Unwinnable Goes to the Movies: Guardians of the Galaxy

  • You’re all doomed!


  • Over the weekend, Team Unwinnable encouraged its members to see Guardians of the Galaxy and have a discussion about it. This is that discussion.


    Michael Edwards: I just saw it and thought it was great! While there some weird things here and there overall I think James Gunn did a great job not only with his first big budget film, but also with establishing the Cinematic Marvel cosmic universe. I liked most of the silliness and thought the ’70s-’80s soundtrack was a fun way to differentiate this from the other space operas. Also the cameos by Celestials, a long lost friend in the post credits, and Lloyd Kaufman. Excelsior!

    Ian Gonzales: The Lloyd Kaufman cameo was super exciting. Who’d have thought the producer and co-director of Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ’em High would be in a Disney movie?! I’ve dug James Gunn’s stuff since I saw Tromeo & Juliet in college, so it was great to see him make a movie that felt like both a Marvel Cosmic movie and a James Gunn movie. It’s so much damn fun!

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    Jill Scharr: It was definitely fun. I laughed a lot (although some of the jokes were wide misses for me, like Rocket picking on the disabled folks or Groot violently going overkill on those Kree at the end and then grinning innocently, like he had no idea what had just happened). But Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t wow me. The movie wasn’t really very different from your basic “hero’s journey” plotline – it just took those tropes and applied an ironic or nostalgic lens to them.

    On a more personal-preference basis, I was hoping for an ensemble cast film (I love ensemble cast stories) and what I got was Star-Lord and Co. And that’s fine – Chris Pratt is the sort of actor who can carry a movie without being a jerk about  – but I would have liked to see more about the others, especially Gamora and Drax, or even Ronan and Nebula.

    Michael Edwards: It’s definitely the best Vin Diesel performance since The Iron Giant!

    Michael Sheridan: Guardians of the Galaxy really embraced the bizarre aspects of comic book science fiction, which I thought to be the most refreshing part about it. Characters with orange skin, blue skin, yellow skin, bizarre looking creatures and weird technology. It suffered from trying to stuff a lot of backstory into one film, as the Marvel films tend to do, but James Gunn handled it well. It was visually beautiful, and really established a new toybox for them to play in that’s separate from the Avengers storyline. Chris Pratt carries the film well, something I never really would have considered since my only experience with him in the first season of Parks & Rec. Definitely enjoyed the experience.

    Don Becker: I clearly have watched too much Halt And Catch Fire, because I can’t see Lee Pace as anything but a slick snake oil salesman with impressive eyebrows. Even as a menacing Ronan, I’m still imagining him trying to sell the residents of Xandar a portable computer.

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    Stu Horvath: FIRST VIEWING – Part of me wants to be very disappointed in Guardians of the Galaxy. Where Winter Soldier was the first Marvel Studios movie that was about something, Guardians is very intentionally about nothing (I mean, OK, Winter Soldier was mostly about Captain America kicking butt, but it was also a little bit about paranoia in the age of data mining and remote controlled drone assassinations).

    If James Gunn had lingered on the story of the villain, Ronan the Accuser, Guardians could have been about terrorism, ideological extremism or any number of other relevant -isms that would draw parallels to the recent troubles in the Levant. When Thanos tells Ronan that his politics are boring, he’s speaking for James Gunn. And maybe the audience, too.I’m still kind of curious about Ronan’s politics. But the hell with it, I still love this big dumb movie.

    Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of depth here. The characters are broadly drawn, the plot is a rehash of Star Wars without any pretense or subtext (even Star Wars had undertones of Cold War anxieties over nukes), but my favorite scene in Star Wars is the one where Han Solo goes charging down a hallway at a platoon of Stormtroopers, who break and run because there must be more than just one crazy running guy coming at them, right? Guardians of the Galaxy is what happens when you expand that brief moment into an entire feature and, while that might not sound like a ringing endorsement, I really can’t wait to see it again. Subtext isn’t everything.

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    Ethan Sacks: Marvel boldly went where the studio had never gone before: built a franchise out of characters that even hard core comic nerds weren’t reverential about. That’s the best part of the success of James Gunn’s movie, because Robert Downey Jr. isn’t going to be suiting up forever and even if Bucky takes the mantle of Captain America in a few movies, they’ll either have to put the A-list heroes on hiatus eventually or do the dreaded reboot with new actors. I’d take five Guardians films over one Iron Man 5. It’s time for new blood in the genre (or maybe given Groot’s role, new sap). Superheroes don’t need spandex to be super.

    Don Becker: Oh, can we talk about the post-credits sequence and the potential for a reboot of a much-maligned Marvel movie franchise that George Lucas singlehandedly killed?

    Stu Horvath: I don’t see why not, other outlets have reported on his appearance.

    Ethan Sacks: I know I’ll lose my mighty Marvel Marching Society badge for this, but that character does not translate into movies and should be left on a plate in a Chinese restaurant (or at least the trade paperbacks) where he belongs.

    Don Becker: Well, clearly the success of GotG (which did a $94 million opening) shows that a lighter Marvel film can do well. Maybe Marvel can stay a little truer to the source material than Lucas did and make me forget all about Lea Thompson singing a bad synthpop song about Howard the Duck.

    Michael Sheridan: On the brief appearance of a once much-maligned Duck, I doubt there’ll be a feature centered on him. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if he’s featured in some kind of short or a series of shorts.

    Joe DeMartino: Can we talk a little bit about the intro of adult Peter Quill? Everything in his initial scene – his powerful but makeshift technology, his sense of awe at his discovery, the fact that he’s not above a bit of casual cruelty (as he takes down the Kree guards in the first scene with the Infinity Stone) and finally his need to subvert the most serious situations with dancing. It’s really masterful filmmaking – you know everything you need to know about Quill within a few minutes. Heck, you could just show someone the scene with Quill dancing below the gigantic GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY logo and they’d probably immediately get him.

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    Michael Edwards: I could see Gunn pulling off a Howard the Duck short, and maybe a feature length movie down the road. For now Howard should probably be used in small doses, so there’s not a repeat of the George Lucas fiasco. Seeing Steve Gerber credited was awesome, though.

    Ian Gonzales: I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Howard pop up in a Doctor Strange flick (he did start out in horror parody) or in a Guardians sequel. His appearance in the movie is very much in line with the Steve Gerber’s brand of absurd satire.I agree 100 percent, Joe, Gunn and Pratt nailed that character in the opening scene!

    Ethan Sacks: I think a Forbush Man movie is further down the development pipeline than a Howard the Duck movie. I just don’t think it translates to mainstream America. I mean, what’s next, a talking raccoon?

    Jill Scharr: I also agree that adult Quill’s intro was great, and perfectly set the mood for the character and the film. That part was wonderful. And I think Stu’s comparisons to Star Wars and The Winter Soldier are both spot-on. But I just also feel a lot of antipathy toward Guardians. It was fun to see in the theaters with a group of friends, but most of the time, I felt like I’d seen this movie before.

    Especially Gamora’s character: almost every self-aware and fun moment of Quill’s was matched by a completely tone-deaf and stereotypical moment for her. The one that bothered me the most was Drax calling Gamora a whore. In addition to being totally inappropriate, the line doesn’t even make sense, since the movie outright told us that Drax speaks literally, without any concept of metaphor, and he knows that Gamora is not a prostitute. The line is just another example of the movie forcing Gamora to be the sex object, when clearly all Zoe Saldana wanted to do is glower and kick people in the face.

    And while I’m being Debbie Downer, it amazes me that people are talking about a Howard the Duck movie like it could actually happen. Addressing Ethan’s comments, I agree new blood is needed, but I propose a different trade: five Guardians and a Howard short for one Black Widow movie, or Black Panther, or Hawkeye, or Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) movie. Just one.

    But if a Howard the Duck movie did happen, it has to have Lea Thompson-esque bad synthpop. Are you kidding? That is exactly the mood that Guardians is good at rocking.

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    Owen R. Smith: I over-analyzed Dawn of the Planet of the Apes because we agreed the movie was trying to say something. I still contend that it’s the best movie of the summer. I don’t think Guardians of the Galaxy needs that much attention, even though I’m already plotting a second viewing. Like Stu said, it’s a movie about nothing and I found that fact to be an enormous relief. Sometimes a summer blockbuster is just a summer blockbuster, right Sigmund?

    I did enjoy the slick confidence with which James Gunn established his universe. The CG artistry was right in line with recent Marvel movies, giving everything a familiar sheen even as we bounced from exotic setpiece to setpiece. Everything looked just right, from Rocket to the enormous battle of Xandar at the film’s climax. Everyone else has said it all by now: great soundtrack, fun cameos and a solid, likable cast – what more can you really ask for from a summer blockbuster?

    Ethan Sacks: As a father of 10-year-old daughter who doesn’t have nearly the big screen role models that I had growing up (Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Superman), I hundred percent agree with Jill that the time is now for some female superheroes to rock the big screen. And not like Halle Berry’s Catwoman tried to do it – fighting in high heels! Black Widow would be the safest for Marvel, since they already developed the character so well.

    I’d also love to see a Runaways movie, based on the Brian K. Vaughn comic, not the punk band, which is my daughter’s favorite. The last time I interviewed Feige he cryptically said there was a script, but would not confirm if it was one of the movies Marvel had currently in development.

    Stu Horvath: I think we might have to agree to disagree to an extent, Jill. For me, watching Guardians was an exercise in surprise: I didn’t know these characters, the movie didn’t bother with an origin story and I had no idea where the story was going. Which is cool, I’m happy to disagree on that.I agree about the whore joke – it comes late in the movie and I think the intention was something like “look how bad he is at metaphor!” but it was hamfisted and not funny – and reflected a weird indecision to an extent about Gamora’s portrayal itself.

    The bit that really confused me was her strange, pointy-boobed leather outfit at the end of the movie. Up to that point, her costuming was a nice balance of utilitarian and feminine, but that final outfit seemed incongruously fetish-y. Gamora, unfortunately, is the one character I think needed more development, for the sake of the audience and the filmmakers both.

    If they had spent a bit more time with her, I wouldn’t still be wondering why she betrayed Thanos in the first place, and perhaps these wrinkles with her portrayal would have been smoothed out. Regardless, I hope “pelvic sorcery” is a line that echoes out across the eons.

    You’re 100 percent wrong about a Howard the Duck movie, though. I love those comics, I don’t mind the George Lucas flick (horror-inducing anthropomorphic bestiality aside) and I would pay American dollars to see what Marvel Studios can do with the character. And it warms my heart that, thanks to that brief gag clip, Steve Gerber is getting the recognition he has long deserved.

    But you are 100 percent right about when we should see a Howard the Duck movie: well after Captain Marvel, Black Widow and Spider-Woman take their bows in their own solo movies. (OK, I know Spider-Woman is a stretch, but I really like Jessica and think she could be re-imagined for the cinematic universe in some interesting ways). I think Marvel Studios knows that, too, if the Jessica Jones and Agent Carter series are any indication.

    Michael Edwards: With the Kree being more of an established thing there should definitely be a Captain Marvel movie with Carol Danvers once she’s introduced. A Spider-Woman movie would be awesome but I wonder if Sony would raise a stink about it veering into Spider-Man territory. Runaways needs to happen! I think it could work on film or TV, maybe as a Netflix series, even. I mean, Whedon wrote the comic for a bit, maybe he can wave his hand and make it happen.

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    Ian Gonzales: Yes, Drax’s “whore” comment made absolutely no sense and was 100 percent terrible. It’s the one thing in the flick that made me flinch. It was so out of place with the rest of the movie, not to mention Drax’s characterization up to that point. It was disappointing, especially given the two screenwriters. Truth be told, I hope the rumors of a Nicole Perlman-penned Black Widow solo flick come to fruition before we see a Howard the Duck reboot. I’d also love to see a Carol Danvers Captain Marvel movie (which would be a lot easier to make now that we’ve met the Kree).

    thumbnailThis movie set up a lot of cosmic Marvel. They gave us Celestials, Knowhere, Kree, the Nova Corps and a weird Adam Warlock-looking cocoon in the Collector’s pad. Speaking of the Collector, I have another bone to pick with this movie.  I enjoy Benicio Del Toro’s work as much as the next fella, but are you telling me James Gunn couldn’t pull Lemmy away from video poker at the Rainbow long enough to play the Collector?

    Stu Horvath: Ian, don’t even get me started on The Collector.

    I loved Del Toro’s first mysterious, eccentric appearance after the credits of Thor: The Dark World, and I loved his mysterious, eccentric appearance in Guardians…and then he, and his collection, blows up. More Taneleer Tivan, please, if nothing else for the sake of his excellent character design.And, for that matter, if the Collector’s collection went boom, what happened to his other Infinity Stone, the Aether?

    SECOND VIEWING: I have to add to my previous thoughts. First, Guardians is definitely not about anything. It consists of a string of excellent scenes strung together in a loose narrative, but there are no traditional acts or plot movements to be found. Things happen but I can’t quite tell you what. Or rather, the events of the movie do not fit my personal definition of the word “story.” Things happen, people react, more things happen. Most of the whys are never addressed and, in fact, there is something about the movie that almost convinces you on a subconscious level not to even ask. “Sit back, relax, enjoy the spectacle,” says this strange, disembodied voice. And I do! It is great fun!

    I am at loggerheads over Gamora. I am still unsure why she betrayed Thanos, mostly because I am not entirely sure what Thanos is about and why, if he is so powerful, he doesn’t just get the Infinity Stones himself. Considering she was raised and genetically modified by a genocidal tyrant, her betrayal seems to come easily. She shows no sign of indoctrination and, in fact, is one of the only characters in the movie that seems to operate within a code of honor. So many pesky whys.

    I also don’t have a clear stance on her agency versus the movie’s attempts to objectify her. That fetish-y costume I mentioned before is a lot less fetish-y at a second look (it is weirdly pointy, though). And I appreciate that, while they came close, she and Quill didn’t hook up (and whatever going on between them is infinitely less creepy than the almost sociopathic flirtations Black Widow threw at Cap in parts of Winter Soldier).

    I’d be happier, though, if Gamora just stabbed things and was allowed to be the moral heart of the movie without being the subject of the occasional butt-level camera angle.I also noticed she was wearing what I can only describe as combat high heels. What on earth is that about?

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    Jill Scharr: I don’t think Gamora’s costume was really that fetish-y at all (combat high heels are the worst but I’ve pretty much given up complaining about them at this point). It was generally pretty reasonable. That’s partly why Drax’s “whore” comment so entirely blindsided me. And I totally agree that I would have liked to see Gamora just stab things and be the moral heart of the movie. That’s pretty much exactly what I wanted!

    On Black Widow in The Winter Soldier, though – I actually really liked the way that movie presented Widow’s character. She was entirely in control of her sexuality and was very consciously using it as a tool or weapon – sometimes well, sometimes very poorly, and the film always called her out on it. Part of her character arc in the movie was her learning that she didn’t have to use her sexiness with Steve, and that she was capable of having real friendships.

    But while Widow was definitely actively trying to be sexy, Gamora very much was not.In fact, I got the sense that not only was Gamora not trying to be sexy, she was actively trying to avoid sexiness entirely, particularly at the prison. Yet the movie kept forcing her back into sexiness, which just ended up being awkward for just about everyone involved. For all that, I don’t have a clear grasp of Gamora’s agency either. I think Nebula actually had a clearer sense of agency: she was the film’s Darth Maul and she was totally there for it until the end when she just escaped. That was cool.

    Gamora, on the other hand, is the nebulous one (zing!). I rolled my eyes so hard when she said she’d go wherever Quill wanted to go at the end of the film. It’s like, girl, you just escaped the most evil dude in the galaxy! You can go anywhere! You must have some idea of where you’d like to go! It’s like, if she was the film’s Jedi Leia, you know Leia would never let Han get away with that shit.

    Steve Haske: On the issue of Thanos, I was told by a friend who is familiar with Marvel’s cosmic universe that even though he is (they even said it!) the most powerful being in the galaxy/universe/existence, apparently he can’t do anything to someone with an Infinity Stone (and I’m guessing The Collector also didn’t have that other one lying around his shop because of that). If Thanos is – and I’m going on my knowledge of the character based on the final boss battle from Capcom’s Marvel Super Heroes – planning on collecting all the Infinity Stones, I guess he’s not yet so powerful that he could just get this one himself. Or maybe he just suffers from the villainous trope of too much delegation.

    Either way, I thought it was pretty unclear for audiences who aren’t familiar with this particular strand of Marvel lore, especially since Ronan basically tells Thanos to go to hell over their communication screen and through his absence afterward Thanos effectively just sits there in silent acceptance over Ronan’s insolence.

    This was my only significant nitpick with Guardians as a whole – I thought the movie was a hair too short, leading to characters suddenly doing things without quite enough motivation given to the audience. I loved that they didn’t bother explaining the origins of this goofy cast of characters, which is actually more fun for someone like me who doesn’t know the comics.

    But it did lead to a few bits that just didn’t gel: Thanos, the scene where Gunn “tricks” the audience into thinking that Gamora is falling for Quill (why would she take his hand in the first place when she knows his reputation with women?), Quill’s genuine interest in Gamora at all, etc. (Stu, I believe Gamora mentions that Thanos killed her family right in front of her, though as motivation for betrayal, it’s relegated to one line of dialogue.)

    All that said, this is a James Gunn film, and one joyously free of subtext, which is a lot of fun when you’re following around a bunch of misfit Avenger types. For the most part, everyone gets their little moment, although I’m hoping for some sort of director’s cut for the blu-ray release. Save the pondering for Planet of The Apes (or better yet, A Most Wanted Man).

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    Chuck Moran: I saw GOTG as the new James Gunn movie and not the newest film in the ever-expanding Marvel Universe. I knew a lot more about James Gunn than I did for any real back story on GOTG. Having not known the characters, I loved this movie. Great fun, with some bright and pretty outdoor sets. Probably the only real improvement they could have been made would be if it wasn’t actually part of the Marvel universe.

    Sure, it seems to get a little jumbled at the end, but that’s just the shoehorning in of all that continuity. I think it’s great that it all works into a larger picture, but this movie really stands out on its own. It is certainly a James Gunn movie before it is a Marvel movie.

    Really it’s James Gunn’s personality and style that makes this movie. Also, has a great soundtrack, it is obviously aimed at the parents of the kids that are seeing this movie, considering the reference material it pulls from. This way kids can like it – because it is a kids movie, kind of – and parents are kept entertained with the familiarity of the characters and the music. Kinda like Toy Story. “I give it an 8 out of 10.”

    Rowan Kaiser: …Or whatever.


    We bet you have a thought or two about Guardians of the Galaxy. Was Ronan a good introduction for the Kree? Was Thanos suitably terrifying? Was Glenn Close really in a Marvel movie? Take to the comments and tell us what you think!

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