Marvel Studios, since the release of the first Iron Man film, has had one thing working for them with each of their movies; they all had heart. It changed from movie to movie, from character to character. Tony Stark had his own personal revelations, which allowed him to overcome his shortcomings, and demons, to become Iron Man. Thor had to lose his power and embrace humanity in order to learn what it means to be humane. Steve Rogers had to tap into his inner strength and sense of goodness in order to unleash that same power and become the hero that was within. The Avengers was about each of these people with unique differences, and learning to work through those differences to develop symmetry. I searched for such a message in Marvel’s latest contribution, Guardians Of The Galaxy, looking to see what morality play we can find here. It took me about half of the movie to locate it, but once I did was it then that I realized it was staring at me in the face from the very beginning.
As with many ensemble movies, we are given a truly motley crew of individuals, and each could be considered a misfit in his or her own right. We start with Peter Quill aka Star-Lord as played by Chris Pratt (The Lego Movie), a man who as a boy is faced with losing his mother from cancer, and it’s implied that he lost his father at an even younger age. And to top it off, almost immediately after the death of his mother, is kidnapped by a space ship filled with ravagers (led by Yondu Udonta played by Michael Rooker from The Walking Dead), and grows to adulthood having no sense of real family or friends. Then there is Gamora played by sci-fi chameleon Zoe Saldana (Star Trek, Avatar), a female alien fighting machine who is adopted by Thanos the Titan after he killed her family, and is now bent on stopping her adopted father. Rocket Raccoon is a brilliantly CGI animated character voiced by Bradley Cooper (The Hangover). Rocket comes off as an incorrigible and unpleasant character, although he is brilliant with weapons, machinery and tactics. He is truly irritating, but in learning his past we come to see he is more than just an annoying two-dimensional character, rather one who has physically suffered great torment that has served to scar a very tender heart. Pro-wrestler Dave Bautista lends his brute strength, as well as unexpected comedic humor, to Drax, a man who watched his wife and child be killed and now seeks revenge. Then there is Groot, the Guardians second CGI character voiced by Vin Diesel (Pitch Black), a humanoid tree who only speaks three words, and as fierce as “it” can be, shows the greatest humanity of all. Each of these characters has suffered terrible tragedy, and it could be argued that each (well at least three out of the five) have all lost families. That is where this movie’s heart resides.
The plot, on its surface, plays itself as a simple popcorn action film. This is not intended as a bad thing. After all, it does come from a comic book. After our individual characters come together to form an uneasy alliance, we are given a truly spectacular look into what the regions of outer space look like in this Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it does not disappoint. To the casual watcher it comes off as a richly textured universe with more interesting characters than people know what to do with. To the eagle-eyed Marvel fanatic it is filled with enough Easter Eggs to make any geek squee with sheer delight. The real plot of the movie starts off simply and we are given your basic movie character types. We have our heroes (Peter Quill, Groot), we have our anti-heroes (Gamora, Drax), and we even have our mercenary types (Rocket), as well as our villains (Ronan, Yondu, Thanos). The movie almost presents itself as a demonstration of a textbook summer flick, and that was what I was expecting.
Yes, I was expecting to be disappointed after the wonderful movies that Marvel had put out so far. For the life of me I could not see how this same studio could craft a movie worthy of standing next to the earlier Marvel films. I was expecting another Star Wars. Granted, I loved Star Wars when it first came out and watched it so many times I lost count, but this is a Marvel movie. I wanted something better that could stand next to movies such as Thor and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but I just couldn’t see how that was possible. Well I underestimated Marvel and their ability to produce a truly spectacular looking movie filled with substance.
Each of the “Guardians” gets to show his or her own merit, and some of them even had me shed a few tears in the process. While each of the “human” actors really gets a chance to shine through emotional sensitivity, or even humor, I was greatly surprised that the movies most touching moments came from the CGI characters. Groot is animated in such a way that his face at times almost reminded me of a puppy dog who is only eager to please, and yet can show centuries old wisdom and compassion in the way he chooses to help these people he refers to, in his own way, as his friends. Rocket is also animated in such a way (as well as amazingly voiced) that I truly forgot that I was watching what was essentially a visual effect. No, Rocket had become a fully formed, living character which becomes more than apparent when in one moment he pleads for the life of someone he truly cares about, only then to have that plea turn into heart breaking grief. Yes, Rocket became alive because I grieved right along with him.
This is a movie where Peter, Gamora, and Drax discover the family in each other after having their own families taken from them. Rocket and Groot discover the family they never knew they ever had or even needed. From the moment Peter’s mother dies, to the moment when our heroes go off on their next adventure, this is a movie about family, whether it be genetic or chosen, and the strength that can be found from being in a family. This amazing film (directed by James Gunn) tells us “we are Groot!”