Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy
I finally caught up with this, a little late, but I did want to watch it at the cinema as some of the reviews referred to it having a kind of Star Wars vibe, an event picture best watched on a big screen and in company. Perhaps it was that the cinema was nearly empty, only a few of us stragglers still not having seen it, but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed.

The movie was fun, with plenty of laughs and entertaining throughout but, at the end, I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about and I struggle to remember any real stand-out moments from it. Perhaps it was just a case of reacting against the hype – ‘expectation inflation’.

As the film starts in 1988, we see a young boy at the hospital where his mother is dying of cancer. As she dies, she reaches out her hand but the boy hesitates too long and she is dead before he can say his goodbye. Unattended by the other grieving relatives, and with his father having left, he runs out into the misty night – and is abducted by a UFO. Cut to modern day and the same boy, now a man, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), is on an deserted alien planet (we know he is the same boy as he’s playing the same cassette tape on the same Walkman) scavenging an ancient artefact, a mysterious orb. This is obviously a much-sought after thing, as he has to fight others to retrieve it, and a bounty is paid, both for him and the artefact he is trying to sell. A green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldan) is sent to kill him and retrieve the item for her boss Ronan who, in turn has been promised the destruction of his enemies of the planet Nova by his boss Thanos; and a genetically-modified raccoon, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and his tree-like partner Groot (Vin Diesel) try to kidnap him for the bounty. A three-way scrap on the planet Nova, after Quill unsuccessfully tries to sell the orb only results in all four participants being arrested and sent to a space station prison to rot, or die. There, they encounter another maverick outlaw, Drax (Dave Bautista) and they soon find that only they stand between Ronan and the destruction of entire worlds.

This is a Marvel movie, part of the ever-expanding Marvel universe, but much has been made of it not calling on the other movies, the way the various Avengers movies did. This is largely true (I only noticed the villain Thanos and ‘The Collector’ having made any prior appearances) but is also largely irrelevant. It’s still a Marvel film, and it still calls on the same mythos, and the tone, while more consistently playing for laughs than other films, still has much the same mix of silliness, heroics and suspense as those other films. The biggest difference is that where Avengers went for wit, this one went for fun. That’s probably why so many people liked it so much, and why I didn’t, so much.

There was the usual end-credits scene but I think I was the only person in that cinema who got the joke!


The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, 2014)

The Lego Movie
Although I’d heard (universally) good things about this film, it was not high on my watch list but schedules determined this was the only one available in which I was even remotely interested. And I’m not going to break the consensus – it was great fun.

The plot is a standard ‘little guy has to find hidden strengths to defeat the big-business forces who want to rule the world’. It opens with a skit on the Gandalf vs the Balrog scene in Lord of the Rings, as the wizard Vitruvius tries and fails to stop the evil “Lord Business” from acquiring a superweapon with which he intends to destroy the world. Vitruvius warns Lord Business that there is a prophecy of the “special”, a master builder who will find the “piece of resistance” and will free the world from tyranny.

Emmet Brickowoski is a boring, run-of-the-mill worker in this world made entirely of lego. Emmet is happy in a world of stifling conformity, though he is not popular at work, being too ordinary even in a world that seems perfectly happy with mind-numbing mediocrity. Leaving work, he stumbles upon a mysterious and glamorous loner on his building site. Trying to get close enough to speak to her, he falls into a pit and finds a mysterious object which seems to call to him, and wakes up in a police cell with the piece of resistance affixed to his back.

Emmet is no master builder, only able to make anything by following instructions, but could he really be the prophecied “special”?

The film constantly, and successfully, pokes fun at both cinematic and more general cultural tropes and clichés. The idea of prophecy, of a destined person to save the world, both maverick and yet (incoherently) the culmination of a master-plan, most memorably portrayed in The Matrix and now itself a tediously conformist film cliché, is itself effectively ridiculed, and there is a warmth and inclusiveness about this film.

There is so much wit, ingenuity and downright subversion evident here that it is really hard to recall that its existence is due to the needs of a toy company to shift more product. But then Lego was always a little different among toy manufacturers, being among the first to offer gender-free advertising (which they’ve offered again, recently). Kudos to Lego for trusting filmmakers to make a proper film, without overtly selling product to us, and in doing so, have made a really great advert for their philosophy and product.