Thursday, March 22, 2018

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel (Part Ten- "Guardians of the Galaxy" 2014)

Road To Infinity War: Ten Years of Marvel

Part Ten

Guardians of the Galaxy
I don’t know how many people remember when this project was announced, but it was quit the deal at the time. It seemed like too big of a risk at too fast a time for Marvel. Nobody was expecting some kind of space opera in the middle of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel fans predicted we’d see “Black Panther,” or “Doctor Strange” maybe. But “Guardians of the Galaxy?” Why would Marvel reach so far toward the bottom of their character barrel to dig them up? I mean, once people really started digging, they realized that they’d see a movie about a talking raccoon, and a Treebeard-like character who only said “I am Groot,” would characters that weird end up being entertaining?

As the film got further and further into development and production, everything around the world felt weirder and weirder. Many people thought that Marvel would drop the ball for the first time with this movie. Chris Pratt hadn’t particularly proven himself as a leading man yet (Granted, this was before the one-two punch of “The LEGO Movie” and this), and when looking at the rest of the cast; which included Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, I loved the casting but it didn’t seem like your normal blockbuster cast. That’s not particularly the cast you fill a movie with. What was Marvel thinking? The marketing for the movie was smart to not really give much of the film away, including the film’s overall attitude, no matter what the first trailer held. Could Marvel’s big bet turn into a winning hand?

The answer was yes, and that yes was huge. What looked like it was going to be filled with characters with ticks and mannerisms instead of genuine character development ended up the exact opposite. Every character was just right, in development and realization. The movie is fun, but it still makes the audience feel emotions. It still forced the audience to be at the edge of their seats. It still allowed the audience a challenge and a confirmation of their belief systems. Marvel proved on that weekend in late August in 2014 that they truly could do anything. They took a walking tree who only knew five words and gave it the most meaningful scene in the entire movie. They took that talking raccoon and made him a hilarious highlight. They took a character that made some very corny puns and gave him a powerful emotional arc. And they took a human with a close tie to his tape-player and made him a great character, while also launching the actor who played into a bigger career. No easy feat.

I’ve been told that there are no mysteries left in the world. Filmmaking isn’t structurally complicated, if you tell a story and make your audience care about the characters, you will be able to win them over. I think anybody can make a movie about anything and make it great, no matter what it is they are trying to produce. Getting your audience to fall for the characters and the story is key. James Gunn, who has been in charge of all things “Guardians of the Galaxy” since 2014, did an impeccable job of making the audience care for these characters. He also did a great job of telling a story that people would care about. He created some genuine stakes for the characters, but also told a story in a fun way. It’s not hard, and that’s the type of high that Marvel has been guiding itself with for more than a decade now.

What could have easily been just another “Star Trek” or “Star Wars” retread becomes something else entirely. I don’t think you could honestly look at “Guardians of the Galaxy” and honestly think of those two things. Sure all three of these stories take place in outer space, but just because a movie features a particular setting doesn’t automatically mean that it’s the same thing. I love that Gunn took a genre we recognize and did something totally different with it.

One of the obvious missteps is something I’ve discussed on this forum before. Lee Pace is a great actor, but Ronan The Accuser is a lame villain. He was given a fairy generic evil villain plot. He moans on and on about his backstory like some kind of WWE wrestler. He’s all talk and not much walk. Sure, the brief glimpses of Thanos in the film are well done. Further teasing the big showdown with the Infinity Stones that is about to payoff in roughly a month now. I liked Nebula and Karen Gillen did a good job here, I think she eventually got looser in the role, but that is to be expected in a first movie. Housnou is really good in his brief runtime in the movie. Benicio del Toro work as The Collector is genuinely haunting. It was amazing enjoying these performances on another viewing, But on another viewing, it becomes clearer and clearer how weak Ronan was, and just another name on a list of villains that Marvel could have done better.

But a weak villain won’t take away everything James Gunn accomplished with this movie. The best thing being was from this point on, I never second guessed Marvel. I never thought that they’d fail. No matter what their plan was in the future, no matter what their plan is moving forward after Avengers 4, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be interesting. They earned trust in a big way with the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Marvel has been delighting audiences ever since. Risks are great for business, no matter what. We don’t get too many risks these days. So if Marvel wants to start taking risks like this again, I sure salute it.

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