself to the personification of Death, who Thanos is madly in love with!?!
THAT is a villain with depth. There’s clear motivation behind his madness and it’s a very human (albeit deranged and skewed) one at that, thus the character is complex in his actions and wants. I am tired of seeing comic book movie villains written with a level of maturity on par with a five-year-old (or Michael Bay) knocking over another kid’s building blocks in some nap-deprived tantrum, because film studios just expect us to be happy with things blowing up on some ridiculously massive scale in the third act. Sure, we want to see our heroes overcome great odds, but not at the cost of a flat one-dimensional villain with some magical relic, which has a more complex backstory than said villain, that makes things go boom.
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here, as I’ve voiced these very same criticisms with past films, but it just doesn’t seem that the studios are learning, or care to. Maybe I’m just in the minority here, and I guess that’s okay. Guardians of the Galaxy still stands tall over many, many comic book films and gives its wide audience one hell of a great ride. It’s just that the film is so DAMN good on so many other levels that these (in my mind) significant factors, which feel lackluster to me, stick out like a Skrull at a Kree picnic.
Yes, you have to be a huge geek to get that joke.
So those are my thoughts. I agree with a lot of the praise Guardians of the Galaxy is receiving, but am a little confused that others haven’t pointed out the same shortcomings I have. Do you agree or disagree? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below; we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Until Marvel Studios reboots Howard the Duck featuring his actual arch-nemesis, Dr. Bong, make mine Geektastic Podcast!