Tag Archives: Marvel

Come and Get Your ‘Guardians’ Love

Guardians of the Galaxy
Three and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some language)
121 minutes

Everybody loves The Avengers, but let’s face it. When it comes to personality, the members of Marvel’s prize superhero team are kind of square. Patriots, Asgardian princes and scientists with anger issues are only so interesting. Even the wise-cracking Tony Stark is a bazillionaire and a genius. Not very easy to relate to.

Maybe that’s why the ensemble of sorry wretches at the heart of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is so appealing. It’s made up of outlaws and losers, like Drax the Destroyer (played by wrestler Dave Bautista), an elaborately tattooed muscleman who is out for vengeance and takes everything extremely literally. Naturally, this is the source of much hilarity.

Then there’s Gamora (Zoe Saldana in butt-kicking mode), a green-skinned mercenary with daddy issues. After all, she’s the adopted daughter of Thanos, the wrinkly, purple baddie first glimpsed in the end credits of “The Avengers.”

Even weirder are Rocket, a resourceful, genetically-modified talking raccoon with a temper (his feisty voice is supplied by Bradley Cooper), and his best pal, Groot (Vin Diesel), a self-regenerating tree — just go with it –- who is surprisingly clever but boasts a limited vocabulary.

The merry ringmaster of this improbably lovable menagerie is Peter Quill, who also goes by the cocky alias “Star-Lord.” In an immensely winning performance, Chris Pratt plays Quill as a roguishly charming space pilot in the mold of Harrison Ford’s swaggering, self-obsessed Han Solo. Truly, a star is born.

To say that “Guardians” director James Gunn was influenced by the early work of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg is an understatement. Adapted from one of Marvel’s more obscure properties, the movie is a rollicking sci-fi-fantasy space opera with a rascally, retro vibe that recalls the original Indiana Jones and Star Wars flicks.

The film’s opening scene, in which Quill parts a valuable relic from its temple pedestal on the planet Morag, is pure “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” goosed to the groove of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.”  A sequence set in a mining colony faintly echoes that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the Mos Eisley Cantina. There are thrilling space battles galore, and Rocket and Groot are basically C-3PO and R2-D2 with more attitude.

With its population of extraterrestrials in a rainbow of skin tones and its intergalactic fashions — that’s some wig, Glenn Close! — “Guardians” also calls to mind “Star Trek” … on crack … as Gunn pokes into the freakiest corners of the Marvel Universe. But the film never feels derivative and it’s a ton of fun.

Based on the comic book series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, the movie begins on a somber note with the death of young Star-Lord’s mother. That formative chapter in Peter Quill’s life is followed by another major event, the arrival of a spacecraft sent by his long absent father to retrieve his son from Earth.

Cut to the grown Quill, who is now quite comfortable living in outerspace. To his chagrin, his Star-Lord alias is met with disdain by most residents of the galaxy, thanks to his reputation as a rather smug smuggler who frequently runs afoul of the law.

Quill is after his latest score — a coveted silver orb — when he literally collides with Gamora, who has been sent to retrieve the object for Thanos’ ally, Ronan (Lee Pace).

Ronan is the genocidal leader of warrior race the Kree and he’s also the movie’s weakest link. Pace, who was so adorable on “Pushing Daisies” but now specializes in playing menacing fantasy monarchs (see his elf king, Thranduil, in “The Hobbit” trilogy), doesn’t do a whole lot besides make cartoonishly dire pronouncements in a very deep voice. He also glowers at equally blue hench-lady Nebula. (Yes, Doctor Who fans, that is Karen Gillan, aka Amy Pond, under all that makeup.)

Ronan is after the same thing every Marvel villain seems to be after. I don’t think it’s a huge spoiler to reveal that it’s an infinity stone. I know these glowing MacGuffins are one of the things that unify all the films in the franchise, but am I the only one who’s getting sick of them?

Back to the plot: While Gamora is after Quill in order to collect the orb, Rocket and Groot are after him as well, hoping to collect the bounty on his head. In the process, the whole posse winds up in prison, where they are joined by Drax and work together to mastermind one of the most entertaining jailbreaks in recent cinematic memory. Normally, these guys are out for themselves, but when they realize what will happen to their galaxy if Ronan gets his hands on the orb, they make an uneasy pact to save the place they call home.

After cutting his teeth on dark comic book satire “Super” and low-budget horror flick “Slither,” Gunn penned the “Guardians” script with Nicole Perlman, who is rumored to be toiling on a Black Widow spin-off for Marvel. (That could bode very, very well.)

Gunn and Perlman’s “Guardians” screenplay is hilarious and kinda sweet and just when it starts to get too cheesy, the director pulls it back from the brink with the perfect dose of snark and playful visual effects that put the considerable skills of the film’s VFX crew on eye-popping display.

The movie’s best device is a nostalgic one. Because Quill is from Earth, he’s constantly making references that baffle his alien buddies but connect with the audience, especially anyone who fondly remembers Troll dolls, the Walkman and Kevin Bacon in “Footloose.”

The film’s tone is dictated largely by its inspired soundtrack, built around Quill’s beloved Awesome Mix Tape of ’70s and ’80s pop.

Just be prepared. You will never, ever get “Hooked on a Feeling” out of your head again. It’s the new “Let It Go.

Advertisements

I Hope My Daughter Grows Up to Be a Nerd

Several years ago, when my husband and I still attended the San Diego Comic-Con — back when it was more fun than exhausting — we would occasionally observe a couple pushing a stroller through the crowd, grim looks on their faces as the Red Sea of sweaty fanboys refused to part for them.

“They’re nuts,” I used to say.

It was time for me to eat my words when we decided to take our 3-month-old daughter to WonderCon Anaheim, the cozier little sister to San Diego’s towering pop culture extravaganza.

We booked a hotel attached to the Anaheim Convention Center, packed up the million items of baby ephemera required for an overnight trip with an infant, outfitted the little munchkin in a yoda hat stitched by a crafty cousin and made the pilgrimage to our favorite geek mecca. Our baby’s “Doctor Who”-worshiping aunt came along for moral support.

Soon I had become one half of THAT couple, maneuvering a stroller through hordes of spandex-clad superheroes, unidentifiable anime critters and hairy dudes declaring, via T-shirt, their allegiance to DC or Marvel. As the husband headed off in the direction of the Warner Bros. panel, the aunt and I waited for the exhibit hall to open and my tiny daughter got her first eyeful of the convention’s colorful passersby.

As Batmen in black body armor, Stormtroopers armed with blasters, gender-bending Thors and Lokis, wispy Elsas from “Frozen” and a guy painted entirely silver to look like a certain surfboard-carrying comic book character paraded in front of her, my baby’s eyes grew wide. She had entered a strange new world.

photo 2

That’s when I got to thinking. Many parents want their children to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, ballet dancers, Olympic gymnasts or the president of the United States. Those pursuits are certainly admirable but when I think about my daughter’s future, I have a different fate in mind. I really hope she grows up to be a nerd.

I suppose the odds are in my favor. My little girl wakes up every morning in a house littered with the traces of her parents’ geekdom. Posters of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” line the walls. Display cases full of Legos dominate the living room. Boxes of action figures are crammed into closets. Shelves overflow with books, many of them science fiction and fantasy. And on the mantle over the fireplace sits one of those fancy replica lightsabers, a cherished Christmas gift from dad to mom. In this house, Sunday nights are dedicated to “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” the latest “Star Wars” news is hashed over and then rehashed and though we’re not a big comic book family, you’d better believe we’ll be there Friday when the latest Marvel movie hits theaters.

Most of our friends are nerds, too. Unlike the stereotype, they’re not 35-year-old men living in their mothers’ basements, playing World of Warcraft and guzzling Mountain Dew. They’re well adjusted, intelligent, productive members of society who also happen to read feminist comic books, debate the merits of “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek,” play “The Elder Scrolls” online, re-read the Harry Potter books annually, line up at midnight for movies, countdown to the next seasons of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” and get excited about Hayao Miyazaki.

These are some of the coolest, smartest, most fascinating people I know and that’s why I hope my daughter doesn’t choose to rebel against her nerd heritage in favor of a boring existence. Many people slog through life doing the bare minimum — going to work, going home to spend the night sitting in front of some reality TV show.

Nerds want more. They’re not satisfied with reality and the status quo. Their imaginations are always churning, always musing, always wondering: wouldn’t it be cool if … time travel was possible, vampires existed, the zombie apocalypse happened, there was life on other planets, some rich dude with a cave and clever gadgets could save society from the evil within or if a British time lord could alter the course of history.

Nerds are passionate and playful. When they care about something they really care. They don’t do things by halves. They’re obsessed and they want to share that obsession with you. They’re not content to just watch or listen, they want to live it, collect it, wear it on a T-shirt, write about it in an Internet chat room, join a club or — as evidenced by the number of people who indulge in cosplay at WonderCon and similar events around the country — transform themselves into their favorite characters.

photo 1

Some would argue that such obsessions are childish, pointless and don’t make a difference, but the sheer momentum of nerd passion has turned comic book and fantasy movies into a billion dollar industry in Hollywood, resurrected cancelled television shows, united scores of disconnected individuals and, yes, even accomplished some good in the world. Take, for instance, The Harry Potter Alliance, thehpalliance.org, a self-described “coalition” of Harry Potter fans who have launched campaigns for literacy, equality and human rights around the world, donating books to impoverished kids, sending disaster relief supplies to Haiti, building a library and pressuring Warner Bros. about the use of child labor in the manufacturing of Harry Potter chocolates.

I’d go so far as to say that the world would be a better place if we were all just a little bit nerdier. I hope my daughter grows up to love a television show dearly, to take an enthusiastic stance when it comes to “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” Marvel or DC, to adore a movie so much she can’t stop talking about it, to create a costume so she can “become” her favorite cartoon character, to acquire a ravenous taste for books, especially fiction and fantasy. I hope she embraces and is embraced by other nerds as warmly as I have been embraced by them. If she can find it in her heart to do this, I know she’ll be happy.

Photos by Fawn Kemble