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Forming, Storming, and Norming – A(nother) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

I like to laugh. I like action. I like smart-ass characters and clever dialogue. Needless to say, I loved the “Guardians of the Galaxy 1” Like so many others, I waited with joyful anticipation for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”

I’ve read other reviews that weren’t very positive and all I have to say is, It’s based on a comic-book and it’s only a 2-hour 18-minute movie. It’s longer than the average movie but there is only so much character development you are going to be able to cram into 138 minutes, but for what it is, the writers did a hell of a job. The story reveals more well-rounded characters and yes, I felt the attraction between Quill and Gamora even though it was just one of many character relationships forming. As far as pacing, there is a lot of story going on in this movie. The writers are trying to tell an important back-story about Quill and his origin, bring us to the major conflict in this film and set up for the next movie all the while giving us more character development than you would expect in a movie based on a comic-book starring a variety of alien creatures.

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Why I Hate the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Why You Should Too!

I hate the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate it. I understand that my position is not a popular one; but then again, I never really was that popular. Need proof? Look me up in the high school yearbook.

I hate the film and everything about it, from its Kevin Bacon inspired jokes to its talking Raccoon. I have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince the rest of you, that I am right. With the sequel arriving in theaters, I will give this one another go.

I hate Guardians for one simple reason: lazy storytelling. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a carbon-copy of the Avengers (2012) formula, just with a relatively obscure series from deep within the Marvel vaults. And yes, before you start questioning me and my fan-boy creds, I am in fact one of some twenty-five people who has ACTUALLY read the Guardian’s books.

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Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe from Worst to Best

The Internet clearly doesn’t have enough lists, so here’s another.

Many have attempted to rank the movies comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fewer have dared to add the four complete seasons of MCU television and Netflix series into the equation. I shall somehow rise to this challenge to ensure the Internet does not experience a shortage of lists. This was not easy, Internet. I swear, the top six were all neck-and-neck, and it came down to a photo-finish.

This ranking is from worst to best, not horrible to great. I’ve enjoyed all of these to varying extents, and the “varying” is what I’m measuring. None are bad. Conversely, none are works of towering artistic genius either. But it’s all damn fine entertainment worth revisiting.

SPOILERS ahead.

So, with that warning out of the way…

Here…we…go! (more…)

Down in Front: Why I Don’t Go to the Movies

3d-movie-audienceI won’t mince words with you: I hate movie theatres, and I hate myself for it. I don’t know how it happens to me, but I become some cynical old curmudgeon when my film-buff of a husband asks if we can go see the latest flick, and it’s quite a visceral response.  But it wasn’t always this way. I remember quite often going with friends to the movies and seeing big blockbusters for the first time on the big screen: Titanic, The Lion King, Avatar, and others.

And I remember the feeling of excitement, I really do. Seeing things explode, lovers reunite, or a protagonist turn out to be far less of a hero than expected – it was nice, seeing a movie.

Now it’s just constant refusal. Nope. Not going. Even though I’d love to tear into Guardians of the Galaxy and I regret never seeing Boyhood, I’m still not budging.

Why?

I can blame a lot of things, really. The fact that as time moves in its linear fashion, I am forced to become embittered with age and hate the coming generation; the fact that society has obviously declined, somehow right in tandem with my childhood. But in all seriousness, the thing I’m blaming knows no age or amount of perceived politeness: Netflix.

MovieTalkingNetflix has turned a movie theater into a large living room with an even larger cover charge. And it’s a real double-edged sword, because I love Netflix. I love knowing that I can access films (a lot of them Criteron Collection or classics that have been restored) right from my living room. Or, you know, I can binge watch Bob’s Burgers without feeling ashamed. But at the same time, we’ve gone mad with power, and it ties in with the technology we bring along. People sit in theaters and browse on their phones like they’ll be able to press pause and rewind the movie. I’ve seen people check emails, and even take phone calls, during the most pivotal points of films.

But it doesn’t even come close to the people who talk. There is literally nothing worse than sitting in a film and knowing that you’ve lost the seat lottery because you sat next to someone who can’t keep their mouth shut. And I understand, there are moments of a film that are shocking, scary, funny, and they all usually elicit responses that are vocal – a scream, laugh, etc.

But during the last film I saw, Dawn of the Planet of Apes, there was a guy next to me who could not go five minutes without providing his own commentary on the film, the new age equivalent of “DON’T GO IN THERE, NOPE, DON’T DO IT.”

ontrendgravityAnd the film before that? Gravity. Someone messed up my IMAX viewing of Gravity, one of the most immersive film experiences in existence, and I was livid. But my anger is a slow, sluggish one, seeping out of my pores like some radioactive sludge that eventually burns an acidic hole in my hope for humanity to get its act together.

And every time I watch people do this stuff in their seats, I’m always reminded of what I’ve been taught by my screenwriting professors in grad school – the brilliant Tim Kirkman and the wonderfully talented late Syd Field. They always reminded me that when you step into a theater, you sign an invisible contract. You say, “Okay, director, producer, and everyone else involved with this project, I’m here to give you my time. I paid you to come here and sit in the dark with strangers and be told a story, so it’d better be a good one.”

But the more I go to a theater, the more I’m convinced that everyone in the audience has forgotten that this applies to them, too. Being in a theater audience is a beautiful thing when you really think about it – people of all different ideologies, world views, and economic status are gathering together in a room and having a real experience together. And a lot of the time, that experience tells us a lot about us as human beings. But the more people interrupt that experience, the more people that break that contract, the more I’m convinced that the only thing I’m being told is that we really, really suck.

So if you’re reading this, remember the invisible contract next time you’re in a theater, remember that you’re people getting together to have a real experience, and if you just can’t control yourself – that’s what Netflix is for.

 

Marvel’s Galaxy

unnamedIt’s no secret Guardians of the Galaxy of is a good movie. The critics say so, audiences say so, even we say so. Rather than recap why it’s so much fun, I want to reflect a little on why I find this outing in the Marvel universe a bit more interesting than usual.

Guardians feels different than the other Marvel (and DC) films. All these comic book films are epic in some sense; a hero struggles against the overwhelming forces of evil, always making Joseph Campbell proud. But even though the heroes here struggle against the galactic evil of Thanos, Guardians manages to have more weight than its predecessors despite (perhaps I might say because) the movie knows it isn’t serious. Freed from the seriousness and dark overtones of “realistic” comic book movies, the characters have more space to explore good and evil and pertinently, what lies between.

The five guardians are not good moral characters, they are the Tony Starks of the stars. Stark privatized world peace to indulge an ego founded on his father’s passing. The protagonists have their own motives built not on universal goods, but on the ego or on a friendship or vendetta. Because the tone of the movie doesn’t stand in front of the audience yelling “I’m gritty and I’m real,” the characters are allowed to surprise us. If you yourself are surprised this blend works, know the reality of humanity is the unexpected. And one of the greatest delights as a human is to be surprised by the depths and shallows of the cacophony of humanity (so long as innocent people aren’t hurt).

unnamedA further note on the tone makes Guardians of the Galaxy especially fascinating in the Marvel canon (and I say this as someone versed in the films with little knowledge of the comics). The universe of Star-Lord, of Ronan and Xandar, feels much more like Star Wars or the Fifth Element than our own. Considering the histories of the protagonists, let’s throw Lost in Space into the mix as well. It doesn’t feel like Iron Man’s Middle East, Spiderman’s New York, or Thor’s desert southwest. Those supernatural or superhuman elements have existed on our world and the conflict of the characters and narrative comes from limited incursions from these “other” universes: how will humans deal with the Tesseract, how will humans respond to freak accidents and powerful mutations? Guardians of the Galaxy inverts this formula. How will an extravagant universe take a little dose of humanity, our culture – our mixtapes? These superheroes are different. They no longer exist in our world. We exist in theirs.

Of course here and there are all part of a bigger here in which all of us and all of the Marvel heroes live. This is perhaps the most interesting part of Guardians. Compare Marvel’s product in the early 2000s to their movies now. Iron Man 3 was bigger than Iron Man, Thor: The Dark World was bigger than Thor. Even Captain America: The Winter Soldier, felt bigger than The Avengers. Marvel has leapt from the earth to the fertile imaginations of the universe. It’s fun, but is it sustainable? How long can Marvel go the bigger and louder route before the pendulum swings back to a smaller superhero, a more personal struggle a la Unbreakable? Whatever the answer is, I’m along for the ride.

Guardians is a Smash

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-poster-21When I first heard that Marvel was contemplating a Guardians of the Galaxy project, I thought it could be cool, but that it would take a really good story to break through the normal sci-fi hurdles of an original, potentially-unrelatable cast of characters and settings. Then they announced that they’d hired James Gunn and any trepidation I might have had turned immediately into joy and excitement.

While most critics and commentators were questioning the logic of hiring a guy who had only directed low-budget films like Super ($2.6M) and Slither ($15M), (as well as his beloved series PG-Porn) and handing him the keys to the kingdom, I was thinking about how brilliant Marvel Studios has been by focusing not on finding “known” directors, and instead hiring directors who exude originality in tone, and taking chances on them.

More than anything, it seems to me that that is what really matters in creating a great comic book movie like Guardians of the Galaxy. Technical inexperience can usually be overcome by hiring the best of the business to head up creative teams and production departments, but a sharp director is indispensable.

In a recent Variety interview, when he was asked how much harder it is to make a $170M movie compared to the small-budget indies he’s used to, James Gunn replied:

“I remember one friend in particular was like, ‘It’s so hard, is the pressure getting to you, are you freaking out?’ And I’m like, No. It seems 1,000 times easier than “Super” was. You’re surrounded by the best people in the business, I can envision any shot in my head and I can make it a reality.”

020Wit, humor, and directorial vision have always been Gunn’s strong-points as a writer and director, and it’s exactly what Marvel needed to launch a title like Guardians.

And this is where the genius of Kevin Feige has made all the difference for Marvel Studios.

When Marvel tapped Jon Favreau to make Iron Man, it was basically the same situation. Instead of hiring a guy who had directed a half a dozen tentpole movies already, they picked a guy who had done primarily smaller films (Swingers, Made) and who had demonstrated a specific tone & vision. Let’s not even get into discussing Joss Whedon’s work prior to The Avengers.

You can see this same type of forward-thinking with casting.

When Robert Downey, Jr. was cast as Iron Man, “the industry” thought it was a big risk because of his past battles with alcoholism. Of course… The character of Tony Stark has also battled alcoholism throughout the comics, so perhaps it was always a perfect fit. Likewise, a few years ago, nobody would have pegged the loveable but kind of schlubby goofball Chris Pratt as a leading man in a superhero movie. But then, the character of Peter Quill is – underneath the Han Solo exterior – an immature goofball, too. He got abducted by space pirates as a boy, and never really grew up. Thus… Chris Pratt makes sense.

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So what about the film itself? 

With a 92% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a pile of earned media from its powerful $160.4 million opening weekend, there’s not much I could say about the characters and plot of Guardians of the Galaxy that hasn’t been covered in any of a hundred reviews, so I won’t waste my limited space here with any of that.

Instead, let’s talk about why – after a string of terribly mediocre summer blockbusters (Lucy, Hercules, Snowpiercer, Transformers 4, etc.) – the “Guardians of the Galaxy” are finally here to save the day for movie-goers everywhere. For me, it really all comes down to tone.

James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is pure space adventure, and all fun.

It’s less like a J.J. Abrams Star Trek or a self-serious Christopher Nolan movie, and more like a 1970s-1980s space opera. Think Flash Gordon, Barbarella, and even Star Wars.

It’s a movie that is both campy and absurd, yet simultaneously relatable and human. Its realism comes not so much from believable scenarios and plausible technology (definitely not that), but by being emotionally grounded in two important ways. 

The first is the core of humor and heart developed with characters who – be they a raccoon, talking tree, or green alien assassin – feel like real people doing things real people would do… for the most part. Admittedly, it may help to have a bit more of an in-depth understanding of the character backstories and the universe to understand everything, but based on the movie’s reception, audiences don’t seem to be having too much of a problem understanding what’s going on.

But even if they did, the second core for Guardians of the Galaxy is the flawless use of pop-music from the 1970s and 80s that grounds the film and makes it relatable, even though roughly 5 minutes actually takes place on Earth. A lot will be made of this in writing about this film, but speaking as a composer and (former) professional music supervisor, it is really an incredible facet of this movie, and it really helps make the complicated plot and interstellar locations feel a lot more like home.

So if you hate Indiana Jones, Star Wars, exciting space adventures, and having fun or laughing uproariously at the cinema, Guardians of the Galaxy might not be for you. 

But personally, I already can’t wait to see what Awesome Mix Vol. 2 has in store for us all.