Monday, August 4, 2014

Gaurdians of the Galaxy: A Humble Review and Reflection.

Recently I found my self a subject of a couple of threads on redditt: .  I had posted a joke about planking, which if I am honest was far from my best work graphically and deserved the criticism it received. But one comment was that it was typical of pastors trying to be cool and hip and with it... I do not believe I deserved that criticism. I happen to like Marvel movies which makes me a bit nerdy rather than a wannabe. I like to reflect on the media I see and my theologian friends will tell you that when it comes to such things I'm probably a light weight as well... So with all that said... here is a humble review and reflection on the latest movie I have watched... Guardians of the Galaxy.

I had a chance to go and see an advance screening of the latest MARVEL Studios film "Guardians of the Galaxy". It was my youngest 12th birthday so my two oldest (21 and 17 both studying engineering at Uni.) shouted him along and invite me to join them.

I hadn't really heard of the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' before this movie came out.
I'd seen cameo's of Rocket and Groot on Avengers: Earths greatest Heroes' the animated TV series but was surprised that MARVEL were going to invest such a large amount of resource into this not so well known ensemble of characters. To a certain extent that was helpful as I went to this movie without any pre-existing expectations... except those that have been building as Marvel have produced more and more great movies from their studio and the fact that there are certain conventions for origin movies in the super hero genre... and Guardians of the Galaxy didn't disappoint.

Visually Guardians gave the MARVEL production team the opportunity to step out of the ordinary and everyday, which forms the back ground to most of their super hero movies so far, into what was totally a sci-fi, beyond the realms of this earth, filmscape.  Just like with the young Peter Quill we were whisked away from our world by a beam of light and found ourselves on other planets amongst an array of alien people. Yet there was something vaguely familiar about it, Marvel had managed to recreate the classic dark comic book Sci-fi aesthetic on scene. What made it even more familiar was that as Quill, now grown up did battle with Gamora, Rocket and Groot on the crowded walkways of the planet Xandar you catch glimpses of London architecture obviously seen as far out enough to be left in the CGI'ed background, and amidst that landscape the ubiquitous cameo by Stan Lee.

 In fact the whole movie was visually spectacular. From the stark clinical white of the hospital room, so much out of kilter with the rest of the movie that my kids thought it was a trailer for another movie. Through the inhospitable Morag, the bustling cityscape of Xandar, , the desolation and brokenness of arch-villain Thanos' throne room, the amazing giant space artefact, a head which was known as nowhere and back to the skies above  Xandar. The prison of Kyln where the various members of the Gaurdian's start to form an alliance bought back memories of my Visual Culture classes at Otago University. It is a futuristic representation of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, the building and  the theory, at the heart of much of our surveillance society: that being under the ever vigilant gaze of authorities is enough to modify behaviour. In this case as I fear in real life it does not work out hat way.

The characters in the movie are also well presented and put together. In classical Super Hero form they are all broken and damaged people with exceptional abilities and talents. We are let into Quills back story as it forms the opening sequence of the movie, and the other characters let us into their story as the plot unwind. Gamora tells us that she has live amongst here enemies all her life. Drax wears his heart on his sleeve and we know from our first encounter with him that he is being driven by revenge having seen his family killed by Ronan the accuser, himself driven by hatred and a desire for revenge against a whole race of people. Rocky in a moment of drunken self pity or maybe letting the caustic and sarcastic exterior down talks of being "genetically modified and experimented upon and being all alone as he is the only one of what ever he is". Groot is an enigma but apart from his devotion to Rocky there is the sense that he himself is aware of his solitude. When they meet the collector, he affirms the rarity of Groot by saying he "never thought he would met a Groot and wanting his body when he was dead of course."

In the midst of this the five characters form an alliance of necessity and by the end of the movie a bond of friendship and a sense of family and belonging.

The film has an endearing mix of action and humour, a great 1980's sound track, linking Quill to his mother and earth origins... I have to admit I found myself singing along to the opening lines of 10cc's "I'm not in love" much to the  consternation of my twelve year old. Vin Diesel did a great voice performance managing to extract so much meaning and different emotions from three words " I am Groot". Chris Pratt was well cast as Peter Quill/Starlord and Bradley Cooper stole the show without even appearing with the great lines that Rocket had.

The plot dovetailed nicely with the rest of the Marvel universe setting up many possibilities. The collector having Cameroed at the end of Thor:The Dark World movie, and being intent on collecting all the infinity stones. And (spoiler alert) Thanos having  been cast for the Avengers 2 movie. I'm not sure how Howard the Duck fits into the whole picture... could it be that Marvel are going to do a remake of the really bad b-grade 1986 movie!!!

The plot follows all the conventions of a super hero origin movie. The back stories the gathering together, moments of defeat and pathos followed by a combining together to over come the enemy. we know it has to be this way but Guardians does it well. Guardians is captivating and once again understands that it is the reality of the people or persona behind the action that gives a film depth and warmth and makes it memorable and ultimately enjoyable.

On a Theological basis, I couldn't help but think about the debate people have these days about how people come to faith and become part of the people of God. Do you have to believe before you belong, or do you belong before you believe, and how do these things impact on how you behave.  In the past it has been about believing before you belong, but as we have moved into a post modern world of community, people talk more and more of belonging before you believe, and in that matter Guardians is a post modern text. It is the narrative of a group of broken people coming together and finding that they are more together than they were singularly. They know that the belong together and that grows and effects how they behave till finally they believe in who they are. There is much discussion in Christian circles around discipleship and faith development coming out of community spiritual practises and in Guardians their belief in themselves as more than a group of misfits comes as they make decisions to act in a certain way. They choose to confront evil and to make sacrifices to over come it. The belief does not come till close to the end of the narrative. It shows the power of belonging in a universe full of broken and isolated people, hurt and damaged and displaced. That being welcomed in and made to feel part of the family is healing and empowering. In the gospel Jesus calls his disciples to "come follow me" and invites them to participate in his mission and message before he asks them that pivotal question "And who do you say that I am?" We by the way as the start of the climax to this movie are introduced to the Guardians of the Galaxy as a coherent entity. Its at that point that Jesus invites his disciples to walk the cross road of sacrifice and suffering and service with him.

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