Thursday, August 7, 2014


I really should just recuse myself from conversations about Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm in a frustrating position where Marvel is churning out movies I'd have adored as a kid, or even a youngish adult. But I can't bring myself to savor them, or even care much about them. And though I won't deny that I've had emotional experiences while watching many of those movies (including Guardians, it should be said), those emotions fly away as soon as I'm out of the theatre. But I went to see Guardians opening weekend, mainly because if I was going to find out what happened in it I wanted to go to the source, rather than have it spoiled for me on line. This outweighed any actual enthusiasm I had for the movie, which immediately put us at a disadvantage with each other.

In the act of watching it, I was engaged. After the earthbound, thriller-style heroics of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the dropkicking of the Marvel franchise into colorful/boldly realized space opera is a smart decision. It's great to look at, but has a decent emotional core, with Chris Pratt likeable indeed as nominal team-core Star-Lord. His reconnection with his deceased mother toward the climax is one of Marvel's most bracing cinematic moments. There's plenty to enjoy there, and of course the thing has found a huge, probably record-breaking audience.

But dammit, all these little things kept nudging me out of it. Rocket Raccoon is an irresistible conceit, but the character himself, though resourceful and clever, is quippy without being funny, and comes across as merely bitchy. (This is a common trait to many live-action Marvel characters - it singlehandedly drove me away from the Agents of SHIELD TV show.) Michael Rooker is believably gruff as alien tough guy Yondu Udonta, but in his climactic action sequence outsources his badassery to the flying knife he whistles to. Villain Ronan the Accuser cuts a great visual figure, but rings hollow. The "outsiders find family with one another" trope was already hashed out in The Avengers, and I'm tired of the geek-stroking inherent in the subtext.

And the fucking 70s pop tunes all over the soundtrack - I like that Star-Lord's prized possession is a mixtape from his mother, but I kept wondering why a woman who had undergone the incredible experience of parenting a child with an alien would have such pedestrian taste in music. It's a commercially sound decision to go with more familiar, crowd-pleasing tunes here than, say, the progressive rock the story screams for, and many have mentioned the tunes as one of their favorite things about it. But the juxtaposition of Earth's pop music with high-flying space action is not new, and has worked better elsewhere. And I'll take Sammy Hagar's title track from the Heavy Metal soundtrack to anything from Guardians.

So why even write about it? I'm not going to convince anyone that they're wrong to love this movie (and wouldn't dream of trying). Maybe I'm just trying to figure out why these movies do so much for so many, yet find no purchase with me. Maybe I'm as irresistibly drawn to sounding off about it on line as I was to seeing it. Or maybe there's some subliminal illuminati shit in Marvel movies that I'm immune to. That scenario makes just as much sense as me willingly looking a gift horse in the mouth. Who knows? No conclusion here, just an aging comic book-loving cinephile talking to himself. You're a gem for reading this far. Thank you. Sincerely.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Harry Potter 2

An irregular but ongoing series of posts continue as I watch the Harry Potter series for the first time. And so, having excitedly gotten into the series and committed to seeing it all, we (my gf and I) move without hesitation into:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

My gf said that she very nearly gave up on the series after this movie, and I can understand why. Like a number of sequels this one seems to confuse expansion with forward momentum. It's pretty much another Harry Potter story rather than the second part of an overall narrative, and though it's nice that it's stand-alone one wonders if it's really necessary. It does broaden the world of the series, introducing new characters (a flying car, a CGI elf, and an effete new teacher played with gusto by Kenneth Branagh) and realms around Hogwarts (including a forbidden forest chock-full of giant arachnids, the grandfather of which is voiced with lovely weariness by Julian Glover).

And the story does send Harry and Ron and Hermione back through many of the same plot points as the the first, with a twist: Harry receives warning that he mustn't return to Hogwarts, the platform on track 9-3/4 rejects him, nemesis Draco Malfoy becomes Harry's counterpart on Slytherin's Quidditch team, etc. And an engaging mystery drives the thing through some well-directed setpieces. But with everything feeling carefully reset at the end there's a feeling that this whole story could have been skipped over. That the production design and music feel less intricate only adds to the overall feeling of sequelitis.

I'm pleased to read that the filmmakers also thought this movie was a bit rushed; it seems director/producer Chris Columbus extended the production time for each movie going forward after this (which must have been a relief for John Williams, whose packed schedule around this time accounts for Chamber's less ambitious score). Quite excited for the third film, which I am assured is where the series well and truly takes off.