Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

10 Stars

Don’t be fooled by my review.

Guardians of the Galaxy won’t help you achieve enlightenment, fall in love or lose weight.

Especially if you’re the chick who sits beside me, crushing a popcorn tub singlehanded.

But if you’re looking for a great movie this weekend, you won’t find anything better on the big screen. Guardians delivers what it promises, and more.

That being said.

As is always the case with Marvel Studios productions, some won’t enjoy it. Guardians isn’t part of the superhero genre, however.

It’s science fiction. None of the characters are ‘superheroes.’

Technically thus comprises the ragtag band: one human, two aliens (one genetically enhanced), one anthropomorphic raccoon and one humanoid plant.

It belongs in the intergalactic genre; the same barrel as Star Wars and Star Trek.

If that sounds displeasing, you may be in the same boat as the douchey dude two seats down from me.

The opening scene’s a tearjerker, and I’m ‘swept up,’ so to speak.

It takes place on Earth and involves nothing extraterrestrial. At the emotional climax he speaks.

“Is this when the raccoon shows up?” Douchey Dude asks the Popcorn Vacuum.

Not only is it unfunny and in bad taste, it’s illustrative of his mindset. He’s completely unwilling to buy in.

His wrap-up comment post-viewing is, “It was all corny.”

If he’s so above it, why go in the first place?

I try to avoid personal yarns but am endlessly astounded by the behavior of other adults. If you can’t let yourself enjoy the movie, then don’t go see it.

James Gunn, the writer/director is just a great guy. He’s been on the Adam Carolla Show twice recently. He’s enthusiastic, intelligent and wants to do the sequel if the first is received with public favor.

In his latest appearance on Carolla’s podcast, Gunn claims they cast Chris Pratt as the lead when the actor was out of shape. But it’s clear Pratt got physically fit by the time shooting rolled around.

Zoe Saldana is the queen of science fiction. She plays a major role in both of the more recent Star Treks and wears similar makeup in Avatar. Saldana’s phenomenal as Gamora, and you can tell she does a lot of her own stunts.

Plus she’s enchanting. It’s odd how lovable she can be with all that makeup on.

Bradley Cooper is almost unrecognizable as the voice of Rocket, the raccoon everybody’s been talking about. As per the usual, Cooper’s great.

This is Vin Diesel’s second voiceover role as a humanoid being. Not only is he the voice of Groot in Guardians, he’s also the robot in The Iron Giant (1999).

Karen Gillan’s performance is particularly noteworthy. She’s a Scottish actress who’s quite prevalent in Doctor Who, and played a role in last year’s Oculus.

Gillan’s terrifically menacing as the bionic woman. She’s creepy and evil and fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Hopefully we see more of her in the future.

It’s overall a balanced, vastly diverse cast of characters. The sum total of which makes for a well-acted movie.

Guardians does a lot of things right. The writing constantly defies convention and satirizes common sci-fi themes.

For example, when the heroic outlaws ask for help from the authorities, it’s a relief to see their call’s considered, rather than immediately dismissed.

Much like the humorous discussions of plan creation, Guardians masterfully navigates clichés.

Location and contextual details are presented in a cool and efficient fashion. Digital readouts accompany interstellar approach shots of planetary environments as the perspective transitions between settings.

The shooting, editing, cinematography, music and score are all impressive. I think it’s time we retire “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” from all future soundtracks, though. That song belongs to Remember the Titans.

Despite some overcompensating laughter in the theater, the humor is strong and consistent.

Although the end credits leave much to be desired, the opening credits are informative and wildly entertaining.

There is a lot of action, both hand-to-hand and aerial combat. It’s well choreographed and thrilling.

I wonder what percentage of the on-screen material is CGI. It must be upwards of fifty, but it all looks realistic.

My only criticism regards the scene after the credits.

It’s a major disappointment if you don’t understand the reference. I’m almost twenty-five and despite my vague familiarity, I’m still outside the joke.

If the reference is slated toward an audience older than me, why can’t this movie be rated R?

I know all the answers to my question; they’re just infinitely dissatisfying.

And I was hoping for something that gets us looking forward to the sequel.

Regardless. It’s a tiny failure in an otherwise remarkable film.

Guardians of the Galaxy is cute, thrilling and fun.

It’s everything we can ask from PG-13.

The Lego Movie (PG)

7 Stars

I don’t like to brag but…

I’m a bit of an animation aficionado.

2013 was a spectacular year for animated films.

Shame on Oscar and the Globes for not nominating all five of these: Frozen, The Croods, Monsters University, Turbo and Despicable Me 2.

But, smart as it is, The Lego Movie falls short of this pantheon.

I enjoy TLM (although I don’t appreciate the title), and you probably will too. Perhaps a bit more than I did.

For all the fun character cameos, the original smart writing and Lego fight fireworks; the pacing slackens in the middle.

It’s a good family movie that’s mildly humorous, with the creative cuts and camera transitions that come along with animation. The style’s laid on thick, but it works, and the story is a good one.

Lego’s got a solid voice cast to back it up, lead by Chris Pratt, and my girl, Elizabeth Banks.

But seriously, the fights are sick, and there’s a lot of death in this film (if you think about it.) I know that sounds creepy, but I’d argue it’s imperative to an animated film nowadays. Otherwise how’s an adult audience going to feel there’s anything at stake?

Anyway, if you don’t want to see any spoilers, cease reading now.

Here’s my existential quandary: I simply don’t know how to properly review a film like this. The effort and correct ingredients went into the moviemaking cauldron and all that came out was a less than spectacular film.

My major problem with it is the pacing. It slows down immensely, once the cloud world is destroyed and they escape in a submarine. They hit the water and I’m wondering how many minutes remain.

As I said before, the humor is mild at best. There are a couple good laughs, but there are also some jokes that fall flat.

One of the funnier parts of the movie is the relationship between Superman and Green Lantern, voiced by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. These two are becoming quite the comedic team.

Will Arnett as Batman is also very funny.

Morgan Freeman, as the prophet Vitruvius, is one of my favorite parts. Not only is he particularly chucklesome, but his character distorts the structure of traditional narrative storytelling. For example, he ‘makes up’ the prophecy.

I read Harrison Ford was too busy to record the lines for Lego Han Solo, but they managed to get Billy Dee Williams (as Lando Calrissian) and Anthony Daniels (as C-3PO). I hate to be overly critical, but I’m pretty sure it takes two hours in a recording studio for small voice parts like Lego Han Solo’s.

Harrison, what gives buddy?

And finally, how could I forget Liam Neeson? He did two separate voices as Good Cop/Bad Cop. I like that Liam fellow, he’s got talent.

Now, there are two parts of this movie that are particularly smart. The reveal of the live action context (in which the Lego universe exists) rounds off the ending in a more than satisfactory way. I’ll add this is the second time that Will Ferrell’s physical appearance is revealed in a movie (the first is Wedding Crashers.)

Themes like conformity and creativity, the imaginary and concrete, physical skill and intellectual knowledge, etc. resound throughout the film.

The basic point of The Lego Movie is that life can work both ways. You can follow every instruction manual to the letter, or be the total opposite, a complete freethinker who just powers ahead and doesn’t get caught up in the minutia of perfectionism. Life will probably work out regardless, but perhaps we shouldn’t grow too rigid, and remained shackled (or ‘Kragled’) to our own ways of navigating the world.

I like The Lego Movie.

I just wish the pacing and humor could keep up with the storytelling.