Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Marvel's 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

It's hard to argue that Marvel Entertainment doesn't have a winning film formula at this point. They've transformed characters not named Spider-man or Wolverine into billion-dollar franchises over the past six years. Still, some people might be skeptics. "They might not be the top of the food chain," some might argue, "but Captain America and Hulk still hold some cache and name recognition." Fair enough: Iron Man, Cap, and others have their place in modern pop culture.

That's why Guardians of the Galaxy could be viewed as Marvel's first real test. It's a decades-old franchise but one not known outside of certain circles of comic book fans; even more, the particular incarnation of the Guardians shown in the film are less than a decade old. Other franchises are easy to sell: a super-soldier man out of time, a billionaire playboy looking to right wrongs, a disgraced demigod. Despite the fantastic, there are hooks for the audience to connect with the characters. How do you sell the Guardians, whose ranks include a talking raccoon and a sentient tree? As James Gunn found out, you do it with humor, heart, and a whole lot of explosions.

Although it doesn't feature any of the characters thus far featured in Marvel's film empire, there's no mistaking Guardians of the Galaxy for anything other than a Marvel movie. Marvel's films have a definite structure to them, and Guardians follows it. If it ain't broken, right? You know the drill: not-yet-hero(es) caught up in a larger plot - recently revolving around Infinity Gem MacGuffins - featuring a mostly humorless and often (save Loki) replaceable villain. Cue a big fight scene at the end, and hang around for the post-credits stinger.

But Guardians has a lot going for it. Mostly the tree (Groot) and raccoon (Rocket). I kid, but not really. The characters fit in well together, clearly pieces of the same puzzle. High-concept science-fiction, like the housed-in-the-skull-of-a-dead-space-god settlement of Knowhere, are introduced with ease. It helps that a lot of the pretentious ideas are cut down by the characters themselves; they aren't impressed with this world, and their familiarity makes use feel at home, too.

The music in Guardians has also garnered a lot of praise, and for good reason. The soundtrack, heavy on '70s and '80s tracks, adds to the air of comfort. It's fun and familiar and, as the mixtape it's featured on is Peter "Star-Lord" Quill's (Chris Pratt) last connection to his homeworld and mother, it factors into the character work that the film pushes so confidently on the viewer. When Quill foregoes an escape to retrieve a mixtape from his mother, it's something we can identify with more so than chasing after a gem that can destroy worlds.

There's also the fact that it's just a damn good soundtrack. Must be the reason why it shot to #1 on the Billboard charts.

Guardians of the Galaxy definitely has its place in the Marvel Universe. It may not play as important a role in the ongoing Avengers storyline - certainly not as much as the revelation-filled Winter Soldier - but that's OK. The fact that it's such a good movie and can stand well on its own almost makes you forget that fact. Like Star-Lord's mixtape, it's familiarity is what makes it enjoyable in its own right, and for a summer blockbuster, that's all you need..

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