Saturday, August 2, 2014

Frothy, Sweet, Fast, and Stupid

This movie made me way happier than it should have but that's what makes it brilliant. 

Directed and co-written by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy has a sense of style and humor and camp and drama and spectacle and silliness all of its own.  It does its job without a lot of effort, and yet the results have a popcorn grandeur that reminds me of Star Wars in 1977.  The nonchalant specificity and omnipotence of George Lucas' first space-opera is totally there in Guardians; it has the feel of something that needed to be made, that whip-smart pacing and authority comes through in every scene. But it also has a beautiful throw-away spirit, an insouciant nature that allows the absurdity to take on energy outside of all the silly escapades and gadgets.  The costumes, the CGI effects, the set design, the design of all the sci-fi apparatus have a tarted-up spirit, kind of like Mike Hodges' 1980 Flash Gordon, but unlike that movie this one moves forward relentlessly, not slowing down to luxuriate in itself.  Nothing is wasted and the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek, so the experience is frothy, sweet, fast, and stupid.  Exactly what is needed in a summer movie. 

While Guardians is seriously dedicated to its own mythology and universe, the seriousness gets worked out without belaboring the point.  In other words, it is what it is:  a comic-book come to life without that pretentious need for everything to be solemnized (as in Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, those ongoing onslaught of Spiderman movies, or last summer's Superman), and it also escapes Ironman 1, 2 and 3 fan-boy arrogance, that comic-book need to be the biggest/smartest/cigar-smokingest teched-out geek at Comicon. 

This one is the summer movie that I truly craved all this summer, infinitely fun and also completely and wonderfully refreshing.  Chris Pratt, as the lead guardian Peter Quill, is probably one of the best decisions Gunn made.  He rolls through like Han Solo's ex-con little brother, the one who gets ripped at family reunions and takes off in their mother's spaceship, only to return the next morning with a box of drugstore chocolates and a heartfelt hangover/apology.  He is an innocent prankster, and his motives and actions are freighted by the first scene:  he witnesses his mom dying of cancer in her hospital bed, runs out into the night and is summarily kidnapped by a great big star-cruiser in a field.  That is the heaviest moment in the movie, and starting off like that anchors the whole effort so that the movie can remain tethered to story and character without losing itself in absurdity and special effects.  Plus there's the Walkman Quill's mom left him with a mix-tape that includes the top hits of the 70s, and those songs juxtaposed with outer-space battle footage give Guardians its unique pulse and Tarantino-esque funk.

The supporting characters (including a mouthy genetically created raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and an overgrown and sweetly one-note Chewbacca-like houseplant voiced by Vin Diesel) have a funked-out splendor as well.  They bicker and banter and give the whole palace of candy-colored galactic excess a smallness and intimacy needed, much the same way R2-D2 and C3P0 did for the vast spaceships and desert-scapes in Star Wars.    

Which brings me back to that feeling in 1977, when I was 12 and completely blown away walking out of the Cineplex into summer sunshine, eyes adjusting from being in the dark so long, a post-Deathstar sense of escaping the world a little while and feeling more alive and excited than I did before going in.  That's Guardians of the Galaxy in a nutshell. 

That feeling.