What is it about the beach that makes everyone’s attitude improve?
Think about it. Everything good in life seems a little bit easier when you’re breathing sea air and basking in sunshine all day. Conversations between strangers strike up more easily. People are more attracted to each other. They’ll let you pull into traffic in front of them. And movies … movies at the beach just seem to go down a little easier, make us a little happier and add a special highlight to what’s usually a week away from “real” life. And it doesn’t even matter that the only reason you were at the movies was probably because it was raining that day.
So it was the first day of my family’s annual beach vacation in the Outer Banks of North Carolina a few weeks ago. We arrived on Sunday, and Monday turned out to be a wash as far as sunning and swimming went. And really, it provided the perfect excuse for me to round up my son and assorted other cousins and siblings (along with my 70-something aunt) to see a movie I’d been a little bit more excited about than a 45-year-old dad probably should be.
Suffice it to say that all my excitement about Guardians of the Galaxy was rewarded exponentially. Not only was I handed a rip-roaring space opera the likes of which we haven’t seen in way, WAY too long, but its presentation was complemented with perhaps the best non-orchestral soundtrack to ever – yes, I said ever – accompany a science fiction movie.
In fact, it was an interesting coincidence that only a few days after I wrote a post on the Raspberries’ “Go All The Way,” the same song (along with an ’80s-vintage Sony Walkman) would be featured as part of main character Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol. 1 that carries so much narrative and symbolic weight in this movie. Director Peter Gunn makes rich use of the 1970s AM radio selections on said mix, giving us 10CC’s “I’m Not In Love” right off the bat, a sly nod to what’s to come both in the story and song selections, as well as the unspoken guiding philosophy of Peter Quill – “big boys don’t cry.”
Quill (alias Star Lord) is in many ways the ultimate 8-year-old fantasy – faced with the all-too-real turmoil of illness and death, he inadvertently escapes to a new life of outer space adventure, where he gets the opportunity over the next 15 years to re-invent himself as Han Solo. There, in the midst of a wannabe Indiana Jones-style artifact acquisition, he’s revealed to be less a space-age buccaneer and more of a hapless crook. And, if I might mention the soundtrack once more, the pairing of the soul classic “Come and Get Your Love” with the lead-up to said attempted theft is one of the nicest music/sci-fi juxtapositions since J,J. Abrams threw us the young James T. Kirk stealing a car to the tune of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”
I’m not exactly Johnny-on-the-spot with this review, so a lot of great things have been written about the movie already. As such, I won’t bore you with the minutia of the plot. Suffice it to say that unlike most of the big-budget, effects-laden summer blockbusters of the last 15 years, this movie brings tremendous heart. I didn’t expect some of the emotional gut-punches Guardians delivers so well, and their presence makes for a much deeper level of character development for Quill. Indeed, every character in the film is provided with a back story that prevents each one from appearing as a generic action film secondary character. If you’re one of those folks who found yourself a little weepy (OK, a lot weepy. Shut up!) at the first 20 minutes of Up and the last 30 minutes of Toy Story 3, you might want to make sure you’ve got some extra napkins handy (for the greasy popcorn, of course! Shut up!).
The reference to Pixar films is important for a number of reasons beyond the effect on viewers. Where so many huge summer movies are offered up with half-a-dozen screenwriters who manage to produce unwatchable crap, two screenwriters – director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman – took the Marvel Comics source material and crafted it into something that modern filmgoers are obviously hungering for: a great story arc with solid characters and plot points that are a delicious combination of savory and sweet. Perhaps most importantly, it seems that Guardians isn’t trying to insult our intelligence by scaling back on the weird.
Suppose that we’re all hungering for weird, starving for something that kicks our brains and perception to the left a bit? Yes, Guardians is based on existing comic book material, but I’m not alone among even the nerd community in saying I have never read the original comics and had little to no familiarity with the characters or original story lines until I started seeing advance press for the movie.
That said, perhaps its success will, in instigating the inevitable copycats, result in more of a market for the slightly off center sci-fi movie … with REALLY fine soundtracks.