Sunday, August 03, 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: What They Got Right




As you'll know if you're receiving current media in any way, shape or form this weekend, Marvel Studios (formerly an independent filmmaker, currently an arm of The Mouse) has once again hit it out of the ballpark with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, taking a comic title no one in the general populace ever heard of, populated with obscure characters, and raking in multiple millions of bucks as well as some excellent reviews.  And all this without a single familiar superhero.  How did they do this?  Well, here are some of the things the film did right:

1.  THE RIGHT KIND OF HUMOR:  In the vein of STAR WARS, FIREFLY, and the first J. J. Abrams Star Trek movie, this movie is funny without being campy, not taking itself seriously but not making fun of itself.  It does not laugh at its audience; it invites the audience to be in on the joke.  In a way, like the previous Marvel Studios movies, it is the cinematic equivalent of that jokey, pseudo-hip narrative tone that Stan Lee pioneered in those caption boxes in the Sixties.

2.  COLOR:  Far too many science fiction films adopt a monotone, particularly in space, where we've come to expect grey spaceships against a black background.  GOTG is an explosion of color, with multicolored space ships like great soaring plumage birds silhouetted against nebulae.  Credit the property's comic-book origins, but also the amazing art of Chris Foss, who painted luminescently colorful spaceships on SF paperbacks in the Seventies and who worked on this film as a conceptual artist.

3.  UNABASHED SPACE OPERA:  While so many space-oriented SF films these days are cautionary tales about destroyed earths or the perils of space walks, this is space opera of the most pulpish sort.  We see an intergalactic system of planetary relations, without much of a description of how things work or what sort of government the planets have or what the system of trade is; the assumption is that everything works the way it does in America, only on a larger scale.  We have spaceships with faster-than-light drives and space stations with artificial gravity, but no one ever talks about the technology behind them, because it simply isn't important to the plot.  In a milieu of readily-available energy weapons, folks still grapple and fight with knives.  Why not?

4.  IT TAKES PLACE NOW:  Again, the characters don't dwell on this, but the action does not take place in the future.  Point-of-view character Peter Quill was spirited up by aliens in 1988, and he's grown up now (resilient Walkman still in hand), side-by-side with characters who appeared in the AVENGERS movie in contemporary times, using Seventies pop to work his way into the beds of sexy humanoid females.  This is therefore not the United Federation of Planets from STAR TREK, or the events of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, as in STAR WARS.  This is a thriving intergalactic civilization that's taking place out there, right now, just beyond the reach of our telescopes.   That it all looks pretty much like earth, only more so, doesn't take away the magic of multiple worlds that we could reach if our spaceships were only mighty enough.

5.  STRAIGHT-FACED BARDIC APPELLATIONS:  Finally, a measure of how thoroughly GOTG sucks viewers into its world is that it freely uses the bardic-appellation-like titles that Marvel has often bestowed upon its characters, and the audience accepts them without snickering.  Thus, we don't just have Drax, Ronan, and Thanos; we have Drax the Destroyer, Ronan the Accuser, and Thanos the Mad Titan.  The titles aren't just window dressing, they're essential in explaining in a few words exactly why the denizens of this universe might tremble a bit at hearing the name, or that the bearer is in his, her, or its general vicinity.

Of course, none of these elements would be worth anything if they weren't laid on a foundation of solid moviemaking.  GOTG probably won't be listed among the great works of cinematic art, but it should certainly hold a place of honor in the list of great summer popcorn flicks.

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