Disappointment Deconstructed: Guardians of the Galaxy

So. There was this movie called Guardians of the Galaxy and everyone told me it was fantastic. It was on most of the best movie lists I saw for 2014. It was supposed to be the fun Marvel movie, a romp that would get us out of our seats and moving.

Yeah, I don’t see it.

It’s like this. Guardians of the Galaxy is not a bad film. But it’s not really a good one, either.

Let me start with the things that are good about this movie – and there are some good things in this movie. It looks gorgeous, everything from the starships to the fur on Rocket Racoon is rendered in beautiful CG. In particular, I love the design of the Milano, Peter Quill’s ship. Also, this movie goes the extra mile to build up the Marvel universe’s plotlines, introducing both the character of Thanos and the idea of the Infinity Stones, things that will doubtless be important in films to come.

The casting is good, particularly casting the wrestler David Bautista as Drax. I’m not a wrestling fan and I know nothing about Guardians of the Galaxy outside of what comes from this film, but I can tell that this is the kind of role you definitely want a heavyweight pro wrestler playing. He doesn’t need to emote, he just needs to be tough. On the other hand, Vin Diesel is actually surprisingly expressive as the voice of Groot.

A very few of the jokes in the film worked for me. I thought the reference to the great legend of Footloose and it’s hero, Kevin Bacon, was funny and Drax’s severe literal mindedness is funny, particularly as it leads him to reject each and every attempt to give him a nickname.

The fullscale space/air battle at the end of the film is great. In particular the phalanx formation the fighters use is something that I’ve wanted to see in scifi for a while but no one ever thought to do – probably because it doesn’t make that much sense. But it’s cool, and that’s important too.

Using the tape Peter keeps as his sole tieback to life on Earth to bring his character development full circle is a nice touch and gives the film a little bit of much needed thematic unity.

Since I’m now out of good things I guess I’ll have to move on to the stuff I didn’t like or that waffled. I can basically lump these things into three categories, and I’m just going to list them under those headings in bullet points.

Poor Characterization. 

  • We’re told Gomorrah hates her adoptive father, Thanos, because of all the horrible things he’s made her do and done to her. We never see any of these horrible things. We’re told about a few but we don’t see any of them.
  • We’re told Yondu has been the closest thing to a father to Peter has ever had. We never see him do anything to signify that relationship or any kind of special bond between the two.
  • We’re told the Ravagers wanted to eat Peter when they found him. We never see them try to eat anyone else. Wha?
  • Rocket claims everyone’s calling him a rodent or vermin but we never hear anyone but Gomorrah or Drax use these terms (or if we do it’s only once or twice) – and they’re the most caustic members of the cast so we should expect bad behavior from those two. In fact, no one but Peter, who knows what a raccoon is, ever seems to bat an eye at him and that’s as it should be. He’s just another alien in a galaxy full of aliens to most people. In short, this is a lack of consistency.
  • Why does everyone fear Thanos? We never once see him do anything nasty. Yes, it’s okay to build suspense around a villain but they have to do something villainous or they just come off as pointless – and that’s what Thanos is in this film.
  • What is Nebula’s problem? Explain based on things we see in the movie, not the comic books, please. You can’t do it, can you?
  • Why did we have to hear about Yondu’s collection of bric-a-brac on his pilot’s chair before we saw it? It would have been easy to show us it in passing so we’d know what he was talking about when he mentioned it to the dealer later.

Plot Holes

  • Why could Peter hold on to the Infinity Stone for as long as he did? I know it’s probably because his father was an alien of some sort but he never showed any kind of exceptional energy resistance before. Why is he so good at it now? You could have at least set this up somehow.
  • Why did the combined efforts of four people who were never particularly powerful contain a stone we were shown annihilating a group of much more powerful people earlier in the movie?
  • When did Peter put that little troll doll into that extra containment sphere he had?
  • What ever happened to that bomb Rocket was building? Why didn’t we see that get used before they jumped up to the big gun?
  • If using the Infinity Stone was as simple as sticking it to a hammer or something, why did no one do this before in the HISTORY OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE?!
  • If the Guardians of the Galaxy could contain the Infinity Stone safely, why didn’t they just hang on to it?
  • How did Rocket know he could grow Groot back from just one twig? Or is that supposed to be a new Groot?

Failed “Fun” Moments

  • After the nifty fight scene with Peter at the beginning and the inventive three-way chase scene that brings Rocket, Groot, Peter and Gomorrah together, the action in this movie goes way south. Most of the action scenes after these two boil down to people spraying bullets around or rather uninspired brawling. In particular, Bautista’s skills as a professional wrestler go woefully underutilized.
  • The music. I get that it’s supposed to be a nostalgic nod to Peter’s past but it doesn’t really do much for me. That’s probably just a personal thing.
  • Most of Peter and Rocket’s banter. I know I’m supposed to be laughing at it but it just never gets beyond the pedantic. I don’t blame the actors here, they were clearly trying hard to make it interesting, I just didn’t see that they had anything to work with.
  • The jailbreak sequence. In particular, the part where Peter thinks he has to get ahold of another inmate’s prosthetic leg could have been comedic gold but we barely see any of it. In stead we get a raccoon trying to hide self-satisfied laughter at hoodwinking Peter. Mixed priorities, missed opportunities.
  • The climactic moment is four people reaching to hold hands. If I wanted to see friendship as magic I’d watch My Little Pony. Yes, I’ve said I like heroes to triumph over villains via moral strength rather than temporal power but this just comes off as cheesy.

Most of Guardians‘ problems come from the film being too rushed. A prison sequence could be the better part of a movie – look at Star Trek VI. Instead we get it rushed into the second half of the first act. Situations, characters and ideas are barely given time to breath before we’re rushed on to the next thing and most of our understanding comes from being told, not shown.

I know that the movie had a lot of source material to draw on and it wanted to cover as much as possible because there was no certainty of another film at the time, but I’m afraid the result was too much being packed into too little time resulting in a movie that had a lot of potential but came out pretty lackluster. I know I’m supposed to be having fun with this film, and I even know where and why… but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m actually having fun.

Marvel may have created a blockbuster but I’m afraid it’s a flashy movie over a pretty mediocre core. I doubt the film will age well – but then, who knows? Maybe that shiny exterior will still be good twenty years from now.

I’m not holding my breath, mind you.

Still, the franchise now has another episode to come back to these ideas and maybe make something of them. Hopefully things will go better with the next film.

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