James Gunn

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Let’s pretend we’re in the Marvel universe. New York has been attacked by aliens, London has been a substitute wrestling ring for Gods, a World War Two veteran is looking pretty good for his age and out there in deep space, a group of ne’er do wells have bandied together to chase a McGuffin to make a hell of a lot money and potentially save their galaxy. Whichever comes first. Though hopefully the former.

Guardians of the Galaxy is not just a great Marvel film. It’s a great film period. A bulging sack of fine storytelling and rich imagination. And talking raccoons, never forget the talking raccoons. Directed by James Gunn (Super and Tromeo and Juliet) with a script co-written by Nicole Perlman and himself, Guardians has so much going for it, it’s amazing to think the less than mainstream comic hadn’t been picked up before.

What makes the film so enjoyable – aside from the soundtrack, the acting, the characters, the set pieces, the humour, the pace, the smile the whole thing staple guns to your face – is how well it stands up on its own. As great as the last few Marvel films have been, they’re in danger of alienating the casual viewer with their throwbacks and references (Did anyone really watch Agents of SHIELD?). Guardians feels liberated and fresh. Hell, the film isn’t even bogged down by pop culture references since Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill, the human of our band of miscreants, left earth as a child in the 80s. A nod to the Ninja Turtles is about all you’re going to get.

The eclectic cast is superb, with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket and Vin Diesel’s Groot clearly, and probably deliberately, stealing the show. Though special attention must be given to emerald-tinged assassin Gamora played by Zoe Saldana, who manages to have a life of her own not dependent on Quill. In fact, another of the film’s strengths is how tangible everybody is without having to go down the usual route of comic book movies of 45 minutes of exposition before the cape or mask is donned.

If it isn’t coming across clearly enough, Guardians of the Galaxy is ball-bouncingly brilliant. It’s a triumphant return to the days of the 80s blockbuster before everything became homogenized. Again, something even the latest Marvel movies veer towards. Hopefully, Guardians will spark a renaissance not just at its parent company but across the board. Let’s pretend we’re in a universe where summer blockbusters start taking more risks. Let’s pretend.

Advertisements

Super (2010)

Short-order cook Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson) is one of life’s biggest jokes cursed by bad luck. His friends used to piss on him at school, his prom date slept with the official photographer on the night of the prom and, more recently, his ex- drug addict wife, Sarah (Liv Tyler) has left him for local gangster, Jacques (Kevin Bacon).

For comfort, Frank falls back on his religion, his favourite TV show ‘The Holy Avenger’ and the numerous hallucinations of demons that plague him on a regular basis. This combination leads to a OTT vision that encourages Frank to become The Crimson Bolt; a superhero whose only power is a big fuck-off wrench.

As The Crimson Bolt, Frank fights crime in accordance to a moral code only a sociopath would devise. At one stage, he nearly kills two people for pushing in front of him at the cinema. He is joined in his crusade against the underworld by Ellen Page’s comic book clerk who is probably even more psychotic than Frank.

Wilson and Page are fantastic as the main protagnists. Wilson’s naive Frank contrasting beautifully with the primal scream in a leotard that is Page. Bacon is vicious as Jacques the gangster and he clearly loves his scenery with a slab of ham.

In terms of violence, Super is more akin to the Kick Ass comic books than the Kick Ass movie. It’s sparse but graphic. Frank stops a pimp from running away by dropping a breeze block on his head from a window three floors up. Rather than encouraging the viewer to become involved in our ‘heroes’ world and spur them on, it makes us take a step back and wonder whether the end justifies the means.

Super is less about being a superhero and watching Frank’s spiritual journey. His a twisted up ball of rage that needs an outlet. Even as the Crimson Bolt, his ‘moral’ code only helps so far and after a scene of sexual abuse and another vision, it is only then that he tries to take control of his rather naff life. The ending brings an emotional punch that I certainly wasn’t expecting and it’s stuck with me long after I saw it.

Super lives in the shadow of Kick Ass and, as a result, probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Which is a shame because even Kick Ass scribe, Mark Millar, has encouraged people to see it. It’s definitely a twisted, funny, violent, bittersweet film that needs to be experienced.

It also has a pool of vomit in the form of Liv Tyler. That was pretty weird.