The Light and the Dark

Some disconnected but related ideas that are circling around my head.

  1. Robin Williams died. He was a great comic. But I’ve always really, really liked him as a dramatic actor. He will always be known for his manic energy and the improvisation, but when he was given the chance to act, he could give you chills. (see his work in Insomnia, seriously.) One wonders what he could have done if he’d been given the role of the Joker back in the Tim Burton era.
  2. One of the most common bits of praise I’ve heard about Guardians of the Galaxy is how it avoids the whole “grimdark” aesthetic that has infected many superhero movies. This despite the characters’ backstories, and their status as criminals, thugs and assassins. The plot, in fact, is not really all that light hearted, which sort of reminds me of. . .
  3. Doctor Who, which I’ve finally caught up with on Netflix. I can’t think of any other dramatic work that manages to balance the elements of light and dark so seamlessly. And the pits of darkness is goes into (I mean, genocide is a recurring theme. It can get dark.) wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it wasn’t for the frivolity, the humor, and the joy the various Doctors bring to the table. (And vice versa)

All of which is sort of a round-about way of saying that if you’re writing something light, don’t forget the darkness.

Top 10 Reasons Guardians of the Galaxy deserves to be this generation’s Star Wars


You probably know this by now. Guardians of the Galaxy is a good movie. A very good movie. It’s good enough that almost all the critique I’ve seen of it amounts to someone saying “Well this part of it wasn’t quite as fantastic as I hoped it would be so I’ll pick on it so I can keep some hipster cred and not look like a drooling fanboy.” So, bottom line, it is worth the movie ticket, go see it.

And in the favorable reviews I’ve read, one reference keeps popping up.

Star Wars.

Not the joyless zombie franchise that has been stumbling ever since someone let George Lucas put an Ewok on the screen. We’re talking Han Shot first, non-CGI, pre-Mulligan, “WTF-you-mean ‘New Hope,’” original 1977 Star Wars.

The comparison isn’t hyperbole.

I think we have a contender for Star Wars’ mantle, and, barring an Ewok moment, the birth of a franchise that may outdo whatever joyless spectacle that Disney plans for future “Star Wars” movies. (Scare Quotes because every “Star Wars” movie after the midpoint of Return of the Jedi deserves them.)

Here are the top ten reasons I think this movie deserves its place along with Star Wars as one of the best SF movies of all time.

10) Fuck the Hero’s Journey: Star Wars did the Hero’s Journey well. Too well. As in, every other subsequent movie that tries to do SF/Fantasy— especially if saving the Universe is part of the plot— has to hit those well-worn plot points. Enough already! If you try hard enough, you can probably map Campbell’s Hero’s Journey on Guardians of the Galaxy (after all that was the point of the exercise, create a template than can be shoehorned into almost any narrative) but it’s not Hollywood’s Hero’s Journey. No old sage, wizard, or magical negro comes to lead our misfits to greatness. If any one of these goofs were born “the chosen one” it’s only as an afterthought and a sequel hook. There’s no “call to adventure” or “refusal of the call,” every character is deep in it (knowingly or unknowingly) when we meet them, and everything after is just ill-advised scheme after ill-advised scheme that just sort of evolve eventually into saving the world.

9) “I am Groot”: I predict that will be the “Use the Force” of the next decade.

8) It took a risk: Success always seems obvious in retrospect. (People tend to forget that Star Wars was a completely unexpected blockbuster, there was no part of the premise that would lead anyone in 1976 to think it anything other than another B-movie drive-in flick.) In fact, the only reason this movie could have ever been made is because Marvel Studios has been doing so well picking projects that they could afford to try something that sounds ridiculous: “Ok big summer tent-pole picture. A SF Comedy with characters no-one has heard of, oh and a wise-ass talking raccoon.”

7) And it wasn’t afraid to run with it: If you’re doing a movie with a ridiculous premise there are two ways you can do it. You can make your film with an ironic nod to the audience and let them know that no one is really taking this stupidity seriously.  That way you come up with things like Batman Forever or Sharknado. Or, you can look your audience straight in the eye and say, in all seriousness, “No. this isn’t ridiculous. It. Is. Awesome!”

6) And just look at it: SF films in particular have to have a distinct visual style. You can tell the mediocre-to-bad SF films because they make no effort to look like themselves, they make an effort to look like other, better, films like Star Wars, 2001, Road Warrior, Aliens, Blade Runner. . . I predict we are going to see dozens of bad films that try to look like Guardians of the Galaxy.

5) It’s the funniest SF comedy since Young Frankenstein: For the same reason. The humor is all character-based, not mean spirited, and comes from a deep love of the characters complete with all their flaws and eccentricities.

4) All those characters are used:  While not often used in the genre, the misfit comedy is a common template for many, many, many films (including half of all films made about sports teams). Often the misfits become just a series of one-note joke characters. . . not here. Every one of them has as much depth as this kind of action adventure allows, and every one of them contributes to the ongoing story (positively and negatively) in almost equal measure.

3) Rocket Racoon: It’s almost a shame he steals the technical props from the other CGI character, Groot. But while Groot is almost expected, looking like so many other well-done CGI characters, Rocket is the best CGI character ever done in a movie. Period. Gollum is a distant second. And, like Gollum, he’s not only technically perfect, he has some of the best lines and most expressive character moments in the movie.

2) Fun: Guardians of the Galaxy knows that it here to entertain you, and it is going to entertain the crap out of you.

1) That kick-ass soundtrack: A space-opera comedy that unironically uses a retro-70’s soundtrack that is embedded in the film itself in a way that fits the movie perfectly. . . I haven’t seen this kind of genius since Reservoir Dogs.  I was in love with this soundtrack, and the way the movie uses it, before the end of the first title sequence.

Seriously, buy the soundtrack.