Sunday, January 25, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy Assessment

Look, it's the obscure Marvel characters everyone was waiting for - The Thunderbolts!

I was waiting until the hype had died down and the pop-hating hipsters had begun to crawl out of the woodwork to write this review, because, you see, I didn’t enjoy Guardians as much as everyone else.

Maybe I’m not a space adventure type anymore. I loved Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but that phase is over. One of the problems with that series are its characters, I just never came to like them, and in the end, it was more about watching the animation than being impressed with incredible storytelling. The same is sort of true for Guardians.

This is a spoiler blog, ridden with spoilers about absolutely everything I talk about, but for the sake of those people who do nothing but complain that “you spoiled it”, spoiler alert.
Speaking of, quick rant here. If knowing just one plot twist ruins the entire movie for you, then maybe it isn’t such a great movie. That’s what I think about it. On the other hand, I’ve had some pretty shocking non-spoiled surprises in my experience, and I admit they were fun, but usually they occurred in shows or movies that already had tons of twists and turns, (Death Note, Men In Black), so if I’d known in advance it wouldn’t have “ruined” it completely.

But back to Guardians.

The movie is just average for me. It’s a nice day at the theater. Most people liked it, I’m not saying it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a theater, (that award goes to Cat in the Hat, which I walked out on).
So, let me clarify that I don’t hate this movie, I just don’t think it’s great, and it’s pretty low on my ranked Marvel movies. Here’s another “controversial” opinion of mine: I think Iron Man 3 was better. I’ll save that explanation for a later section of this assessment.

My status before reviewing: hungry, honestly. I had a bowl of rice for lunch around 2:30-ish and it’s 5:41 PM currently. That might either make me more negative about the movie, or give my “witty” remarks some extra bite. Oh, and I should mention… by this point you may have noticed, (you don’t care, who am I kidding), that I don’t put a synopsis of the movie in my review. That’s because it’s essentially review filler. Most of the people reading reviews just want a few short sentences, to tell them what to think, in a non-spoiler-y way. Those people aren’t supposed to be reading these. My assessments explore how I feel about movies in great depth, often to explore an opinion I have that most people don’t, and as such, they tend to be negative, although there are a few movies I love that everyone, (mostly movie critics), seem to hate, like National Treasure. (What? He likes that crap and not Guardians of the Galaxy?! Screw his opinion! Hey, I haven’t said my opinion yet, pretend parenthetical opposer! Shut up.)

So here it is: my Guardians of the Galaxy review.

~ T H E  P L O T ~

The best part of the movie is the opening, where, yes, a cheesy death bed scene takes place that I and everyone else has seen too many times. But, being the sensitive person I am, I shed a few tears, wiped them away, stuck them in this tiny jar I always carry with me, and continued to watch the rest of the movie.

Can somebody please explain to me what makes this plot passable, especially for a modern movie? It’s a MacGuffin Quest, basically. Every RPG has one. It’s a lazy way to throw together a reason why your characters should interact. And that’s where the problem starts. You see, GOTG doesn’t have a very good villain, which can be said about a lot of Marvel movies, (cough cough Thor 2 cough). You might say, “Well, The Avengers had a MacGuffin Quest plot, and a great villain, so clearly the plot has nothing to do with how bad the villain was!”
Let me correct you, hypothetical person who I created simply to make a point, The Avengers actually wasn’t a MacGuffin Quest. True, everyone was after the Tesseract in the beginning, but they actually managed to get it before the movie even really started! It was, in actuality, a Fake-Out MacGuffin Plot.
For everyone who already knew this, I’m only mentioning it because I think the reason why Ronan was such a thin bad guy was because the movie never stopped being about the MacGuffin. If the focus had shifted to Ronan as the goal instead of just an obstacle to the goal, I think he would have had a stronger presence.
“Aren’t villains supposed to be the obstacle to the hero’s goal, though?” you could ask, if you’d thought of it, (I really need to invent a better way to present these counterarguments).
Simply put, no. ANTAGONIST and OBSTACLE are separate, though similar. Obstacles are just small distractions from the goal of the hero, and almost all the time, defeating the antagonist IS the goal, and victory over them results in a feast.
By the way, I hate that trope. You killed or locked someone away, time to celebrate! Yeah, that rarely ever happens in real life. I don’t remember a special parade or White House dinner when Osama Bin Laden was killed. Actually, here’s a quote from Yahoo! News about it:

"I hardly think you've seen any excessive celebration taking place here," Obama said at the news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. His voice was taut and his smile thin.

Yeah that trope needs to be killed off, (but remember not to celebrate afterwords).

Sorry, I tangented again.
Guardians manages to somehow twist its MacGuffin plot into a “villain loses, all is saved” scenario at the end, but it wasn’t in time to save itself from all the plot contrivances.
But, lest I get caught up in pointlessness as usual, this movie isn’t actually about Ronan, or the big MacGuffin, it’s actually supposed to be about the characters, tying them together in a way that makes sense. Guess I’m the only one who can only have it two ways: Great Plot Great Characters, or Bad Characters Great Plot. I’m sorry, but I just can’t tolerate Great Characters Bad Plot. That’s one of the reasons The Addams Family Values is, at least to me, a better movie than The Addams Family, though those characters are SO great that it’s hard to find a plot that would be so bad even they couldn’t save it.
You know what? I’ll be forgiving. I’ll give the plot a pass. This movie doesn’t care about the plot, why should I? It doesn’t care about its throwaway villains, like the Collector, Thanos, and Gamora’s alien sister, so never mind me caring about them. This movie wants me to pay attention to its main characters, all five of them. So let me do that instead.

~ T H E  C H A R A C T E R S ~

Star-Lord: Something seems really off to me about Star-Lord, (more on that in the Humor section of the review). He’s supposedly incompetent, yet he manages to get from point A to point B with hardly any trouble. He’s supposedly a ladykiller, but we don’t ever see him make a pass at Gamora, (or did I miss something? I’m not counting the heartfelt on the balcony, it wasn’t shallow enough for a ladykiller type of character, and if his arc was that he was overcoming his ladykiller ways, it certainly wasn’t an arc with a conclusion). He’s written like a swaggering Jack Sparrow, no-cares, just in it for the chuckles, tough guy, but Chris Pratt plays him like a sitcom dad. I’m pretty sure the casting choice was more of a “that guy’s relevant right now, and we can’t have a no-name in the starring role” type of thing or a “eh, it’s not what I imagined but let’s not deliberate too much over it and just cast him” type of thing than a “his performance blew me away with its accurate depiction of what was in my head when I wrote this part” type of thing. I’m the only one who brought up Chris Pratt’s acting as a point of inconsistency, at least in my conversations about the movie with my friends, so this may just be nitpick-y old me. But hey, I liked Pratt in The Lego Movie, so maybe it’s actually just a problem with the script.

Drax: Best character. He hits one note over and over, but it plays a sweet enough tune. I wasn’t looking forward to another Hulk Smash type of character, and I was actually surprised by the stereotype reversal, mostly because I’d stayed away from clips and new trailers, to keep from being spoiled, (yeah yeah I’m a hypocrite, sue me).

Gamora: The movie didn’t give me a reason to like this character. Her personality is this universe’s idea of normal, just completely bland most of the time, except when she’s fighting, which is almost never. Because the villains were pushed to the side, her sister never got to properly establish a conflict with her, and the fight between them was full of fast cuts and shaky cam, so I couldn’t even get a nice action scene out of it.

Rocket: Uh, wasn’t Rocket Australian? Whatever. Yeah, Rocket’s fine. There’s that nice scene of him at the end where Drax pats his furry little head. But he’s really much better when he stops talking, at least for me. He has kind of a “I’m sarcastic” tone that needed to be punched up with more aggression to sound like the Rocket I know and love, at least for me. That reminds me of another problem with this movie. These guys are supposed to be bounty hunters and assassins, right? So why does it never seem like they’re genuinely bad guys? Being an assassin is a BAD thing, right? It would’ve spiced up Rocket or Gamora a lot if they’d randomly killed someone during the movie just to get a bounty.

Groot: There’s a sort of irony in a character who’s written out of the dialogue scenes so much that they never have to say anything at all, but still constantly repeats the same line over and over, possibly just to annoy everyone watching. Yes, its redundant and lazy. I give it a pass. The main problem with Groot is that he’s Hulk, the original Marvel “brute with a heart” type of character. This makes him pretty average as a character to me. I might’ve laughed once or twice at his antics. I definitely cringed once, as I will explain in the “Humor” section.

John C. Reilly: Why bother putting his character name, he’s playing himself. He really doesn’t fit in this universe. Maybe just a quick cameo would’ve been better?

Glenn Close: That wig is kind of ugly, but she should be glad to have it on, because her character wouldn’t have made an impression without it.

The Dealer: Why did this guy have more screen time than the Collector?!

The Collector: The best part of the movie is just used as an exposition dumping vehicle. Sigh.

That Alien Guy With The Flute: Who is that guy again? He’s tolerable enough, but sometimes he really annoys me.

~ T H E  H U M O R ~

I'm mostly fine with the humor in this movie, but it's a mixed bag, and that bag includes "cutesy humor", which I find uncomfortable and unfunny. It won't surprise you, therefore, to learn that I didn’t like Dancing Groot, which actually feeds into my dislike for the movie in general.

SIGHHHHHHHH... just tell me when it's over...
Dancing Groot toys, puppets, clips etc. keep cropping up everywhere like it’s the most amusing thing in Guardians, and it really isn’t. The movie’s sense of humor, even when it isn’t laugh out loud funny, is mostly subtle and character-based. I didn’t think the robotic leg joke was “hilarious” or “brilliant”, but I could appreciate it in a way that I can’t appreciate Dancing Groot, or Groot in general.

Oh, and Howard the Duck is awesome. Go read some of his comics!

~ A  F I N A L  S U M M A R Y ~

"What is the verdict, oh wise Sadly Thoughtful?"
My final thoughts on the movie are this: It’s a movie that no doubt took tons of work and creative decisions, but the work and creativity was all focused on making witty banter, which makes most of the scenes come off to me as “trying too hard”, and because the plot and main conflict of the movie isn’t there, it’s just this big shallow shell of a film, just barely holding up on its visuals and occasional wit alone.

That said, I think that the movie ultimately succeeds, in a purely calculative fashion. The humor echoes past Marvel films, through the “Puny god” wannabe moments strung throughout, and when it isn’t riding on sarcasm or random dance moves. The film tries to set itself apart from the others in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe by being “the weird movie”, the one with the 80s soundtrack and the obscure characters that were never given any depth to begin with in the comics. The problem with the obscure character angle is that for the most part, audiences everywhere just see these movies as “superhero” movies, not “Avengers” movies or “Iron Man” movies. Heck, even I didn’t REALLY know anything about Iron Man, even after his first movie came out, and I’m a massive nerd in all other respects. So basing all the movie’s uniqueness on the assumption that people thought Marvel was taking a risk was a mistake. Marvel has done nothing but take risks, on all its movies, just because of the fact that at least 50% of the people going into the movie don’t know anything about any of their characters, let alone Guardians. If the movie had tried to take even more risks, maybe a controversial politically charged line from one of the characters, a less in-your-face plot, or just one really morbid joke, I would’ve liked it more. The movie wants to be smart, an above average romp with unique characters, but it isn’t smart. It’s just a simple MacGuffin plot with at best two dimensional characters, and at worst total rip off characters, (watch the Honest Trailer for the film and it becomes pretty obvious who the Guardians are ripping off).


“Fun”, apparently, is a good counterargument to all my above complaints. I’ve heard a lot of people say they had fun at this movie. Good for them, but what makes this movie any more fun than Edge of Tomorrow, which was my favorite comic book film, (technically manga film), this year? And for me, Edge of Tomorrow just comes off as more genuine, smarter, and actually a bigger risk, because it’s based on a foreign property nobody had heard of, and was mostly just banking on its plot and star power to carry it at the box office.
I know some people didn’t like that film, but even if you didn’t, you can’t deny that a decent amount of energy was spent on the plot.

But what you were probably waiting for, (who am I kidding, you don’t care), is my comparison to Iron Man 3, and why I think that movie is better. In a word: “risks.”

Iron Man demonstrates how naturally cool he is, without even having to blow things up.

Iron Man 2 was panned by everyone, and yes, it’s pretty bad, except for a few funny lines from Whiplash and that car chase action scene, which I thought was pretty cool. It was a risk to assume people would even watch more Iron Man. And of course, then there was the twist in IM3. Now THAT was a risk! I respect Iron Man 3 for being brave enough to ruin a character just for a plot twist, (and a pretty funny joke if you stop being angry about it for a second). Even if it sucks for fans of the character, it at least makes the movie a controversial issue, so nerds have something to talk about after the movie. Guardians doesn’t offer much to talk about, unless you count “Remember that joke that was funny?” as a good discussion starter.
Aside from that, IM3 keeps the witty banter light when it needs to be, and it’s almost always delivered with impeccable timing, thanks to Robert Downey Jr. The plot wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a MacGuffin fetch quest either. I had a cold the day I saw it, and even that didn’t stop me from enjoying the movie. So, for me, IM3 is better than Guardians, at least in pure entertainment value, which, let’s be honest, is the only thing a Marvel movie sets out to accomplish.

~ M Y  B I A S  ( A . K . A .  T H E  H Y P E ) ~

Believe it or not, I do not hate fun, or admitting that I have fun. It’s just that at this point, I’ve seen so many television shows, so many movies, and absorbed so much content that there’s very little that surprises me.
And so, for at least one full day in the past, I was really excited about seeing Guardians of the Galaxy.
I was caught up in it’s new-ness, how obscure the characters were, without really thinking it through. I didn’t think the trailer was especially funny, but there’s a rule I have when it comes to movie marketing: 90% of the movie isn’t properly represented by the advertising. Case in point: Tangled (made it look like a really stupid, unfunny movie), The Incredibles (oh god have you seen the main trailer for that? Ghastly), Non-Stop (made it look like a thought provoking thriller).
And so, I allowed myself to be excited. Then, the day came, I saw the movie, and… I couldn’t talk at length about it. There was nothing interesting to discuss, except all the ways in which it didn’t work.

So there you are.
Agree? Probably not, looking at the Rotten Tomatoes score for this movie. Disagree? Most likely, as that’s been the direction things have gone when I’ve posted my opinion in public forums.

Whatever you think, I hope the second movie takes bigger risks. And also that eventually one day Marvel will make a Black Widow movie.

PS: I didn’t like Dark Knight either. This review by Sasha Arijanto pretty much sums up all that I'd say about it, except for the part about liking Lana Del Ray. I also liked Spider Man 3. That pretty much covers all of my controversial opinions about superhero movies. Please note that if a movie really clicked with me in some unexplainable way, then I would consider it a good movie, bad points aside. Guardians didn't manage to accomplish that. Hopefully the sequel will!

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