When August 1st rolls around and James Gunn gets to show Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Rocket (Bradley Cooper voiced) and Groot (Vin Diesel voiced) off to the nation's popular audience, we're going to see a larger reaction than I was anticipating before rolling into a special IMAX presentation of 17 minutes of footage from the film.
At this point, the wow-factor of having something in IMAX 3D is waning for me, especially since all these screenings in New York are on the same screen I saw Avatar on back when it made IMAX 3D new and profitable again.
I'll say this: it's beautiful like space 3D is supposed to be. Space 3D is the best 3D, like I said while Gravity was playing, because there's no back wall to limit depth, things can literally go off into infinity, so you're dealing with a different way to play with 3D objects in space when they're actually... in... space.
Like how Knowhere, the giant alien head planet, looks like both a planet and a giant alien head simultaneously and you don't fall into the (narrow but still present) uncanny valley of Muscle Cars becoming Robots in Chicago. The ships look great, the sets expansive, the colors pop, the 3D is fine (your milage may vary, depending on if you tilt your head or are leaning back but there are no glaring technical errors).
OK. Now on to the actual greatness.
The footage started off with the John C. Reilly narrated line-up that we've been seeing since very early on (except no Drax here, he must be introduced later). It's expanded a bit from the trailer version to explain just how Zoe Saldana's Gamora fits into the world with Lee Pace's Ronin (seen but not heard in this footage) and Karen Gillian's Nebula (also seen not heard) while also being related to Thanos (not seen or heard in the footage, excepting a few frames of Ronin kneeling in front of Thanos' rocket throne from Avengers). Peter Quill, Rocket, Groot and Gamora are all established in the lineup, they're called a bunch of a-holes, then they get processed.
We've seen a lot of the processing from the trailers - that sequence where Chris Pratt confronts the Blue Guard for listening to his walkmen, the shot of Chris Pratt dripping with orange fluid, surrounded by floating sentry drones, all there. One thing that doesn't come off in the previews is how possessive Quill is of his Earth artifacts. Something that looks to soften Gamora a bit when she's watching him getting shocked by that electric stick.
This footage really helped me feel like general audiences are going to get who these characters are without the knowledge of dozens of issues of heavy geeky backstory. There's a part where Rocket explains Dave Bautista's Drax comes from a race of ultra-literate aliens so "nothing's going to go over his head." And the laugh line that ALSO explains character comes from Drax: "Nothing goes over my head...my reflexes are too good. I would catch it."
These moments are everywhere. Gamora says something about how she'd face the worst pains the universe has to offer because it's better than her past. Rocket says he's not a raccoon because there's nothing like Rocket, then Quill gets a look at a unclothed, also wet Rocket and notices a bunch of electronics embedded in his back and you realize he's an experiment in pain. Groot only says "I am Groot," but he's the a gentle giant that just wants to help - GUYS, this works. This works on an adventure film level, a level that Marvel movies haven't really worked on, at least not in this pure an iteration.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was great, but it still has a huge plot-twist delivered through montage that was just as much in the movie for Captain America as it was for ABC to make their TV show better. Which is fine, because it worked.
Guardians doesn't need that montage moment to work. Good news for Marvel-Lite fans: the exposition is delivered quickly, interspersed with jokes and physical comedy and is shown, not told, if it's going to be important.
Now, that's just from what we saw, which I should wrap up:
- Rocket, Groot, Peter Quill and Gamora get walked into Gen Pop of this galactic prison and a whole bunch of people immediately jeer at them including Lloyd Kaufman, the founder of Troma (where James Gunn started his filmmaking career). Then a blue guy steps up and tries to make Peter Quill his bitch only for Groot to put two vines UP HIS NOSTRILS and lift him into the air while Rocket makes a badass announcement to the prisoners that Quill is under the protection of Rocket and Groot.
- Sometime later (after they've met Drax) Rocket reveals he has a plan to get out, but needs three specific things from the environment around him. Because Groot wants to do the right thing, he ends up starting the escape prematurely and all hell breaks loose, forcing the Guardians to really team up for the first time to escape the prison in a pretty stunning action scene that doesn't let up with the action, plot or jokes.
- Rocket does some quick machine hacking/work that made me realize I want to see this creature in a room with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner immediately.
- A bunch of trailer footage made up of things that we've seen from the trailer. The two things that really stood out to me were the one shot of Ronin kneeling in front of the Thanos Throne with a star field backdrop and a few frames of a blue Michael Rooker as Yondu smiling at the camera.
- A scene towards the end of the film where Quill has an idea. This is where the "fake laugh" bit from the recent trailer goes and where we get our first look at Rocket and Groot acting like a comedy duo. At this point in the footage, I couldn't stop smiling.
- A scene of Rocket in his spaceship making Ronin's spaceships blow up.
I wish I could give you more specific details, but it wasn't wholly apparent to me just how much those details might not matter until I saw this 17 minutes. For all intents and purposes, I saw a 15 minute sequence that worked like a pilot for a TV show. It worked at the pace of a classic 80s adventure movie with the smarts of your Dr Who or Fringe shows that need to give it to you straight.
If the question with this movie has always been: will people who liked The Avengers buy in? That's no longer a question for me.