Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy is an unpretentious action film that chooses to focus on the interaction between its characters. With eccentric heroes, the movie delivers a simple and well-known story that is nevertheless skillfully developed by director and co-writer James Gunn.
The plot of Guardians of the Galaxy is somewhat cliché. The villain wants to destroy an entire planet using an artifact of immeasurable power and the group of heroes, united by the vicissitudes of fate, tries to prevent the guy from succeeding in his plan.
The movie opens brilliantly with a small scene that, within minutes, already reveals several of the elements that will form the adventure. The viewers are introduced to a kid sitting alone on a hospital bench, immersed in his thoughts while listening to music. After visiting his mother, who dies of cancer, he runs off crying from the hospital. However, as soon as he leaves the building, he is abducted by a fleet of alien ships.
Dark humor and irony are recurring elements in Guardians of the Galaxy. The viewers can observe, for example, that the following scene continues to subvert expectations. The viewers accompany a mysterious man walking through the ruins of a civilization, wearing a threatening mask and using a special equipment that allows him to see the hologram of the old inhabitants of that place acting as if they still lived there, until he finally finds the temple that holds the object he came for. As soon as he enters the room, he removes the mask, puts on headphones and starts dancing while overcoming the obstacles of the place in a relaxed way.
In the middle of the scene, a gigantic sign announcing the name of the movie comes up almost crushing the man, just as the camera spans away, leaving him tiny in the lower left corner of the screen – performing a visual rhyme with the previous shot in which he was abducted. The effect of these two shots is clear: to make fun of the vulnerability aspect of the heroes, sometimes playing with the tragedies they experience, sometimes with the situations of absurd danger that they find themselves in.
The group, headed by Peter Quill (Chris Patt), is also composed of the green-skinned alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the muscular Drax (Dave Bautista) and the talking raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his partner Groot (Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree. The protagonist is a bon vivant guy, who seems to care little about danger, although he never fails to notice the seriousness of the situations in which he finds himself – and this is where viewers can sense the point of balance that makes the character work: he does not act jokingly for discrediting the imminent threat; he does it by accepting and understanding it very well.
Gamora is, in turn, a character more somber and intense than Quill, despite being the weak link of the group. Zoe Saldana seems indecisive if she intends to work on the violent aspect of the character or the one that generates her good intentions, exaggerating on both sides and sounding only contradictory. In addition, she is defined by the anger that she feels at the villains, which brings her thematically close to Drax, without the unique quirk of Dave Bautista’s character: Drax’s hatred led him to megalomania, which, together with his inability to understand metaphors, generates recurring jokes (“Why would I put my finger on his neck?”). Now, Rocket and Groot, two exotic bounty hunters, take on the role of Han Solo and Chewbacca in Star Wars, the first entertaining the viewers with his sharp dialogues – which are always in contrast to the fact that they are pronounced by a raccoon – and the second amusing by the fact that his coarse figure does not match his gentle personality, besides repeating a single phrase (“I am Groot“), regardless of context.
Guardians of the Galaxy’s characters turning out to be clichés is actually fundamental to the construction of the unpretentious tone of the story, which does not mean they are not developed well, with key scenes revealing little nuances in their personalities. Scenes like the moment when Rocket appears without clothes and the protagonist watches, with a sad expression, the chips implemented in the back of his colleague, and like the one that exposes Quill’s reasons for making so much fuss about being be called “Star-lord” make the viewer forget the jokes and see the characters as individuals.
Since the dynamics between the characters is the thematic center of the story, the narrative tries to justify their union by putting strong similarities in their tragic pasts. If they meet each other because fate so wanted, they stay together because they understand each other’s pain. Writers James Gunn and Nicole Perlman go further, intensifying this idea by making it a narrative arc: if, at first, it’s their quarrels that stand out (Rocket getting angry because he believes he is underestimated for being a raccoon, for example), later it’s the small moments of sacrifice that gain focus, to finally culminate on the climax, when they literally share each other’s pain.
The quality of the narrative is also visible in the amount of foreshadowing, such as the revelation that the rescue of an apparently random family actually has dramatic weight for one of the secondary characters. Even the jokes serve a dramatic purpose: when Groot’s repeated lines are subverted, for example, they end up revealing a lot about the character and connecting masterfully with the theme of the movie.
At this point, it is important to emphasize the director’s ability to fill his work with jokes without making them tiresome, by adopting a different visual strategy for each one. At one moment, for example, he shows some characters talking about a plan to escape from prison, while in the background another one shows up doing exactly what they were deciding was a bad idea. At another, he keeps a character out of frame until his presence is important for comical effect. In the prologue, he makes the protagonist smaller twice to mock his situation and, near the climax, puts Gamora yawning in the middle of an epic shot in slow motion.
It is also worth noting the thematic similarity between the various jokes in the movie, which is often the opposition between an act of violence and a childlike gesture or dialogue, such as Groot’s broad smile after decimating a group of enemy soldiers, Rocket’s reasons for wanting a mechanical leg, and the lament of a prisoner after being robbed by Drax (“That was my favorite knife“).
Also noticeable is the care behind the film’s visuals, which abuses of bright, bold colors to create a completely alien universe that is different from other Marvel movies, without abandoning an efficient internal logic. The viewers can notice, for example, the color consistency of all those who threaten the protagonist, going from the main villain to Quill’s boss, and even the first prisoner who wants to attack him and the prison guard who actually does it: they’re all blue. For the same reason, Gamora stands out immediately when she appears alongside the villains for being green – one of the main colors associated with betrayal.
If Guardians of the Galaxy fails in any respect it is in the development of the movie’s main villain, the alien Ronan (Lee Pace), who is considerably one-dimensional. He is initially presented as a fanatical fundamentalist leader, but the concept is never exploited and his reasons for destroying an entire planet never surpass the basics of “They killed my father.” Serving as a comparison, the 2009 Star Trek reboot is a movie similar in tone that creates a villain whose motivations for destroying a planet are fully understood by the viewers, which helps making him a more complex character.
Now, the film also slips up in the excessive focus on the weapon of Peter Quill’s boss, the alien Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). Whenever the guy appears, the camera sticks to the object, indicating that it will assume some important function in the plot. At the climax, in fact, the weapon is used to kill a huge group of enemies, but in a scene separated from the main characters and without any dramatic impact. That is, the weapon ends up interfering in nothing and, on top of that, culminates in an entirely disposable scene.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one the best Marvel movies to date and, despite some minor problems, manages to develop very well several of its characters, conflicts and even jokes. In the end, it is a very fun, if flawed movie.
December 04, 2018.
Originally published in Portuguese on March 11, 2015.
Nicole Perlman, James Gunn.
Benicio Del Toro, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana.