Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

A “bunch of A-holes” band together in a post-plot ramble through the Galaxy

Image by Cakes and Comics
Image by Cakes and Comics

Surprising everyone in the Hollywood Galaxy, Guardians managed to blossom in an otherwise down time for the box office. Sitting behind Avengers and Iron Man 3 as the most successful Marvel enterprise to date, the film demonstrated that with the right marketing campaign and a new take on plot, even characters on the fringes of the Marvel master class can find mainstream appeal. James Gunn delivers a thrill ride – fun and exciting, but leaving many scratching their heads over the details.

The film opens on a Rocketman-outfitted mercenary working his way through an Indiana Jones-like ruin, avoiding booby-traps and ultimately discovering a treasure hidden deep in a temple. The quest to offload this artifact leads him into a cast of odd characters, who by a common enemy are united. This band of misfits (in every sense of the word) finds themselves in the middle of an intergalactic conflict, with a warlord on their trail out for revenge, and no clue how to save the galaxy.

Gunn and Co. found their niche in invoked nostalgia. Coming as one of the first collaborations of Disney-owned Marvel, its no surprise they played to their strengths, though the target demographic seems an odd choice for either pairing. Of course the novelty of a talking raccoon and tree Abbot and Castello pairing, as well as the sci-fi crossover with a comic property, draws the 18-35 crew in droves. Yet, with a carefully selected soundtrack of 70s/80s nostalgia, Guardians seems to be extending a Groot branch to the older demos, attempting to bring in the last group to adopt the cinematic superhero as their own. This move shows promise for the future of the diluted Marvel prospects for the future.

Many have already commented on the plot not requiring total coherence for one to enjoy the film. The background conflict is practically non-existent, bordering on a White Hat/Black Hat approach to expositing the good from the bad. A specialty of the film is subverting special plot moments – typified best in the great rally the troops scene towards the end. As each team member reluctantly joins the new squad, standing to show their solidarity, the touching moment is spoiled by a one-liner, dissolving the cathartic bond into a “let’s just do it” attitude. All this to the film’s betterment; by subverting the traditional plot beats, the film finds its identity in the nonconformity of its heroes.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun film that requires a little focus, ultimately an exercise in excitement, rather than serious reflection. Quite the adventure itself, this sci-fi/Superhero crossover demonstrates interesting new prospects for the future of the genre and for the merger of Marvel and Disney. Already on track to have its own animated TV series and an inevitable sequel, $739 million spells many more adventures for the galactic protection squad.

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http://marvel.com/guardians

Der Philm ish Okae-Dokae!

My family has a long held tradition of every Thanksgiving holiday going out to see a movie with our cousins, aunts, and uncles.  Unfortunately this year I was not able to make it back home for the holiday so I wondered if the tradition would die with me this year.  However, and only by the grace of God, my new “California Family” (i.e. – my girlfriend’s fam) took me in for the break from school and aided me in continuing the legacy.  It was mutually decided that The Muppets was a great family film that we could all go see and enjoy together and thus my Thanksgiving movie-going tradition was kept alive.

But enough about me:  It’s Time to Play the Music!  It’s Time to light the lights.  It’s Time to get this review started about The Muppets – so right!  (sorry…)

I am going to try to be brief with this and keep it as spoiler-free as possible, so expect lots of [spoiler] blocks throughout. 🙂  In absolute short:  I loved it but it has some problems.  It was hilarious and played beautifully on the themes and formulas of the previous films.  The plot was great, the jokes funny, and I left the theater feeling all the catharsis I hoped for. However, some elements of the story and the telling of it were just off (but more on that later).

The humor was fantastic!  It had some incredible 4th wall jokes and self-referential humor that are so custom to the Muppet style.  One of my favorite jokes in the film is one Kermit makes directly to the audience referencing their first film – The Muppet Movie.  Just as I hoped going into the film, they paid great homage to all of our favorite Muppet jokes:

  • Great cameos such as [spoiler] and [spoiler], and that one random appearance by [spoiler] 🙂
  • Hilarious music (with not-so-subtle tinges of the Flight of the Concords influence)
  • Self-referential humor (“I just did a song about it…” // “Reciting an important plot point” // The “Muppet Man”)

I really want to talk specifically about some of the jokes so this next section will be a SUPER SPOILER SECTION!!!!  If you don’t want to be spoiled, please scroll past the section between the next two pictures (the un-spoiler section begins after the picture of Chris Cooper).

As is pictured above, the movie does a great job of referencing all of the Muppet hits.  Off the incredible success of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” quartet video on Youtube, Segal and Co. brought back the quartet to do a hilarious literal barbershop quartet version of “Smells like Teen Spirit” while they shave Jack Black!  SO FREAKING FUNNY and a great homage to their own success.  Besides that the best part of the film by far was an out of the blue performance of “Forget you” (safe title there) by Cee Lo Green … wait for it … by Camila and the Chickens!!!  Absolutely freaking hilarious because most kids would recognize the song but not get the real irony of what the song originally was called.  Great move on the writing staff’s part to treat the older audiences to a great joke.

The other great thing about Muppet movies is the incredible cast of cameo appearances by stars as themselves.  Starting back at the first Muppet Movie with Steve Martin playing himself as a rude waiter, the legacy has been carried out into this film beautifully, with great guest appearances by such as Mickey Rooney, Jack Black, Zach Galifianakis, Rashida Jones, Donald Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, and the big surprise – Jim Parsons off Big Bang Theory.  His cameo appearance as the Human Walter for the “Muppet of a Man” song was brilliant!  Also, I can honestly say that I will never be able to look at Chris Cooper in a movie again without thinking of his absolutley ridiculous rap.  Chris droppin’ dope beats, son!

Dat's da Truth!

END SPOILER SECTION

Overall I really liked the film.  However there were a few things that really rubbed me the wrong way and dragged down the quality of the film as a whole.  I will try to present those as spoiler-free as possible because I want you to see if you feel the same way about it.

First:
The songs felt very unmotivated.  I remember in one of the first film classes I took at Azusa Pacific University, my professor told us that if we wanted to do a musical, we had to create a world in which the emotions were so high and blatant that the characters breaking into song is the only possible outlet for their tensions. And The Muppets does do that well generally.  It is a world with Muppets in it; that sort of thing is almost necessary.

What didn’t work was that while the environment allowed for such silliness and outburst, the lead-ups to each song were either poorly done or non-existent. Musical numbers simply spawn out of nowhere which left me wondering “wait, why are they singing?”  It simply seemed that the transition and build up to the songs (particularly at the beginning) just weren’t there which made enjoying the songs much harder than I hoped it would be.

Second:
Trying my best not to spoil anything here – the Muppets do their telethon to raise money and everyone is supposed to contribute an act, including newcomer Walter.  However, he has no idea what to do.  He wonders “What is my talent?”  And the problem is that when he does debut it, it is entirely out of the blue.  Their is no set up for what his talent is earlier in the film. If their was any, you can see that a person paying attention for that stuff didn’t see it, so…  It just made the ending seem very odd.

And speaking of the end, Third:
The ending gets very fuzzy.  Again I don’t want to spoil it, but it goes one way and then turns sharply the other way and then credits role.  And during that credit role, they magically somehow get back to the first way again.  Really vague I know but suffice to say that I was really let down by the ending simply because  it got so convoluted and lost by the finale. Just be warned that it gets weird.

One final note, and this didn’t strike me until much later, but their is absolutely no mention of the man who started it all – Jim Henson.  I don’t know why they didn’t pay homage to the genius who brought us Kermit and the gang, but it doesn’t detract from the film in any way. Just kinda sad 😦

Ultimately, I think this is a perfect example of my big soapbox of film:  their is a difference between being Good and being Liked.  I absolutely loved the film!  It gave me all the catharsis I could ever want for the return of my childhood friends and was a hilarious and wonderful time of family for me seeing it.  However, I think the story and plot suffered slightly and really brought down the quality of the film as stand-alone.  The sporadic and random launches into song, the ambiguous and rushed ending, the general blandness of the story – in any other case I would have been sorely disappointed by this movie.  However, Segal and the filmmakers really scored well by creating fun, lovable characters who really salvaged the movie from ruin.  Definitely take the fam to go see it ASAP and enjoy all of the clever jokes, but be ready for some pitfalls that could really bring the film down for you.

Final Rating:  8//10

Whelp, there you have it!  If you haven’t already, PLEASE check out their amazing marketing campaign (one of the best I have ever seen) and also see my review of the Pig with the Froggy Tattoo trailer on the Art of the Trailer blog.

Still working on some films from the Summer Film Challenge so expect reviews of those up soon and I’ll leave you with my favorite Muppets of all time:

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A Not-So-Lasting Legacy

Surprise Review!!!
I have been trying to watch this movie for about a month now and I finally found time to get to it.  It was fun, I enjoyed it, but it was pretty much exactly what I thought it was going to be — “GORGEOUS JUNK”.  With that, I enter the Grid of Tron: Legacy.

Put very simply, I came into this movie looking for two things:  SPECTACULAR visuals and Amazing score.  The plot I knew would suffer for these elements but I hoped that it might break out of the stereotype enough for me to enjoy it.  And honestly it did…just enough.

Let’s start with the good.  The visual style and colors were INCREDIBLE!!!  Honestly that is why we all watched this movie – because Joseph Kosinski figured out what the original Tron was about.  When Tron came out in 1982, it changed the world of animation.  Characters existing in a world of three-dimensions inside a computer, circuit coming to life, programs having personality.  In the beginning of the Technology boom, this was revolutionary!  People saw it then because they wanted a glimpse into the Glitzy world of the motherboard, and that’s why modern audiences went back to it.  Kosinski gives the best possible tribute in that sense to what the original Tron was.

In the same way, the producers choice to bring in Electronica legend Daft Punk for the score was brilliant.  Who better to bring the world of charges and programs to life than a group that naturally brings them to music?  Daft Punk masterfully crafted a beautiful and energizing score which drove most of the movie.  Their pounding percussion low sweeping violins and muted keyboard notes create the perfect environment for Quorra and the Flynn’s to zip around in.

And speaking of them, let’s move on to the bad stuff…

The "Clu-de" Abides

Yup.  Honestly it felt like this whole movie came out of some mold and had actors plugged into it sporadically.  The storyline was incredibly unoriginal, had so many terrible stereotypes, and ultimately lived up perfectly to the low expectations I came into it with.  Yes it was fun, but their was absolutely no focus on any of the good stuff in the film, which is really sad because it did have a lot of potential.

First and foremost, the acting was barely decent, though I blame most of that on the writing. The way I figure it, some fanboy of The Big Lebowski decided to try to write all of Jeff Bridges dialogue and that ended up looking exactly as goofy as it sounds.  He constantly goes from super-genius programer and survivalist to saying entirely bizarre things like “Bio-digital jazz man!”  And while I like that analogy, it wasn’t done for it’s own sake – it was done to remind us of Bridges former roles which is again just sad.  As for Garrett Hedlund, I felt he did the best job he could with such a terribly predictable and stock script.  Sam Flynn somehow being entirely fine with being beamed into the game world only seconds after it happened wasn’t believable at all because the writers didn’t set up enough that he knew that’s how it worked. From there he goes into “Typical Hero Mode” – overcoming obstacles and saving the day like he’s been doing it for years.

Now Olivia Wilde is an interesting story.  When it was announced that she and Beau Garrett were cast in the film, the internet exploded with the idea that Disney was trying to introduce sex appeal into the movie.  And to be honest they weren’t far off but there was an interesting negotiation here.  Yes, indeed, Wilde did serve as the sexy chick whom Sam falls for during the film, and some would say that she actually holds her own in the film.  However, the writers (and director) do nothing more in the end than blend the two types of female characters into one person – the “Xena” warrior chick and the naive and helpless princess. She kicks butt but then goes on and on with doe eyes about Jules Verne. Wilde does do a good job in both aspects but ultimately she just ends up reinforcing dominant and hegemonic stereotypes.

The one particularly interesting aspect of her (and the other women in the film, especially Gem) is that, for a character added for sex appeal, her…”womanness” is surprisingly downplayed.  All of the women in the film were entirely covered and the outfits didn’t do much to accentuate their feminine parts at all.  Is this a Disney-esque watering down of their visual sexuality or is it a move towards a positive portrayal of women?  I don’t know but it is interesting how minimal the traditionally held stimulating elements are and how much that relationship plays out in her eyes. Then again you don’t have to scroll far in an image search for “Tron: Legacy” to find this picture:

Sex Appeal or Not: Let me know what you think below

Just a few more negatives I promise and then I will pass judgement on this film.
First, while the CGI was a major highlight of the film it also had some incredibly bad moments as well….like everything with Clu.  I think the problem is that they didn’t get the aspect ratio of Head to Body correct, giving the viewer the odd sense that the two didn’t match up.  The best moments with him were when they animated his whole body – it looked like a video game character but at least it looked cohesive and singular.  And the worst bit was that the started on that same face!  80’s Flynn had that same terrible CGI face and it really through me off.  It seems like it would have made more sense to use makeup and digital effects to de-age the real Bridges (like Harry Potter or Benjamin Button) and then shift to a clearly animated version inside the computer world (think The Santa Clause 3 only done well).

Also, I felt the editing was a bit slow. Perhaps it is just that I am a film major and thus study story structure, but I felt that this film was following the traditional pattern very slowly.  It was hitting all of the right beats but it was taking forever to get there.  One example of the opposite (fast-cutting) is at the very end when we get all of 30 frames showing Sam flipping the breaker switch off.  Ultimately I felt they could have tightened the whole film up immensely by cutting out the junk like that shot and getting to the action faster.  Oh, and btw:  I was screaming at my TV at the end for them to “END ON THE STUPID POSE!!!” because it was so obviously going there.  Way to go, story team.  Way to go.

One final thing:  I mentioned earlier that they neglected to delve into the really good stuff of the film, and so I should probably explain what I mean.  The ISO subplot was absolutely fascinating and I wish the writers had seen that as much as Kevin Flynn seemed to.  The idea of a “race” of programs coming into existence from nothing is fascinating and as Flynn says:

For centuries we dreamed of gods, spirits, aliens, and intelligence beyond our own. I found them in here, like flowers in a wasteland. Profoundly naive; unimaginably wise. They were spectacular. Everything I’d hope to find in the system; control, order, perfection. None of it meant a thing. Been living in a hall of mirrors. The isos, shattered it, the possibilities of their root code, their digital DNA. Disease? History! Science, philosophy, every idea man has ever had about the Universe up for grabs. Biodigital jazz, man.

That is absolutely AMAZING!!!  Why didn’t they make the movie about this?  This is the most original and interesting part of the entire film and tit gets religated to an undeveloped subplot so that, instead, we could focus on the stupid and unoriginal stock plot!  And beyond that Tron, the character on whom the title is based, is relegated to a another predictable and undeveloped subplot.  Score two more for the writing staff!

The Next New Project -- Assassin's Creed: Jeff Bridges

I realize that I have been griping a lot about a movie that in the end I really liked.  Honestly I watched Tron: Legacy for the graphics and soundtrack and that certainly paid off in full.  It was gorgeous and stirring – arguably better than Avatar in those regards (at least I would argue that).  The plot was exactly as underdeveloped and predictable as I expected, so I really wasn’t let down at all. 🙂  It is what I said before — “Gorgeous Junk”, and that is exactly what I wanted it to be.

Overall Score:  8//10

Yup!  There you go!  I am glad both that I finally got around to seeing this film and that I am finally getting back to my regular posting schedule.  I still plan to get the Ramble about Theatre out this week as well as a Review of one of my Summer Film Challenge movies, so be looking for those here soon.  Also, shameless plug for someone else, I found this review of Tron: Legacy when I was writing mine and I really like they way they summed it all up. Give them a try and see what you think.

Let me know what you thought of the movie and whether or not you see Olivia Wilde as the Sex Appeal in the movie.  I think there is an interesting negotiation in this movie about the roles of women in films, and I am very interested in your thoughts on the matter.  Might lead to a post in the future if I actually get some responses. 🙂  Anyway, thanks for sticking around and come back soon for another rambling from yours truly.

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Recent Rediscovery

So as the title says, I recently rediscovered my Flicker account and I wanted to share that link with you.  I don’t claim to be a professional and I don’t claim to be great, but I would say that I have caught a few really good pics over the years and I just thought I would share those.  Below is one of my favorite pics I have ever taken, so check out the Flicker and know that the Maltese Falcon review is on it’s way 🙂  Thanks!

Joy

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