Guardians of the Galaxy Review: Rocketing Away

I’m not a fan of comics.

The handful of times that I have tried to read a comic book all that happened was that I generally got lost in the visual stew that was the panel layout of the issue I was reading. It could have been something as simple as a four or more squares gracing the page, but every time – unless they had arrows pointing to what to read next, I almost always managed to not put the pieces together correctly.

The other problem with most comics for me is the sheer amount of detail that each panel tries to cram into that one, little square. For some people, that’s great: it lets the artist put “hidden” shout outs in the background. Or it might add another layer of meaning on top of what’s happening already in the panel on an explicit level. But I just get lost looking at that kind of thing.

I can [and have] read web comics, because I generally find these mostly uncluttered. I’ve liked xkcd, Flintlocke’s Guide to Azeroth and a venerable ancient in the web comic space, User Friendly. I have, over the years, attempted to read a couple of other web comics. [most notably, Looking for Group, until that became unwieldy and too dark and serious]

This is all a rather polite way of saying that if the heroes of the Marvel Universe had to have a brawl with the folks in the DC comics Universe, I have no idea of who’d show up. Or even, who’d win. My history with the format extends to movies and cartoons from the 80’s.

I’d heard of Guardians of the Galaxy before, of course, but kept getting it confused with the similarly named Rise of the Guardians. And once that association stuck, I could never undo it. No matter how hard I tried.

One of Groot's many talents is being able to light up dark spaces through little fireflies. This is one of two scenes where he uses that power. It's used to beautiful effect, here.
Why is there no Santa in this picture?

So, of course, when I finally got around to watching Guardians of the Galaxy, i was a little surprised that Santa wasn’t in it. Instead, I got an orphaned young man, a crazy killer lady, a big, wooden warrior, a man who could not understand metaphor and a surly raccoon. Yes, it’s an ensemble cast, but…Santa!

My confusion grew all the more when the movie started off by dropping a rather enormous exposition bomb on me. I witnessed how the human became orphaned. In those first five minutes of the film, I actually had to make sure I was watching the right thing. My thought process was something like, “isn’t the Marvel Universe supposed to be filled with super heroes? Why are we in a hospital? Why are we watching this moody kid listen to his Walkman? What is going on!?”

But all these questions are soon answered and the movie picks up.

One thing I do need to get out the way, though: these people are not super heroes. Well, except for the wooden guy with his super strength, but we’ll get back to him in a bit. Instead, what we have here are a collection of people trying to make their way in a space faring adventure movie. Sure, one of them has trained as an assassin and one’s extra-ordinarily good with gadgets, but these are not the kind of “super powers” that, say, Superman possesses. With enough effort and willpower, anyone can achieve these particular career heights.

I felt this was actually the most interesting theme woven throughout the run-time of the film: regular people using the technology of the era are trying to get by, given the tools available to them at any given moment. We have Quill – a human – seeking his fortune by going on artifact hunts. Rocket and Groot are doing their best trying to earn a living by bounty hunting. Gamora is trained as an assassin, but is beginning to re-think her priorities when Quill shows up and, of course, there’s Drax, hell-bent on the destruction of Ronan. But all of these character-types are present in our day-to-day existence.

What’s also great about these characters is their banter. They’re never really friends until very near the bitter end of the film. Instead, they realize that they’re stuck together and the only real way is to work with one another to resolve the central plot arc: a very bad man has got a very scary McGuffin and he’s going to blow up the world if they don’t stop him.

Rocket Raccoon is easily one of the more complex characters in the movie.  He's also just enjoyable to watch.
“I’m gonna need that guy’s eye.”

Speaking of the characters, the pair that absolutely stole the show here are Rocket Raccoon and his “goon” by the name of Groot. Groot is voiced by Vin Diesel – reprising a kind of “Iron Giant” role in which he’s the closest creature the movie has to a Superman. He doesn’t have a great vocabulary and his dialogue boils down to inflections of “I am Groot,” but he is imminently fun to watch. Likewise, Rocket Raccoon doesn’t seem like much on the surface. Like Groot, he is a CGI character. A raccoon given prehensile limbs, voice to speak and cybernetic implants, Rocket doesn’t seem like he’s going to be anything other than an oddball anthropomorphic animal, but then he delivers his lines, each dripping with some amount of sarcasm and venom and – as the movie progresses – we learn that his fate is, in fact, incredibly complex [and somewhat heartbreaking, also.]

Groot and Rocket may very well have just been interesting personas in an ensemble-based movie, but they share one scene toward the very end of the movie that absolutely stole my heart and cemented their bond far more than the somewhat uninteresting love story that was starting to play out between Quill and Gamora. More Rocket, please.

The way the characters feed off of each other, in turn, leads to great set-pieces – wonderful moments of pure action that gently nudge the plot along and take us on a rip-roaring ride through this particular galaxy. From a rather amusing encounter on the planet Xandar where the main players are all chasing each others tails to a massive battle aboard the star-ship belonging to the bad guy Ronan, each action-packed sequence delivers fun CGI moments, some witty repartee and a host of simple, but effective fight scenes.

Would I recommend that you watch this movie? Yes. It’s great summer fare – there’s nothing meaningful or dense happening here, you just sit back, relax and take in the thrill ride. It’s also great from numerous other perspectives: it’s not really a “comic book superhero” movie in the general vein of other Marvel properties, but it also doesn’t come across so much as a “comic book movie” in the way Captain America or Superman do.  Which I rather like.