Monday, August 4, 2014

Matt and Dan Go to the Movies- Guardians of the Galaxy

Matt Lazorwitz: So, while we didn't go together, both Dan and I saw Guardians of the Galaxy over this inaugural weekend, and so now it's time for our second tag team review! Let's start off with Dan.

Dan Grote: Guardians of the Galaxy is great for two different kinds of people: Those who love the cosmic Marvel characters and enjoy hunting for Easter Eggs, and people for whom none of these characters existed prior to this movie.

As much as Guardians is a brand-new concept for most moviegoers, the film doesn't feel like there’s homework required, nor does it hold your hand through excess exposition for the most part. Personally, I haven’t been into the cosmic characters since Matt and I scripted Infinity Watch 2099 fan-fic (try and guess around what time that was!), [Editor's Note: Hey, it was the early 90s, we were in our early teens, and this is how we thought you got into comics, send a pile of reference heavy fanfic to a comic company, and they would love us. If only that were true] and even then the only characters from this movie that I knew were Gamora, Drax and Thanos.

ML: Coming from it at the other end of the spectrum, as a guy who spent time writing a piece that was a run down of these cosmic heroes before going to see the movie because they are my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe, I was really impressed. Not only did they get the tone of each character spot on, but those Easter Eggs weren't club you over the head, wink at the camera Easter Eggs. They were part of this big, crazy, gorgeous world that director James Gunn and his team built.

DG: Avengers notwithstanding, the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have largely been confined to their little corners. The Asgard corner, the World War II corner, the S.H.I.E.L.D. corner, the Stark Industries corner, etc. Space is not a corner, and director James Gunn understands that. To quote Saturday Night Live’s Stefon, this club has everything: Kree, Sakaarans, mad Titans, tree monsters, raccoons with weapons fetishes, space hillbillies, an Earthling, blue people, purple people, green people, white people, Stan Lee, Lloyd Kaufman, etc.

ML: So many of these wacky and bizarre concepts come together in one of my favorite settings in the Marvel Universe, Knowhere, the floating, severed head of a Celestial that has been turned into a space station, a concept I never thought I'd see on screen. Not only was it done on screen, but it was done in a really impressive way. It strikes me as a sci-fi version of one of my favorite scenes from another comic book movie, the Troll Market sequence from Hellboy: The Golden Army. While all the scenes in Knowhere are littered with Easter Eggs (none more than the Collector's menagerie), it's more than just Easter Eggs. It's this fully formed and rendered world where everyone seems as strange and out of place as the Guardians. Standing against the clean, white spaces of Xandar, it makes the universe seem a wilder, more expansive place.

DG: I’m very much enjoying the trajectory of Chris Pratt’s career. I remember when he was the popular jock on Strangers with Candy. He was one of the ancillary characters who helped improve the fourth and final season of The O.C. He’s the idiot heart-and-soul of Parks and Recreation, and because I have a 3-year-old, I’ve seen The Lego Movie about a bajillion times. His Star-Lord is the perfect rake-as-hero (think Gambit without the Cajun accent and the rape-y vibe), and I look forward to seeing him in more things.

Lee Pace makes a great Ronan the Accuser, who turned out to be a much more imposing villain than I had expected. The movie does give us a little more Thanos, but he’s still not a fully realized threat. Ronan, on the other hand, is deadly, spouting threats, taking on the entire Nova Corps and throwing even the hulking Drax across the room as the Infinity Stone drives him to new levels of zealotry. The people casting and designing Apocalypse in the next X-Men movie should take notes.

ML: And while he was only really on screen for a moment, there was a great sense of grandeur and menace from Josh Brolin's Thanos. I've been waiting to get a real look at the most cosmic of Marvel bad guys, and I was not disappointed.

DG: Also a surprise was the depth Bradley Cooper brought to Rocket. When he was first cast, I thought I would have rather seen a professional voice guy like Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob’s Burgers, Venture Bros.) or John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time, Batman: The Brave and the Bold) handle the character, but Rocket wasn't just there for comic relief. He’s an equal member of the team with his own reasons to be empathized with, and the Oscar-nominated actor performs admirably.

ML: The major surprise for me was Dave Bautista in the role of Drax. I'm not a professional wrestling person at all, so I had no exposure to Bautista as an actor before this (yeah, I said it), but I have found that a lot of times, pro wrestlers have a hard time getting out of the character they play there when acting in other parts. Dwayne Johnson is a notable exception, and Andre the Giant's turn in The Princess Bride is legendary for a reason,  but there's a reason that Hulk Hogan played pretty much himself in Rocky III and there was no Oscar talk for his roll in 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain. Bautista brings layers to Drax. The writing gave him a really solid arc to work through, and Bautista played rage, to understanding, to empathy. Drax can be a one note character in the comics, so I was glad to see that Bautista was given this to work with, and that he rose to the challenge.

The core cast is rounded out by Zoe Saldana, whose Gamora wasn't given a ton to work with. A lot of what she had to say and do was designed to move the plot along, but the always sterling Saldana did a good job with her character moments. And while Vin Diesel only said five words (many of them repeatedly) throughout the entire movie, he does a great job with the nuance of them, and warms your heart at just the right moment. If you walked out liking Groot, and wanting to see more of him, it wouldn't hurt to check out The Iron Giant, the animated film by The Incredibles director Brad Bird, which starred Diesel as the titular robot.

DG: There are a few characters I would have liked to have seen more of, as is the way with any front-loaded flick. The Nova Corps, staffed by high-quality actors such as Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz, essentially act as machines to advance the plot. Same, too, goes for the Collector, though Benicio del Toro gets to both advance the plot and play Easter bunny, as most of the movie’s eggs – including the post-credit scene – are in his basket.

ML: My favorite of those Easter Eggs was the appearance of another character I never would have anticipated in a movie: Cosmo, the psychic Russian space dog. I mean, that is a concept that could only be created for a comic book, and despite only getting a couple cute cameos, he was still there! Now for a bigger roll in Guardians 2...

Also a shout out to the way the film dealt with Yondu's power. Yondu as a character was one of the most changed from his comic book persona, but I loved how they kept his sonic controlled arrows as part of the character, and how it looked. It was yet another neat touch.

DG: Without spoiling, the post-credits scene is most notable for not setting up a future Marvel movie. Not Avengers 2, not Ant-Man, not Doctor Strange, nothing. Just one last surprise, everyone-in-the-theater-gasps-then-claps joke.

ML: My final note is just how much I loved the soundtrack. I'm a sucker for music of the 60s and 70s, and have spent most of the weekend humming either Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede or O-O-H Child by the Five Stairsteps. That funky juxtaposition just seemed to work for me.

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