We are looking for fans of film and games who want to contribute reviews, lists, or features.
As the superhero genre continues to expand in many different directions, a shift in tone from the decidedly dark and gritty fare that was filling up theaters for more than a decade was inevitable. The Avengers, Batman, and Superman were a few of the blockbusters that many felt were taking themselves far too seriously. While humor was a part of all of these franchises, it was not the core. In stepped Guardians of the Galaxy, a story based on a then obscure Marvel comic, and one many thought would be a risk and too difficult to film.
Directed by James Gunn, the broad mix of action, visual effects, and funny characters made the film a huge success and created a shift in the business that opened the door for more light-handed approaches to the genre, making Ant-Man and Deadpool more possible. The film stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (aka Star Lord), a man who, nearly thirty years earlier was abducted from Earth on the very night his mother died on a hospital bed. He’s become a notorious thief, trained by the powerful bandit Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), who became his mentor and father-figure. One day, he discovers and steals an odd sphere that Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a psychotic demi-god-like being wishes to obtain in order to grant him immortal power. He sends Gamora (Zoey Saldana), a trusted assassin to dispatch Quill and take the orb, but he doesn’t know that she is actually planning on betraying him, to stop his mad plan. Meanwhile, all of this draws in a pair of mercenary bounty hunters, a genetically and cybernetically enhanced talking raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and a large tree-like creature named Groot (Vin Diesel) who only says, “I am Groot” but is somehow understandable. They, Gamora, Star Lord and a bulky warrior named Drax (Dave Bautista) join together to save the galaxy.
There are a number of great moments in Guardians of the Galaxy, but let’s take a closer look at a pivotal scene that showcases a bit of the strong writing and direction while having a little fun with the tropes of the action/superhero genre.
Some Set Up: As much as Yondu (Rooker) has taken good care of Quill, they don’t always see eye-to-eye. Yondu wants that orb as well and is the one who puts the bounty on him, preferably alive so he can kill him himself. The orb contains an Infinity Stone, a relic of immeasurable power that in the wrong hands would mean chaos. Not to spoil the core story, at one point, the orb is stolen from Quill and his fellow Guardians. He is taken by Yondu and threatened with death for his betrayal, but Quill convinces Yondu that he and Gamora are worth more alive because she works for Ronan and can lure him closer. Meanwhile, Rocket, Groot and Drax stage a hilarious rescue, but all ends well and the Guardians are gathered together again to talk about a plan to tell Yondu, who is coming soon.
Each of the characters are broadly drawn stereotypes of the comic book genre and brought to life with great care. Star Lord is a meaty, quick-thinking anti-hero with a sharp tongue and a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants style that has many recalling Harrison Ford‘s Han Solo. Gamora is a beautiful but deadly, green-skinned woman with great athletic skills and intelligence. Drax is a bulbous, somewhat dimwitted but loyal behemoth with a lot of courage and even more strength. Groot is, well, Groot. He’s a mass of tangled bark and trunk that can shape shift into tree-like configurations. His best friend Rocket is a motor-mouthed, sarcastic, wildly hostile, heavily-armed raccoon with a huge chip on his shoulder.
They all have different agenda’s, and coming together on a plan they can agree on is not going so well. Their first issue is just getting over the fact that despite having all survived and are together again, some are not happy with the actions that got them together. Groot thinks it’s ungrateful. He says so by saying, “I am Groot.” Groot is great.
Gamora steps in and explains that the important thing now is to use Yondu’s small army to help them stop Ronan, though Rocket thinks that giving the orb to the bandit won’t solve anything. Quill says they can figure that out later, and agrees with Gamora that they need to stop Ronan first. Knowing how powerful Ronan is, Rocket has a good question: How?
Quill steps up. He has a plan though Rocket doesn’t think so, and is actually mocking him for saying “I have a plan” because Rocket thinks that’s his line. Quill modifies his initial statement by saying that he has part of a plan. How much? Twelve percent.
The words “12 percent” linger for a moment and then Rocket echoes it before breaking into a deep, throaty, bellicose, totally not fake but the most real, authentic, hysterical laugh in his entire life.
The team agrees it’s not a good number and seeing the reaction, so begins Star Lord’s big speech. With the others sitting around him, he pauses and then asks, looking to them, “Do you know what I see? Losers,” he says confidently, before realizing how bad that sounds. He quickly recovers and explains he means people who have lost things, like them. Families, homes, normal lives, all gone. He says that life ruthlessly takes and takes but today, it gives. They have a chance to make something better. To not run away. To care about something. He’s not going to stand around and do nothing while Ronan wipes out billions of people.
It’s becomes a somber, reflective moment as each considers what is said, and even the typically callous Rocket seems affected. He looks to Quill and remarks that taking on Ronan is impossible. He adds, “You’re asking us to die.” But then something stirring happens. Gamora explains that she’s spent most of her life surrounded by her enemies. She stands and says that she would be grateful to die among her friends.
This inspires Drax to do the same. And then Groot, each in their own way committing themselves to the quest and willing to sacrifice themselves to save the lives of others. All but Rocket are standing, and they look to the raccoon in expectation that he will join.
Rocket considers the proposal and the participation of the others, most especially his friend Groot. With a sigh, he confesses he doesn’t have that long a life span anyway and so, stands with the Guardians and completes the circle. It feels good and feels right. But being Rocket, that’s not enough. He sarcastically adds, “Now I’m standing. You all happy? We’re all standing up now. Bunch of jackasses standing in a circle.” Cue the rock song and fade out.
The reason this moment works so well is how it handles the humor and the drama. It draws us into a trap, essentially lulling us into a false state. We are used to the comedy and yet fooled by the drama because the film understands very well the conditioning we as an audience have been exposed to. When Rocket pulls the rug out, it’s remarkable how jarring it is because we fell so fully for it. What just happened?
The trope of a gang of misfits coming together to make a plan to end a greater evil is as old as cinema, with notable titles such as The Seven Samurai (and The Magnificent Seven), The Dirty Dozen, Ocean’s Eleven, The Goonies, The Matrix, The Expendables, and dozens upon dozens more. It’s typically the same, with a ragtag team explaining (ostensibly) to each other but more for the viewer, how dangerous and hazardous their plan is, only to have one rise up and in some capacity bring everyone together. Music swells, team members (some who might have been at odds), stand and draw closer. There is a climactic call for action and the scene ends with the audience cheering. Guardians of the Galaxy is not that kind of movie, but we forget that because everything about this moment plays into the expectations. The slow rising music, Quill’s spirit-rising speech, the team, one-by-one taking a stand. Without even realizing it, the scene transformed from a funny bit about percentages and plans, mocking the trope it soon takes up, and becomes a hard-boiled, goosebumps-inducing moment that has us feeling pumped. That Rocket so deftly deflates that, has us slapping our foreheads with a ‘duh’. Much like Mike Myer‘s brilliant satirizing of the villain’s extended laugh in Austin Powers (1997), where we see what happens when it stops, here we have a character who goes beyond the standing circle trope and comments on its nonsensical formation. So while we aren’t utterly taken out of the fired-up feelings for revenge the team has built against Ronan, the moment earns a well-deserved laugh.
Enough can’t be said about the performances here as well, with Rocket’s Bradley Cooper outright stealing the show. The best example of how well-written and directed Guardians of the Galaxy is, this sublime comedy moment reveals much about how well the makers respected the audience’s intelligent while striving to deliver a smart, uniquely styled movie experience.
James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker