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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Space Blahs

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday August 7, 05:20 pm
Guardians is okay, but it could’ve been so much more

Guardians of the Galaxy



The space opera has been a popular subgenre ever since the smashing success of the original Star Wars trilogy, the first of which hit screens in 1977. The formula has been pretty much the same ever since: roguish heroes, scantily clad princesses and megalomaniac villains with chips on their shoulders (see Flash Gordon, Krull, and roughly a gerbillion others).

Most of the Star Wars “clones” (See what I did there? Ha!) were crap, but many of them gained camp value over the ensuing decades — and a few even inspired remarkable reboots (like the remake of Battlestar Galactica: seriously, who saw that coming?).

As yet another homage, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t bad: it features good entertainment value, and the best production money can buy. The problem is that it aspires to be so much more, but comes up short.

Guardians is based on a little-known Marvel comic — and although some leeway has to be given to the introductory film of what the studio clearly hopes will become a franchise, an inordinate amount of time is spent establishing the band of misfits who figure prominently in the action. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is an earthling who was kidnapped as a child and raised as a burglar; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the adoptive daughter of Thanos and a skilled assassin; Drax (WWF’s Dave Batista) is a criminal who’s not fond of figures of speech; and the two mercenaries, Rocket Raccoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively). Each character has endured major family trauma, which makes them both standoffish and yet susceptible to loyalty and kindness.

The “gang of good guys” aspect of the film is strong, if somewhat run-of-the-mill, but the problems begin with the villain — and the McGuffin that brings everyone together. Star Lord and Gamora are in hot pursuit of an orb of enormous power, but so is Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies), a zealot Kree leader who plans to use it to wipe out the planet Xandar (a stand-in for earth).

A melee ensues, with the would-be Guardians ending up in a co-ed prison. Serious grudges have developed, but the ragtag group agrees to put their differences aside, at least until they can find and sell the orb. This is easier said than done, because Ronan, another big baddie named the Collector (Benicio del Toro) and Quill’s former comrades are all also looking to grab it.

Director James Gunn (who until Guardians had only crafted marginally entertaining B-movies like Slither and Super) gives the film an offbeat tone — but if you don’t share his sense of humour (which I mostly didn’t), it’s just not that funny. Pratt seems like he’d be perfect for almost any other Gunn movie, but he just doesn’t seem to be the right fit for Star-Lord: his bumbling persona just doesn’t make us believe he could be a hyper-competent thief. Zoe Saldana is given little to do and by the end, Gamora is as much as a cipher as she was in the beginning.

But the fringe characters allow Guardians to shine. Superb voice work by Cooper and Diesel (who gets a lot of mileage out of repeating “I am Groot” time and time again) put the CGI creatures way ahead of their human peers. (Rocket’s overpowering anger is well-established and Groot is endearing to a fault.) The most pleasant surprise is Batista, whose deadpan delivery knocks it out of the park every time.

Guardians of the Galaxy could have used more of that, and a lot less winking at the camera.  


A Most Wanted Man



For fans of excellent cinema, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was a sad lesson in squandered potential. At the time of his passing, Hoffman was operating at the height of his powers: The Master, Doubt, Moneyball, Pirate Radio all gave us radically different people, and fully fleshed-out characters.

In A Most Wanted Man, Hoffman delivers a very physical performance as Gunter Bachmann, a hyper-competent German spy in charge of his own unit in Hamburg (where, we’re told, 9/11 was planned). His main focus is on a Chechen refugee who’s sitting on a small fortune; Gunter believes he plans to channel these funds towards radical Muslims.

His prediction doesn’t materialize as expected, so he helps it along by forcing a shady banker (Willem Dafoe) and a human rights attorney (Rachel McAdams) to get into the operation. Strangely, Gunter turns out to be the most ethical-minded of the spies featured in the film.

Based on a novel by John Le Carré (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), A Most Wanted Man is distilled realpolitik: defensive plays can easily turn offensive (through entrapment, for example); the Americans want results and aren’t particularly interested in nuances; the Europeans must fight to keep control of scenarios unfolding on their own soil; and about every Muslim of any notoriety apparently requires surveillance. There are no good guys in this farce, just less murderous operations.

But as interesting as the topic is, director Anton Corbijn (responsible for the underappreciated The American) doesn’t always keep things compelling. At times A Most Wanted Man feels like nothing more than meetings upon meetings upon meetings, with a couple of stakeouts thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of A Most Wanted Man is that if no one had done anything, everybody would have been better off at the end.


It’s a decent film, but the major effect of A Most Wanted Man is to remind us of the power that Hoffman possessed as an actor — and how it was lost far too soon.

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