Friday, August 1, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy - Movie Review

My Favorite Movie of 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy, created by Marvel Studios, is a science fiction, super hero epic from the Marvel Cinematic Universe which includes movies like The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The movie features the acting talents of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, and John C. reilly and was directed by James Gunn who also wrote the screenplay along with Nicole Perlman.

Peter Quill (Pratt), Gamora (Saldana), Drax The Destroyer (Bautista), Rocket (Cooper), and Groot (Diesel) are five very different beings who all come from various parts of the galaxy. While none of them would be considered ideal citizens, a common goal has put them on a path to collectively defend a planet from Ronan the Accuser (Pace), a Kree extremist who is out to destroy an entire planet and, in the process, break an already tenuous peace treaty that could result in galaxy wide destruction.

My first thought about this movie: Nailed It!

You know those rides at Disneyland that you just want to keep going on over and over until they kick you out of the park? It's that good.

Marvel is truly on a role right now and it seems like they are actually getting better over time at creating cinematic experiences that are not only a cut above anything else out there, but also pay homage to what made genre movies like these successful in the first place. After Joss Whedon raised the bar to such extreme heights with The Avengers, it seemed like recapturing that magic might be a task too challenging even for the creative minds behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Low and behold, here we are a couple years later and we have two movies in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy that, while they still might not reach the level of The Avengers, they are at least in the conversation. There are some clear nods to movie franchises like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Back to the Future embedded into this film and other influences come from all over the place including cult classics like Krull, Flash Gordon, and Battle Beyond the Stars.

As far as developing the story itself, it was nice to see how everything happens in the flow of the movie and there was no excessive down time where people sat around explaining everything that was happening and why. Don't get me wrong, exposition is important, but it should never feel heavy handed or overly controlling of the experience. The writing team of Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn took great care in crafting each of the various character's story arcs and I can't help but feel like Mr. Whedon had some influence there since it is something he has proven to be very good at. That being said, this is still a very unique film that absolutely stands on its own outside of the other MCU movies yet is also jam packed with in-universe threads that help to progress the overall story we have seen unfold over the years beginning with Nick Fury's post credit appearance in the original Iron Man movie.

Whoever was in charge of casting this movie deserves a Groot sized pat on the back for hiring five very distinct real life personalities in hopes of establishing five very distinct comic book characters the likes of which have never been seen before outside the pages of various comic books. I don't see any way that Chris Pratt does not become a major star for years to come both in and out of the Marvel family. He is an instantly likable person who can make you laugh just as easily as he can draw you in to the more dramatic moments of the film. There also seems to be a constant twinkle in his eye which helps to put the audience at ease and allows the imagination to open up and accept all the crazy sci-fi stuff that is going on around him. From what I understand, James Gunn didn't want anything to do with Pratt being Peter Quill until he was basically tricked into sitting down with the young man and instantly realizing the error of his ways.

Aside from Pratt, it's really hard to single out any of the other cast members that comprise the Guardians team although I do believe that Rocket will become a very popular character due in large part to Bradley Cooper's voice work which gives the genetically modified raccoon just enough heart to balance out the brash, trash talking side of his personality. He delivers so many iconic and quotable moments, you will want to see the movie again just to relive all your favorites and to catch any others you may have missed. Dave Bautista is easily the biggest surprise of the bunch because, seriously, no one would ever expect a professional wrestler to bring so much acting ability to a character that is basically an over sized alien professional wrestler. There are a couple particular moments where he delivers some very dramatic scenes which are key in bringing the group together. Vin Diesel does about as good of a job as someone possibly can while only being able to use the same three words over and over throughout the movie. And finally, there is Zoe Saldana who is just awesome. Gamora is as beautiful as she is dangerous which mirrors the actress perfectly and she gets to kick some serious booty throughout the entire movie.

One of the key elements to establishing the style and tone of Guardians is the amazing soundtrack that is comprised of classic pop songs from the 1970's. These aren't just songs playing in the background of the movie, they are actually a very important part of Peter Quill's story and something he holds dear from his childhood days on earth before he is whisked away to live a very different life among the stars. Each song fits it's placement in the movie perfectly and Quill's cassette player could actually be considered a character more than a prop because of how important of a role it plays in the story. "Awesome Mix Vol. 1" includes songs like Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love" and Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling" which is featured prominently in the film's trailers. This is definitely a soundtrack you are going to want in your collection.

So, the story is great, the writers and directors are great, the acting is great, and the whole thing sounds great, but how does it look?! The first thing you will notice about Guardians is a very bold and distinct color pallet that instantly sets it apart from the other MCU movies yet manages to still feel familiar in the grand scheme of things. I believe this is due to the subtle hints and foreshadowing laid down by the previous films with a special shout out to the post credits scene at the end of Thor: The Dark World. The special effects you get to see in this film are just as eye popping as the colors and Marvel continues to take gigantic leaps forward with every movie they churn out. The main advantage Guardians has over the other MCU movies is how it is almost entirely set in outer space which gives the creative team freedom to do their thing without the restraints of having to make everything look exactly like it does here on our home planet.

I did see Guardians in 3D and, I've got to say the added feature was very well done and added a lot to my enjoyment of the movie. Every scene was clean and there was more of a focus on depth over having things jump out of the screen at you. The space battles were especially impressive in 3D and only added to the level of entertainment provided. I did not watch the movie in IMAX so no information there although I did see James Gunn talk about how he filmed every scene of the movie with both 3D and IMAX presentations in mind so I might actually give it a try.

Here is what Gunn had to say about 3D and IMAX:
"Just got out of working on the Guardians cut for IMAX 3D and I’m unbelievably excited about it. Guardians of the Galaxy has been planned as a 3D film from its very inception. Yes, if you see the film in 2D, you’ll get a full experience. But the 3D experience promises a little something extra. Unlike many directors, I’ve been actively involved with converting every shot to 3D, making sure it works perfectly for the story and the film, making sure it’s spectacular and immersive without being silly, distracting, or overly showy. 3D conversion was once far inferior to shooting in 3D, but over the past couple years new technology has allowed us incredible control over the 3D effects, making it equal to or in some cases greater than shooting in 3D.

As an EXTRA benefit for those who see the film in IMAX 3D, we will be changing aspect ratios throughout the film in a way that makes the experience even fuller and more encompassing. I’ve personally chosen all the places where the changes occur and, again, I love how it’s coming along. The changing aspect ratios in this case are actually a part of the storytelling."

That being said, not one frame of the movie was filmed with IMAX or 3D cameras so both formats were added in using a post conversion process. Personally, I'm not a fan of post conversion although the technology has improved dramatically over the last couple years so it's less of a concern at this point.

I believe it is fair to say I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I honestly don't feel like there are any major flaws that would cause me to caution someone about seeing it. For me, this movie has just about everything I could ever want in a super hero/science fiction movie. There is wall to wall action, mind blowing special effects, great characters played by an outstanding cast, and a story that not only stands on its own, but also fits nicely into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, to top it all off, it's one of the funniest movies I've seen in some time. Of course, there will be the inevitable question of where I feel it ranks among the other MCU movies and I can honestly say it would be up near the top.

Go see Guardians of the Galaxy...and then go see it again.
It's that good.

Oh, and do stay to the end of the credits. As is the case with all MCU movies, there is a bonus scene and it's well worth the wait. Does it reveal any big secrets about what's to come? Maybe and maybe not. I will say that it tells a lot in a short amount of time and is Marvel's way of saying they're about to really open things up as they add more and more of their comic book content into the movie universe they have now firmly established.


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