I was not much of a comic book reader when I was a kid. I spent a lot of time with the set of Golden Book Encyclopedia that my parents had purchased from the A&P grocery store or with books from the library. This was not a case of intellectual snobbery by any means, it was just that my parents had already put out the money for the Golden Books, and I was too damn cheap to spend my allowance on comic books. The Golden Books would later be replaced by the Funk and Wagnalls Standard Reference Encyclopedia with the green leather covers and the gold lettering which also happened to be purchased from the A&P.
It was during the Funk and Wagnalls period of my life that I began attending a new school, and I began hanging around with a bunch of guys from the South Side. They were hardcore comic book fans, the kind that nurtured business relationships with the news stand guy so that they he would make sure to reserve a copy of the latest issues for them, and even in some cases allowed them to get a copy a day or two ahead of the time it officially went on sale. These guys knew the stories, the back stories, the writers, the illustrators, and the inkers. They were, as I said, hardcore, and they were Marvel people.
Although I was fascinated by the all the fuss over each new issue of Spiderman, and while I was not above trying to read over somebody's shoulder when I could, I remained staunchly too damn cheap to buy any comic books, but there was much to be said of the experience of reading a comic book. The combination of words and art can be transporting in a way that words or art alone can not do.
I mention all of this because a) I am paid by the word, or will be if I ever get paid, and b) Guardians of the Galaxy, the newest addition to the string of Marvel Studio hits, opened this past week, and is perhaps the most comic-booky of the movies so far. It is a classically simple tale. Bad guys, who are very, very bad, are searching for a mysterious, very, very powerful energy source that could allow them to conquer the Universe. Good, civilized worlds are at risk, but too bureaucratic to respond quickly. In the middle is a group of people who, for various reasons, never fit into civilized society, but were never completely comfortable in the company or culture of the bad guys with whom they had been forced to live -- a human abducted from earth and raised as an intergalactic scavenger; a tough guy alien set on revenge for the murder of his family; a green girl who was raised to be a warrior by the baddie that killed her parents; a very clever talking racoon who resented the malevolent bio-engineering that created him; and a sentient but dim tree-like creature. It is this group, shunned by the good guys and abused by the bad guys, who end up finding the powerful energy source, then losing it to the bad guys, then take on the fight to get it back and save the universe because, gosh darn it, it is the right thing to do.
Guardians is riotously entertaining. The art direction is fabulous, capturing that comic book feel of bright, colorful, fanciful world craft. The characters are all amusingly hyperbolic: bigger, badder, dumber and sillier than real life. The writing is witty. Yes, the fate of the known world hangs in the balance, but the script never reaches for drama when comedy will do.
There is no depth to this movie at all, but that's not a criticism. It is a thigh slapping, fun house ride through alien worlds, and it never takes itself too seriously.
If I were you, I'd try to see this one on the big screen, and then buy the DVD when it comes out. Great fun. Good movie. Worth every penny.
Oh, and by the way, I wouldn't spent the extra bucks for 3-D.
The first time I saw a trailer for this movie, I was appalled by the prospect of a Marvel Studios DISASTER, skeptical that there was any market for the characters (whom I had never heard of), and painfully ashamed for the CGI artists in advance because I knew they could never produce a talking, gunslinging raccoon. And yet there was something about the sheer epic cheesiness of using 80s hit songs as part of the soundtrack that made me grin and hope that I was wrong about my assessment.
Over the next year, I surreptitiously watched the trailers over and over again, captivated by the songs and images, and the tantalizingly good shots of the raccoon. As the time for the premiere drew closer, and Bernie started to ask me if I thought Guardians of the Galaxy would be any good, all I could reply was, "If they can pull off the raccoon CGI, it's going to be great. If they can't, it's going to stink."
The raccoon was perfect.
And not only Rocket the raccoon, but the entire film circus from start to finish was sublimely silly and full of action. There was no need for me to know in advance who the characters were, and the storytelling was done so well that by the time the movie was over, I knew I'd never forget them.
Along with Bernie, I highly recommend Guardians of the Galaxy as the most fun movie of the summer.