James Gunn has always been a delightfully rambunctious, perennially irreverent filmmaker whether he’s exploring the realm of sentient alien slugs, sad-sack superhero wannabes or comic book property, which he gets to do once again in The Suicide Squad, one of his very best films yet. He feels more at home in the world of DC than he does in Marvel and it’s not just the larger playground that a hard-R rating gifts him, although that is a *huge* factor given his stylistic tendencies as an artist and his roots in horror, which are on gooey display here as well. The DC stable, particularly villains, just has this dark, perverse edge to it that Marvel can’t match and in creating a maniacal palooza of second tier baddies in a subversive, heavily violent extravaganza he has found a groove and achieved an aesthetic that for the entire two plus hour runtime I wasn’t bored by once. Some of our familiar favourites from the other Suicide Squad naturally return including Harley (Margot Robbie, resplendent in the role of her career), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) as well as welcome new additions like Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), Ratcatcher (Daniela Melchior), Savant (Gunn totem Michael Rooker looking like he walked in from a Rob Zombie flick) the scene stealing Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian), impossibly adorable King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) and of course Viola Davis as their game warden Amanda Waller, the cunt to end all cunts. Their missions here include the overthrow of a South American country, constant bickering, shocking team casualties, betrayals, clever skewering of American patriotism, a giant alien starfish, bountiful loads of gratuitous and blessedly gory violence and a clever balancing act between lighthearted, frothy banter and a darker undercurrent of thematic heft that sneaks in the back door and lands with an effective, grounded touch. Obvious comparisons will be made to the 2016 Suicide Squad and I’d like to sideswipe that other than to say I love both films, they’re both very different and the 2016 is what it is, it has its reputation. I do believe this to be the stronger film but I think they both have their place on my shelf, they are M&M’s and Skittles, Pepsi and Coke, or Warheads and Airheads to reference a junk food as obscure as the characters on display here. Gunn has made a rollicking, badass, bizarre yet strangely accessible piece of pop art nutso comic book madness here with many standout moments including an emotional monologue by Ratcatcher (she’s the soul of the film), some stunning technicolor gore effects that call to mind Lovecraft and Carpenter, an Easter egg hunt of many hidden film and literary references, a ballsy, nihilism laced opening sequence wherein some of the characters brutally live up to the title of the film, one instance of Waller *finally* getting a modicum of what she deserves, some painfully on the nose political satire and, in my favourite sequence the film has to offer, a brilliantly placed and paced opportunity for Robbie’s ever awesome Harley to work through the trauma of her past and absolutely TAKE DOWN toxic relationships like the badass boss bitch we all know she is. A wonderful, weird, wild and fantastic film.
Tag: James Gunn
David Bowie’s Missing Pieces
There was something about David Bowie. He wasn’t just worldly, he was out of this world. It was as if he knew something the rest of us didn’t. Bowie died on January 10th, 2016. More than a year and a half later he is not only missed by many, but he’s constantly being talked about. He was a rock star first and foremost, but he was also an actor. He wasn’t prolific, he was selective. He weaved in and out of some of the strangest films and some of the very finest. As Renny Harlin said in our podcast with him, Bowie was attached to play the villain in CLIFFHANGER opposite Sylvester Stallone, but Bowie couldn’t commit due to his concert schedule. That was a very big what if. What would it have been like to see Bowie face off against Sly?
TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN
One of the many burning questions that circled the unraveling mystery of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s phenomenon of TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN was did David Bowie film a secret cameo reprising his FIRE WALK WITH ME role as Philip Jeffries? He was mentioned heavily throughout the show. It was obvious Jeffries played a huge part in the main narrative of the show. He first showed up in archived footage from FWWM, but his voice was overdubbed by actor Nathan Frizzell. Lynch later said that Bowie gave them permission to use the footage, but not his voice. Lynch had guessed that he didn’t like his faux Louisiana accent he used.
Instead, Philip Jeffries came back as a machine with a spout that puffed steam and GPS coordinates once again voiced by actor Nathan Frizzell. We never got Bowie, and after the show finished, David Lynch was asked about it and said that Bowie declined to reprise without a reason, and that the reason was quickly known thereafter. At the very least, the legend of David Bowie was introduced to an entirely new generation of Twin Peaks fans.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2
Once the film was released, and all the cameos were exposed, James Gunn quickly came out in a Facebook Q&A with fans and said that he originally sought David Bowie for one of the original Guardians members who show up at the end of the film. Had Bowie been alive and appeared in the film, it would have kept the door open for him to have an expanded role in the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
BLADE RUNNER 2049
Recently director Denis Villeneuve said that Bowie was his first choice as the role of the villain that ultimately went to Jared Leto. Needless to say, Bowie would have been fabulous in the much-anticipated sequel. Jared Leto is a fair supplement, but wouldn’t it have been incredible to see Bowie in the Blade Runner universe?
As time marches on, and more and more people discover and devour everything that Bowie left us with, there will certainly be more stories, more “what ifs”, and as sad as that may come, it is also more than welcomed. Because thinking about David Bowie makes most of us very happy.
James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
James Gunn doesn’t quite surpass the first Guardians film with his followup, but there is more than enough to love from a sequel that stands monumentally taller than any other Marvel film (save for the first).
Gunn is such a remarkable auteur; his use of seminal popular music, blended with his not only perfect casting of genre actors but knowing how to use them, is what keeps this Guardians film from being a rehash of the first.
The story, while at times has too many plot points running at once, stands on its own, and is not reliant upon any other arc within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That is incredibly refreshing. The film is about Star-Lord and his father Ego, played by Kurt Russell who turns in yet another fantastic performance.
Guardians 2 does use a few conventional gimmicks: the token Stan Lee cameo that has worn out its effectiveness sixteen movies ago, and an opening scene with a CGI de-age character which actually works well. Aside from that, and a second act that drags its feet slightly, the film is a lot of fun and you’ll be smiling and laughing through the entire film. Heck, you may even tear up during a few moments.
What’s very disappointing about this film, is the incredible missed opportunity of reuniting onscreen Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone. Call me shallow, but that’s a moment a lot of us were hoping for going into this film, knowing the kind of genre respect and sensibilities that Gunn has as a filmmaker, it is kind of a shock that this didn’t happen.
Speaking of Stallone, seeing him in a film like this is an absolute joy. He doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the film, he’s mainly being setup for an expanded role in future Marvel films, but you can tell he’s having a lot of fun. Towards the beginning of the film, he shares a scene with Michael Rooker, and anyone who loves CLIFFHANGER will stand up and fist pump in the theatre.
Perhaps the best, and most effective part of the film isn’t the special effects (which are brilliant), or the genre actor cameos (which is even more brilliant), but a scene between Star-Lord and his Ego, as they discuss The Looking Glass’ hit song, BRANDY. It’s a very sweet and emotional moment between a father and son and showcases the star power that Russell brings to the role.
There are a plethora of scene stealing moments. The opening scene, the opening credits, the musical numbers, Baby Groot, Awesome Mix Tape Vol. 2, Michael Rooker – like I said, this film may not be as good as the first, but it’s an awesome experience and do yourself a favor and run the theatre to go see it.
What’s almost hard to understand is how Marvel allows Gunn to make non-templated films that are a part of the MCU, yet really have nothing to do with any of these silly “phases”. The two Guardians films are different, they don’t fit inside of Marvel’s box of conventionality. They take place within a world where Gunn has the absolute freedom to do whatever he wants, and that in itself is a feat that is a cause for celebration, and very much leaves you looking forward to the next Guardians film.
Episode 47: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
Join Frank, Tim, Nate, and Jason as they dissect James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 and speak about the amazing cast, James Gunn, and the future of the Guardians and the MCU.
James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2
James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2, I’m happy to report, blows the first film right out of the water. There’s a subversive, wonderfully sarcastic sense of humour running through both films, as well as a boundlessly creative and colourful canvas of ideas both big and small, coalescing into something just this side of chaos. Picture a stick of dynamite; Volume one is the fuse, fizzling terrifically as it gets off to a great start. In many franchises, by the time the first film uses up the wick and reaches the stick, it’s sequel, the energy is lost and we end up with a dud of a follow-up. Not this baby. Volume two is the stick of dynamite, exploding gloriously across our screens in fits of dazzling imagination, humour that doesn’t quit for a nanosecond and the heart to back it up. Volume one dipped its toe in the water and showed us the roots of what a great space opera might look like, and volume two plunges in to give us just that. We rejoin with the merry band of misfits who now know each other a little better, are more comfortable working as a unit, and blast off into a tale of space battles, living planets and perpetual banter. Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, equipped with a brand new eight track collection of vintage pop songs, is still searching for his real dad when he kind of finds him by accident in the form of Ego, a powerful celestial being slyly played by Kurt Russell. Joining him are the gang we know and love, broccoli hued babe Gamora (Zoe Saldana), deadpan Drax (Dave Bautista outdoes himself in the comic relief department, a true highlight) Rocket (Bradley Cooper, excellent), scowling smurfette Nebula (Karen Gillian), adorable Baby Groot (Vin Diesel, collecting a mortgage-eclipsing paycheque for literally doing nothing) and antihero Yondu (Michael Rooker). Rooker gets far, far more to do here than he did the second time around, becoming a fleshed out character with a terrific arc and a whole pile of scenes, a strong asset to the film. The villain here is way more compelling than Lee Pace’s silly space vampire in Volume One, and I won’t spoil anything but there’s more than a few surprises. Kurt Russell’s living planet is pure delicious eye candy, a vista to rival anything in Star Wars, Mass Effect or similar worlds, detailed and lovingly rendered. As per usual there are cameos, but surprisingly it’s more than the obligatory laundry list of Where’s Waldo fellow Marvel appearances. There are truly inspired name drops here and a few genre titans who show up, none of whom I’ll give away except Sylvester Stallone. He’s given an unassuming supporting role that he plays solidly without tongue in cheek or any hint of a gimmick, just an enjoyable little addition to the cast. James Gunn is a cinematic punk, cracking prudence right in the jaw, throwing caution to the wind and tirelessly churning out the kind of fresh, funny and irreverent films we want to see, scrappy crowd pleasers that people will actually remember, which lord knows is what Marvel needs to shake up their sometimes complacent, too comfortable aesthetic. The soundtrack is obviously a winner, and any film that uses Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain as its main cue has pretty much already won me over. This will probably be the cornerstone of summer blockbuster season, it’s just too much fun and has everything you’d want, with the dial cranked just past what we got the first time around in the best way possible. I am Groot.
My date with TASERFACE and other reflections of Vol. 2
I’ll say this right off the bat . . . if you don’t have fun watching his movie then there is something wrong with you. GOTG was always going to be a tough act to follow. I admit I am not a devotee of the Marvel cinematic universe as it stands; but Guardians is the exception.
From the get-go the music is perfectly placed. I read another review last night before seeing the film that compared Gunn’s music choices to Tarantino’s, and I have to say that comment is dead on as we begin our story with some very nicely done de-aging, and the set-up to what appears to be a beautiful love story.
Right when my son turned to me in the theatre and asked, “Are you sure this is Guardians of the Galaxy?” We find ourselves years later and we’re back with the family guarding the galaxy against a giant, undulating space monster which filters into a super-cool credit sequence.
Then we are off the Planet Goldfinger where the locals are not unlike the locals in my home town – you have to watch what you say ‘cause they’re easily offended. Nebula is back with a vengeance and the crew take her and leave, unfortunately, they manage to piss the Goldfingerlings off before that happens.
Cue the big space battle. Rocket and Quill are measuring, Drax is matter-of-facting, Nebula is impatient to eat something that aint ripe yet, Gamora is the only adult in the room and Groot is living dangerously by not wearing his seatbelt.
Just when all hope seems lost they are aided by a mysterious stranger and his pet Mantis. Hey, that dude looks like Jack Burton. Turns out Big Daddy has a giant Ego and a whole planet to himself. But remember children, remember the last guy who used the line, “I am your father!”
So the team splits up, The Junk-Panda, The Twig and the She-borg get embroiled in a mutiny while Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax jump to Ego’s utopia. Hercules was a son of a God and so, as it turns out, is Peter Quill. If you build it, he will come – so Peter and Big Daddy play catch.
You’re saying, “Hey you haven’t mentioned Yondu.” That’s ‘cause Yondu is the real heart in this movie. And really, that is what Vol. 2 is all about – heart. James Gunn has again crafted a movie that is visually, musically and splendidly comedic across the board – but what turns out to be the guy’s real strength is infusing an awful lot of heart and soul into these characters. It’s an old school talent from back in the days when movies used to be good. The secret being . . . you give a shit about the characters, you want them to win. You can’t make a movie like that with your mind, but you can with your heart, and Vol. 2 has a big one.
So, like I said about the “I am your father line,” well turns out that Daddy Quill aint that wholesome. This leads to a thrilling, break-neck climax that still has time for luck, for laughs, for the unknown – right before tears and glory.
Vol. 2’s rich palette explodes off the screen, especially if you see it in 3D. The score lifts and throttles with the great themes set up in the first film. There are fun running gags of which Taserface is one of my favourites; it brought to mind Mel Brook’s Men in Tights and the ‘Mervin’ Sheriff of Rottingham scene. Also, like one reviewer I read said, I kinda wish Tango and Cash could have had a brief meeting, for no other purpose but to have it in there for nostalgic purposes. It was cool to see them both in a movie together, and if the post-credits scene is anything to go by, it will be great to see Sly back in these kinds of movies. I loved Demolition Man and, get ready to burn me, Judge Dredd (1995).
If you don’t have fun watching this movie there is something wrong with you, because it is a whole lot of fun and it was a delight to watch it with my son, even if the only true highlight for him was hearing someone say the word ‘penis’ in a movie. Both cast and crew have crafted and excellent sequel here. I cannot honestly say that it is a sequel that betters the original, but it is a good, strong follow-up to a film that surprised audiences as well as the powers that be.
Like any good sequel this film had to be the first film and more than the first film. It does succeed and I can easily see how it scored a perfect 100 during the test screening process, as it has all the elements come together in the right place, at the right time – action, laughs, light and darkness.
The guy who wrote Tromeo and Juliet has come a long way. Some have greatness thrust upon them, some are born to it, but James Gunn has, without question, achieved it. I watched his little gem Slither again recently. You get shades of what he would go on to do with GOTG in that film which is at once shocking, funny and touching all thrown into the mix.
Vol. 2 is great and I, like with the first Guardians, will watch it again and await its Blu Ray release. I think Vol. 3 will be the true challenge for Mr. Gunn now, but, with the success he has garnered, he has earned the right to do it his way. Really, I think I am more eager to see where he goes after he’s done guarding the galaxy.
Look at me, I am old, but I’m happy.
Go see Vol. 2 and as ever . . . happy viewing
THE DUDE IN THE AUDIENCE
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
I imagine THE BELKO EXPERIMENT was the first screenplay James Gunn pulled out of his drawer and dusted off to make, spending his cache from GUARDIANS on, that Disney absolutely forbid him to direct. The end result is a fun, hard genre picture that is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s a return to pre Marvelized Gunn.
The film is brutally violent, more so on the realistic side than the over-the-top Tarantino induced cinematic folly. The casting is what makes this film work to the degree that it does. It’s a mixture of Gunn’s troops, typecast players, and a very fun cameo at the end that anyone who’s familiar with Gunn or De Palma’s work will instantly rejoice in seeing.
The entire ensemble plays hard to their typecast, with the exception of Michael Rooker who has been recently re-branded by Gunn as the likeable salt of the earth guy. Tony Goldwyn is the no bullshit asshole who plays on his good looks and affability, and it is fantastic seeing him back on the big screen. He’s great in this. John C. McGuinley plays his smarmy self in a throwback to his turn in PLATOON. Sean Gunn is the dope. John Gallagher, Jr is the everyman who grows a pair and rises to the extraordinary situation, and Brent Sexton is the guy who’s there to help until he isn’t.
The picture is a perplexing ride. While it’s a hard genre staple, you’ll find yourself thinking a little too much about it, casting shades of grey where there really isn’t any intent of. HIGH-RISE was a comparison that I found myself trying to make, but the film isn’t nearly as sophisticated, and that’s okay because it’s not trying to be.
The film’s excessive violence will certainly be cause for backlash, but while watching I kept thinking about the need for violence in entertainment. Whether it’s gladiators, boxing, MMA or fist fights in hockey; it’s an aspect of our culture that refuses to go anywhere because it is a primal urge that is so badly desired. Somebody somewhere has had to have made an “ultra-violence” quip somewhere talking about this film.
Bottom line is that THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a film that uses violence in its most primitive form, but in a respectfully cinematic way that genuinely gets lost amongst the shoddy horror films that continuously show up on streaming platforms. This film is exactly what it sets out to be, and doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It could have easily tried to be some LORD OF THE FLIES rehash, but it wasn’t and that is refreshing. The film opens with the ultra nostalgic Orion Pictures logo, and if that excites you, this movie was made for you.
James Gunn’s Slither: A Review by Nate Hill
Slimy, icky, yucky and gooey don’t even begin to cover James Gunn’s Slither, a corrosively funny low budget schlock-fest that took the genre by storm a decade ago, charmed horror fans all over and put him squarely on the map. A throwback to many mindless low budget creature features of yore, but still with enough brains in its head (and some splattering the wall) to have decently written characters and a monster that doesn’t feel lame or copied and pasted. When a strange asteroid lands in the forests outside small town USA, it’s only a matter of time before someone stumbles across whatever it contains and becomes infected. That someone happens to be Michael Rooker, here playing the deftly named Grant Grant, local bigwig and proud husband to trophy wife Elizabeth Banks. There’s a deadly parasite with the rock, one that takes him over, turns him into a giant disgusting inbred octopus, and has apocalyptic plans for our planet. Nathan Fillion, who is in literally every Gunn film, does a sly and charming turn as the local Sheriff, never losing his cool long enough to let up with the attitude, and backed up by his trusty deputy (the lovely Jennifer Copping). Gregg Henry, another Gunn veteran, steals the show as the town’s sleazy, foul mouthed mayor who laments “I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I watch Animal Planet all the fuckin time!!!”. Rooker is a champ for sitting through all the makeup, as most of his scenes are him whipping around tentacles that chop people up and covered in a deluge of slimy deformations. There’s slug like parasites that’ll make you suirm (careful getting in that bathtub), morbid obesity to hilarious lengths, gore galore and a tongue in cheek attitude that’s irresistible. What more do you need from a horror comedy?
James Gunn’s Super: A Review by Nate Hill
Before James Gunn got all famous and whatnot in the Marvel universe, he made a few dark, perverse little gems that aren’t for everybody, but have to be seen by those with the right sense of humour. Slither was his low budget, brilliant schlocker, and here with Super he takes a stab (literally) at the superhero genre, albeit in his own off kilter and unsettling way. Rainn Wilson, who is off kilter and unsettling himself, is our sad sack protagonist, a dreary nebbish named Frank Darbo, married to a troubled hottie (Liv Tyler) who is way out of his league and adorned with baggage. We soon learn that Frank is very disturbed, when his favourite TV superhero (Nathan Fillion in a brief cameo) informs him he must adorn cape and costume himself in order to fight the injustice in the world. His name? The Crimson Bolt. His weapon of choice? A great big crescent wrench, which he uses very generously to dole out his own extreme brand of justice. His motto? “Shut up, crime!!” (I laughed every time). He’s an unconventional ‘hero’ to say the least, most of his good deeds consisting of brutally attacking citizens with said wrench for minor infractions like butting in line at the cinema, an uproarious scene if your sensibility is twisted enough, but then that’s the jist of the whole thing. His longterm goal is to get Tyler back from the clutches of evil drug kingpin Jacques (a hilariously chatty Kevin Bacon), and prevent as many crimes as he can along the way. He ends up causing far more damage than he means to fix though, an awkwardly psychotic tornado of unwarranted violence and delusions of grandeur. Things get more out of hand when he aquires a spitfire of a sidekick named Bolty, played by Ellen Page in a performance that’s right out to lunch and then some. Page plays her to the deranged hilt, cackling like a maniac at her own violent antics and getting super uncomfortable with Wilson in the bedroom (seriously… one messed up scene). Gunn can always be counted on to hire interesting actors, so be on the lookout for Linda Cardellini, Andre Royo, Gregg Henry and Michael Rooker as Bacon’s lead thug. A lot of what happens here is awkward, cringey stuff, the chronicle of a misplaced and sad little man under the impression that his life has some preordained meaning, as delineated by the red suit. It’s a thin shroud to hide the worthless and pathetic existence he has lead so far, and as such it’s kind of a depressing thing to bear witness to. But rejoice in how darkly hilarious it is as well, because there’s plenty of pitch black humour and perfectly timed comedic moments that spice it up. Gunn understands people and the way they talk (a trait so often lacking in writers), and even with concepts so out in the stratosphere beyond normality, his characters still have their feet on the ground and seem realistic. A treat, if a sourly bittersweet one.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE
Much ado has been made about the huge risk Marvel Studios took adapting Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) for the big screen. Since The Avengers (2012), they’ve been content cranking out sequels to their mega-successful franchises of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Guardians would be a real test of the Marvel brand with most industry insiders forecasting a modest success and a few predicting it to be the studio’s first big flop.
Based on a fairly obscure comic book set in a galaxy far, far away featuring the misadventures of a ragtag group of aliens led by a human orphaned from Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy enjoyed a resurgence in 2008 but still lacked the name recognition of the aforementioned superheroes. Furthermore, it was to be co-written and directed by James Gunn, the B-movie maverick responsible for modern cult classics like Slither (2006) and Super (2010), starring up and comers like Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and professional wrestler Dave Bautista. The two biggest movie stars – Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel – would not actually be appearing on-screen, instead providing voices for completely computer generated characters. Marvel’s canny and pervasive marketing blitzkrieg paid off. Guardians smashed opening weekend records for August.
We first meet Peter Quill as an eight-year-old boy losing his mother to cancer only to be subsequently abducted by a group of notorious space pirates led by a blue-skinned bandit known as Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). They raise the young boy to be a smuggler and an outlaw a la Han Solo complete with the self-applied moniker Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). He steals a mysterious orb and plans to sell it on the Nova Corps homeworld Xandar, ripping off Yondu in the process, which results in a hefty bounty being placed on his head.
Little does Quill know that this theft has caught the attention of several interested parties: Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a mercenary duo, and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a powerful Kree alien who wants the orb so that it can be handed over to Thanos (Josh Brolin), an even more powerful being last seen at the end credits of The Avengers, in exchange for destroying Xandar, his sworn enemies. To this end, Ronan sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a deadly assassin, to retrieve the orb.
However, Quill when crosses paths with Groot, Rocket and Gamora, the resulting chaos has them arrested by the Nova Corps and thrown into an outer space prison known as Kyln. It is here that they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a warrior with a thirst for revenge on Ronan for killing his family. They form an uneasy alliance and break out of prison to sell the orb with Yondu, the Nova Corps, and Ronan and his trusted lieutenant Nebula (Karen Gillan) in hot pursuit.
With this film, Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt becomes a bonafide action star, deftly blending amusing quips with heroic feats. He does a nice job of also portraying Peter Quill as a man haunted by his past, like many of his cohorts. All of the Guardians have lost deeply personal things in their lives and this is what unites them – that, and saving their own lives and, by default, the galaxy. Zoe Saldana gets to portray yet another alien, but instead of being buried under CGI as she was in Avatar (2009), the actress sports a striking green look and a fierce attitude to match. A pleasant surprise comes from the casting of WWE wrestler Dave Bautista who is excellent as Drax, the gruff warrior that tags along with the rest of these ne’er-do-wells. It is a lot of fun to see this athlete bounce off of the other actors and who more than holds his own.
If Quill provides the film its heart, then Rocket provides the bulk of its humor, stealing almost every scene he’s in by not just getting to spout the bulk of the film’s funniest lines, but also the impressive CGI that brings him vividly to life so that he actually emotes convincingly. Special effects technology has finally caught up to Groot and Rocket, creating expressive, fully realized characters. Early on, you stop thinking of them as CGI characters and look at them as part of the team thanks to the voice work of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper who give Groot and Rocket distinctive personalities.
The banter between Quill, Rocket, Gamora, Drax, and even Groot is a large part of the film’s charm. Quill is the wisecracking smartass while Gamora is all business, Rocket has anger management issues, Drax doesn’t understand metaphors (making for some pretty funny exchanges between him and Quill), and Groot just says, “I am Groot” at key moments. Credit should go to the witty screenplay by Gunn and Nicole Perlman that plants the seeds of jokes early in the film only for them to successfully pay off later on.
There is a fantastic mix of character moments and visual eye candy in Guardians of the Galaxy as Gunn immerses us in this strange galaxy and the colorful characters that populate it. His production team has crafted a textured, lived-in universe that is rich in detail and drenched in atmosphere. The film’s vibrant color scheme is complimented by a stellar soundtrack featuring songs from the 1970s and 1980s via a mixtape in Quill’s vintage Walkman that also acts a touchstone to his childhood on Earth and memories of his departed mother. As a result, the songs run the gamut from commenting humorously on the action (“Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede) to also adding poignancy to more reflective moments (“I’m Not in Love” by 10cc) as well.
The only problem I have with Guardians of the Galaxy is that its villainous trio isn’t all that interesting. Ronan and Nebula look cool, but the former is yet another power-mad baddie that Marvel likes trotting out in all of its films with only a few notable exceptions, and the latter suffers from Darth Maul syndrome – a character with a badass reputation but with very little actual proof of such. It’s no surprise that Loki and the Winter Soldier are the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s strongest villains – they both have deeply personal and compelling motivations for what they are doing, which is something that is lacking with Ronan. As for Thanos, he only gets a cameo this time out with hints that he might figure more prominently in either Guardians 2 or The Avengers 3, but that’s a long way off. Fortunately, our heroes are so interesting and so much fun to watch that the lack of substantial villains is a minor quibble at best.
Gunn has pulled off a real coup with this film. He maintains a tricky balancing act of creating a gonzo space opera full of weird characters and loaded with a dense plot while somehow making it palatable for mainstream consumption without compromise. After the debacle that was the Star Wars prequels, cinema needed a good space opera to expunge the bad vibes of George Lucas’ movies. Only Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005) bravely stepped up and showed everyone how do it right, but now Guardians of the Galaxy joins it by providing an alternative for those hungry for an entertaining science fiction film, fulfilling a need that Lucas was unable to with his prequels.
Guardians of the Galaxy is an unabashed science fiction film full of exotic aliens, power-hungry villains, and exciting spaceship battles with the fate of the entire galaxy at stake. It is also a funny film – as close as Marvel has come to making a full-on comedy. Their other films have had humor, but were largely dramatic in nature. Guardians inverts this formula so that it is largely comedic with dramatic moments and the result is another entertaining and engaging film from Marvel who continue their impressive winning streak. More importantly, this film opens up the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a big way by introducing an entire galaxy for its increasing number of characters to inhabit.