Friday, October 17, 2014

The M.G.T.T.R. and other Guardians of the Galaxy

A lot of people are praising Guardians of the Galaxy for proving that the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) can accommodate a space opera, but I think its more important contribution to their film cannon, and the superhero genre in general, is proving that an outright screwball comedy can work in this space. There is more than a touch of that in Iron Man 3, but at the end of the day, only one of those movies pushes this into new territory. Here's a hint: it's the one with the Machine-Gun-Totting-Talking-Raccoon, or MGTTR.
Solid poster, but the first trailer and Blue Suede's Hooked on a Feeling
were what sold this movie. That and the MGTTR.

Really, Rocket is the core of the movie. Don't get me wrong, Groot is probably my favorite; the expressive range of his three word 'vocabulistics' (as the MGTTR puts it) outcasts Hodor (and many of his more articulate companions) too shame. Gamora is more conventional but still fun; Xena cosplaying as Captain Kirk's Girlfriend, and Zoe Saldana has proven track record with portraying painted space ladies. Peter Quill is the most familiar character; the viewer's point of entry, but Chris Pratt does an amazing job with his role; Han Solo re-imagined as an affably eccentric fuck up, filtered through 80s pop culture.

Rocket tho. He is the primary reason I was skeptical, and seeing him in motion, credibly, in the first teaser (and the amazing trailers that followed) was what sold me on the film. He is the element that grew the audience beyond established fan because anybody who is not yet a marvel fanatic has seen superhero movies before, they know what they look like, and they are tired of them. But an MGTTR? Never seen that before. Except we have. Putting aside his gruff, shoot'em all attitude, it is clear that Rocket is not a Wookie, or an Ewok, or any other alien. He is a bipedal, sentient raccoon from outer space.

 The hero superhero movies deserved.

From the start, you wonder what's happening there. And even though the movie never really spells out his origin (I have a hunch), you don't care because the flick is so aggressively entertaining. The movie begins with a joyful one man dance routine through an alien cave--scratch that. The beginning of the movie is actually a surprisingly poignant emotional sucker punch. It doesn't hit as hard as the opening of JJ's Star Trek (which made me tear up; a cinematic feat that hasn't happened since I was in the target demo for the Golden Age of Disney animation) but it is in the same weight class. Yeah, okay, it is incredibly tropey and brazenly yanks on your heart strings with a grip that only "mom dying of cancer in front of her son" can, but it works. And the whole damn movie is like that. It's shamelessly entertaining.

Guardians doesn't shed new light on the human condition, or even offer the subtle Post 9/11 criticism that the original Iron Man did, or offer the undercurrent of Snowden-era commentary of Winter Soldier. But what did you expect when you saw the MTTGR?! Marcel Proust? Are you here to have a good time or not? Throughout my writing education and career, I have heard the question "is this a cliche or not?" countless times, and answered in a dozen different ways, but the best answer is another question: Does it work? Your possible cliched thing, that familiar scene, or character, or turn of phrase; does it work for your story? If you are entertained, or if it makes you feel something real that is consistent with your intent and what has been written so far, then it is good storytelling. If you are exasperated, skeptical, or it's jarring, you've perpetrated a cliche.

There are not many original ideas in here, which usually kills something for me. Off the top of my head, I can only think of the MTTGR, the juxtaposition of 80s pop hits against a space opera backdrop, and Yondu's whistle-controlled arrow of mass destruction. You have seen everything else before. Even Groot's one word dialog is a refinement on Chewbacca's howls. But space cops? Space criminals and or bounty hunters? Collectors of alien menageries? Space bars? You see where I'm going with this.

If you need more MGTTR, or just enjoy comic book heroes that are actually in comic form, apparently Skottie Young's run on Rocket Raccoon is a hoot.

I still wonder (or perhaps marvel is more fitting) at how James Gunn (or anybody) could pull this off, much less situate it in the same universe as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Because that movie demonstrates the MCU has some observations to offer about the state of the world--without taking themselves as seriously as Nolan takes Batman. Between those two films, you have the entire range of Marvel's movies to date. If they can fit Dr. Strange in there, without explaining his magic via midiclorians, nanobots, or otherwise screwing him up, they will be able to do almost anything they want.

Almost. I still think Howard the Duck would be a bad idea (and Gunn even said the stinger was a joke). But hey. Guardians is proof that I have been wrong before.

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