It’s the movie sensation of the year. Not only was Guardians of the Galaxy made, but the story of a tree, two green people, a raccoon and a man was a success. A huge ones. It really is hard to find something negative to say about the film, but there are a few nitpicky things.
The Guardians of the Galaxy are a weird phenomenon as a movie. Because it’s got absolutely nothing that matches the current Zeitgeist. Or maybe it just resets it. That is the one big question this movie raises: Is this the return of the big adventure movie?
The movie stars Chris Pratt who is famous for his part in Parks and Recreation in the USA. However, we live in Switzerland, and that show has never made it across the pond. Apparently, it’s a really, really good show, but we have never seen it. Okay, that’s not true, but the people who have seen it, they went out of their way to see it and they’re few and far in between. He was also in Everwood. Swiss people also haven’t had that on TV.
The Swiss not knowing the star is not the only unknown thing. Here’s a comprehensive list of things about the movie that aren’t known in the context of Swiss pop culture:
- Chris Pratt: See above
- Guardians of the Galaxy: The comics haven’t been translated until very recently
- Karen Gillan: Doctor Who hasn’t aired on TV past the 2005 season. Don’t worry, we have Whovians.
- Michael Rooker: The Walking Dead hasn’t aired on free TV and PayTV is only just gaining traction.
- Dave Bautista: Neither wrestling nor MMA are too popular and they’re not broadcast on free TV
- Stan Lee: Comics are not as big a hobby as they are in the US.
- Pop Culture References: Due to the fact that the variety of pop culture in Switzerland and the German speaking world is quite limited, some things just don’t really work. Footloose isn’t nearly the classic it should be.
Surely there’s more, but that would either be a spoiler or so obscure that people living here don’t even see that it’s a reference or something they should know. Thus, the Guardians of the Galaxy have a bit of a difficult start in the country that brought you chocolate.Luckily, credit needs to be given to Marvel Switzerland for advertising the movie. There are big billboards everywhere and there’s been a free gala premiere. They even made their own hashtag, even though Twitter is not the social media juggernaut that it is in the rest of the world. It’s #WeAreGroot, a variant of the one sentence Vin Diesel as Groot says: «I am Groot».
The Guardians of the Galaxy are a bunch of rather obscure characters from the Marvel Universe, which encompasses most of the books American comic book publisher Marvel puts out. And even in the context of said universe, they’re fairly obscure. They’re somewhere out in the galaxy and not on Earth, where The Avengers live and fight to save the planet. The Guardians save planets like Xandar and they meet people calling themselves the Kree. There’s very little that is familiar about the Guardians and their worlds. Even the cast of characters is odd.
- Star-Lord alias Peter Jason Quill: An Earthman who was abducted from Earth as a child.
- Gamora: Adopted daughter of Thanos, the Mad Titan, who has destroyed hundreds of worlds. She’s green.
- Drax the Destroyer: A green man with tattoos who has been on a rage-fuelled rampage through the universe.
- Groot: A living tree who only ever says «I am Groot» in that exact order. Somehow, people seem to understand him.
- Rocket: A genetically and cybernetically modified raccoon who hates himself more than he hates everyone else.
It’s these guys who have to save the galaxy, even though they don’t want to. Their reason for saving all of creation? They’re among «the idiots who live in it».
Star Wars meets Indiana Jones
Guardians of the Galaxy would be right at home in the 1980s. It’s at its heart an adventure movie, complete with an oddly fitting 1980s soundtrack. This is nowhere more apparent than in the opening credits. It shows Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) listening to his cassette player Walkman and entering abandoned ruins. He is a treasure hunter and is after a mysterious orb that he will sell. But just like that scene’s big idol – Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark – Quill is being interrupted by the bad guys and only escapes due to sheer dumb luck.
Of course, the deal goes bad and Quill is being attacked by Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who wants the orb for herself. She wants to hand it over to the authorities because it can be turned into a very powerful weapon. One person is after that weapon in particular: Thanos, the Mad Titan (Josh Brolin). He has sent his general Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) to retrieve the orb and given him reinforcements in his perpetually angry adoptive daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan). At the same time, Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are out to get the bounty on Quill because he’s a wanted man. Also after Quill are the Ravagers, led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker).
With the stage set, the movie dives right into daring chases in outer space, thrilling fights in space prisons where they pick up Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and an epic battle for the continued existence of everything they’ve ever known.
More Western than Science Fiction
The movie is very obviously a science fiction film. There are space ships, aliens and laser guns. But much like Star Wars, the film uses all these characteristic as window dressing. Because at its heart, it feels more like a Western film.
The world of the Guardians of the Galaxy is a wild one. There are space pirates calling themselves Ravagers. The often bested force of law are the Nova Corps who manage to barely keep the galaxy peaceful. Mad Titans, world destroyers, followed by entire armies have amassed entire fleets of loyal subjects, advanced weaponry and quite a reputation. There are outlaws, exploring long lost ruins while womanizing.
Most striking, and what makes the world much more tangible and less feel like «Oh, these are actors pretending to be space pirates» is the language. There is a variety of dialects spoken. The Ravagers have adopted some kind of cowboy southern speak, most prominently done by Michael Rooker who one-ups his regular dialect to sound like some sort of rough and tumble cowboy who makes his living with mostly illegal things. Chris Pratt adopts this larger than life bravado of the action heroes of the 1980s, including countless pop culture references who go right over everyone’s head.
Except Drax’. Nothing goes over Drax’ head, because his reflexes are too fast. He would catch it. This seemingly throw-away gag shows the variety of characters. Even though they are all humanoid, they are very different. Drax’ people – whoever they might be – have no concept of metaphors. They take everything literal. Quill has fashioned himself after the big action heroes of his early childhood, trying to be this super serious outlaw who loves in a world of outlaws. So he’s a bit of a joke, but still a very capable person.
This gives viewers a whole world to explore where nothing is all that familiar but we know the characteristics of our heroes. This makes the audience identify much more with the characters and the character moments of a mad raccoon who’s found friends for the first time and those of a tree hit harder.
Everyone’s a Hero
The trailers indicate that there is a lot of humour in this movie. There is, but it’s a rare kind of humour. It’s neither harmful nor insulting. It’s fun based on interaction and confusion due to the clashing of cultures and misunderstandings. The effect: Every character, while funny, is a complete character with actual depth. Of course, some of the character traits are only relayed due to exposition, and critical things are just not mentioned. There’s no mention of who Drax actually is. This is the movie’s one weakness.
Prime example for the characters that just get the short end of the stick but are treated as if they’re complete characters, fleshed out and complete with an origin that viewers should know are the adopted sisters Nebula and Gamora. They don’t like each other and Gamora has broken with Thanos, her adoptive father. Why? It feels kind of crucial to understand this because while the two characters have decent chemistry on screen based on hatred and conflict, they just don’t have anything to back it up. Not to mention that Thanos doesn’t seem to care at all about Gamora’s betrayal.
On the plus side, there’s the fact that every character gets to shine. Every character has their big hero moment where they do something awesome. Yondu Udonta beats half an army – including spaceships – by whistling. Rocket builds amazing weaponry. Quills quips never cease to entertain and he’s a capable brawler. Even minor characters such as members of the Nova Corps get their moments when they prove that they are not just bumbling cops in glowing uniforms but loving fathers who are fiercely protective of their home.
All in all, Guardians of the Galaxy is a character and action driven movie that differs quite significantly from The Avengers in tone. It has a lot more humour and characters that bounce off of each other. Despite being set in space, the science fiction elements are not the main focus of the story, even if the makers of the film put a lot of details into the design of the world.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a very enjoyable film with lovable characters, thrilling action and adventure and a lot of genuinely funny moments. It deserves every bit of praise it gets even though some characters get kind of thrown under the bus. But seeing as the ending already teases at a sequel, it’s entirely possible that they’re resolving these open questions in a sequel.
And by the way, if you’re interested in seeing it, The Uncanny Book-Club is banding together with everyone who wants to come to watch the movie on Saturday, August 30th, 2014. Sign up in time and get some of the best seats in the house!
Last but not least, here’s a trailer.