Friday, August 29, 2014

When the WWE got it wrong on Cena

I've defended John Cena plenty of times here, and how he was booked to win or lose matches.  It's my opinion that most of the time they've done it right, especially since I got back in as a fan, and that the perceptions a lot of Cena haters have are not based in reality.  That doesn't mean we don't have any common ground, though.  There were definitely some cases where booking Cena to win was not the right move in hindsight.  Here are the ones that stand out the most to me:
  • 2006 Royal Rumble over Edge - Edge had just cashed in his Money in the Bank contract 21 days earlier, on Cena, to win the title.  Why not stretch his run out until WrestleMania that year?  You can still have Cena drop the title like he did in June to Rob Van Dam without disrupting anything. 
  • 2010 Elimination Chamber -  Cena wins the title in an Elimination Chamber match, and then immediately loses it to Batista right after the match!  The point was to put the belt on Batista to lead up to a title match vs. Cena.  Storyline-wise, Batista got the match as payment for helping Vince McMahon earlier.  Why not just put Batista in the Chamber match as payment and have him win the belt there?
  • 2011 Exteme Rules over the Miz - This was a month after WrestleMania, where the Miz retained the title over Cena after the Rock laid him out with a Rock Bottom.  The point was to get the belt on Cena so that CM Punk winning it at Money in the Bank later would resonate more.  They couldn't do that at Wrestlemania because they need something to spark the rivalry between Rock and Cena for WrestleMania 28.  But they could have done a triple threat at Money in the Bank between Miz, Cena, and Punk with the same Punk/Cena buildup, and have Punk get the title by pinning Cena.  Then have Summerslam be your Punk/Cena one on one match, and you can keep everything in place that happened afterward.

  •  July 25, 2011 RAW over Rey Mysterio -Mysterio won an 8 man tournament to fill the vacated title, and then lost it to Cena the same night.  The title had been vacated because Punk won it from Cena the same night his contract expired (a rare time real life was the same as the story), and the story was that because his status was in limbo the title was vacated. Punk would re-sign and face the winner of the tournament at SummerSlam. Instead of all that, just keep the belt on Punk (he actually re-signed the night he won it so he was on board already), and do a rematch with Cena at SummerSlam.  The aftermath, where Punk wins and gets laid by Kevin Nash so Alberto Del Rio can cash in his Money in the Bank contract and win the title, can go on as it did. 

  •  2011 Night of Champions over Alberto Del Rio - Another win over a guy who'd just cashed in Money in the Bank contract.  Del Rio held the title for a whopping 35 days before Cena got the victory over him for his tenth title reign, and it quickly proved to be a moot victory because he dropped the title back to Del Rio two weeks later at Hell in the Cell, who would then lose it to CM Punk at Survivor Series a month and a half later.  What was the point here?  What was gained from a 14 day title reign other than giving more fodder to the Cena haters?  If Del Rio had kept the title all the way through from Summerslam to Survivor Series would that have been so awful?  This was clearly a 'we need to have a big title change hands at Night of Champions' move and nothing else. 
Those are five instances were I'd agree with the Cena haters; there are a few others that don't involve the title as well.  He didn't need to beat Dolph Ziggler multiple times on free television after TLC 2012, and getting a pin on Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 30 didn't have to happen, either.  And then there's the worst of all, Extreme Rules 2012.  You bring back Brock Lesnar after eight years and a successful MMA career, and in his first match back he jobs to Cena?  Yikes.  It took two years of buildup to get Brock's status back up.  So with this evidence and a bunch of other examples I haven't gotten to, why do I still defend how they've handled him?   Mainly because most of what they've done over the years has been fine.  As I said in one of my previous posts, he puts people over all the time.  He's the biggest draw in the company; he's supposed to hold the title multiple times and work main event matches.  He's supposed to win most of the time.  He's not going to be out there jobbing to Luke Harper.  As much as I've bashed Hulk Hogan's record of not putting people over, I'll admit that 90 percent of time things were done the right way with him.  I think that they really do know what they're doing now.

Monday, August 25, 2014

How Night of Champions is Shaping Up

OK, it's not yet September but we have a good picture of how Night of Champions is going to shape up.  Here's what we know, based on official announcements or what's obvious based on recent events:

  • WWE Championship Rematch - Brock Lesnar vs John Cena
  • Intercontinental Title Rematch - Dolph Ziggler vs The Miz
  • Roman Reigns vs Randy Orton (probably with some stipulations)
  • Mark Henry vs Rusev
  • Diva's Title Match: Paige vs. ??? (probably AJ or Natalya)
  • Tag Team Title Match: The Uso vs ??? (probably the Rhodes Bros)
  • US Title Match: Sheamus vs Cesaro
  • Chris Jericho vs Bray Wyatt
  • Nikki vs Brie Bella
The first two have been announced already; the others are ones that are likely based on where storylines are going. That's nine possible matches; I would bet on one of those not happening or being pushed to the pre-show.  Traditionally every title gets defended on the show proper, so that cements five matches on the card with the only question being who the challenger will be.  Last year was a drop off of sorts in that only one title changed hands; prior to 2013 there were at least two title changes at the show.  To me that indicates that this has become more of a placeholder event to get us to Hell in the Cell and Survivor Series later this year; the likelihood that three out of the five title matches and at least one of the non-title matches will be rematches from Summerslam reinforces that thought.  If that indeed is the case, then you just hope for good matches and be glad that you ordered the WWE Network (for just $9.99!) instead of shelling out $50 for pay per view. 

So will Cena get the title back in his big rematch?  I doubt it.  Lesnar's win was so big and so decisive that reversing after just one month would be stupid.  I'm guessing some kind of non-finish that allows Cena to come out looking better than last  month but keep the title on Lesnar.  As for the other titles, I think the Usos are ripe for the picking given the amount of time they've held the belts and either Sheamus or Paige (again) are ripe for the picking.  The other thing to note is the absence of Dean Ambrose and (possibly) Seth Rollins.  With Ambrose out with a storyline injury, we won't see him until October when he and Ambrose will likely pick things back up (hopefully a Hell in the Cell match).  Rollins, Mr. Money in the Bank is likely going to spend the next month doing run-ins alongside Kane to either help Orton or attack Reigns. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Will Cena get his just due now?

Last Sunday at Summerslam, John Cena lost the WWE title to Brock Lesnar in convincing fashion.  That's an understatement, actually; Cena got thrashed from pillar to post before catching an F5 from Lesnar and taking the pin.  He tried to fight back valiantly but could never so much as gain even a temporary advantage during the match. It was the most convincing victory for Brock since he returned to the WWE in 2012.  It's also the most one sided defeat that Cena has suffered since he became the WWE's top dog.  So after this I have to ask: are the Cena haters happy now?  Or, will they go back to hating John as soon as he comes back out on Monday night?  My money's on the latter.  The worst of the Cena haters aren't operating with logic.  Let's do a little comparison here.  I starting watching wrestling again in 2011.  In the three years since, Cena has gotten pinned by the following people:

  • The Miz (WrestleMania 27)
  • CM Punk (Money in the Bank and Summerslam 2011, Survivor Series 2012)
  • Alberto Del Rio (Hell in the Cell 2011)
  • The Rock (WrestleMania 28)
  • John Laurinitas (Over the Limit 2012)
  • Tenzai (Monday Night Raw in 2012)
  • The Shield (Six Man Tag Match at Elimination Chamber 2012)
  • Daniel Bryan (Summerslam 2013)
  • Randy Orton (Royal Rumble 2014 and Elimination Chamber 2014)
  • Lesnar (Summerslam 2014)
He also had a draw due to a double pin with CM Punk at Night of Champions 2012, lost a Last Man Standing Match to Del Rio at Vengeance in 2011, lost TLC matches to Dolph Ziggler in 2012 and Orton in 2013.  And he was the first man to unsuccessfully cash in a Money in the Bank briefcase.  By contrast, let's look at the man he's most compared to, Hulk Hogan.  In eight and a half years from 1984 to 1992, Hogan got pinned by the following people:

  • Andre the Giant (at the Main Event in 1988)
  • Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania 6)
  • Undertaker (Survivor Series 1991)
 That's it.  Three people in over twice as much time.  So please stop it already with the 'Cena doesn't lose' crap. He puts plenty of people over.  He may win more than you like, but he loses plenty enough when it matters.  And he doesn't walk off because he lost his smile or change his mind and refuse to do business at the last minute.  He gets good matches out of Ryback and Mark Henry and when he's in with a five star guy like Punk or Bryan he holds up his end.  Stop complaining already, will you?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summerslam Recap


Wow.....a whole lot of unexpected results at Summerslam this year.  Three new champions, a shocking heel turn, and mayhem all around.  What's my take on the night's events?  Glad you asked.  Here we go:

Intercontinental Title Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz (champion) -Excellent opener for the show.  Both guys went for all their signature stuff, and Miz worked the whole not wanting to get hit in the face angle very well.  I was surprised by the finish which saw Ziggler get a clean pin to become the new champion; I figured Miz would get a little longer with the belt. But I don't any problem with the way it was booked.  This match was the right way to open a pay per view event.

Diva's Title Match: AJ Lee vs Paige - I picked Paige to win the title beforehand, but after the Ziggler win I thought they'd go the other way.  I was wrong, as Paige did indeed win the title.  They gave the ladies a good bit of time to work, and both AJ and Paige are good enough in the ring.  The match was decent, and the actual finish was kind of abrupt for my tastes as Paige countered AJ's Black Widow into a simple DDT for the win.  If they go for another match at Night of Champions, they'll need to add some kind of stipulations (2 out of 3 falls would be my pick) in order to avoid any sense of redundancy.  They should wrap this up, but none of the other Divas currently has the kind of public stature to look like a plausible champion compared to either of these ladies, except maybe Natalya.

Flag Match: Rusev vs. Jack Swagger - I apologize for not knowing the rules here.  I didn't know this was a straight up match where the winner got his flag raised as opposed to a capture the flag kind of thing.  I would have picked Rusev had I know that, but I'll live with my prediction.  Rusev won a match that, like his other pay per view contests, have gone well because they stuck with the action and didn't go too long.  He's not a five minute squasher like Ryback was two years ago, and he has looked vulnerable.  In fact, this time he looked almost too vulnerable.  He's going to need to put a decisive finish on somebody important soon (anybody but Chris Jericho, please) if he's going to be a plausible main eventer next year.

Lumberjack Match: Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins - We got our actual match, and Seth Rollins got the win as I called.  The match was better than I thought it would be; lumberjack matches are usually messy and more about the guys outside the ring than the ones in it.  Ambrose and Rollins brawled into the crowd several times and the lumberjacks went there with them.  The finish was your typical lumberjack ending; all the men outside end up brawling leading to a confusing scene that allowed Roillins to get in a shot with his Money in the Bank briefcase for the victory.

Grudge Match: Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella - The first big shocker of the night.  I figured we'd get a better than expected performance from Stephanie on her way to the usual McMahon defeat on a big show.  Boy, was I wrong.  Stephanie did fine, and Brie did better than usual in the ring.  Triple H got involved, and so did Brie's sister Nikki in a shocking heel turn on her own sister.  Stephanie got the win after the interference, and I'm sure this will all be explained on Monday Night Raw.

Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt -A better match than the one last month, and the finish was a lot cleaner than I was thinking it would be.  Kudos to the bookers for playing it straight and not using Rowan and Harper's mandated absence as a reason to introduce some other strange kind of shenanigans.  I'm guessing we get the rubber match next month to send off Jericho off until next year.

Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton -The forgone conclusion match of the night.  I thought Reigns did what he needed to do.  He sold Orton's stuff pretty well, which puts him ahead of the Kevin Nash and Ryback's of the world.  That there is half the battle.  I think the concerns about his repertoire are a bit overblown. He doesn't blow spots like say, Goldberg, he just doesn't do a lot of moves in his televised matches.  If he did some more basic stuff in between the stuff he's known for I think he'd be fine.  Orton did defy what I said in my preview and elevate the match with his performance.  He came to work last night and it showed.

Main Event: Cena vs Lesnar -OK, my Seth Rollins cash-in turned out to be way off base.  Instead we got a thorough beating and decimation by Lesnar to claim the title.  Cena fought back a few times, but he got whooped real good.  Anyone who says that Cena does not put people over, or only does it in such a way that the other guys doesn't look very good, needs to either stand down or start wearing a 'Cena Hater for No Good Reason' t-shirt in public.  Period.  That's two Summerslams in a row he has lost the title cleanly; either acknowledge that or go have several seats right now.

Prediction-wise I went a right down the middle 4-4.  I got Paige, Rollins, Reigns, and Wyatt but missed on Ziggler, Rusev, Stephanie, and Lesnar.

So where do we go from here?  Well, Lesnar is a part timer.  I really don't see how they're going to keep the belt on him all the way to WrestleMania given his schedule but it would make the most sense from a booking standpoint.  Having him drop it before then makes this win less relevant.  Lesnar should be a dominant champ so that his eventual defeat has some relevance.  If it's going to be Roman Reigns that gets crowned, then that has to happen at WrestleMania so he can get more matches under his belt.  Brock is going to at least need to show up more often than he currently does.  We'll see; it should be fun.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summerslam Preview


Summerslam is this Sunday, and the main event is the WWE World Title match between John Cena and Brock Lesnar.  There's a bunch of other stuff, too; this is as full an announced card as we've had in a long time.  There are eight matches announced, so we could easily get an unannounced bout somewhere along the way, especially if one or more of the ones we know about end quickly.  What's going to happen?  I'm going to do my best shot at taking a guess.  There are some forgone conclusions and some completely uncertain ones; all in all, this is going to be a tough show to call.  But that isn't going to stop me from trying.  Here we go:

Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton - I'm starting off here because to me this one is obvious.  Reigns is going over as this is the first big singles match of his push to the top.  The only question is whether he gets the clean win here or they some kind of DQ to lead to a rematch at Night of Champions to go for the decisive result.  The most interesting thing here is whether Reigns will be able to go 10 to 15 minutes in a solo match.  Orton is a good worker, but he isn't one to carry a bad worker to a great match. Reigns is going to have to show something here or else his rise to the top may be seriously reconsidered before it even gets going good.

Intercontinental Title Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz (champion) - Miz just got the belt at Battleground so it would be kind of silly for him to drop it here.  Like the Reigns-Orton match the big question is whether this is going to be a one-off or if they're going to stretch it out through Night of Champions.  Either way I think Miz walks out still champ.  Should be a very good match regardless of the finish.

Diva's Title Match: AJ Lee vs Paige - AJ has held the belt for a little over a month, and already successfully defended against Paige so it might make sense to do a title change here.  Both are good in the ring so extending their series another month to Night of Champions would be fine.  I'll go with Paige getting the belt back here before dropping it next month in the final contest (for now) between the two.

Lumberjack Match: Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins - We finally get a match between these two!  The lumberjack rules are a hindrance in my book.  They're perfectly capable of putting on a good straight up match or some type of Extreme Rules kind of thing.  What this does do is give a way to have one guy or the other go over in such a fashion that the loser doesn't look bad.  Seeing as how Ambrose has been getting most of the good digs in leading up to this, I like Rollins to get the win here.  Should a decent match but for the reason I said, it could be better.

Grudge Match: Stephanie McMahon vs. Brie Bella - This will probably run like a usual McMahon family member match. Stephanie's going to do WAY better than anyone thinks she will, and probably lose.  Brie Bella is OK as a wrestler but this will probably be more of a brawl which might work better for her.  This won't go but so long given the limitations of everyone involved, but I'd bet on it being entertaining.  I got Brie winning here.

Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt - This is the rematch from the strange ending encounter from last month at Battleground.  Rowan and Harper are banned from ringside, but Jericho won last month so Bray's got to get the favor returned here.  Expect some crazy overbooked finish similar to what happened with Wyatt and Cena at Extreme Rules in May.

Flag Match: Rusev vs. Jack Swagger - This isn't as obvious as you might think.  On the one hand, it's not time for Rusev to lose yet but a Flag Match is a perfect way to get a like Swagger more over without damaging Rusev's push.  Rusev's matches with Big E exceeded expectations so there's no reason a better worker like Swagger can't get a better match out of him.  Now that they don't have to go to a non-finish they can both really cut loose. I got Swagger winning because of the gimmicky way you can win and then getting wiped out afterward.

Main Event: Cena vs Lesnar - If nothing else, this match has a main event feel to it.  This match should be a really physical encounter, and I mean that in a good way.  I'm really looking forward to it.  Now as far as who wins?  This could go a few different ways.  The worst possible outcome is a Cena straight up pinfall victory.  I don't think that happens.  If they have any sense on the booking team they'll realize that they didn't have Brock end the Undertaker's streak just to job clean five months later.  So does that mean he's getting the title?  I don't think so.  Brock's a part-timer; if you're going to put the belt on him you do it in time for him to drop it WrestleMania.  I'm betting on some kind of non-finish followed by.....wait for it.....the Seth Rollins cash in of his Money in the Bank contract!  That's right, I'm picking Seth Rollins to walk out as champion!

Enjoy the show everyone!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

I'm going to take a detour from the usual stuff to comment a little on Robin Williams, who died yesterday from an apparent suicide attempt at 63 years old. I didn't see everything he did, but I caught most of it.  From Mork and Mindy to one of his 80s standup routines to several of his movie roles.  I almost always found his work enjoyable and hilarious.  He became an excellent dramatic actor as well, winning as Oscar for Good Will Hunting and turning in some more Oscar-worthy performances in Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society.  And his turn as a twisted kids show host in Death to Smoochy was of the most underrated dark comedies out there.  I remember hearing rumors several years ago that he might play the Riddler in a Batman flick, and was hoping that would happen.  Robin as Edward Nygma would have been gold.  While I did like the job Jim Carrey did (Batman Forever is a guilty pleasure of mine), I would have loved to see Robin get a shot at it.  But even without that, the work he did do onscreen was more than enough for me.

Even though I didn't know the man personally, it is sad to hear this news.  Robin Williams battled substance abuse for a long time and suffered from depression.  As anyone who deals with it themselves or has a loved one who does will tell you, depression is a daily struggle.  There's no miracle cure, no magic elixir that will just make it go away.  It's there in perpetuity and you manage it as best as you can.  If nothing else positive comes out of this, hopefully this will spark some greater discussion about depression and substance abuse and help remove some of the stigma around it.  From all the celebrity tributes I've seen over the past 24 hours it at least seems like he was one of the guys and was willing to help others in the business, whether they were veterans or newbies.  It's always good to hear about famous people who treat others well.  I remember watching his standup performance at the Met back in the late 80s/early 90s, and being totally enthralled by it.  I don't remember any of the jokes, but I remember that he had this kind of manic unpredictability that drew you in like a magnet.  The same was true when he went on the nighttime talk shows; you just had no idea what was going to come out of his mouth. 

Do I have a favorite movie of his?  Not really.  I liked several of them; if I had to pick I'd go with Good Will Hunting. It wasn't a comedic role, but he was in a position of being the biggest name in a movie starring relative newbie Matt Damon and had to provide a proper foil to Damon's boy genius.  He did it well enough to get an Oscar. 

RIP, Robin Williams and thank you for all the laughs and the memories.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Time to be excited


The coming decade is going to be a banner one for fans of comics and comic-based movies.  We know Marvel has plans through 2028 and has confirmed film release dates through 2019.  Now DC has announced its release dates through 2020; they plan to release a whopping ten movies between 2016 and 2020.  Between the two companies we're going to get five movies in 2017.  If that isn't a cause to rejoice I don't know what is.  Now we don't know what all the movies are going to be yet, and please don't get all caught up in what you see on those awful rumor sites.  (Remember if it's not an official studio announcement it doesn't mean anything, be it casting decisions or other movie news.)  But there was a time not too long ago when it looked like this type of thing had no chance of happening.  Go back to late 2006.  X-Men: The Last Stand (X3 for short) had just come and gone, and even though it made a ton of money people were so upset with it that the franchise went from perfect health to life support in just a few months.  Fox was relegated to squeezing what money was left to made from Hugh Jackman's Wolverine.  Superman Returns bowed to a lot of good initial reviews and made some money but not what the studio was hoping for, thus killing that restart before it could get going.  Two years before all of that Blade: Trinity had the same suicidal effect as X3 on that series.  And then a year later in 2007 we would get Spider Man 3, which would make a ton of money but like X3 it soured so many people in the process that it would effectively end the run that the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire crew hand been on.  And the two Fantastic Four films that had dropped performed OK but weren't considered good movies by any stretch of the imagination.  All we had left was Batman; and even though people dug Batman Begins the rebooted franchise was still a bad follow up away from being put back on the shelf.  Given that most of us really didn't know yet what Marvel was scheming up it looked like the nadir for major comic book films.  We'd gotten some really good stuff between 1998 and 2004 - the first two entries from Blade, Spidey (I know I crap on the Raimi films now but I admit that I thought they were excellent when they first dropped), and the X-Men all came during that period.  But starting the next year all that momentum got nearly wiped out for good in just half the time.  And now, six years of outstanding work from Marvel films along with a resuscitation of the X-Men brand we are poised for a decade of awesomeness.


Now I know we're still in wait and see mode for everyone other than Marvel Studios.  I loved Man of Steel and the rebooted Spider-Man films, but there are a lot of people who haven't let go of Christopher Reeve's Superman and the Raimi/Maguire Spidey films to the degree that they're downgrading the new ones in comparison.  A lol of people are hating on the coming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over a year before it even hits theaters.  And Fox has made no new friends with its casting for its coming Fantastic Four reboot.  But given where we were just a short time ago this is great cause to rejoice.  With things planned this far out ahead for Marvel and DC we have the chance to not just see the big names and how they progress, but even the lower level characters who aren't household names but do have their own devoted fanbases can get a chance to be seen in live action on a big screen.  Guardians of the Galaxy succeeding for Marvel like it has just opens the door for so many possibilities.  A Suicide Squad or Green Lantern Corps movie from DC is now doable.  Sony is reportedly going to do a Spider Man spinoff with one of the female heroes from that lore.  We haven't even gotten to what can be done on television following the Netflix series that Marvel is putting out and the new DC offerings this fall.  And then there's the other 800 gorilla on the horizon, a little film called Star Wars: Episode Seven.  George Lucas selling everything to Disney and getting himself away from the production process has breathed new life into that franchise; like the others I mentioned the prequel trilogy pretty much killed any interest in new films as long as Lucas was still in charge.  Revenge of the Sith was a good enough film but the three films as a whole can't be seen as anything but a disappointment.  Yes they made a crapload of money and have sold a crapload of toys and related merchandise, but the movies themselves save Episode III were completely weighed down by some of the worst dialogue ever heard in cinema.  But now, we're going to get more movies that we know will at least be better scripted.  So huzzah, huzzah.


Of course of all this potential is dependent on one thing: us.  We have to keep supporting these films and watching the TV shows.  A lot of movie critics are going to crap on them because they don't like these kinds of movies to begin with, and the hipster entertainment writers are going to have the same 'We've reached Peak Superhero' stories locked and loaded that they started running this year.  A lot of people on message boards, Facebook forums etc. are going to try and suck all the joy out by posting rumors, leaks just so they can crap on them and say how much the movies are going to blow when they're as much as two years from even being finished.  Ignore them all.  I didn't see Transformers: Age of Extinction yet and I'm no fan on Michael Bay's storytelling, but I'm glad moviegoers told the media to jump in the lake and went to see it anyway.  These folks are making themselves more irrelevant ever time they run one of their pretentious pieces where they bash anything that has the audacity to entertain large audiences and make a lot of money.  These are the same kind of people who crap on every recording artist that goes platinum and call fill football stadiums for their concerts.  Some people are just so in love with little engines that can that they'll take anything that looks like one and praise it to high heavens whether it's deserving or not, all while dumping on any major success story as another product of the machine.  Not even a week after it came out to rave reviews from fans and critics, Guardians is now being dumped on by some members of the too cool for school crowd for no other likely reason than it's overwhelming success in its opening weekend.  These people are getting so predictable it's pathetic; many of them gave good marks to Godzilla a few months ago because it only showed him onscreen for like 15 minutes of a two hour film.  We see you, and we aren't listening because we know your game.

But enough of all that.  These are great times to be a fan of comics and comic-based movies.  Enjoy and drink deeply folks!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Movie Review - Guardians of the Galaxy


Guardians of the Galaxy is the latest offering from Marvel Studios.  Unlike all the other Marvel releases it does not center on any of the big names like Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America.  The Guardians have been a third-tier act for Marvel; the comic book series has been canceled and re-started more than once, and other than showing up on an episode or two of the Marvel animated series Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and Avengers Assemble, they have been a small potatoes collection of characters with a cult following at best.  So for Marvel to go with them for a major motion picture looked like a real gamble, and a sign that Marvel had run out of household names for future films.  The Guardians are a ragtag quintet consisting of one Earthling, Peter Quill aka Star Lord and four aliens including a walking, talking tree named Groot and a walking, talking raccoon named Rocket.  The only way this movie got made is if Marvel itself is doing the backing, which it is.  This would be the equivalent of doing a baseball movie about middle relievers. On paper it looks like you're asking for trouble.  But at the same time there's opportunity.  Since the Guardians are not high level characters that everybody knows about, you don't have to deal with all knowing fanboys scrutinizing every detail or pretentious movie critics comparing it to the stories about the same characters they saw decades ago (this is a major stumbling block to movies with Batman and Superman; too many critics want their Christopher Reeve movies and their Adam West TV shows instead of the current films and it shows in their reviews).  You have lots of freedom to just come up with a good story and a good movie.  Now yes, even these characters have some traits you have to stick to, but it's not the same as having to start Captain America in World War 2 or with Bruce Wayne losing his parents.  The timing is perfect, too; since the Avengers film in 2012 there hasn't been a Marvel film that wasn't a sequel of some kind (Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World and Captain America: the Winter Soldier).  Critics are openly lamenting about there being too many superhero films and the hipster set is already writing thinkpieces about how we're at peak superhero.  If there was ever a need to show something unique, this was it.


OK, but how was the actual movie?  In a word, excellent.  Director James Gunn and the Marvel team took the freedom and lack of expectations and hit a home run.  Guardians of the Galaxy isn't really a superhero film at all; other than it being set in the Marvel Universe there aren't any connection between the title characters and any of the Avengers we've already met.  The entire film save the first five to ten minutes takes place in outer space and on distant planets far away from the reaches of SHIELD or Stark Enterprises. The story starts when Quill (played by Chris Pratt) is abducted by aliens minutes after his mother dies from cancer; 26 years later he's a space scavenger traveling all over the galaxy finding (more like stealing) artifacts from abandoned worlds and selling them for cash.  While stealing an mysterious orb he runs afoul of everyone from the minions of an alien named Ronan to the legitimate authorities in that part of space.  After being caught along with Rocket, Groot and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who were all trying to catch him for different reasons, the four are imprisoned and soon meet an alien named Drax (the WWE's Dave Bautista) who becomes the fifth member of their impromptu alliance.  They escape and then try to find a place to sell the orb while avoiding Ronan and his forces.  The fragile team has to overcome their own selfish motives and impulses to ultimately do what's right or else Ronan will find the orb and use it for his own destructive purposes.  Each member has his or her own distinct personality and each actor/actress does a bang up job in conveying it, even the voice actors behind Groot and Rocket, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.  Bautista, the biggest risk in terms of casting, does his part in portraying the vengeful but sad Drax the Destroyer.  There's a lot of humor as well; Pratt is a riot as the goofy, wisecracking Star Lord while Cooper and Diesel turn Rocket and Groot into a hilarious 2014 version of Han Solo and Chewbacca all the way down to Rocket being the only one who can interpret what Groot is saying.


The music is excellent as well.  Quill's most prized possession is a old walkman with a tape labeled Awesome Mix, Volume One that his mother made for him and it serves as in-movie DJ of sorts.  If you don't come out of the movie with Blue Suede's "Stuck on a Feeling" in your head you might be the only one.  The pairing of song with film works even better for this one than when Marvel went all AC/DC for Iron Man 2; like that one you'll find yourself looking up the soundtrack as you head home from the theater.  As far as a grade, I had to think about it because I was suffering from the same nostalgia as the critics who piled on Man of Steel.  My first sci-fi adventure was the original Star Wars trilogy.  Those films hold a special place in my heart that clouds my judgement when it comes to talking about them, so as much as I liked Guardians I was not totally blown away like so many of the people whose reviews I've read.  But from a purely objective standpoint, this was clearly better than all the Star Wars prequels and was better written than everything than Empire Strikes Back.  On the Marvel scale, I've seen some people call it the best of the lot.  I haven't formed a final conclusion on that front; I'll have to see how Winter Soldier holds up to repeated viewings before I make a final judgement.  But not matter how I decide I definitely won't debate anyone who wants to put Guardians at number one on their list.  There was some questioning as to why Marvel announced the Guardians sequel at Comic Con, before the movie even opened, but it's obvious now that they knew they had a winner on their hands.  This gets 5/5 from me.