Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sunday Best: Super-Hero Movies of All Time #6 - Guardians of the Galaxy

This was supposed to be Marvel's first bomb.

Writer/director James Gunn had only made movies with smaller budgets.  I had seen one of them: Super.  And it was awful.  I mean it was a piece of violent, nihilist dreck.

The trailers were just terrible.  The first teaser looked like a bad Saturday Night Live sketch.  The movie had no big stars and it did not tie into most of the Marvel Universe.

Marvel opened it in August, which is usually the death slot of summer releases.  And I am convinced that Marvel was so worried about handing over so much creative control to Gunn that they tried to micromanage Edgar Wright on Ant-Man, which is why he bolted from that project.

I walked in to that movie theater only because it was a Marvel movie.

The opening scene was more emotional than I was expecting, but nothing life-shattering.

But then Chris Pratt showed up.

And he put on that walkman and started dancing around.  Until we had that insane openning title shot.  You know the one: the ridiculously large title with the teeny-tiny Peter Quill dancing in the corner.

And at that moment, the movie owned me.

You need to understand that movies are a kind of magic.  The job of a movie is to cast a spell on you that transports you to another world.  And in that moment I was transported.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't just for that single moment alone.  There were many times along the way that the spell could have been broken.  And it should have been.  Yondu the space redneck should have been beyond dumb.  A racoon and talking tree should not have had any depth.  The tongue-in-cheek humor should have undercut all of the dramatic tension.

But it didn't.

Guardians of the Galaxy  is that rare movie that skirts so close to the line of awfulness that it makes it good.  The movie almost dares you to hate it before winning you over with its amazing charm.

Part of the movie's strengths is that Gunn didn't set out to make a traditional Marvel movie.  He was making a space epic like Star Wars or The Last Starfighter.  To that end, Gunn was allowed to play in his corner of the sandbox free from too much intervention.

And Gunn fully embraced the weirdness of his concept.  As nervous as Marvel was, I have to hand it to them that they let Gunn completely execute his vision.  Rather than being a bland, forgettable space opera (e.g. Jupiter Ascending, Valerian), Guardians stood out from everything else around it.   This can be seen in its odd visual design that make it pop out from anything else in the genre.

This is the movie that made Chris Pratt a star, and rightly so.  His charisma is off the charts with his goofy heroism.  And despite the clownish facade, Pratt was able to show is seething dramatic side.  Look at the intensity with which he tells the story of Footloose, with a wink in his eye, but deadly seriousness at the same time.

The chemistry with the other cast members is also fantastic.  They attract and repel each other at the same time, which makes for some fantastic character moments.  The script has some of the funniest lines from any comic book film.  I always take it as a good sign when you leave the theater quoting the characters you just watched.

But as funny as the movie is, I think people forget just how exciting Guardians of the Galaxy is.  I remember flipping stations and the prison escape was on.  Even though I had seen it dozens of times, I was glued to the TV.  The movie is a big spectacle, but it isn't empty explosions and noise.  And it is emotional.  The two scenes with Peter's mother are powerful but so is that beautiful moment where Groot wipes away Rocket's tear and simply says, "We are Groot."   Those three words pack more of an emotional wallop than whole monologues from other movies.

Much has been noted about the soundtrack.  Gunn did not simply add classic pop songs in for color.  This movie integrates the music in a way I have seen in few films like American Graffiti.  It highlights just the right emotion or ironic flavor that the scene needs.  And it should not be overlooked how catchy those classic hits are and how they linger with you long after the movie is done. What often gets overlooked is Tyler Bates epic score.  But it is bold and heroic. 

It is true that the villain is a one-note despot.  But this leads to one of the greatest villain showdowns since the Ghostbusters confronted Gozer:  the dance off!

Again, this moment should have taken the entire story off the rails.  It should have been a cringe-fest of cheesiness.  But in the hands of Pratt and Gunn, it turns in to a moment that converges the plot and character into a sharpened point.  Ronan is too powerful.  Quill cannot stop him, cannot reason with him, cannot bargain with him.

So Star Lord dances.

And it is a thing of beauty.

Iron Man, Captain America, or even Spider-Man could not have pulled that off.  Only Peter Quill and the Guardians of the Galaxy could have given us a unique movie moment like that.

For that and all of the other wonderfulness, Guardians of the Galaxy is the 6th greatest Super-Hero movie of all time.

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