Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 14: We Are Groot

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Logan’s Moving Pictures is back with a look at the meaning of found family and a film that the brothers debated; Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Almost a year ago I had the idea to start writing about the films my brother had as part of his collection. That idea became a reality just over six months ago, and if you’d asked me at either one of those intervals what movies I’d probably be writing the most about I would have told you Star Wars, first and foremost, and following that probably the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I’m a little shocked that in that time I only got around to writing about one film from the Saga, The Last Jedi, and even more so that I haven’t managed to make my way around to a single one of the MCU films (we can debate whether X-Men counts AFTER Doctor Strange visits the Multiverse). Until now that is.

Editor’s Note: A image from the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning run of The Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s hard to explain just HOW excited I was when Kevin Feige announced they’d be adapting the relatively unknown Guardians of the Galaxy property into a film. Even more so when it was said that the team would be based on the recent (at the time) interpretation assembled by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning in the comics. I had been a huge fan of their work in Marvel Comic’s Cosmic sector with both that book and the preceding Annihilation saga. Then we got James Gunn directing and writing; a student of the Roger Cormen style, he was a man that understood how to do a lot with a little and knew that character is key. Then the cast announcement came, all of whom I loved, but I’ll admit to being stunned with the choice of Bradley Cooper as Rocket. Finally, in the early months of 2014, we got a trailer.

It set my world on fire. I watched it over and over for days. Dissected it with Ryan and our buddy Spencer through texts and podcasts, for a week it was all we talked about. It seemed to be everything it needed to be. We watched the cast make the rounds doing interviews, eating up every bit of it. I don’t think I’d ever been more excited for a movie that didn’t feature a mutant in its cast or have the words STAR WARS in its title. Never.

Never had a dance-off to save the world, but this is the one and only time I sang karaoke!

In fact, I was so excited and so determined that this was going to be not only one of the best films to come out of this Marvel canon but that it would also land pretty high on my list of favorite films ever, that I decided not to see another trailer after that first one. I didn’t want a single thing spoiled, and this was early enough in the Marvel days that you didn’t worry about the cast inadvertently dropping anything, so I managed to make it all the way to the premiere without seeing anything but the initial trailer.

It was maybe the biggest, most well intentioned movie-loving mistake of my entire life.

I left my viewing feeling largely unimpressed. Certainly, I thought there were solid moments, but for me it did not deliver on the promise of that first trailer. I wanted a big cosmic epic and what I got was…well, to paraphrase Rocket, a bunch of a-holes standing around in a circle. With a weird dance-off to kick off the final act of the film, no less. I wanted to like this movie so much that I’d walked in ready to declare it the greatest film of the decade, and I set myself up for disappointment by doing so.

It was, thankfully, a commercial success, seemed to be critically liked for the most part, and most importantly to me, adored by everyone I knew that went to see it. All anyone in my geek circle wanted to talk about for weeks was Guardians of the Galaxy. So, inevitably I’d get the looks of confusion (and sometimes disgust) when I had to admit that I really wasn’t a fan. 

Ryan, however, proved to be the mirror opposite of me in his opinion and appreciation of the film. Not only did he adore every second of it, he bought any and every piece of merch he could get his hands on. The LEGO sets, the action figures, the Funko Pops, any little stuff version of Rocket he came across, every goofy Groot iteration they produced, he had to have it all. He had t-shirts, posters, the soundtrack, of course, and he even plopped down a chunk of change for the high dollar Hot Toys figures of Rocket and Groot.

Editor’s Note: This is the Hot Toy Logan is speaking of.

His love and my indifference led to some spirited debates on the merits of the movie, and those debates would continue in some form or fashion until he passed on. In the nearly two years since that day, I think I’ve revisited Guardians only once, a few months after he passed, and even then only the first half. A good friend happened to be watching it when I stopped by and I took off before the movie got to its third act woes (that’s where it really all falls apart for me).

To be honest, I’m not sure why I decided to watch it now. Certainly, it was one I’d get to eventually, what with the nature of this column, but I really couldn’t tell you why this was its moment. It could be the constant barrage of MCU-related news in recent months, the fact that Vol. 3 (as well as the Holiday Special we’ve been promised)is in the various throws of production, or the fact that director James Gunn seems to grab headlines almost daily by weighing in on all kinds of geek topics (it helps his Peacemaker series on HBOMax has gotten raves). Either way, Guardians of the Galaxy was on my mind. So, I popped it on and promptly made it through the prison break and the team’s arrival on Knowhere before I turned it off.

For about three days that was all I’d watched of it, and I just resigned myself to not going back to it, thinking maybe I could revisit it some other time. It just simply wasn’t meant to be the next film in my journey. Except, like so many before it lately, it kept gnawing at me, and a big part of it was wondering just why Ryan (and so many others) had loved this movie and the most positive response it ever elicited from me was a shoulder shrug. It was as puzzling to me as the love of The Fifth Element, the film that started this column proper.

So, once more I queued it up, this time on Disney+.

I decided that this time around I wasn’t going to let myself be distracted or discouraged by what I think to be the movie’s stumbling points. The third act would just be what it was, goofy dance-off and all. Instead, I decided to really just focus on the journeys of the two characters I’d enjoyed the most in any of my viewings, Rocket and Groot.

I don’t take a ton of pictures with friends, and they are often as out of focus as this one…

Not long before the movie was released James Gunn tweeted something akin to “the pinnacle of my filmmaking career is a talking raccoon firing an automatic weapon while riding on the back of a giant walking tree.” While it was a joke, and that sequence is maybe the most fun in the entire movie, it’s really not far from the truth. Rocket and Groot may be Gunn’s finest achievement.

I couldn’t help but think about how far we’d come since I sat in a theatre (with my brother of course) and watched Jar Jar Binks ham it up in The Phantom Menace. I have my defenses of that movie, as well as that character, but this isn’t the place for them. I will say that it was impossible to become emotionally attached to Binks, to feel for his plight, and little of that had to do with the poor choices that went into crafting the character. But, here, not even fifteen years later, were two fully realized CGI characters that I was immediately empathetic towards.

I actually knew very little of Groot’s comic origin story, and the movie doesn’t do much to elaborate on his nor Rocket’s, which I was somewhat familiar with. Instead, we get vague hints thrown out through various conversations with the other teammates. I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself becoming more and more engaged with the movie by approaching it through those characters. And ultimately I was left with an appreciation for a story about the importance of Found Family, and, I’m sure to no ones surprise, it set me thinking about my own.

I suppose a lot of people would just say, well, don’t you just mean friends? And to those people, I’d say…no, no I don’t. The weeks after my brother passed were both the saddest and most love-filled weeks of my life, and that was by and large due to my Found Family.

I could write another three pages with the names and deeds of the people that fill that void for me and I’d still inevitably leave someone off. But, I will say it’s the people that sat with me in the silence, knowing there was nothing to say, not letting the uncomfortable force them away from the necessary. The ones that listened to me tell stories about our youth that they had already heard dozens of times, or in some cases even been there for. The ones who listened not to stories of our life, but to me talk about all of the nerd stuff that we loved so dearly and would now carry that tinge of grief for me. The ones who showed up just to provide transportation, be it to dinner or to a city hours away. The people that stood up and helped us pay for a funeral we were wholly unprepared for. The ones that texted in shared grief when they were too far away to make the journey.

The people that come into our lives completely by chance often leave it just as randomly. But those ones that stay, despite the bickering, the distance, the circumstances, all the things that would generally drive any sort of relationship apart…those people are far more special than the word ‘friend’ can describe. They are the family you found along the way, and I truly don’t know where I’d be without mine.

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks.

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