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October 30, 2014
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Life & Culture

Review: Despite bland characters, ‘Guardians’ stands out

 

Guardians of the Galaxy

Directed by James Gunn

Opening on a barren ruin of a planet called Morag, a lone spacecraft makes contact with the surface. A figure exits and makes his way through the jagged rocks and craters until he reaches an abandoned and dilapidated temple. The figure steps into view for the first time, revealing an intimidating metal mask that obscures his face. He looks around the ruin for a moment, studies the terrain, pulls out a Walkman, plays “Come And Get Your Love” by Redbone and begins dancing.

From these very first moments, “Guardians of the Galaxy” manages to create an environment different from many of the comic book movies released in the last few years. It offers a refreshing new take on the genre by managing to blend the comic, the dramatic and the serene. This aspect, combined with the excellent casting choices, makes “Guardians of the Galaxy” one of the more memorable and strikingly remarkable films of the year.

The film follows Earthling Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), also known as the bandit Star-Lord. He bands together with a galactic assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a warrior seeking vengeance called Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a humanoid-plant being named Groot (Vin Diesel) and a cybernetic, snarky raccoon named Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper). The five reluctantly team up to prevent Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a feared warrior and conqueror, from taking control of an ancient power and destroying Xandar — home to the intergalactic police force called the Nova Corps — and taking the entire galaxy along with it.

It’s these guardians of the galaxy that are the greatest part of the film, as they all show that they can easily combine the seriousness and the silliness that embodies the entire film, most notably when they are formulating their plan toward the climax. They go back and forth with their arguments and ideas, each getting a chance to show his or her excellent comedic timing. Pratt and Cooper are particularly effective in their roles, as Pratt gives a performance reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man — without the snarkiness and self-deprecation — and Cooper presents the foul-mouthed, sardonic and cynically hilarious Rocket.

The film’s tone is another of its greatest strengths. While it is a superhero film, it feels like a hybrid of many different styles: part space opera, part buddy comedy and even part prison break. It offers an original and innovative style all its own that few films in the superhero genre have been able to perfect. The film runs on a “give-and-take” system: For every comedic moment, there is an intense or serious scene that follows later in the film. The end result is an equal distribution of relief and tension that creates an almost perfectly balanced film.

While the film is balanced for the most part, there are two major parts that miss the mark. The first is that there are moments that hit a little too hard on either the dramatic or the comedic side. They come across as forced, especially when Quill makes references to 1980s culture that seem out of place or try-hard.

The second, and more important of the two, is the villain. Lee Pace’s Ronan is boring, humorless and one of the least intimidating characters in the movie. The other characters build him up as a sadistic force who enjoys the suffering of others, but his constant speeches about destroying the world come across as tedious, boring and make it seem like he doesn’t enjoy much of anything. It feels as though the script gave all of the good material to the heroes and left only overused cliches for its uninspired antagonist. He has no personality outside of being the most basic of the generic movie villains and is only saved when he interacts with the guardians.

Despite those obstacles, the film still manages to succeed in its efforts. With its wonderful sense of timing, care for its main characters and intriguing structure, “Guardians of the Galaxy” offers a welcome new perspective on the superhero film genre. It is one of the few films that dares to be different in a sea of blockbuster blandness.