If Everyone Is Han Solo, Then No One Is Han Solo!
By Johnny Pomatto
While not all of their film efforts have been exceptional, one still has to admire the ambition of Marvel these days. Reintroducing classic, popular characters like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America to a new generation and to have them co-exist in an expansive universe was no easy task, but at least they had a bit of name recognition to propel them forward. Marvel seemed to take their first real gamble in a while by leaving Earth and introducing the world to a group of heroes that even some of the most devoted Marvel fans might not recognize. The GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY might best be described as Marvel’s C Squad. There’s no reason why this odd group of misfits should have ever gotten a movie made about them, but that’s exactly what makes them so fun and appealing.
The GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is comprised of five unique members. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, is the sole earthling of the bunch; having been abducted at an early age, he’s adapted quite well to space life. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned Gamora, the rebellious adopted daughter of super villain Thanos. Wrestler Dave Bautista plays Drax, a sort of space Hulk with a tragic past and no sense of sarcasm. And finally there’s Rocket and Groot, a talking raccoon and his tree-creature bodyguard. Though Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, only ever says three words, (“I Am Groot”), the motor-mouthed and aggressive Rocket dominates the film with his larger than life persona and voice of Bradley Cooper. Cooper’s performance and the flawless animation make Rocket the breakout character of the film. I never stopped smiling when Rocket was onscreen, though I do believe that if my dog Maggie had lived to see a film starring a raccoon, she would have lost her freakin’ mind. Groot is also a very lovable character and the things he does with his regenerating arm branches are truly unlike anything I’ve seen on film. Even with his limited dialogue, Vin Diesel gives Groot some real emotional heft, much as he did so many years ago with his performance as “The Iron Giant.”
I won’t even begin to get into how these characters meet and form their alliance, because frankly it’s the least interesting aspect to the movie. If an origin story is often the boring hurdle you must get over before getting to the story, imagine having to learn the origin of five characters at once. In fact, the story of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY isn’t terribly engaging on the surface. All you need to know is that there’s a macguffin space orb that in the wrong hands can be used to destroy all life in the galaxy and a somewhat wasted, villainous Lee Pace who isn’t too clear in his reasons for wanting to be the bearer of destruction. But after an overwhelming set up, you realize that this movie is not about story, but it’s all about attitude.
One reason I’ve never had an obsessive love for the “Star Wars” films is because they always seemed to take themselves so seriously. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY feels closer to the tone of “Spaceballs,” where even a character, like the military authority, is played with goofy charm by John C. Reilly. The movie is directed by James Gunn, an alum of Troma, the studio responsible for films like “The Toxic Avenger,” who has become synonymous with B movies after making the twisted films like “Slither” and “Super.” Gunn’s films have always been a bit rough around the edges and this one is no exception, but that’s a fitting tone to have when your lead characters also share that same quality. One of the smartest moves that Gunn made was casting Pratt as Star-Lord. Some are comparing his character to Han Solo, but I was instantly reminded of another famous Harrison Ford character, Indiana Jones, as they both seem to share a giddy joy of adventure, and the opening scene even features Pratt raiding a temple to steal an ancient artifact. When Pratt first came on the scene on “Parks & Recreation,” I don’t think anyone really saw a movie star in him, let alone an action hero, but that’s exactly why he’s such a perfect choice for the role. Peter Quill didn’t seek out a life of adventure in outer space. Both Pratt and Quill are out of their element and doing his best to fit in. After his hilarious performance in “The Lego Movie” earlier this year, and now this, Pratt has solidified himself as a true star in the making. I could even see his career taking a kind of Clooney-esque direction.
It’s not just the tone of the film that keeps things light. Gunn’s color palate for the film makes for a bright, eye-popping, visual experience. This is a very diverse galaxy and its inhabitants’ skin looks like it was assigned by drawing from a bag of Skittles; full of pinks, greens, purples, and blues. There’s even an epic space battle, with ships whizzing around and firing lasers that is filmed entirely in daylight. What a novel idea to not limit outer space to unending darkness.
Considering I’m writing this after the weekend box office numbers are in, we already know that this is a smash hit, but I wasn’t so confident going into the theater. Even with the Marvel brand name, in this age where only sequels and reboots get any attention, I thought the source material might have been a little too strange for the masses. I’m so happy that my fears were unfounded. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY feels like the lunatics are running the asylum. It’s like a Troma movie with a 170 million dollar budget. I won’t say that James Gunn has made a seamless transition to the mainstream, because I don’t think he ever crossed into it. He found a way to make people see the same kind of oddball films he’s always been making.
Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS available on iTunes
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