Guardians of the Galaxy is a Riot


I'm hooked on a feeling that Guardians of the Galaxy was amazing and has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe weirder and more wonderful. It had great big laughs and a great big heart. I saw it on opening weekend in a jam-packed theater. Hundreds of strangers laughing their fool heads off together is always a fun experience. It was such a surprise and unpredictable, too. I had kept my expectations to a minimum, not being familiar with the material and this being an unproven franchise. But I had nothing to worry about. They hoped to get us to fall in love with multiple protagonists. They managed that with ease. It's filled with wit and wisecracks to the very end. Guardians had everything I adore in a sci-fi action hero buddy comedy. Let's start with the most important.

The emotional core of the movie was established before a word was uttered, opening in a quiet hospital hallway, where a boy sits alone at a nurse's station. He's listening to music on his favorite tape, Awesome Mix Vol. 1, not knowing what to do other than drown out the world and pretend everything is normal. His grandfather comes up to him, gently removes his headphones and tells him it's time. Together they go into the room across the hall where his mother lay dying. She wants to give him a gift and hold his hand, but he turns away, unable to muster the courage. Before he can change his mind, it is too late. Distraught, he runs out into the night, his extended family too wrapped up in their own grief to take notice. He falls to his knees on the grass, crying, and with hardly a delay is abducted by an alien ship. As swiftly as he disappears from his family's lives, only minutes after his mother, the story skips the next 26 years to get to the present. That now grown boy, Peter Quill (a perfectly cast Chris Pratt), the first Guardian we meet, is somewhere across the galaxy on an abandoned planet, salvaging ancient artifacts (the world-ending kind) and gleefully giving the boot to bad-tempered rodents, using them as microphones and dancing while listening to a handful of songs that haven't yet worn out their welcome.

When I saw that old Walkman, more than just music but a treasured connection to home and family, I was sure there would be a lot more emotion than in the average action movie or superhero adaptation of the now seemingly distant past, which I like to refer to as BNB (Before Nolan's Batman). After knowing what a comic book hero could be on the screen, there was no excuse anymore for story, dialogue, acting, and direction to not work seamlessly. When Marvel took control of their own film destiny, they seemed to ensure a future of heroes who feel like real people. Guardians proves that Marvel still is cinematic magic. They have made choices like Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (The Avengers), and Anthony and Joe Russo (Winter Soldier), people who understand that stories are nothing without humanity, an element often missing in tent-poles. Now James Gunn and Nicole Perlman can be added to their stable of writers and directors who add substance to style, deftly handling action, drama, and humor.

No raccoons or tree beings were harmed in the making of this movie."

Humor and tenderness really go hand-in-hand and Guardians gave equal time to both. I wasn't expecting nearly so much of either. I hoped there would be a few big laughs to break tension or punctuate moments. (Hulk punching Thor out of the shot in The Avengerscomes to mind.) I wasn't expecting such a riot, like when the walking tree listens to only the last step of an escape plan and innocently takes it upon himself to help out before anyone is ready and forcing some improvisation. Just a few humorous moments like that can lift spirits and make characters more relatable, but this group of "losers" had me howling with laughter. That's an important element. I feel more, and far more quickly, for people who make me laugh, who cover their insecurities, their fear, or their pain with a sense of humor or who are inadvertently funny. I get attached and let my guard down. Then when poignant backstory is told or something tragic happens, it cuts deeper (think Phil Coulson). Comedy makes me vulnerable to the unexpectedly serious moments without feeling emotionally manipulated, where three simple words, "We are Groot," bring tears to my eyes. It makes it that much better, because actually caring about what happens is the reason for a movie to become one of my favorites. And I sure did care about these characters who had a great deal of personality.

As my brother mentioned, Guardians seemed a bit fast in the beginning for those that aren't familiar with the comic, throwing a whole new set of characters (Quill, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Drax) and places at us one after another, sometimes all at once, rather than easing us in. But as he also mentioned, that left more time to get to know the characters, and boy did we ever. This seems to be an area where Marvel doesn't know how to fail. I guess that's why they're still around after decades. The movie never felt overstuffed because of the facility of storytelling and character development, each member with a distinct personality, story, and reason for being who they were, and they compelemented each other so well. They felt like real, emotionally damaged people. I relate more to those flawed but essentially good people rather than the unerringly altruistic and humble hero. The jerk who becomes a hero out of necessity, not because that's their life goal, who remembers who they used to be or finds out what they can be is usually more interesting. This is an origin story about "a thief, two thugs, an assassin, and a maniac," so there are lot of flaws. The following could be considered slight spoilers, but most of it is backstory and set up. And you already know that these five are the Guardians just by watching the trailer, so it's really no surprise that they become friends, is it?

"I am Groot."

That's really all this ambulatory plant says, the only one who understands Groot (Vin Diesel) being Rocket, so I didn't have a lot of choice in quotes. I apparently have a fondness for the strong, silent type. I found myself attached to the "personal houseplant slash muscle" immediately. He conveyed so much with gestures and facial expressions: sneaking sips from a water fountain when Rocket told him to stop, being sad about losing his arms to Gamora after their first encounter, though he knew they would soon grow back. Groot is loyal and caring. He was concerned for Drax when he didn't deserve it, when they were all nothing but strangers to each other. He's so sweet and innocent, a gentle giant...except to those to attack his friends; then he can get scary, yet also be hilarious and cute at the same time. I've never seen that before. The animators made the most adorable tree being. Not only that, they had a big job making Groot's best friend a believable anthropomorphic raccoon.

I didn't ask to be torn apart and put back together over and over and turned into some little monster.

There were plenty of other quotes, but this is the one that got to me. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) was as beautiful a character as Groot. He was so sarcastic and hot-tempered. He remind me of me. And don't call him names unless you want him to unload his problems and his weapon on you. I just wanted to give him a big hug after I heard his story. It's not just a strange alternate reality where animals walk upright and swear like sailors; Rocket was experimented on and, thanks to Cooper's performance, he made the tears well up in my eyes. All he knows is pain, always the object of ridicule, and the only thing he had in the world was Groot. He's an angry little guy with every reason to be, and he has the scars to prove it. Peter had a sympathetic look on his face when he saw them, reminding me of the sweet boy who cried over a frog.

I found something inside of myself, something incredibly heroic.  I don’t mean to brag.

Peter certainly did find himself being heroic, but not at all humble about it, which was quite funny. He grew up in the company of rough-and-tumble outlaws who call themselves Ravagers and adapted well to the life he was forced into, but it's obvious that he's not really one of them. He's a joker who goes with the flow and loves life, not one that you imagine itching to take it from anyone. He held onto his past and a part of himself after all those years. He still cares about people, though Ravager leader Yondu (the always welcome Michael Rooker) probably did his best to break him of that. Yondu tries to make a point that Peter has a weakness "in here" while pounding on his chest. But Peter is tougher than any of them, because his sentimental heart is what gives him strength to do what's right.

I have lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I will be grateful to die among by my friends.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) felt that strength when Peter did the selfless thing or she wouldn't have stayed with them. Her family met their fate at the hands of Thanos. The orphan was then taken and raised by him to be an assassin, though, unlike her "sister" Nebula (Karen Gillan), another child orphaned by Thanos, she never fully succumbed to whatever brainwashing she may have been subjected to. She cannot stand by while billions of lives are at stake and she rebels, planning on getting the artifact herself and selling it to The Collector. Things didn't go well and she allies herself with this ragtag group, finding value in her first true family since childhood.

Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.

That little gem was spoken by Drax (Dave Bautista), who was quite the literal-minded treat. But in between warnings to never call him a thesaurus and other misunderstandings that would have made me spit out my drink if I'd had one, he was a dangerous man wrapped up in his own sorrow and thirst for revenge, his family having suffered a similar fate to Gamora's. They were killed by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a Kree working on the promise that he would have free reign to destroy Xandar if he delivered the artifact to Thanos. He is unburdened by conscience, murdering so many without discretion that he doesn't remember their faces. Drax follows Quill to get to Ronan, and finds something new to live for.

There are also two secondary characters I got attached to, Yondu, whom I've already mentioned, and Corpsman Dey. Yondu is almost like the sixth member of the team, though he would be far harder to domesticate than Drax. He's been looking out for himself for decades, believing that feelings aren't worth the trouble. But that soft spot he saw in Peter is also one he has for Peter and would never admit. I hope that gets further explored in the sequel. He's also quite a badass with his whistle-controlled arrow and idiosyncratically has an unexplained menagerie of small toys. (I want to know who he misses.) And though his character was kind of despicable, he played an important role...on the promise of a big pay day. Baby steps.

Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) didn't have a huge part, but he was very likeable. I hope he makes subsequent appearances. He kind of fills the Phil Coulson role as an officer of Nova, the S.H.I.E.L.D. of the galaxy it seems. I don't know if he can kick ass, but he's definitely funny the way he reacts to situations, like when he's stunned that he has to tell Drax that murder is illegal.

All these distinct personalities add to the fun. By the time the credits rolled, I was exhausted with all of the belly laughs, and I wanted to go right back and see it again. There were more memorable and quotable moments than I know what to do with, hilarious squabbling between friends and enemies, big explosions, a chase sequence, and formidable enemies. There was a creative sequence involving a ship slipping inside another ship and taking the controls. Just one of the hundred comical things. And you can't have have a comic book movie without an epic battle: Ronan's juggernaut, the Dark Aster, going against hundreds if not thousands of tiny single-seat fighters and their brave pilots. Also, unintentionally entertaining were the kids in the theater who gasped and giggled when they heard swears. I really love when a superhero movie has cursing, because even when they're PG-13 I always assume they are sanitized for children. People swear in serious situations, they swear when they're not, so it's more realistic and adds to the humor. 

Guardians of the Galaxy was far better than I hoped for and whoever cast Chris Pratt was a genius. He first caught my eye long ago as Bright on the lovely family drama Everwood. He's adorable in Parks and Recreation as not so bright, scene stealing goofball Andy. He gives his heart generously to his work, so it's fitting that now he one of the stars of an incredibly loveable, lovely, and lively showcase of storytelling and imagination that also happens to be a blockbuster. This is one of those movies that I don't want to end, but my words must. I leave you now with today's perfectly-timed shirts. They're just as nice as the last batch I wrote about, which I still can't find for sale anywhere else. Hopefully the artists will make them available on other sites after today. But for now you can get Groovin' Through the Galaxy and The Great Root Galaxy at TeeFury starting at just $11 each. Awwww, yeeeeah.

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