“Take My Hand” Says Guardians of the Galaxy… AND YOU SHOULD

https://i1.wp.com/img2-1.timeinc.net/ew/i/2014/07/29/Guardians-Of-The-Galaxy.jpgAs a huge fan of both superhero films and space operas, and a great admirer of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was an easy assumption that Guardians of the Galaxy would be right up my alley. However, the obviousness of the film’s potential appeal does nothing to undermine just how truly appealing Guardians really is, and how many of my buttons it was able to push at the same time. It’s a great example of how taking big chances can pay off, and how a definitive cult director can adjust his style to fit a more mainstream project. Most of all, it stands out amongst both the MCU and this summer’s crop of already-above-average blockbusters as a uniquely zany piece of work, and one that also shows how earnest emotion in a movie need not be a bad thing.

Guardians does so many things right that you run the risk of losing sight of what truly makes it tick, but when you look at all of the (frequently brilliant) parts together as a whole, you can see the sweet- if twisted- heart of it all. And when we talk about those most brilliant parts we are talking, across the board, about the Guardians themselves. The only thing that defines them more than their crazy hijinks is the pain that they each carry with them. There’s Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who lost his mother and was kidnapped by alien rednecks; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) lost her parents and was turned into a weapon by an alien warlord; Drax (Dave Bautista) had his whole family slaughtered; and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) had his sentience forced on him while being turned into a laboratory jigsaw puzzle. Only Groot seems to not have a painful past… but he’s a living tree that can barely communicate, so he has his own difficulties. It’s a lineup of five lovable losers, broken and hurt people who have been so scarred by their pasts that they can’t bear to be with others, or to really try and build something new out of the ashes of their old selves. And once thrown together, we have a group of damaged and tortured people who fight amongst themselves out of fear of being open to more pain.

So before they can work together to stop the evil of Ronan (Lee Pace), they need to open up to each other in a way that none of them really has in years with anyone. This is where the other star of the film comes into play: the funky ‘70s soundtrack, besides being a distinctive sound for a space opera (or a superhero movie for that matter) also reflects and emphasizes the theme of the movie. The various songs reflect the heroes’ desire not to open up (“I’m Not In Love”), their having to face difficult times before things get better (“O-O-H Child”), and the realization that they don’t have to face such times alone (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”). As the story progresses, they not only have to get past their own individual motives, but they have to accept the possibility of pain- both emotional and physical- and the real chance of death itself in a way that they have all been running from in one way or another. And in the end, their collective arc serves as a potent, touching, hilarious reminder that no one should ever face death (or for that matter, life) alone… and it’s in doing so that this wild gang becomes the heroes no one, least of all themselves, thought they could ever be.

Oh yeah, and it’s funny as hell too. Some might be thrown by that seeming tonal shift, or not like this level of humor in something that is not completely a comedy, or just find the humor to be too goofy. But to me, the humor is the key to everything; like many great stories before it, Guardians uses humor to help humanize the characters and allow for greater empathy with them. It adds a level of unpredictability to the character interactions, which are already essential to the success of the film. By making these interactions fun and funny it helps them stand on even footing with the (thrilling) action sequences and keeps you engaged in them. By the time the real emotional moments start landing, you’ve become drawn in by the humor and you can’t help but care about this crazy-ass band of misfits, and hope that they can come together and face their fears and come out the other side stronger than they were before.

It probably goes without saying by now that Guardians is a massive juggling act, or at least appears to be. Combining wild action scenes with goofy humor and melancholy emotions seems like a really messy recipe, and in the hands of lesser filmmakers it very easily could have been. But James Gunn & co. demonstrate how seamless such a juggling act can be, if you let everything grow naturally from the characters. This is where Guardians truly earns its stripes as a successor to some of the all-time great adventure movies, and where it really comes home for me. It is not completely stonefaced and grim, nor is it completely shallow and lark-ish. Instead, it combines humor and pathos together in a way that makes every character (and the world that they inhabit) seem well-rounded and real. Life is funny, life is sad, life is exciting and it’s a little bit ridiculous, usually all at the same time, and Guardians of the Galaxy is all of those things too.

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