Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

 

Guardians of the Galaxy is the tenth movie from Marvel Studios.  By this point, the studio has enjoyed almost unparalleled success.  By releasing a string of consistently entertaining movies, Marvel has established itself as the most trusted brand in movies.  That means they can get away with a risky prospect like releasing a movie based on a comic book that even comic book fanboys are not very familiar with.  Audiences know what to expect from the Marvel brand.  At this point, they trust the studio to entertain them whether they know the characters from comics or not.

The genius of Marvel Studios is that they understand their characters.   They know the strengths and weakness of each property.  So they know exactly what elements to emphasize and which ones to downplay when they bring these characters to the big screen.  Marvel also understands that “super hero movie” is not a genre unto itself.  If you don’t mix super heroes with other genres, they will get stale real fast.  Especially when you are releasing two or three movies a year.  So Captain America: Winter Soldier blended super heroes with an espionage thriller.   Guardians of the Galaxy introduces more science fiction/fantasy elements than previous Marvel movies.

Specifically, Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s Star Wars.

Chris Pratt from TV’s Parks and Recreation stars as Peter Quill who fancies the codename Star-Lord.  Pratt is a charismatic actor and an unconventional action hero.  As Peter Quill, he’s part Han Solo (he’s definitely scruff-looking) and part Luke Skywalker (right down to the daddy issues).  He’s a loveable loser with a quick wit who sometimes surprises you by doing the right thing when the chips are down.  Even when Star-Lord is being something of an ass, Pratt conveys that the guy really has a heart of gold.

The rest of the cast is filled with similarly flawed heroes.  On the surface, these guys are anything but heroes.  In fact, they are criminals.  Zoe Saldana adds another science fiction movie to her resume (after Avatar and Star Trek, she is queen of the genre) playing a green alien warrior.  Her family was killed by the cosmic tyrant Thanos (who serves as this movie’s connection to the Avengers franchise).  After which, he “adopted” her which meant torturing her and training her to do his bidding.  Thanos has put Gamora in the service of one of his minions, Ronin the Accuser.  When Ronin sends her on a mission, she sees an opportunity to escape her adopted overlord.

Bradley Cooper provides the voice of Rocket, a nasty talking raccoon with a penchant for guns as big as he is.  Like the others, Rocket has hidden depths and a tragic backstory that excuse his surly outward behavior.  Rocket’s only friend in the world is a living plant creature named Groot.  Groot is as big as Rocket is diminutive.  And the only thing he says is “I am Groot”.  And yet, this character -created by CGI and voiced by Vin Diesel- has more soul than a lot of characters in typical summer movie explosionfests.

The final member of the team is Drax aka Drax the Destroyer.  Drax is played by former WWE wrestler, Dave Bautista aka Batista.  Bautista delivers a nuanced performance you would not expect from a former wrestler.  Drax is eloquent but painfully literal.  He is driven by revenge against Ronin who killed his wife and child.  Although he is motivated by vengeance, he is not defined by it.  Even Drax the Destroyer displays a sensitive side.

In a lesser movie, we wouldn’t care about these characters at all.  They would be reduced to cartoons surrounded by laser beams, star fields and explosions.  Guardians of the Galaxy has plenty of those things.  But in between the action sequences, the characters display genuine heart that makes them relatable.  This allows the audience to become invested in the often ridiculous story.

It helps that Guardians of the Galaxy, like all of the Marvel movies before it, has a light touch.  Warner Brothers seems to have cornered the market on glum, ultra-serious super heroes.  But Marvel movies embrace the sometimes goofy nature of the source material.  They realize that if you’re going to have a raccoon opening fire with automated weapons, you should be able to have a little fun with it.

Writer/director James Gunn has shown an ability to mix comedy and genre like chocolate and peanut butter.  He got his start working on the low budget Troma movies like Toxic Avenger.  He went on to write Scooby Doo (which was dumbed down by the studio) and the Dawn of the Dead remake.  As a director, he made the under-rated horror comedy, Slither, and the violent super hero satire, Super.  Here, Gunn once again blends genre elements with just a bit of sly self-parody.  He knows how to use sci-fi and super hero tropes.  But more importantly, he knows how to subvert them.

Gunn also keeps things moving at lightning speed.  The first act of the movie has some heavy lifting to do in terms of exposition.  It needs to introduce all five Guardians and tell their backstory, introduce Ronin and explain his connection to Thanos and provide the backdrop of an interplanetary war between the Kree and the Xandarians.  There’s also the galactic peace keeping force known as the Nova Corps and a band of thieves lead by Michael Rooker in blue alien make-up.  Oh, and there is the all-power Infinity Gem that can not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.

That’s a lot for any movie to cover.  But Guardians breezes through all the exposition nimbly.  Other movies like the sci-fi super hero flick, Green Lantern, sink under the weight of their world building.  But Guardians parcels out alien names and Shakespearean tragedy in between jokes, fights and space races.  It’s the same kind of zippy Buck Rogers thrills that enthralled me the first time I watched Star Wars as a kid.  I can’t help but think Guardians of the Galaxy will have a similar impact on young audiences today.

Guardians of the Galaxy has two things going for it that most Marvel movies don’t.  One, it is far removed from the Avengers and the agents of SHIELD.  There’s no reason to squeeze in an appearance by Samuel L Jackson and no need to introduce a character who or plot thread for one of the other movies.  And two, these characters are relatively obscure.  That gives the filmmakers a lot of leeway to define the look and feel of this universe and the characters who inhabit it.  Fans cry foul when you get an Iron Man villain “wrong”.  But if you deviate from the source material for Guardians of the Galaxy, even most fanboys won’t notice.

As a studio, Marvel has shown a willingness to take big risks.  Guardians of the Galaxy is arguably their biggest risk to date.  And it pays off big.  Now that Marvel has shown they can sell these characters to audiences, I don’t think there is any property in their catalogue that is off limits.  As long as Marvel continues to turn out consistently entertaining popcorn movies, audiences will follow into the most obscure reaches of the Marvel Universe.

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Posted on August 2, 2014, in Movies, reviews, Super Heroes and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Hmm… now you make me want to see this movie. After seeing the praises from various sources. This movie got 92% on RottenTomatoes. Many reviewers there said the same thing as you, that this movie showed have the hearts and soul that not many other movies had.

    Now… should I shell out my money to go see this at a big theater or a regular cineplex…

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    • I tend to buy the cheapest ticket I can. No 3-D for me. Matinee if at all possible. But that’s just me. Having kids will do that to you.

      If you are the type to upgrade, the visuals for this movie are pretty spectacular. I can’t speak to the quality of the 3-D though. All I can say is I didn’t feel the movie lost anything in 2-D.

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      • The last movie I saw in 3D was Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. It wasn’t worth the money nor it was that great to see it in 3D.

        So I would avoid any 3D claptrap myself. Here in Bangkok, Thailand, cinemas are sometimes located in shopping mall. Otherwise, it’s 13-14 screen multiplex. One even have IMAX and it was about 2 blocks away from where I lived. But that multiplex chain had been doing price gouge for years. After their latest scheme to expired their discount card, I no longer want to spend my money there.

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        • Totally understandable.

          I only shell out for 3-D if the 3-D showtime is more convenient for me than the 2-D showtime. Whenever possible, I avoid the upcharge. With ticket prices being what they are, it’s no wonder box office receipts are down this year.

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          • Here they do the upcharge by having premium seats (seats in the first 5 rows), theater with honeymoon seats (comparably like first class seats on airplane vs coach. Big comfy seats for two with large armrest), digital projection, and of course 3D. Not to mention increase price every two to three years. Despite showing commercials, not movie trailers, plain commercials for about 20 minutes before the movie actually show. Is it like that in the US? At least the commercials part.

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  2. I’m going next weekend. I wasn’t interested when I first saw the trailer, but word is spreading that it’s good. Can’t wait.

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    • That’s pretty much where I was. My reaction to the trailer was that it could go either way. I’ve liked most of Gunn’s output pretty well, so I was optimistic. But this is his best movie to date. Lots of fun.

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  3. I was similarly impressed by Bautista’s work.

    The studio appears to have great confidence in this film, because there is a message at the end declaring that the Guardians of the Galaxy “will return.” That could be taken in a few ways, of course. Maybe it means a planned sequel. It could also mean that once The Avengers get done fighting Ultron and finally take on Thanos that this cast would naturally make an appearance. I’d be happy to see more of these guys.

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    • Marvel announced GotG 2 at Comicon last week. Clearly they had a lot of confidence since GotG hadn’t been released yet.

      Rumor has it, this will lead to an Avengers crossover in Avengers 3. But take that with a grain of salt.

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  4. My 26 year old son keeps bugging me. Hey Dad, Guardians of the Galaxy comes out next week. It has Vin Diesel, and Brad Cooper, we have to go.

    Hey Dad, that movie comes out tomorrow. You gonna go with me?

    Daaad. The move is here. We’re going today. No arguments. Just do it!

    I’m thinking, Guardians of the What? Vin is Groot? Bradley is a Raccoon? But at least it has Zoe..

    So I guess I’ll go.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

    My son is here now.

    Daaad, you ready to go? Hurry up, here are your shoes. Get your ass up and let’s goooo.

    Brad Deal

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  5. Spoiler Alert. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the movie!

    So my son and I saw the “Guardians of the Universe” yesterday and I must say it was fun. I was impressed by the way the story was “shared” equally between all the characters. Everybody had their moment. It was cool that Stan Lee makes the cameos in the Marvel movies. Is it as good as iron man? Probably not, but the shock value has worn thin and the story must stand on its own. The dialog was predictable, but after all it was based on a comic book. One I never heard of.

    I enjoyed the movie and I would recommend it to my friends.

    It is interesting how the technology has progressed to a point where animated characters are accepted as real life people. Not too long ago I would never pay to see an animated raccoon or a talking tree, but now it seems as though every other character is somehow animated and so I pay. Soon there will not be any need for flesh and blood actors at all. Just some computer guy on a giant computer and a blue screen.

    Brad Deal

    Dad, Daad, Did you see they were going to make a sequel? Are they going to tie it to Thor? Or the Hulk? When is it going to come out? Daad…..

    Oh give me a break!

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    • I’m glad you and your son enjoyed it. It’s not a great movie by any stretch. But it is great fun. I think someone would have to be pretty cynical to see it and not have a good time.

      You’re not wrong about CGI and the way it diminishes flesh and blood actors. But hey, someone will always need to wear the motion capture suit and provide the voice, right?

      Rumor has it Thanos will be the bad guy in Avengers 3. That is where the GotG and Avengers are expected to cross paths. GotG 2 has been announced. We’re reaching the end of Marvel’s Phase 2. Announcements for Phase 3 should be coming shortly.

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  6. So I have seen the movie. It was worth the movie. At least it was… I felt it was well done overall than Maleficent.

    I agreed with Mr. Lebeau that the director done it just right setting the tone of the movie and all the moments through out.

    Bautista was a surprise. He was unexpectedly eloquent provide a good juxtapose against the more flashy Rocket and Quill.

    On Wikipedia, Jame Gunn praise Vin Diesel a lot for his voice work on Groot. I think it wasn’t an overstatement on the director’s part.

    I wish Glenn Close had a bit more screen time. She has such a presence on screen. And her voice… I think she would make a good drill sergeant.

    It was a fun summer time, adventure movie. I think it would amazing to see this in IMAX.

    Spoiler question.

    I wait till the credit was over to see the secret snippet. I didn’t understand at first who the Duck was but on Wikipedia it said that that was Howard the Duck. Does anybody know what’s the meaning of that?

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    • The cameo is basically just an in-joke as far as anyone knows. Although some people have taken it as a hint that Marvel may be thinking about giving the duck his own movie again. I never would have imagined such a thing. But after having a smash hit with the Guardians of the Galaxy, anything is possible.

      My favorite thing about that cameo is that they immediately gave credit to Howard’s creators following his appearance. Classy.

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      • It was funny cameo that Stan Lee did in the movie :D.

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        • This may be blasphemy, but I’m kind of over the Stan Lee cameos. I think the novelty has worn off. Now, I mostly find him distracting.

          Also, let me pull out my fan boy card for a second. Stan Lee didn’t create any of these characters by himself. I don’t think he ever had anything to do with the Guardians of the Galaxy – although I could be wrong. To keep putting Stan Lee and only Stan Lee in every Marvel movie gives casual viewers a false sense of Stan’s role in the creation of the Marvel universe. Don’t get me wrong. Stan “the Man” was important. But he always had a collaborator. And the artist in the “Marvel style” usually does the heavy lifting as far as creation and story telling. But since Stan was the face of the company for so long, he gets all the credit.

          /end rant

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  7. Guys, I disagree about Stan Lee.

    I don’t pretend to be an expert in the movies, I am a casual observer who enjoys the back stories of the movies my family sees. Only a fool would believe that Stan Lee invented every single comic book character, but he is the only person with whom I can identify as being integral in developing the industry. It’s like 007 and the song, or the Bourne movies and the water. It is the tie that shows respect for their forebears. I anticipate the cameo, I look for the cameo, and I applaude the cameo. And if they take my cameo away, I will be disappointed.

    I WANT my Stan Lee cameo!

    As for the Duck…

    I was happy sitting there in the afterglow of the movie, waiting for the credits to finish. It was great to watch the big guy polish his blade while the baby Groot teased him…and then came the Duck…and wrecked the moment. I remember the Duck movie from years ago. The movie that was so incredibly bad that it made my children cry, and my wife weep. The Duck who shot Lea through the heart, and showed us that Lucas was not a god after all. The Duck is the poison pill that can kill Ironman, and wreck the whole franchise. He is kryptonite. The secret agent from D.C. designed to put Superman back on top.

    Keep up the good work!

    Brad Deal

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    • The problem is, most people think Stan Lee created Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Avengers. He didn’t. He contributed to the creation of those characters. But using the “Marvel style” the artist does most of the heavy lifting. So guys like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby who did most of the actual creating are being short-changed due credit because Stan Lee is the face of the company. Also, Ditko is a recluse and Kirby is dead. Is it Stan’s fault? Not entirely. But I wish he’d do a little more to correct people who refer to him as the creator of these characters or the Marvel Universe as a whole.

      I don’t want to be anti-Stan. He has his place in history. He should be recognized. But so should these other guys who really had more to do with the creation of these beloved characters than Lee ever did.

      As for the cameos, I’m over them. While you’re sitting their anticipating the cameo, you’re not engaged in the movie. And when he finally pops up it’s a reminder that, hey, I’m watching a movie. Pulls me right out of the story every single time. It doesn’t help that Smiling Stan is a lousy actor. The cameos were fun when they first started. But seeing Stan’s mug interrupting two-three movies a year has gotten tiresome. I don’t need it. Especially in a movie like GotG where Lee was not in any way associated with the creation of the characters. What’s the point of that?

      These guys create beloved and lucrative stories and characters which are then owned by a giant corporation. And some of them are dead broke. A lot of them struggle financially while their creations are making millions for Disney and Stan is getting all the credit. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      As for the Duck, I don’t blame him. I blame Lucas. He ruined the Duck. The Duck is due for a second chance. I’m glad he got it even if it was just a cameo. And I think it would be a kick in the pants to see a Howard the Duck movie done properly. Also, his cameo made more sense for the GotG than Stan’s. ;-P

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      • I loved the Howard the Duck cameo, but I was even more excited to see that Adam Warlock’s cocoon was in the Collector’s museum.

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        • I have seen a lot of people talk about that. I have to admit that I’m not a Marvel guy and I avoid Marvel space stories like the plague. So I did not catch that easter egg.

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  8. I went to see the film the other day in 3-D, and my brother was the one who got me to watch it. I am really glad that I did! The characters had good chemistry, the sets were very detailed… Just wow! Probably my favourite movie of 2014 so far.

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    • Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment.

      This one really does appeal to people who have never read comic books. It is just a big fun movie like the first Star Wars. The fact that it’s Marvel is incidental.

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  9. I saw this last week. My original plan was to see it again this week, but things just didn’t line up right. maybe next week. Funny thing, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I really wanted. However, my expectations were through the roof. Maybe next time I’ll keep my anticipation lower. :)

    Some of the character stuff I found a little forced. Like, you’ve only just met these people. Why are you explaining your whole life story to them? But because they spilled their stories to each other, they suddenly became a perfectly-working team. Didn’t quite feel right.

    Apparently Stan Lee created Groot, way back when. I don’t mind his cameos. If it was a larger role, maybe. But twenty seconds of a two hour movie? Blink and you’ll miss him.

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    • I just don’t get a thrill out of spotting Stan any more. Instead, it’s a reminder that “hey, I’m watching a movie”. If I were making a Marvel movie and I had to include a Lee cameo, I would put it in the very first scene so we could all move on. I would have him sitting around with stand-ins for Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and I’d try to get some other Marvel creators to show up too. They would all get lines. When Stan tries to speak, they would cut him off. The Kirby stand-in would say, “I think you’ve said enough already.”

      I agree about the character interactions being a little too easy. But that’s just how these movies go. Ever notice how Luke Skywalker mourns more for the old man he just met than he does for the aunt and uncle who raised him?

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      • ” Ever notice how Luke Skywalker mourns more for the old man he just met than he does for the aunt and uncle who raised him?”
        Yes, your point is well taken. I suppose it’s a limitation of movies. Look at Farscape, they took years to fully gel as a team.

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  10. I’ll start by a quick: I did not like Rooker and I did not like Reilly. Reilly was the lesser of those two evils, but I couldn’t help but keep thinking that Will Ferrell was going to show up beside him to run off doing something stupid. Rooker though, ugh. To me he felt almost exactly like Merle from Walking Dead, but in blue “alien” paint.

    Spoilers (just in case…?)

    Personally though, I’m not a big fan of this. And I haven’t gotten around to a second viewing (and sadly may not) to figure out what exactly is keeping me from it. I think I have an idea, that I’ll try to swing out here, but as stated I’m not fully sure what about it at the moment.

    Character interaction was great between the main 5 at least. The group did a good job with that. There was some nice funny scenes, mostly (in my opinion) dealing with Rocket. In fact, it probably is Marvel’s lightest and most comedic film out there. Not to mention effects are amazing, the 3D was really good…

    Despite that I can’t seem to love it. I think for me there was two main issues. One being I thought there wasn’t a clear direction for the film. I mean they meet up, jail, group up, get out, try to pawn an item, fight, then suddenly have an actual goal to do. It just, much of the film there didn’t feel like it had much at stake or a real direction (Star Wars, as you compared it to, had a much more consistent large threat lurking the entire time with Vader and the Death Star from the start). Then, I don’t feel I really had enough invested in the characters to be that concerned over them if they live, die, etc. While it was about the best they could manage to get back stories in one form or another for 5 characters in one film, I still felt it was rushed. Using Star Wars again, with Luke we got to see him as a naive child, and slowly see him progress into the hero at the end of film 1. Starlord we see him as a really small child for a small bit, then boom he’s a bad ass – mercenary or treasure hunter or something? – who is a smart ass. And while at the very end he decides to become a hero, he never really grows past his innitial character.

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    • I think this is just personal preferences. Yeah, Rooker is Rooker in just about every movie he makes. I was familiar with his work long before The Walking Dead. So I don’t see him as Merle. On TWD, I saw him as Rooker. And Rooker is awesome. Rooker is always welcome. Rooker is never a negative in my book. The same goes for John C. Reilly only more so. I would watch an entire movie about Reilly’s character. But that’s just me.

      I think you may be taking the Star Wars comparison a little too far. I’m guessing that on second viewing with adjusted expectations, you will probably enjoy the movie more for what it is. I don’t think it was the movie you expected or wanted. But it is a lot of fun. I get what you’re saying about how it doesn’t exactly go anywhere. But honestly, tell me a Marvel movie that does. They are all basically “hang out” movies. Everything you are saying about GotG is also true of The Avengers. Maybe more so.

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      • 4 (well now 5) movies with Reilly I’ve seen, 3 of them have been with Ferrel. So it just kinda sticks to me. I mean he was fine, and I didn’t really think of him as that stupid brother, or a race car driver, but at the same time I still thought it was a bit strange to not see him teamed with Ferrel.

        And I only really used the Star Wars references because you did. I had those problems even before semi-comparing it to Star Wars.

        As for your mention of the Avengers, yeah the Avengers by itself has the same issue. But you gotta look at the fact each character in Avengers got at least one film to help set up that character’s backstory so the Avengers film didn’t need to worry about wasting much time on character introductions, just time spent on getting characters together. We got to spend an entire film with Steve seeing him as the struggling little weakling with a big heart, to then learning how to use a body big enough to hold his heart. Banner struggle to deal with the beast inside himself, and at the end start learning how to at least direct the Hulk was a movie. Tony got two films actually to set up his character going from rich playboy, to why he suddenly became a rich superhero playboy and such. Thor got set up to why he cares about protecting Midgar in his own film. Only two that really didn’t get much set up was Natasha who having mystery about her (being the Black Widow) is kind of fitting, and even then she got previous screen time with Tony in Iron Man 2 to at least help set up her char as a kick ass agent. Only one really lacking story is poor Clint as he got a cameo in Thor, and for most of Avengers was just a mind controlled goon. GotG didn’t spend time setting up most of it’s characters with their own film before their assembly.

        So no, I don’t think what I said about GotG can really be applied to Avengers.

        But as stated, I’m not against the film, I just don’t find it to be that great. And I will hopefully get a second viewing of it sometime, and see if a second look at it will at least change some of my outlook towards the film into a better light.

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        • You need to get out and watch some more John C. Reilly movies right now. He is awesome.

          The Marvel movies are fun. But there is a sameness about them. They have a house style. This guarantees that the worst Marvel movies are still pretty good and the best Marvel movies never really achieve greatness. They all have basically the same strengths (sense of humor, fun, characters) and weaknesses (plotting, story points that make no sense, setting-up other movies). Even given that we met all of the Avengers in previous movies, The Avengers does not have a strong plot. They basically just get to know each other for two hours and then have a big alien fight which ends with a complete cop-out. It’s almost the exact same story structure as GotG.

          I think you’ll like the movie more the second time around. But maybe not. Personal preference is funny that way.

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    • I really don’t identify Reilly with Ferrell despite the fact that they’ve done 3 movies together because Reilly had quite a long resume before their first film with one another. Take a look at Reilly’s 2002: The Good Girl, Gangs of New York, Chicago, and The Hours. I saw all of these movies in the theater and noticed Reilly each time as someone I had seen before. He got an Oscar nomination for Chicago.

      He’s been showing up in major studio releases since 1989 when he worked with Sean Penn in both Casualties of War and We’re No Angels. The next year he appeared in both Days of Thunder and State of Grace. He’s been part of at least one major release every year since then, so his few films with Ferrell just don’t do much to define him for me.

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      • I first noticed John C. Reillly in the magnificent Boogie Nights. I’ve seen him in many other movies since, and he’s just always great. I really liked him in films with Will Ferrell too, but that doesn’t define him for me. I’ve also liked Michael Rooker for many years, too. Long before The Walking Dead. When I first saw him pop up in that show in the first season, I went “Hey, it’s Michael Rooker!” I actually got a kick out of seeing both of them in Guardians. I just wish they had given Reilly more to do.

        Like

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