“Look at us! We’re all losers … well, I mean we’ve all lost something.” Guardians of the Galaxy

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Marvel Studios (and, of course parent company Disney) seem to understand key principles of comic book film-making (or any film-making for that matter) infinitely better than rival DC Comics (and their owner Warner Brothers): make it fun, make it light, give it heart.

I was always a DC over Marvel fan. To me, Superman and his pals have richer history and greater visual interest, but, more often than not, DC’s flicks (Man of SteelGreen Lantern – blech.) are self-serious, ponderous, deadly dull (narratively and chromatically) while Marvel zips past on a celluloid sleigh made of gumdrops and cheekiness (Captain America, Thor).

Yes, Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films are great and artistic and DEEP! but they ain’t much fun, and I don’t see myself re-watching any of them when I’m bored on a Saturday afternoon. Iron Man or The Avengers on the other hand …

Please don’t mistake this as saying Marvel has no depth. They do – see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They just don’t think a message has to be stultifying to be taken seriously. And, yes, they’ve had their share of missteps – notably Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2. I may have been the only person who enjoyed Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk as well.

My apologies for the by-way into the always-inconsequential “DC vs. Marvel” debate, about which only we fanboy nerds ever seem to care, but I was reminded yet again this afternoon of just how well Marvel gets it while watching the delightful Guardians of the Galaxy.

Whether or not you know that Guardians is based on a comic book (it is – a really irreverent and subversive one), you will have a great time with the movie. Director James Gunn (Super, Slither) and the Marvel production team (thank you, Kevin Feige) know that, for an adaptation to work it has to understand what makes cinema (particularly in the summer) sing: pithy dialogue, solid character development, sympathetic underdogs in improbably silly circumstances, poignant back-story, Keystone Cops-meet-Paul Greengrass action sequences, and comedy arising naturally from absurd situations.

The Guardians are comprised of the following oddballs:

  • “Star Lord,” a wiseacre space cowboy (expertly played by Parks and Recreation and Everwood TV veteran Chris Pratt), masking his man-with-no-family sadness with a reckless joie de vivre and a love of bad 70s “AM Gold” pop rock
  • “Gamora,” a deadly assassin (a smooth and witty Zoe Saldana of Avatar, Star Trek, and the recent Rosemary’s Baby remake) who may or may not be interested in saving the universe while burying her accidental teammates
  • “Drax the Destroyer,” a heartbroken tattooed thug (a surprisingly soulful, deftly comic portrayal by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista) seeking vengeance for his lost wife and daughter
  • “Groot,” a walking tree (voiced with one singular, repeated phrase “I am Groot” by Vin Diesel) and one half of the film’s comedy duo, stealing the spotlight with Looney Tunes anarchy and gleeful mayhem
  • And (my favorite) “Rocket,” the other half of said duo, a rat-a-tat 40s gangster trapped in the body of an adorable (and deadly) anthropomorphic raccoon (voiced hysterically by an unrecognizable Bradley Cooper)

These characters are tossed together by a slapstick prison break on their way to pursuing some galaxy-destroying bauble called an Infinity Gem (ok, it is a comic book movie after all). They are chased by assorted creepy baddies like Lee Pace’s nightmare-inducing genocidal maniac “Ronan the Accuser” and Michael Rooker’s dentally-challenged space pirate “Yondu.”

The plot really doesn’t much matter as it is there chiefly in service to one whimsical set-piece after another. What gives the movie heart is the sheer broken-ness of each hero. At one point, Pratt observes, in one of his character’s many earnest but misguided Yogi Berra-esque “inspirational” moments, “I look around and I see losers. We’re all losers … well, I mean we’ve all lost something.” We laugh but we know exactly what he means.

(Not surprising to anyone in my immediate circle, but I was moved to tears when an inconsolable “Rocket,” after a drunken brawl, laments how soul-crushing it is when people call him “vermin” or “rodent,” not understanding the pain he has experienced in his short life. Said pain is in fact quite literal as his very existence is a result of invasive and cruel experimentation. I assume that’s a thread future films may explore, but, for this animal rights and comic book nut, it was a touch that I appreciated.)

As testament to the power of Marvel Studios, a myriad of heavy hitters show up for (and have a ball with) tiny supporting roles: John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Djimon Hounsou, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin. If the Harry Potter movie series was the place where BBC and Royal Shakespeare Company-British actors could get their genre ya-yas out, then Marvel now must  serve that same purpose for their Academy Award-winning/nominated American contemporaries.

In a summer 2014 movie season that has given us high quality (generally) but little joy, Guardians of the Galaxy is a welcome throwback to hot-weather film fun of another era … well, my 1980s era, when Lucas and Spielberg reigned supreme. It’s a sparkling Valentine to all us misfits. Don’t miss it.

________________

Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

24 thoughts on ““Look at us! We’re all losers … well, I mean we’ve all lost something.” Guardians of the Galaxy

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you – this is movie is nothing but fun and that’s not a bad thing. Not having read any comics ever at all (and yet you still talk to me, Roy), one thing I appreciate about the genre is how the extraordinary powers of the characters are kept in check by real, human qualities like love of family, friendship, loyalty and doing what’s right. That’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” all over and another reason it’s worth the price of the ticket (although being forced to buy the Star Lord, Gamora, Drax and Rocket action figures so you can get all the pieces to put Groot together is just messed up). Great post!

    • wow! you have been wooed by their curious charms! the fact that you know you have to buy all the characters to assemble Groot? impressive! and, yes, I got them all – PLUS, the life size stuffed animal Rocket they sell at Toys R Us! glad you enjoyed the movie too – and I completely agree with your assessment of humanity vs. powers, a key ingredient why this film works so well. we’ll get you reading comics before you know it!!

      On Sun, Aug 3, 2014 at 8:41 PM, Reel Roy Reviews wrote:

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  2. i’m not a huge comic book character person either, except that i love my spiderman, and men in tights in general, but this sounds like so much fun and that each has human characteristics, in spite of not fitting in and having suffered in some way, and it sounds touching and funny both )

  3. (Not surprising to anyone in my immediate circle, but I was moved to tears when an inconsolable “Rocket,” after a drunken brawl, laments how soul-crushing it is when people call him “vermin” or “rodent,” not understanding the pain he has experienced in his short life. Said pain is in fact quite literal as his very existence is a result of invasive and cruel experimentation. I assume that’s a thread future films may explore, but, for this animal rights and comic book nut, it was a touch that I appreciated.) my favorite part…oh, yeah! in more ways than one! signed: ROCKET!

  4. Hey, I just saw this and loved it. Hey, that music is gold, man! I agree what you say about that Drax the Destoyer. He surprised me in the end. He was just a softie. The losers line is one of my favorites. I thought the racoon would get on my nerves, but not a chance. I see many Guardians in the cinematic future making an appearance or two. I understand they will be joining forces with the Avengers on Earth. Great review!

  5. Here by way of Amy Reese.

    My wife is hardcore Marvel– a bit more than me, but I am solidly for Team Marvel.
    We greatly enjoyed the movies of late, even before Disney picked up ownership: she would often tell me “that’s not how it was in the comics” when we were in the theater, but we’d still thoroughly enjoy the movie.

    I may have been the only person who enjoyed Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk as well.

    Oh, I loved it. Much truer to the source material (we recognized the small reference to the creation of The Leader), but my wife actually liked Ang Lee’s The Hulk for its own merits. I didn’t care for it, but I guess I can see why she appreciated it for what it was.

    to pursuing some galaxy-destroying bauble called an Infinity Gem

    Of course they are. The studio is slowly building up to some big reference to the Infinity Gauntlet, maybe in that Silver Surfer-themed movie we’ve heard so many rumors of. The first Captain America movie had a fleeting shot of the Gauntlet, and The Avengers had a short epilogue where Thanos was clearly revealed.

    Cimmy and I will catch this movie, albeit on DVD as we are impoverished parents.

      • Thanks, Roy. I’m not really a regular reader, but I have really good friends that keep me in the loop.

        I’m still trying to wrap around my brain that Jim Lee is editor-in-chief at DC. He did such fantastic things for the X-Men at Marvel, and I don’t get why DC is struggling. I don’t like Earth 52, suffice it to say.

        I think we can agree, though, that DC is doing very well on TV series– mostly the CW, right? Arrow is a great show. I hope the new Flash series will be better than the last incarnation in the ’90s.

      • Agree completely! TV is where DC shines, chiefly because of Greg Berlanti. Everything else seems to be a struggle. They seem to be caught in a spiral between being reverential and provocative, none of which is working.

        >

  6. I enjoyed this quite very much. Wish every Marvel movie was like this, but at least they’re fine enough for what they are. Good review Roy.

  7. Pingback: Roy Sexton (Reel Roy Reviews)-“Look at us! We’re all losers … well, I mean we’ve all lost something.” Guardians of the Galaxy |

  8. What a great review! I can’t wait to see the movie. Incidentally, I loved Edward Norton’s Incredible Hulk as well.

  9. I knew that I should have just seen this without the kidlet, but alas, I waited and now will go with him….though I might break my “matinee only” rule and go before the weekend 🙂

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