Guardians of the Galaxy

GOG 04Directed by James Gun
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, David Bautista, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice), John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, a lot of CG guys in globally dispersed cube farms
Review: 2.5 stars (of five)

Guardians of the Galaxy was a letdown, a frenetic mix of CGI action and tired “badass antihero” cliches. If a computer algorithm were applied to every action movie of the last half-decade, then used to generate a script off the keywords “science fiction,” “body count” and “antiheroes,” this script would’ve come out, with all its gunfire and teen-level petulance.

Parent, or Guardians?

The movie is rated PG-13, and with all the violence (constant gunfire, huge body count, but little blood), I was uncomfortable at having someone’s 7-year-old daughter in the seat beside me. A friend mentions that the Disney Channel is running constant, extensive previews and promotions of this movie, and that channel doesn’t program to anyone over, what, 11? It’s a shame, and parents should consider what they’re really getting their little kids into with this teen-targeted stuff.

The movie has enjoyable moments.  In the constant wisecracking, there are some good jokes–statistically, there’d have to be.  In the constant mayhem, there are some …. no, actually, I didn’t find any of the action memorable.  Intense at the time, but leaving no impression.  The film is essentially hackwork. But it’s hackwork aimed at jaded action-movie fans who, like a long-term heroin junkie, always need a bigger fix to recapture that old bliss.

The film wants you to know how cool it is, because the heroes don’t want to be heroes, and they undercut everything around them, yet the bad guys and side characters are earnest and bombastic, spouting sci-fi blibbity blab that only George Lucas could approve of.  So it’s a patina of subversiveness, poorly executed, over a traditional, earnest sci-fi epic that is also a bit clunky.

Add in hyperspeed, confusing storytelling and unlikeable lead characters, and you’ve got a long two hours.

Women are hot, and boys will be boys

I’ll admit that the film put me off in the opening sequence and I never recovered.  Our introduction to our main character, Peter/”Star-Lord” (Chris Pratt) is sort of a deep-space Indiana Jones riff–he’s stealing some ancient artifact, then gets into a pitched, unbelievable battle with a platoon of scenery-chewing badguys.  (After dancing to old 70s pop music in the most artificial injection of whimsy outside a Wes Anderson film.)  The entire fight/escape scene is to establish how bad-ass Peter is.  GOG 01The punch line?  The capstone on his bad-assery?  After escaping in his space ship, and going through acrobatics that slam him around the cockpit like a pinball, he reaches a calm point.  A hatch opens, and a hot girl with alien-colored skin and wearing a tight T-shirt that we recognize as “Star-Lord’s,” comes out and says, basically, “What happened?”  He looks at her, stumbles over her name (which he clearly never remembers, and she never gives), and says, “Honestly, I forgot you were back there.”

The woman never appears again, and that’s the capper to our character intro:  This guy is so bad-ass, he screws hot chicks and forgets them, even to the point of endangering their lives on criminal escapades that nearly get him killed eight times in two minutes.  [Later, he ticks off the various bodily scars he has from hot liaisons with hot alien chicks (well, one’s not hot, she had tentacles, “Ew!” but it was to seduce some intel …).]

GOG 03I thought, Really? It’s 2014.  I know it’s James Gunn, whose best previous work involves shooting a nailgun through the head of a woman while she performs felatio. (If you haven’t seen that, sorry for the spoiler.  It IS funny, for the shock of it, the first time you see it.  Then you feel dirty.)

There are actors, to a degree

The cast could’ve done more, had they been given more.  Pratt plays a stock manchild with a bad haircut and a slowly developing moral center.  Zoe Saldana plays the actual hero of the film–it’s her quest the characters unite around–but her arc and motivations are buried under a script that has one speed at all times, and absolutely no sense of nuance.

The Rocket Raccoon character and vegetable-alien Groot are comic relief (though the  relief is often just that the abrasive raccoon finally shut up).  Another character with real potential is the muscled, shirtless Drax (David Bautista).  Problem is, on the one hand, he’s a joke–an overly literal idiot obsessed with a doomed quest for vengeance.  GOG 05On the other hand, the main bad guy (a vague fanatic named Ronan, bent on destroying a planet we’re supposed to think is special) murdered Drax’s wife and daughter.  As Drax moves from anger and pain to a kind of acceptance or new life, there’s tremendous opportunity for pathos, nobility, heroism … but not in the hands of these screenwriters, Gunn and a first-time writer.

The bad guys are kind of unwatchable hams, overly costumed, and good-guy cameos by a slumming Glenn Close and John C. Reilly are actually distracting.  What are these two talents doing in such unremarkable bit roles?  In sum, there are three kinds of acting here:  “Cool kid” detachment, Bah-ha-ha villainy, and Oscar-caliber distractions.  It doesn’t gel.

Unforgivable cheesiness

You know that thing that’s most often done in comedies, where a classic, upbeat pop song is used to infuse a movie with a stolen sense of fun?  Think Cameron Diaz + “Build Me Up Buttercup,” in There’s Something About Mary.  Also think every other comedy made within three years of that one.  This film juxtaposes classic ’70s pop with its childish hero, or its frantic violence, or just for a laugh, abut 17 times.  The writers build an aging mixtape into the story line, and go to that well with shameless frequency.  It’s a prime example of the lazy, superficial writing binding the toppling-dominoes plot.

But hey, Infinity Stones!

This movie’s tale is literally light years from Earth and all the other Marvel Studios films, so one might think that this is the least important flick in the greater, interlinking continuity these films are creating.  Not so.  In a very smart move, the film furthest removed from the rest of the series makes the greatest strides in the overall story of Thanos and the Infinity Stones, which have percolated in the background of The Avengers and some of the individual hero movies. This story will eventually come to a head, probably in Avengers 3.

Ultimately, this is a flawed film that lots of people will like, because it gives them the roller coaster jolt they expect.  If Gunn is a hack, he’s hacking out pretty much what a lot of people want to see:  Exploding stuff, minimal outlines of familiar, anti-establishment protagonists, and an advancement of Marvel’s overall cosmic story.  Also, well past 100 reviews, Rotten Tomatoes is loving this thing, so clearly my desire for something better is anomalous.  There you go.

GOG 06