Guardians of the Galaxy

I created this entry almost seven weeks ago. I know that I don’t have the most rigorous schedule for new content nor am I at risk of abusing anyone’s inbox with notifications, but almost two months is a long time to sit on a post. Especially since I’m very clearly a huge Marvel fanboy. So why, then, have I been neglecting this particular topic? It all comes down to one uncomfortable fact:

I thought Guardians of the Galaxy was kind of a crap movie.

That is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy my moviegoing experience on both occasions when I ventured forth to my local cineplex to take it in. Nor does that mean that I thought it was a total shitshow filled with unforgivable problems. In fact, I think that Guardians might be the most relentlessly fun movie that’s been released this year. That doesn’t stop it from being flawed.

I know this isn’t a popular opinion. I’m pretty sure I read that even Robert Downey Jr. called Guardians the best Marvel movie to date. Far be it for me to disagree with a man who is easily among the best in class at the moment, but I wonder if maybe some people aren’t letting their gleeful inner child override their discerning and thoughtful grown-up sensibilities. Granted, I squealed like a preteen girl when Rocket first appeared on screen. And spoke. And brandished his suitably ridiculous weapon for the first time. And did just about anything, if I’m being honest. And I don’t think they could have possibly done a better job translating Groot from page to screen. In fact, despite any ravings below, there was a lot about this movie that was spot on and executed very well. It’s not like I’m missing the forest for the trees, nor am I missing the grinning, dancing, and heartwarmingly selfless trees either.

I’ve had a bit of time to figure out what it is that I found subpar, and I’ve realized that this is a case of death by a thousand papercuts. Or, perhaps slightly less dramatically, moderate aggravation by a half-dozen papercuts. Most of my issues are with some of the performances, though a slightly less linear plot wouldn’t have hurt. (Maybe I’m spoiled lately on that point, though. The Winter Soldier had some damn fine writing.) It pains me to say this, but I found myself slightly distracted by both Chris Pratt and Karen Gillan. Gillan was the worse offender largely because she was clearly asked to mask her accent, but there were still some… odd choices when it came to her physical portrayal of Nebula. The scene that jumps to mind is near the end when Ronan’s ship is under attack and she leaves the set by stomping away like some kind of robot before flailing her body around a ninety-degree corner. Not exactly the stone-cold killer she’s aiming for. As far as Pratt, there’s just something about his performance that doesn’t feel like a leading man. And it isn’t his penchant for goofy and self-deprecating comedy (at which he excels) or the wispy beard, I think it’s because there were a few points in the movie where he fell short when he needed to bring the audience along for the ride. The lead of a movie is asked to bear the burden of keeping us emotionally invested, and sometimes I felt like Pratt was a bit self-conscious in those shoes. Maybe I just don’t get what he was doing, and that’s fine. I still found him charming and funny and somehow entirely believable as a career interstellar criminal with a heart of gold, which I suppose is grounds for the argument that he completely succeeded as Peter Quill. I just can’t help but feel like there were too many scenes where he didn’t do it for me.

I could go on, but rather than waste more of your valuable time I’m just going to cut to the chase and tell you what I view as the root cause for all my grievances. I think James Gunn was simultaneously the best and worst choice to direct this flick.

After I realized this I learned something about Mr. Gunn that made everything click in my head: he use to work for Troma, the fine folks who brought us gems like The Toxic Avenger and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell. In fact, if you look closely during one of the prison scenes in Guardians you can find Lloyd Kaufman himself playing one of the inmates. Now don’t get me wrong, I love some of the schlock that Troma has unleashed upon the world (I treasure my copy of The Tox Box), but to say that Troma is known for producing B- and C-movies is a bit of an understatement. And this is where James Gunn cut his teeth. You can take a man out of the low-budget backlot, but you can’t take the low-budget backlot out of the man.

This explains a lot, I think, because I happen to really like Chris Pratt and Karen Gillan as performers. My other issues are also similarly explained (at least partially) by this new information. Gamora is supposed to be stronger and faster than the rest of the crew, so watching her leap between catwalks in the prison was not out of place. But the quality with which some of those stunts were executed left a lot to be desired, especially in a movie released by the studio which made a rich dude wrapped in a flying metal onesie seem completely plausible.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Guardians of the Galaxy a polished turd. It contains a lot of really high-quality moments amongst an orgy of playful escapism and I cannot wait to buy my copy of the Blu-ray. Guardians of the Galaxy was entertaining as hell and a huge success on several levels, but seriously, it was kind of a crap movie.


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