Michael Arbeiter
Staff editor Michael Arbeiter’s natural state of being can best be described as “mild panic attack.” His earliest memories of growing up in Queens, New York, involve nighttime conversations with a voice from his bedroom wall (the jury’s still out on what that was all about) and a love for classic television that spawned from the very first time he was allowed to watch “The Munsters.” Attending college at SUNY Binghamton, a 20-year-old Michael learned two things: that he could center his future on this love for TV and movies, and that dragons never actually existed — he was kind of late in the game on that one.
  • Review: 'What If' Is a Wonderfully Funny Old Fashioned Rom-Com
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 07, 2014
    CBS Films/Entertainment One What If is a rare breed these days — a romantic comedy that works without any of the requisite add-ons. The Michael Dowse movie is not a send-up, nor a deconstruction, hardly a reinvention, and packs no particular “twist” other than its above average attention to the nature of bustling romantic feelings beneath the sheen of platonic relationships. In earnest, What If is as traditional a rom-com as you’ll see come out in theaters these days. The unusual thing: it’s just really, really good. The reasons why are incredibly simple. First, it’s sweet. Daniel Radcliffe’s unfortunately named Wallace might not fall too far from the typical genre hero that we’re miraculously still able to stomach: the mopey, hapless, self-absorbed good guy who just wants the gal to notice how nice he is. But what separates Wallace is his empathy. What If gives him value, intellect, character, and, most importantly, a genuine interest in the even more unfortunately named Chantry (Zoe Kazan), the spoken-for young lady who wins his heart soon after the inception of their friendship. Wallace isn’t pining meaninglessly for the nearest unavailable hot chick; he and Chantry have chemistry. They’re compatibly cynical (but not curmudgeonly) and idealistic (but not idiotic), equal doses awkward, and palpably conducive to one another’s comfort. We can feel true friendship between Wallace and Chantry, which is what makes us root all the more for the hidden feelings to peer through. CBS Films/Entertainment One The second reason: it’s smart. Yes, What If takes some goofy missteps: Your usual rom-com contrivances — ad hoc plane trips, disastrous dinners, and third party romantic candidates in desperate need of psychological evaluation — are hot on display here, though seldom does the film sink to levels of abject ridiculousness. But on the whole, Wallace and Chantry’s trip celebrates its characters’ and viewers’ intellect. It overthinks love, romance, friendship, and relationships, happily committing to that old Socrates gem. Which brings us to the final and most important reason this movie is such a treat: it is really, really funny. Most of this is owed to Radcliffe, so swift with a joke that he even sells the clunkers. But Kazan herself is no slouch, nor are supporting players Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis, in the delivery of the script’s musical wit. Of all the great things that What If introduces us to — its ideas about friendship and love, the comic prowess of Daniel Radcliffe, and the glory of fridge magnets — the notion that good ol’ fashioned rom-coms can still be downright terrific has got to be the most valuable. Thanks for reminding us! 4/5
  • Review: 'Into the Storm' Is an Ugly, Unpleasant Movie in Every Conceivable Way
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 07, 2014
    Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection Here’s the sole compliment I will pay Into the Storm: it let’s you know right away what you’re getting into. The very first minute of the movie introduces fans to the sort of grim, nihilistic, aesthetically repugnant and substantially barren horror that maintains throughout the hour and a half to follow, saving only the extent of its special effects for later… and trust me, it’s not worth the wait. While we’ve been debating the toxicity of “destruction porn” since before Man of Steel, but surely we can point to entries in the disaster genre that don’t feel like soul-mincing works of large scale snuff — we can point to this summer’s Godzilla, for instance. But for every thematically dense project like the aforesaid, we have a half-dozen Into the Storms: movies that, somehow, pass off the most mangled constructions of mindless, banal, uninspired, grotesque unpleasantness as entertainment. Warner Bros. Pictures via Everett Collection We are asked to believe that there are characters in this movie: Richard Armitage insists that he’s a father of two, a disappointingly joke-free Matt Walsh tells us that he’s a storm chaser and a documentarian, and Sarah Wayne Callies introduces herself as a meteorologist of some kind. But we never get more than a résumé recitation from each character; we never earn an understanding of what any of them would do when faced with mortal danger, what they would think about, who they would want to be with. So, really, we’re not given much of a story. Sure, there are tidbits mentioned about Armitage’s strained relationship with his two sons (Max Deacon and Nathan Kress), about Walsh’s obsessive devotion to his work, about Callies’ desire to make it home to her five-year-old daughter (ugh, the pandering). But these don’t feel like character beats, but rather like bits of data. Nothing within these characters exists beyond what we are explicitly told about them. As such, they wind up feeling less like people to whom we’re anchored and more like chunks of debris being tossed around between tornadoes. And that’s what’s so ugly, unenjoyable, and dangerous about this movie: it’s dehumanizing. It prefers the thrills of demolition to the pathos inherent in accessing what this demolition might be doing to real people. But even in its misguided mission does Into the Storm fail: it’s not thrilling. Not fun. Not cool to look at. It is, in all conceivable ways, a disaster. .5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Hundred-Foot Journey' Is a Quiet, Simple, Perfectly Pleasant Slice of Life
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 07, 2014
    Walt Disney Studios It’s a given that you don’t go into a film like The Hundred-Foot Journey hungry, but you should also steer clear if you’re the least bit sleepy — you’ll never make it. Despite a title that suggests the ambiance of adventure, the movie has no intention of rousing its viewers beyond a fugue state of pleasantry. What we get instead of a journey is a slice of life: a soft-spoken celebration of family, friendship, romance, culture, and cooking. In essence, a tribute to that old maxim about stopping to smell the roses (or pick edible mushrooms). But the film’s quaint, merry charm doubles as its chief problem: things are almost too easy. We step into the going-more-or-less-okay lives of a family of Indian cooks as they set up shop in small town France, wrinkle our brows as matters dip to levels of ain’t-that-a-pickle when they cross paths with a hardnosed-but-really-not-all-that-bad-whatsoever French restaurateur, and then sigh merrily as things seem to turn out just splendidly for all parties involved. Walt Disney Studios The parties in question, too, are a broadly painted lot: we never really get to know hero Hassan (Manish Dayal), a talented cook torn between his roots and aspirations… or his work and his love life… or something. As such, the task to engage with his struggles — burnt hands, a marred relationship, and a job that ain’t all it’s cracked up to be — becomes a futile one. And the effort is not made much easier by the film’s insistence on keeping things as light as can be. Hell, even the fire that breaks out in this film doesn’t get too out of hand. Still, although we might be dealing with simple characters, we can’t really bemoan our time spent with them as anything other than pleasant. Helen Mirren, as should be no surprise to anyone, is a treat in her colder scenes — like when she’s condescending to her new neighbors or doling out judgmental grimaces from behind her omniscient drapery — and her warmer ones. Om Puri, playing Hassan's plucky father, is a riotous purveyor of smart aleck irreverence. There’s a half dozen other characters who kind of get brushed to the side, but it’s hard to mind when The Hundred-Foot Journey’s greatest gems are the passive-aggressive bickering matches between Madame Mallory (Mirren) and “Papa” (Puri). Ultimately, this very Lasse Hallström feature isn’t looking to excite, challenge, or institute anything altogether new. It’s here to remind you of the simple, slow, soft pleasures — sure, it’s a light dish. But it’s a sweet one. 3.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Isn't So Much Terrible, It's Just Really Dumb
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 07, 2014
    Paramount Pictures At every instance of unnecessary and callous city destruction, every inset of comic flatulence, and every mention of what I sincerely hate to denote as turtle boners, I found myself resenting this latest cinematic stab at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A movie that makes so little effort to stray from the lowest common denominator of what passes for PG-13 entertainment, the Michael Bay-produced Turtles is far less concerned with what it is doing than with the fact that it is simply doing something. Anything. At all times. Martial arts, car chases, flashbacks to lab fires… it’s all a go. The funny thing is that Turtles’ egregious flash does, at times, manage to cover up its vacancy. When the familiar, albeit modernized, foursome — street tough Raphael, eager intellectual Donatello, giddy halfwit Michelangelo, and the borderline anonymous Leonardo — are goofing around under the tutelage of serious sensei Splinter, there are occasional smiles (not laughs, let’s not get crazy) to be earned. And, ridiculous as it all may be, when the quartet of reptilian vigilantes zooms down a snowy mountain (don’t ask me how they get there so quickly from springtime Manhattan) in hot pursuit of (or evasion of… man this thing is incomprehensible) a band of evil mastermind Shredder’s toughest assassins, we witness the miraculous achievement of genuine fun. Paramount Pictures But for every minute enjoyed with the turtles, there’s about five lamented with Megan Fox. Her April O’Neil is meant not only to courier us through the action and outrageous origin mythology — which, justly, we get out of the way pretty early in the film — but to serve as the human heart with which we access and understand these bonkers creatures. But April is the most alien character onscreen, effectively mindless and charmless, truly beyond the grasp of any viewer looking to latch onto her as a remotely fleshed out heroine. Alongside Will Arnett, whose sole function in this film is that he has a car, Fox runs us through the legion of non sequitur elements that stands in for a cohesive plot. Occasionally, she stops to chat with the turtles, who — for all their irritating characteristics and regrettable attitudes on romance, masculinity, and pizza (they love Pizza Hut… these jags live in New York f**king City and all they eat is Pizza Hut) — actually revel in relative nuance. Their second-rate charms never manage to effectively save the movie from its ultimate crime: it’s so, so stupid. 2/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Does 'The Theory of Everything' Trailer Look Too Ordinary for the Great Stephen Hawking?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 06, 2014
    Focus Features Stephen Hawking's life, work, and devotion to science might be doubly impressive because of his illness — a motor neuron disease that has rendered him almost completely physically paralyzed — but the fact of the matter is that they would be duly impressive anyhow. Often considered the smartest man alive, Hawking has contributed ideas to the field of theoretical physics that have revolutionized the way both the scientific community and the public understand space, time, and life itself. Hawking's innovative notions have changed the world, and even changed the way the world might from here on out be changed, all for the better. And we hope to get more than a glimpse of Hawking's work in the developing film The Theory of Everything, a biographical feature that seems determined to recount the struggles of the scholar upon the development of his debilitating disease. Per the stasis of your standard biopic, The Theory of Everything appears most attentive to Hawking's personal hurdles... a particularly understandable route considering of the gravity of the man's physical hardships. But just as Hawking did not let his turmoils stand in the way of his work, we hope that director James Marsh allows the scientific machinations of an unparalleled mind to peer through. We want to see Hawking's imagination take form, his nearly superhuman understanding of the dimensions that constitute our universe come to life. We want to see everything the man has worked to teach this world on display. It's difficult to tell from such a quick glimpse, but we're hoping that The Theory of Everything allows for this mission. While we'd revel in a powerful performance by Eddie Redmayne, portraying Hawking in what one imagines to be the most difficult chapter of his long life, what we really need in addition to this is the opportunity to step inside the magic of the genius' brain. Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Do 'The Amazing Spider-Man' Movies Give Hope for a Good Female Superhero Film?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 04, 2014
    Marvel We've been clamoring for a female superhero film for years now. Principal focus in this call to arms has been on Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the purveyors of the best superhero flicks on the lot, and Warner Bros/DC Comics, what with Wonder Woman on their roster. But we've overlooked Sony, the company that lays claim to the Marvel property Spider-Man. As it turns out, per Deadline, the Amazing Spider-Man films might spawn the next female-centric superhero movie... but we're wondering if this will be a project worthy of that superlative. Back in the early aughts, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 set the bar high for superhero cinema. After the much maligned third chapter in Sam Raimi's Peter Parker series, fans diverted attention to the Avengers pictures and Christopher Nolan's Batman films, hoping to find all their comic book wishes met within said parameters. Then came Amazing Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man 2... which more or less validated this specified cynicism, turning over middling reviews and no small sum of fan backlash. But Marc Webb's features aren't devoid of charm. The shining light in both movies, in fact, is the sort of character that usually gets shafted, and big time: the "girlfriend." Emma Stone plays Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's (Andrew Garfield) friend and young love, with far more moxy and character than are usually attributed to women in superhero films. Although we get venerable players like Natalie Portman and Liv Tyler playing the ladyfriends of Marvel heroes, agency is a palpable absentee; Gwyneth Paltrow, the strongest of the lot as Pepper Potts, only really conjured up some vigor for the third Iron Man movie. And female superhero Scarlett Johansson still hasn't gotten her long overdue starring feature. Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection While the DC side of the game is notably lacking in the same kind of pizzazz on the whole, its women can be noted as especially bland. Lois Lane, both versions of Rachel Dawes, and even Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle are particularly dull characters who function primarily as appendages of their respective heroes... even if one of 'em did run down an asthmatic Tom Hardy. And yet Sony, perpretating movies that are altogether less impressively crafted than those of its competitors, gives us an interesting, courageous, and likable character in Stone's Gwen Stacy. She's funnier, smarter, braver, and more reasonable than her counterpart Peter, a rarity for a genre of film that prefers to use women as damsels in distress and set dressing. Beyond just being a more vivid presence in these films, Stacy actually contributes to both the plot — she is the most important factor in any one of Peter's actions and decisions — as well as the ultimate takedown of the central villain. In the end, she's more of a sidekick, a hero in her own right, than a girlfriend figure. We don't know what sort of character Sony will put forth with its undisclosed superheroine film, but we're glad that they're the ones taking this step forward. But this isn't a free pass to further put off a Black Widow movie, Kevin Feige. Everyone needs to get in on this action! Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • How Does 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Compare to 'The Avengers'?
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 01, 2014
    Walt Disney Studios/Marvel Almost immediately upon exiting my screening of Guardians of the Galaxy, I was hit by a friend and fellow movies writer with the inevitable question: "Better than The Avengers?" Even though Guardians is less a superhero movie than a space adventure, the new release is bound to win (or suffer) comparison to the 2012 hit that broke box office records and redefined the possibility of the already prosperous comic book feature. But it's no easy question to tackle — is Guardians of the Galaxy (which is great) better than The Avengers (which is great)? I'm still not sure. But when you allocate the debate toward specific elements braved by the films, you close in on something resembling an answer. So here we go. Which movie is better in terms of... Action?The Avengers. James Gunn is still new to the blockbuster game, and needs to work out a few bugs in his action sequence methodology. Joss Whedon, though generally more of a small-scale player himself, showcased some pretty stellar sequences in '12. Characters?Guardians of the Galaxy. Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket, and Groot are not simply snappy vehicles driving us toward exciting set pieces. They and their pangs (and quirks) are the sincere core and draw of this story. You'll be surprised at how much empathy a misanthropic raccoon can command. Villain?The Avengers, in a big way. Loki was the virtual highlight of his movie, while Guardians' Ronan the Accuser is a moreover anonymous figure that simply spouts colorless threats of tyranny. Performances?Kind of a toss-up. In Guardians, Chris Pratt is a standout as hero Star-Lord, Dave Bautista is a surprisingly charismatic Drax, and Bradley Cooper and (especially) Vin Diesel managed some pretty impressive vocal charms as Rocket and Groot, respectively. But we'd be remiss to forget how inviting the snarky Robert Downey Jr., caustic Scarlett Johansson, brooding Mark Ruffalo, and flamboyantly wicked Tom Hiddleston all were. Humor?Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, The Avengers had terrific moments of comic relief, but these were peppered delicately throughout a tense (albeit joyful) action-adventure movie. Guardians is as much a comedy as it is a genre picture, and its material is sharp and wry. Coherency?The Avengers. Whedon's flick is astoundingly neat and well-packaged for how grand (and kooky) it is. Guardians' biggest mis-step is probably is clumsy construction. Special Effects?The Avengers, thanks once again to experience... and an extra $50 million in budget. Thrills?Probably, again, The Avengers, though not by a wide margin. Something about Whedon's sleek design, meticulous plotting, and an everpresent severity made the whole thing seem a little more gasp-worthy. Je ne sais quoi?Guardians of the Galaxy. The real victory of Gunn's new film is its spirit, its warm and inviting personal touch. It might have its bugs, but the tidy perfection of The Avengers wouldn't have been appropriate for a film of its theme and motives. Overall, we'd champion Guardians as our preferred Marvel adventure for this reason alone: it's got that special heart that doesn't come around to big budget blockbusters all too often. But don't just take our word for it. Sound off below!
  • Other Films and TV Shows Where You Can Find the Guardians of the Galaxy
    By: Michael Arbeiter Aug 01, 2014
    Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel There's a pretty good chance you had heard of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and for certain the Hulk prior to their big screen debuts in the Marvel cinematic canon. But the Guardians of the Galaxy are a more esoteric lot. Only those well versed in the publishing company's history will approach this weekend's feature film with any familiarity with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), or Groot (Vin Diesel). But rest assured: they've been around. And if you dig them in Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy (which we sure did — check out our review), you'll have the opportunity to check them out elsewhere. Granted, James Gunn's film does do its share of reinventing in regards to its central fivesome. Well-read fans might notice a new take on Peter Quill's backstory or Drax's species, and newcomers could discover some inconsistencies upon pursuing extracurricular material in light of their blossoming love affairs with the Guardians. But the spirit of the heroes is very much alive in Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, ditto many of the features and TV series listed below. As such, embrace your affection for the oddball quintet and check out any and all works that will allow you more time with the gang. Here's where to begin: Planet HulkStar-Lord and Gamora both appear in the 2010 direct-to-video animated film (which has been tossed around the Internet discussion boards as viable source material for upcoming Avengers movies), but without speaking parts. The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest HeroesAiring on May 6, 2012 (funnily enough, the same weekend that The Avengers hit theaters), the animated series' episode "Michael Korvac" featured Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot as temporary foes of the series' heroes — a league including, at this point, Iron Man, the Hulk, Hawkeye, and Ms. Marvel — when a battle is waged over the capture/safety of the mysterious titular individual. In the episode, voice actors Steve Downes, Greg Ellis, and Troy Baker voice Star-Lord, Rocket, and Groot respectively. Ultimate Spider-ManThe entire gang banded together (and with a pretty impressive team of vocie actors) for the animated series' aptly named July 2013 episode "Guardians of the Galaxy." The aforementioned Korvac returns as an intergalactic menace with an army of Chitauri, forcing Spider-Man to seek the assistance of the Guardians in the interest of his defeat. Star-Lord is voiced by Marvel regular Chris Cox, Gamora by comedian Nika Futterman, Drax by David Sobolov, Rocket by Billy West (the voice behind Doug Funnie and Futurama's Philip J. Fry), and Groot by the late Michael Clarke Duncan. Avengers AssembleJust this past April, we got to see all five Guardians take center stage on this animated series' episode "Guardians and Space Knights." Iron Man leads the rest of the Avengers to a distant planet, where they and the Guardians of the Galaxy join forces to stop an impending attack from Galactus. Voice actors Chris Cox, Nika Futterman, and David Sobolov return; meanwhile, Rocket earns the familiar voice of actor and geek icon Seth Green, and Groot is portrayed by Kevin Michael Richardson. Hulk Agents of S.M.A.S.H.An upcoming episode of the animated series will feature the whole gang back together again, with returning voice actors Cox, Futterman, Sobolov, Green, and Richardson. And, for a bit of a throwback... Silver Surfer Gamora makes a few appearances in this late '90s animated series, the first of which being in the two-part episode "Learning Curve," which also featured Drax the Destroyer... albeit a very different version: he was an android, and the servant to the Titanian leader Mentor. Together with Silver Surfer and his pal Pip, Drax helps to stop Thanos (hey, he's in the movie too!) from taking over the universe. Gamora would later show up in episodes "Antibody" and "Radical Justice." In this series, Drax is voiced by Noam Spencer and Gamora is voiced by Mary Long and Alison Sealy-Smith. But before you check out any of these entries, see the film in theaters now! Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Twitter Was Pretty Pissed Off About 'Sharknado 2'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 31, 2014
    Syfy Bad movies will always have their supporters, be they contrarian critics or cult fans high on irony. But some people want nothing to do with an intentionally cruddy film, for instance Syfy's original feature Sharknado 2: The Second One. A sequel to the network's 2013 TV movie, Sharknado 2 released on Wednesday night, arousing quite a few reactions on Twitter. Plenty of viewers celebrated the camp and kookiness of the film, but there were no shortage of detractors: people who called Sharknado everything from a waste of time to the reason that our planet is in such a vile state. Here's a quick glimpse at the varying degrees of animosity stirred up on Twitter by Sharknado 2: The Second One... There were rational, even-keeled artistic criticisms: To make a good bad movie, you have to sense the filmmakers earnestly and truly love what they're doing. SHARKNADO feels... corporate. — Russell Hainline (@RussellHFilm) July 31, 2014 General condemnation about the whole "so-bad-it's-good" phenomenon: I'll never understand the appeal of purposefully bad movies like SHARKNADO. It honestly makes no sense to me. Ironic badness sucks. — Devin Faraci (@devincf) July 31, 2014 Blame: Sharknado exists because all you people talk about it. You bear responsibility. — Ali Gharib (@Ali_Gharib) July 31, 2014 Humor as a defense mechanism: There's a "jumping the shark" reference in Sharknado 2, which is how people used to say "making a Sharknado 2". — @midnight (@midnight) July 31, 2014 Nifty tricks offered to avoid finding yourself in a position of watching Sharknado: Do this at work tomorrow: "What did you watch last night?" "Sharknado." "You say Sharknaydo? I say Sharknahdo!" And then twirl away. — Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg) July 31, 2014 Bargaining: I will give you all a dollar to stop talking about Sharknado. — Carina MacKenzie (@cadlymack) July 31, 2014 The mindset of, to paraphrase Meat Loaf, "I would do anything for RTs, but I won't do that": All you need to know about me: I am rolling my eyes at Sharknado livetweeting. I have livetweeted ATLAS SHRUGGED 2. — Ben (@franzferdinand2) July 31, 2014 Illustrations of the human consequence of such social media activity: Every time someone tweets about SHARKNADO, an actual filmmaker throws up his hands and goes "well why the hell do I bother." — Scott Renshaw (@scottrenshaw) July 31, 2014 Existentialist arguments against Sharknado watching: Never seen THE ROOM. Not seeing SHARKNADO. Have seen 1.3 Troma films in my life... because life is to short for deliberately bad films. — James Rocchi (@jamesrocchi) July 30, 2014 And, to top the whole thing off, some pretty hostile accusations about the gravity of Sharknado fandom: Dear friends live-tweeting this awful movie: In caves all over the world, evildoers are plotting to destroy our civilization because of YOU. — Shawn Levy (@shawnlevy) July 31, 2014 It was a heated night on Twitter. Let us remember this when Sharknado 3 rolls around.
  • Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Is a Very Special Kind of Superhero Movie
    By: Michael Arbeiter Jul 30, 2014
    Walt Disney Studios/Marvel As the most anticipated blockbuster of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy has a ton of marks to hit. Almost immediately, it reveals its lackluster aim in a few of these departments. Director James Gunn, working with a budget that amounts to 10 times the cash allowed for his previous two features combined, shows that he has a lot to learn in bringing action scenes to life. The large-scale aerial battles neglect coherent geography; the hand-to-hand combat takes place in a virtual fog machine. When he aims to jump from one piece of his temperately constructed world to the next, the seams are bold and abject. The film’s narrative is jagged, its exposition is clunky, and its sense of rhythm seems to vanish altogether from time to time. And that score… oh, my, that score. So with technical flaws coming out the wazoo, you’ll really have to touch the personal to figure out why and how Guardians of the Galaxy manages to be one of the most wonderful blockbuster movies in ages. Walt Disney Studios/Marvel You’ll have to think back to your earliest experiences with superheroes, science fiction, and adventure. Perhaps back to your first big screen encounter with Star Wars — for me, a trip to Flushing, Queens’ multiplex with my uninterested father (if it’s not The Sting, he’s not into it) and ecstatic pal Timothy in 1997 — the film to which Guardians owes just as much as Godzilla does to Jurassic Park, though with an attitude less pious than devilishly affectionate. That distinction in reverence is where you’ll find your connection to Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that is just as much a tribute to the experience of watching the past half-century’s slate of great fantastical epics as it is to the features themselves. Guardians, a movie that treats itself with the same degree of cheek as it does its predecessors, celebrates everything that happens in the theater during a spectacle of its ilk. It celebrates the wisecracks we can’t help but whisper to our neighbors after a dramatic set piece, the often glossed-over character beats that showcase a scar beneath the heroism of every Skywalker and Solo (rejoice: this film is heavy on the Hans, light on the Lukes). It celebrates our curiosity about every odd shot, creature, and plot contrivance scrapped from focus in the interest of the Hero’s Journey. Guardians celebrates just how much we always hate to say how much more we’d love these movies if they went all the way bananas. Walt Disney Studios/Marvel Which, for sure, this one does. The movie bands together the strangest assortment of characters — a jackass space punk (Chris Pratt), a reformed intergalactic assassin (Zoe Saldana), a humorless (and yet the funniest of the bunch) alien menace (Dave Bautista), and a misanthropic raccoon thief (Bradley Cooper) and his kindhearted tree bodyguard (Vin Diesel) — on what amounts to a convoluted brazen rejection of Marvel’s usual A-to-B storyline: there’s a powerful orb, and about a half dozen villains, varying in villainy, who want to get their hands on it for disparate villainous reasons… any attempt to further access the mythology will render you a huddled, nauseated mess. Throughout this technical haze, Guardians carries forth with more spirit than anything Marvel has put out to date. Its characters aren’t limited by the sincerity of their sacrosanct brethren; Pratt is encouraged to make his Peter Quill the most engaging hero a film of this scale has seen to date. Quill and his literal partners in crime are used toward the perfect end of playing expansively with every trope that we’ve seen in blockbuster past, of tackling every question and quip that has found fertile soil in the brains of three generations of captivated genre fans. And all this, quite remarkably, without expensing the movie’s earnest construction. That’s because Guardians builds its world from the ground up with the heart inherent in that fandom. The kind of heart that loves these movies, but also the exciting, active, imaginative game that is watching them. Walt Disney Studios/Marvel That’s the kind of heart you find in Guardians’ story and, better yet, its characters. They’re our people (or aliens, or trees, or raccoons). Ours for the knowing and empathizing with; the very sort of heroes we knew we would be in our own all-the-way-bananas story, were it ever possible… or allowed to happen on the big screen. Piety of the picturesque be damned, we get those kinds of heroes, that kind of story, and — most palpably — this kind of spirit in Guardians of the Galaxy. At the expense of technical perfection and narrative flow? Maybe. Is this not a flaw but a ploy to further personalize this adventure for the ultimate connection one might forge between superhero and superfan? Hard to say. But the connection is made nonetheless, and we have in James Gunn’s wonderful movie a special experience for anyone who has spent years loving this genre from afar: Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t sit us down to show us a spectacle, it invites us into one. 4/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter | Follow @Hollywood_com