Guardians of the Galaxy review: The death of storytelling?
'In Medias res' is the Latin translation of the phrase: "in the midst of things" and is a concept flouted among storytellers as the paramount virtue of the craft; the ability to start a story in the middle of the action. In the common vernacular another expression "In late, out early" instructs writers to start the narration after something interesting has happened, and get out of the story before it gets boring. Guardians of the Galaxy is a great example of these doctrines, albeit not one I hold to with the particular fervent belief of many storytelling instructors these days.
Typically I devote movie reviews to older movies, and I guess since GotG's star is waning now that it's been out for a while, it might qualify as old. But I will say, since this is a newer movie, there are a few vague spoilers included in this review, so reader beware.
I thought the movie was entertaining for sure and I would give it a 4 out of 5 review. The dialogue was good, witty and sharp and oftentimes very funny. Humor is the overriding virtue of this film, and unlike other Marvel movies, Humor takes precedent over story. While all the Marvel movies have some humor, it usually takes a backseat to the story. In GotG it is in the drivers seat. Sadly though, character and plot are not even permitted in the car.
Many have raved about the movie, and while I did enjoy it, I am concerned about what this movie says about modern storytelling. While my opinion may not be popular, I walked out of that movie feeling that although it was funny, and entertaining, it failed to meet my expectations.
Most of my friends had already seen it and praised it. Several authors on Twitter recommended it, many of them saying they saw it two and three times in the span of a week. I have never been a big comic book fan, but I was familiar with most of the modern mega hit comic book franchises from both Marvel and DC. While I never read many comic books, I knew something about the main characters, villains, backgrounds and such. I was looking forward to GotG because I knew so little of this particular group of Marvel heroes.
Sadly when I walked out of the theatre I still didn't know much about them.
Maybe we need longer attention spans
GotG seems to me, to be the Marvel equivalent of the modern day news show. It doesn't matter if you're watching Fox News, CNN, MSN, or your local evening news, the concept of "In Depth Coverage" on any topic has been brutally murdered by sensationalism and summarization, distilling all the information on any given topic into the simplest three minute sound block as possible. It seems as though the belief is the American people -- and the rest of the world I guess -- are so dumb and have such a finite attention span, that we must be constantly inundated with over-dramatizations, explosions, fear mongering, and bouncing balls. We cannot handle things like details, facts or - in the case of movies - plot and back story. I imagine the behind the scenes of the modern day newscast to look something like this:
News Anchor: "Thanks for joining our in-depth coverage on the riots in Fergusson Missouri. I'm the Anchor-on-your-side, Tom Bluesuit-Whiteteeth-Broadsmile. Today tensions rose in the sleepy little suburb of Fergusson Missouri as news broke that a young man was shot and killed by police. Details are still unclear, but riots have broken out in protest of the shooting and..."
At this point the Producer cuts in, speaking into Tom's ear piece: "Tom we're losing the audience. This is boring! They've all got ADHD. Summarize quick before they turn the channel! Cut to dead babies!"
Tom sputters for a brief moment before regaining his momentum. "Whatever has happened it's clear the police killed an innocent child, and cops are bad."
Tom shuffles his papers, "Now in other news, what's in your child's crib that may be eating their face off right now? The full story after these commercials."
If you think I'm joking, you must not have been on twitter in the early days of the Fergusson riots. Immediately twitter was alive with people who seemed to know everything about what was happening in spite of there being no ACTUAL information available to anyone. Even police and witnesses on the scene were unsure what had taken place. Yet in 140 character segments, Twitter convinced everyone that the cop was a racist, and the shooting victim was innocent, or conversely depending on who you follow, that the cop was justified and the kid was a thug. I was astounded and appalled at what I read from people with no direct connection to the shooting whatsoever. Sadly, respected journalists and media personalities flooded the internet with speculation and opinion before any investigation could take place, or due process unfold.
But I digress...
GotG fell short for me, because while it was funny, and Chris Pratt did an incredible job of transferring his goofy "Parks and Recreation" persona to the big screen, there was little story. Oh sure, stuff blew up, there were fight scenes and likable characters. But who they were, why they did what they did, their backstory, their motivations were left to the imagination of the viewer. Anytime the film got close to showing some character history, it was like the movie producer broke in and said:
"I think we're losing our audience! It's been nearly forty-five seconds since some bright colors flashed across the screen. Quick lets blow something up!"
And that's exactly what happened.
It felt more like watching a sporting event. Whatever your favored sport, you tune in to watch the action. You're certainly not watching football, baseball or soccer for story, plot or even character on any given day. At the end of the game, you walk away thinking it was either a good game or maybe not so much. But you're judging the entertainment value based on the action.
GotG provided a lot of action, and like I said a lot of humor, but little else. I walked out thinking it was about as fun as watching an action packed soccer game. Fun and entertaining, but no lasting value, no drama, no real conflict.
While I would still recommend the movie to anyone who hasn't seen it, if you're like me and you don't know much about that particular franchise in the Marvel world, don't look to the movie to gain any insight into that series. While I walked in looking forward to being exposed to this new group of heroes, I exited with little more understanding or appreciation for them than I entered with.
The ending was friendly enough.
My last major complaint revolves around the ending. Again, since humor and action took precedence over story, plot and character development, the ending felt ridiculous and anti climactic. At the risk of ruining it for anyone who hasn't seen it, it involves the main character grabbing a mystery rock that eradicates everything it touches (except him for some reason), and then holding hands with his comrades to keep them all from being torn into space dust. There was a lot of flashing multicolored lights, open mouths in silent screams, sounds of explosions and the aforementioned holding of hands. It was a bit like a 60's hippy LSD party. All they were missing was a roaring fire pit, a guitar and "Kumbaya" playing in the background for the full dramatic effect of friendship overcoming all odds.