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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy sticks too much to the superhero formula

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You know a movie is bad when, as you’re watching it, you find that the oft-repeated phrase, “I am Groot” in this instance,  is likely the most endearing thing any of the characters say.

Such was the case in the new Marvel blockbuster “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“Guardians” has never been the most popular Marvel property, so to see Marvel using all of the usual superhero tropes in the new live-action adaptation is quite disappointing, to say the least.

This project, put into the right hands, the hands of someone who was willing to take some bold risks, could have made something incredible. But, having seen the paint-by-numbers cliches start to pile up,  I can’t say I’m all that enthusiastic about the direction of this franchise.

Because, let’s face it, it’s already a franchise in the making. They’ve already confirmed “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” is in the works, and I would be expecting to see more after that, as well.

Essentially this is the Pepsi-Cola flavor of action movies.

The film starts with a young boy who’s mother dies in front of him. And of course we’re not given any reason to care about any of these characters.

“I Am Groot”

We don’t know why she’s dying or even for sure that she is this boy’s mother. It’s all just assumed. She gives him a gift and then cut to the future and we’re led to believe that the little boy grew up to be Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord, who for some reason discovers this orb that these sinister looking guys want.

After a brief tussle, Quill finds his way to his ship, where he’s mysteriously blasted out of control by a huge burst of water. We’re then introduced to a woman, sort of, who Quill said he wasn’t sure who she was supposed to be. Neither does the audience. And, it takes a long while before it’s even explained. So much for setting up character development.

And, that’s the main problem with this film. The plot is essentially a group of characters who go from one event to the next without any real reason for their actions. At first they want to get the orb to Benicio Del Toro’s character The Collector. Why, exactly? You’re guess is as good as mine. Because he needs it for his empire and will pay a pretty penny for it. What he does afterward with it isn’t exactly clear. It powers some lights,  prompts some electronic CGI and that’s that.

As referenced above, the only character I found myself rooting for also happened to be the one who said the same thing over and over “I am Groot.”

He’s a huge root-based plant/human who can basically kick anyone’s butt because he’s a plant and even if you cut off his limbs, they’ll grow back. He can grow into a giant, or shrink in size at will, and basically is a one-plant wrecking crew.

Some of the other annoyances early in the film include the attempt to tug at people’s nostalgic strings with Quill listening to old songs on his cassette player. Songs such as “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” and “Cherry Bomb.”

I see why it’s used, and granted they’re all good songs, which you gotta love, but to me it just felt hollow and in no way had any reason to be in the story at all other than Quill happened to like classic rock, so it sort of developed his character, but only on the surface.

As for Chris Pratt’s acting, it’s decent. He straddles the line pretty well to find the balance between being a swashbuckling maverick and a goofball. The film does have some funny moments, mostly interactions between the group of frenemies, characters who come together because they each want the same thing in some way.

Characters like Rocket Racoon, Gamora, Groot, Quill and Drax the Destroyer are interesting and the fact that they each want to kill one another but are forced to work together has promise, although it’s done in a much too formulaic way. I so wanted to find the director and ask him to please show us why they want to kill each other, not just that they do because that’s how they’re written. Make the love interest into a slow build, don’t just make it where it’s checking off a box when that point in the movie is reached. Why should Quill fall for someone? Why shouldn’t he? Who does he want to become?

For the love of God, any kind of villainy shown from the antagonists toward the start of the movie would’ve gone a long way toward setting up the main conflicts. Instead, we’re left with a whole lot of nothing. No reason to hate the villain, hardly any reasons to root for the heroes, other than they’re funny and cheeky and kinda cool at times. Make the bad guy kill a bunch of people or blow up a planet — anything that makes the audience want to root against him.

Take the prison scene, for instance. Without revealing too much, each of these characters are thrown into prison after fighting over the orb. While there, they run into some evil characters that want them dead. One of them attempts to kill Gamora, but Quill talks him out of it because Gamora has turned her back on Ronan, who, again, I wasn’t sure why we were supposed to find him evil other than he talks in an evil way and has a few scenes that are supposed to let you know that, “Here, he’s the bad guy, OK?”

Whenever a movie gets knocked for being too formulaic, it usually means that the whole story isn’t good enough to stand on its own so people tend to focus on the formula and not the plot or characters or surprises within it.

Because honestly, nearly every movie has a formula, and we expect our movies to take us in certain directions. It’s just so disappointing when we can see the right turns coming long before we get to them. Or, we know that the two characters will fall in love and kiss long before that scene even comes. Which, to be fair, the director James Gunn does throw at least one wrench in. Without spoiling what happens, there’s a scene where you expect Quill to get busy with one of the female characters but instead she attempts to kill him.

So, no, this movie isn’t of the same quality as The Avengers. Even though Marvel is selling it like it were. They even give Stan Lee a cameo in the first 20 minutes of the film, lest you forget who created these characters. And yes I’m aware that Stan Lee makes a cameo in every Marvel film these days, but this one was just blatant, even having Rocky talk about him as he stares at him through his scope thingy.

This might be a good movie if you’re looking for something that doesn’t make you think much, has some dumb laughs here and there, and you’re a fan of Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation. He’s not the same character, but does have the same feel to his character in certain scenes where he’s not in “badass” mode with his cool mask featuring red eyes and metal protection that he wears from time to time. The first thing I thought of was that it makes him look like a NPC from the video game “Fallout.”

I’ll keep waiting for a real superhero film to come knock my socks off with fresh ideas that don’t so blatantly abandons using a good plot to keep people in their seats more than the 3D effects, effects that are so relied upon these days by all new action films.

Because let’s face it, when the novelty of the latest Hollywood spectacle ends, and it will, we’ll all be wondering what happened to our movies that once could be both action-packed AND be filled with superheroes doing amazing things that made you ponder something that was perhaps beyond your comprehension long after you left the theater.

 

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