In a perfect movie going world, we would have seen the brilliant “Hooked on a Feeling” Guardians of the Galaxy footage shown at Comic-Con last year and then known nothing more about the film until we sat down to see it on August 1. But this is not that world. Disney/Marvel is confident enough in the film’s quality—yet nervous enough about the reception to such an oddball concept—that they took the precaution of showing 17 minutes of footage at free screenings across the US tonight—and in IMAX 3D to boot.
Phones weren’t confiscated, and enjoinments not to pirate the footage were tepid, so if you hurry you may see it up on YouTube before the dawn….but in any event this is a hit, so the more buzz there is—and the more familiarity with the characters—the better.
Was it any good? Oh yeah. While this isn’t the quirky Steve Gerber-esque Marvel movie of my dreams, it’s still plenty different in tone from every other Marvel movie we’ve seen. And more importantly, the characters are more than one dimensional stereotypes. I had a couple of kvetches—we’ve seen a lot of the footage before so some of it, like the line-up scene, are getting overexposed. And there’s another note which I’ll save for the end.
The screening began with a message from director James Gunn, who seems a likable sort based on his social media presence. This footage is specially done for IMAX as I guess the film itself won’t be IMAXed. The footage began with the usual line-up scene as Starlord, Gamora, Rocket and Groot are arrested by the Nova Corps. Here it was expanded a bit, and with more of the back story introducing Gamora’s dad Thanos, her sister Nebula and her boss, Ronan the Accuser. We also learn Rocket and Groot are bounty hunters.
Next we see Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) getting hosed down, as you do upon entering prison, a fine chance to see Marvel’s trainer’s work in Pratt’s buff, just-underwear ready physique. We see the new team getting introduced into a coed prison with shocking Bruce Lee-yellow uniforms, and get to know more about Rocket and Groot before an escape plan is hatched. Hijinks and SPX ensue with everyone showing off their fighting moves, and Vin Diesel as Groot’s “I am Groot!” getting a workout.
I won’t spoil the scene, but it works on all levels. Maybe because he hasn’t been overexposed before, I liked Drax (Dave Bautista) the best. It turns out he’s not just a giant strong man, but comes from a planet where people take everything literally. Rocket explains that “A metaphor would go right over his head” to which Drax replies “Nothing would go over my head. I would catch it.” There will be humor, boys and girls. Peter Quill and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) are a little predictable as the loser Earth schlump with a love for old cassettes, and the lithe, deadly assassin respectively, but heroes and heroines are usually the least interesting characters. By now, Saldana is to lithe, deadly assassins what Sylvester Stallone is to aging renegades on one last mission.
Groot’s unorthodox powers get a workout in the prison escape scene (which did remind me of The Chronicles of Riddick just a bit.) He can grow shoots and stretch and do all kinds of Ent-like things. Rocket is of course the star of the show, asking as one point “What’s a raccoon?” There’s also a scene where Quill learns that despite being as cute as he is lethal, Rocket is also the result of some painful genetic engineering. I’m sure we’ll see a payoff to all that in the final film.
The special effects here looked great, way more imaginative than the usual Marvel movie fare. This is the first film where we really get to see the crazy world of the comics universe—throwaway concepts and all—put on screen, and the effect is so much fresher than the usual generic CGI bombast. From the head shaped planet Knowhere to the oddballs in the prison population, there is some strong world building going on here. And it’s as toyetic as hell, too. Winning.
Now, the one thing I didn’t like? I saw some people on Twitter comparing this to seeing Star Wars for the first time, and even allowing for the hyperbole of genuine excitement, Star Wars had one thing going for it GotG didn’t and that’s timing. Rocket and Groot are two of THE BEST CGI characters I’ve ever seen not played by Andy Serkis, and everyone is going to love them if they don’t get shoved down our throats too much in the next three weeks. BUT, Guardians aims to be a rapid fire ensemble comedy, and it’s really hard to do that kind of dialog with perfect timing when characters are CGI. Iron Man 2’s leaden screwball comedy was roundly panned, but at least RDJ, Paltrow and ScarJo were real people working against each other. Maybe I’m being too picky, but so much effort and money goes into making these movies hits that sometimes the little things don’t make it to screen.
Despite my minor kvetching, this was a solid preview. After the escape scene they showed an expanded teaser (whch you can see above at the top of this post) with our first look at Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, aka Thranduil) in all his Jack Kirby-designed splendor, Karen Gillan as Nebula and Michael Rooker as Yondu. And even a veiled look at Thanos (Josh Brolin) as Ronan approaches his throne. ONe thing is certain: this movie will be filled with talk about Ronan and Thanos and Infinity Gems and yadda yadda and I hope it makes more sense than it all did in Thor 2 because that was a real snoozer for motivation.
With all the good buzz spreading out, Marvel released a bunch of new stills, below. Yes you are going to feel like you have seen this movie long before it opens, but I still can’t wait to take in the other 103 minutes or so, and I suspect many will feel the same way after this clever sneak peek.
Yellow is the new black.
James Gunn directing a life size Rocket stand-in.
Gamora is unpopular in the prison because of her past kills.
Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer.
What no wife beater?
Glenn Close as Nova Prime.
Oh man, are the two leads going to flirt?.
What do you think?
He is Groot.
I won’t explain this scene but it has a very funny payoff. .
Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser.
Inside the prison.
James Gunn directing his brother as Rocket.
Everytime I see the Starlord helmet it reminds me of both Mike Mignola and Morpheus..
There’s gonna be a rumble tonight.
Misfits of the galaxy.
Already we see the sausage being made!
Bonus screenshot of Michael Rooker as Yondu
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.