Film Crit Hulk Smash: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY AND THE ART OF CONSTRUCTING JOKES

It's a really, really funy movie.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

FOR GOOD REASON, TOO. HULK FOUND IT TO BE A REALLY FUNNY, ENTERTAINING MOVIE THAT PROVIDES US WITH A BEVY OF NOT-TECHNICALLY-NEW-BUT-FEEL-NEW CHARACTERS THAT ARE PRETTY DAMN LOVEABLE. AND WHILE SUCH BLATANT ATTEMPTS AT CHARM TEND TO FALL FLAT IN OTHER FILMS, THAT WHOLE "REALLY FUNNY" THING IS WHAT REALLY ELEVATES THIS ONE. THE HUMOR REALLY STICKS, DOESN'T IT? FOR THE LAST WEEK HULK'S SEEN PEOPLE RECITING ALL THEIR FAVORITE QUOTES OVER AND OVER AGAIN (PERHAPS HELPED OUT BY THE FACT THAT THERE ARE SO MANY QUOTABLE LINES). HECK, IT'S ALREADY THE TUMBLR MOVIE OF THE YEAR... STILL, AS WITH ANY FILM, THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE LEFT SCRATCHING THEIR HEADS AS TO WHY GUARDIANS HAS HAD SUCH IMMEDIATE RESONANCE, LARGELY BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOTICED A NUMBER OF AREAS WHERE THE FILM IS PERCEPTIBLY LACKING, WHETHER IT BE SOME OF THE CONVOLUTED PLOTTING, THE ON-THE-NOSE EXPLANATIONS OF MOTIVATION, A FEW DRAMATIC BEATS FEELING THIN, OR EVEN THE SAMEY-FEELING MCGUFFINISM IT HAS TO OTHER MARVEL MOVIES. THESE ARE INDEED VALID OBSERVATIONS, BUT WHAT HULK WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST IS THAT THEY ARE ALSO UTTER PROOF OF HOW LITTLE THOSE ASPECTS CAN (SOMETIMES) MATTER TO THE OVERALL QUALITY AND AFFECTATION OF A GIVEN FILM.

HOW COULD THIS BE, EXACTLY? HOW COULD THESE TIME-HONORED TRADITIONS OF STORYTELLING NOT MATTER? DIDN'T HULK JUST WRITE A COLUMN ABOUT THE DISASTROUS EFFECT WHEN A FILM DOESN'T TRY TO ENGAGE IN "PROPER" TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES THAT WOULD BEHOOVE THEM? SO, WHAT GIVES!?! WELL, FIRST OFF, THE TWO FILMS BEING DISCUSSED ARE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH RADICALLY DIFFERENT THINGS AND NOT HAVING A TIGHT STORY IN THE HUMAN SCENES SIGNIFICANTLY HURTS WHAT APES IS TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH AND NOT SO MUCH WITH THE OTHER. AND SECOND OFF, GUARDIANS IS STILL ABSOLUTELY TELLING A TRADITIONAL STORY WITH ARCS, JUST GOING ABOUT IT IN A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT WAY.

THAT WAY WOULD BE THROUGH THE JOKES THEMSELVES.

BUT TO PROPERLY GET AT WHAT HULK IS EXPLAINING, WE HAVE TO QUALIFY WHY THIS TACTIC TENDS NOT TO GET MUCH RESPECT. LIKE, DID YOU HAPPEN TO NOTICE THAT EVEN MOST OF THE POSITIVE REVIEWS OF THE FILM SIMPLY TAKE NOTE THE FILM'S HUMOR AND GENIAL AFFECTATION, BUT DO SO WITH A KIND MATTER-OF-FACT / TAKE-IT-FOR-GRANTED SENSIBILITY? AND ISN'T THAT A BIT WEIRD GIVEN THAT THE FILM WAS PRETTY UNIVERSALLY REGARDED AS BEING ENTERTAINING? HULK WOULD ARGUE THAT THIS IS NOT ONLY A SLIGHT IN TERMS OF MISSING THE POWERFUL EFFECT OF HUMOR, BUT ALSO A SLIGHT REGARDING THE IMMENSE DIFFICULTY OF ACHIEVING IT. FOR HUMOR ITSELF, WHEN SUCCESSFULLY INTEGRATED INTO CHARACTER'S PSYCHOLOGY AND EXPRESSION, CAN BE ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL WAYS TO MAKE AN AUDIENCE RELATE TO A CHARACTER. BUT HOW DO WE DO THAT EXACTLY?

WELL, JAMES GUNN'S GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY ACTUALLY PROVIDES A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY TO EXAMINE NOT ONLY HOW HUMOR WORKS BEST IN POPCORN MOVIES, BUT HOW IT CAN ALSO BE THE THING THAT MAKES YOUR FILM / CHARACTERS / WORLD RESONATE BEYOND THE LAUGH ITSELF.

WHICH MEANS THAT YES, HULK IS LITERALLY GOING TO DO THAT THING WHERE HULK EXPLAINS THE JOKE AGAIN (AND THEREBY RUINING IT). BUT THE TRUTH IS THAT THIS JOYLESS AND SOMETIMES-OBVIOUS DECONSTRUCTION IS HUGELY VALUABLE TO DEVELOPING ONE'S SENSE OF HOW TO WRITE AND / OR APPRECIATE COMEDY. AND SUCH EXAMINATIONS ARE ACTUALLY VITAL FOR ALL PROFESSIONAL USES OF HUMOR ACROSS THE BOARD. AFTER ALL, HOW OFTEN DO PEOPLE ASSUME THAT "THEIR FUNNIEST FRIEND" COULD JUST GET UP THERE AND DO STAND-UP COMEDY LIKE IT'S NO BIG DEAL, DESPITE THE DECADES OF EVIDENCE WE HAVE TO THE CONTRARY? HAVING A SENSE OF HUMOR IS ONE THING. BUT READILY APPLYING IT TO CERTAIN PROFESSIONAL CONTEXTS TAKES YEARS OF HARD WORK TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE THAT HUMOR. AND JUST AS IT IS TRUE FOR STAND-UP COMEDY, IT TAKES JUST AS MUCH DISCIPLINE AND HARD WORK TO LEARN HOW TO INTEGRATE HUMOR INTO STORYTELLING.

PLEASE, TRUST HULK ON THIS ONE. BECAUSE HULK READS SCRIPTS ALL THE TIME THAT CAN'T INTEGRATE HUMOR INTO THE ACTUALLY STORY. REPEAT: ALL... THE DAMN... TIME. THESE SCRIPTS MOSTLY COME FROM UP-AND-COMING FUNNY PERSON / YOUNG WRITER WHO IS TAKING A CRACK AT A COMEDY SPEC (USUALLY A PILOT FOR SOME REASON). OR SOMETIMES THE PERSON IN QUESTION IS MORE OF AN ESTABLISHED COMEDY PERSON, OR POSSIBLY A WRITER ON SKETCH SHOWS AND THE PRODUCERS ASSUMED THEY COULD JUST COME IN AND TAKE A SWIPE AT DRAFT TO MAKE IT FUNNIER. SURE, THESE POTENTIAL WRITERS MAY UNDERSTAND THE BROADER NATURE OF "WHAT IS FUNNY," BUT WHAT THEY DON'T REALLY UNDERSTAND IS THAT A JOKE HAS TO BE CRAFTED MUCH DIFFERENTLY WHEN IT IS VERBALIZED WITHIN A STORY (TO WIT: THE AVERAGE AMOUNT OF JOKES THAT MAKE THE FINAL CUT ON A STUDIO MOVIE AFTER THE COMEDY PASS IS ABOUT 3). THE REASON BOTH GO SO WRONG IS BECAUSE THESE SCRIPTS JUST END UP USING THE SAME EXACT TACTIC: THEY JUST TRY TO TURN EVERY LINE INTO A JOKE.

AND WHAT THEY DON'T REALIZE IS THAT STORIES ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO TAKE PLACE IN EXPRESSED REALITIES AND THOSE REALITIES HAVE THEIR OWN RULES / UNDERSTANDINGS. SO IF YOU DO MAKE-EVERY-LINE-SOMEONE-TRYING-TO-TELL-A-JOKE, YOU INADVERTENTLY CREATE A REALITY WHERE EVERY CHARACTER'S SOLE MOTIVATION IS TRYING TO PUSH THEIR COMEDIC AGENDA. THAT'S A MUCH, MUCH DIFFERENT THING THAN CHARACTERS BEING SIMPLY BEING FUNNY IN A GIVEN CONTEXT. REALLY, ALL YOU'RE REALLY DOING IS MESSING UP YOUR CHARACTER'S MOTIVATIONS. WORSE THAT THAT, THE JOKES IN NON-INTEGRATED DRAFTS TEND TO BE PRETTY SAMEY. IN THAT THEY ARE USUALLY SOME VARIATION ON THE AUTHOR'S COMEDIC VOICE. IT'S AS IF EVERY CHARACTER IS JUST A DIFFERENT LEVEL OF WITTY SMART ALEC (TO USE THE FRIENDS MODEL, YOUR CHANDLER BING) OR JUST DIFFERENT LEVEL OF DUMB (YOUR JOEY TRIBBIANI). AND BOY OH BOY, IS THIS ALL THE WRONG WAY TO GO ABOUT IT. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ONLY SEE IT SHOW UP SOMETIMES IN FILM / TV BUT YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT'S OF WHAT ACTUALLY GETS MADE (AND QUICKLY BOMBS / GETS CANCELLED). BUT HULK ASSURES YOU THAT THESE KINDS OF DRAFTS MAKE UP THE VAST MAJORITY OF UNMADE COMEDY SCRIPTS OUT THERE. EVEN TO THE UNTRAINED READER, THE RESULTS ARE JUST SO PALPABLE AND PREDICTABLE. FOR ONE, YOU DON'T LAUGH. BUT MORE THE SCRIPTS FEEL FLAT. VOICELESS. INORGANIC. AND YET STILL LIKE IT IS TRYING TOO HARD. AND EVEN IF THE AUTHOR MAY HAVE GOTTEN A FEW GOOD JOKES IN THERE, IT JUST NEVER COMES ALIVE. AND THUS THE SCRIPT GETS PASSED ON OR RE-WRITTEN. AND IT'S ALL BECAUSE THE AUTHOR TRULY DIDN'T REALIZE THAT THEY HAVE TO INTEGRATE THE HUMOR INTO A LEVEL OF "BELIEVABILITY" WITH WHAT THE AUDIENCE IS SEEING ON SCREEN.

SO HOW DO YOU DO ACTUALLY DO THAT? HOW DO YOU MAKE COMEDY BELIEVABLE? IS IT ABOUT CREATING "A REALISTIC WORLD" AROUND THE CHARACTERS? IS IT ABOUT REFRAINING FROM "UNBELIEVABLE" SNAPPY, TOO-SMART DIALOGUE???

NOPE ON BOTH COUNTS! IF IT WAS THEN WE WOULDN'T BE TALKING ABOUT HOW MUCH WE LOVED AVENGERS OR LAUDING A BIG TREE AND A TALKING RACCOON.

LIKE MOST THINGS IN WRITING, IT ALL STARTS WITH CHARACTER.

THAT PROBABLY SOUNDS OBVIOUS BECAUSE PEOPLE PAY LIP-SERVICE TO THE IDEA OF "CHARACTER" ALL THE DAMN TIME. BUT THE PROBLEM IS THAT SO FEW WRITERS ACTUALLY FOLLOW UP ON THAT LIP-SERVICE BY DOING THE DAMN WORK AND FOLLOWING THROUGH. AS AN AUTHOR, YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF, WHAT IS THIS CHARACTER'S PERSPECTIVE? HOW DO THEY SEE THE WORLD? HOW DO THEY SEE OTHER PEOPLE? WHAT IS FUNNY TO THE CHARACTER? WHAT EXPERIENCES MADE THEM THIS WAY? AND ONCE YOU START ANSWERING THOSE QUESTIONS AND BUILDING A REALISTIC PSYCHOLOGY FOR THEM, THEN YOU CAN EXPRESS THAT CHARACTER'S SENSE OF HUMOR IN A WAY THAT FEELS BELIEVABLE. AND IT FEELS THAT WAY TO US (THE AUDIENCE) BECAUSE WE CAN RECOGNIZE HOW THE JOKES ARE TRUE TO THE CHARACTER'S WANTS AND NEEDS. BETTER YET, THEN YOU ARE ABLE TO TELL WHEN YOU ARE WRITING A JOKE MIGHT BE FUNNY, BUT STILL WRONG FOR THE CHARACTER SAYING IT (AND CAN THUS TAKE IT OUT). AND BEST OF ALL, YOU CAN THEN PUT THOSE CHARACTERS IN SITUATIONS WHERE THEIR PERSONALITY FITS INTO LARGER SOCIAL CONTEXT AND HAVE THEM ALL BOUNCE OFF EACH OTHER IN BELIEVABLE WAYS. DURING SUCH INTERPLAY YOU CAN REALLY HIGHLIGHTING THEIR DIFFERENCES AND MAKE THEM ALL SEEM MUCH MORE VIVID. AND HONESTLY, WHAT HULK IS DESCRIBING HERE IS JUST THE BASIC LAW OF SITCOM WRITING. YOU CAN UTILIZE ALL THE ARCHETYPES YOU WANT, BUT YOU STILL NEED TO CREATE REAL, TEXTURED COMEDY DYNAMICS UNDERNEATH BY ASKING "OKAY, BUT HOW ARE THEY ALL FUNNY WITH EACH OTHER?"

TO BETTER EXPLAIN, LET'S USE THE GUARDIANS THEMSELVES AS AN EXAMPLE!

OH, AND SPOILERS ABOUND YO:

LET'S START WITH ROCKET. NOW, LOTS OF PEOPLE HAD EXPECTATIONS THAT HIS CHARACTER WOULD BE SOME WISE-CRACKIN ONE-LINER MACHINE WHO GLORIOUSLY BLASTED HIS GUNS AROUND AS A GENERAL MENACE. WHY DID THEY THINK THIS? BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT HE DOES IN HIS 12 SECONDS OF TRAILER TIME (REMEMBER ADVERTISING IS MEANINGLESS, FOLKS!). BUT WHAT MAKES THE CHARACTER WORK IN THE MOVIE ITSELF IS THAT HE HAS AN ACTUAL PSYCHOLOGY. THROUGH HIS INTERACTIONS, WE SEE THAT ROCKET IS BASICALLY DAMAGED GOODS. A WELL-WORN PRODUCT OF TORTURE AND EXPERIMENTATION, SOMEONE WHO NOT ONLY FEELS NEGLECTED BY THE UNIVERSE, BUT FEELS HIS VERY EXISTENCE SHOULDN'T BE. THUS, HE RESENTS PEOPLE. HE TAKES ADVANTAGE OF THEM. AND HE SURE AS HECK DOESN'T STICK HIS NECK OUT FOR THEM. THIS HAS DIRECT RAMIFICATIONS ON ALL HIS CHOICES IN THE MOVIE. SIMPLE AS IT MAY BE, YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE HIS PERSPECTIVE, WHICH IS MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE THAN SIMPLY SEEING HIS BEHAVIOR. AND WITH ROCKET, AS MANY TIMES AS HIS PERSPECTIVE LEADS TO INSULTS, WE EQUALLY SEE IT LEAD HIM TO EXPRESSING THAT DAMAGED, VULNERABLE ANGER. THUS REVEALING TO US THAT IT'S ALL PART OF THE SAME PSYCHOLOGICAL TRIGGER FOR HIM. THAT'S WHEN YOU SEE THAT THE ONE-LINER MACHINE ISN'T ACTUALLY  ONE-LINER MACHINE AT ALL. INSTEAD, HE'S CHARACTER WHO IS EXPRESSING HIMSELF. AND THAT'S PRECISELY WHAT MAKES HIM BELIEVABLE, AND IN TURN BECOMES THE VERY THING THAT MAKES HIS JOKES EVENTUALLY LEAP OFF THE PAGE. YOU'LL ALSO NOTE THAT HIS HUMOR IS LESS ONE LINERS AND WISE-CRACKS AND MORE WICKED COMEDIC DECEITS AND PRANKS (THE LEG!). AGAIN, IT'S ALL AN EXPRESSION OF CHARACTER.  AND WHILE WE'RE HERE HULK WANTS YOU TO NOTE SOMETHING WE WILL TALK ABOUT A LOT LATER. HULK WANTS YOU TO SEE HOW THIS EXPRESSION OF HUMOR TAPS EXACTLY INTO WHAT HE NEEDS TO OVERCOME IN HIS CENTRAL CHARACTER FLAW WITHIN HIS ARC (CARING ABOUT PEOPLE, ETC.). NOW, IS THAT WHOLE "CARING ABOUT PEOPLE" THING A SUPER COMMON MOVIE TROPE? SURE! BUT SINCE THE ENTIRETY OF ROCKET'S STORY IS EFFECTIVELY TOLD THROUGH BOTH HIS HUMOR AND INSULTING OUTBURSTS, WE HAVE AN ENGAGING "TEXT" TO JUSTIFY IT'S INCLUSION OF MATURITY TOO. THUS, NO MATTER HOW MUCH HIS PERSPECTIVE MAY BE INGRAINED INTO JOKES, IT ALSO CAN'T HELP BUT READ AS TRUE. THIS IS REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT. OH, AND WHILE WE'RE HERE: BOY OH BOY WAS HULK WRONG ABOUT THE VOICE CASTING OF BRADLEY COOPER. HE WAS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT.

NOW ON TO GROOT! WHO YOU WILL NOTICE IS DOING THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF CRACKING ONE-LINERS AND YET HE'S STILL QUITE FUNNY, RIGHT? HIS CHARACTER IS JUST THIS BIG, GOOFY, CLUMSY, DOE-EYED INNOCENT WHO ALSO HAPPENS TO BE CAPABLE OF MOMENTS OF EXTREME STRENGTH. YOU CAN SEE THIS ON DISPLAY IN THE FIRST PRISON SCUFFLE, BUT THIS DYNAMIC IS BEST EXEMPLIFIED BY HIS BADASS MOMENT WHERE HE MENACINGLY TAKES OUT THE WHOLE HALLWAY OF BAD GUYS (TO PROTECT HIS FRIENDS OF COURSE), PRACTICALLY TURNING THEM INTO A HUMAN FOOSBALL ROD, THEN RIGHT AFTER THE CARNAGE, GROOT TURNS BACK TO THE CAMERA AND GIVES US ONE OF THE CUTEST, MOST DELIGHTED GRINS YOU'VE EVER SEEN. NOW, THIS MAY BE YOUR BASIC COMEDIC JUXTAPOSITION, BUT IT ALSO ENCAPSULATES HIS CHARACTER COMPLETELY. AND HEY, LET'S NOT SLOUCH ON THE POWER OF BASIC COMEDIC JUXTAPOSITION FOR A DAMN SECOND BECAUSE THAT'S ACTUALLY THE AGE-OLD CORE MECHANISM OF COMEDY. THAT'S THE GOOD STUFF. SET-UP AND PUNCH-LINES. POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE EXCHANGES. AND AS AN AUDIENCE WE RARELY THINK ABOUT IT, BUT LAUGHTER IS SOMETHING THAT OCCURS IN THESE EXACT MOMENTS OF EMOTIONAL EXCHANGE, WHERE EXPECTATIONS ARE SUBVERTED OR DOUBLED-DOWN-ON IN ORDER TO ELICIT A REACTION THAT IS DIFFERENT FROM FEELING OF THE PREVIOUS MOMENT.  AND YEAH, IT DEPENDS ON OUR DIFFERENT EXPECTATIONS, BUT REALLY, THAT'S HOW WE ACTUALLY LAUGH. AND GROOT'S PLAYFUL INNOCENCE DOESN'T JUST MAKE HIM A PRIMARY EXAMPLE OF THE POSITIVE / NEGATIVE EXCHANGE, BUT IT ALSO MAKES HIM IDEAL COMEDIC PARTNER WITH THE WEATHERED AND ACERBIC ROCKET. THEY MAY HAVE OPPOSITE DEMEANORS, BUT THEY GLUED TOGETHER BY IMPLICIT TRUST AND FRIENDSHIP, THUS COMPLIMENTING BEAUTIFULLY. NOTE HOW EVEN THEIR INTRODUCTION TRIES TO SHOW THIS OFF, WHAT WITH ROCKET RIDICULING THE FACES IN THE HUMAN CROWD BEFORE TURNING BACK TO FIND GROOT ADORABLY DRINKING THE FOUNTAIN WATER BEHIND HIM (AND CONTINUING TO DO SO DESPITE ROCKET'S INSISTENCE... GROOT IS BASICALLY A BIG GOLDEN RETRIEVER). BETTER YET, WHAT SIMPLY COULD BE AN EXAMPLE OF "COMPLIMENTARY COMEDY" IS IN FACT PART OF A SET-UP FOR THE EMOTIONAL BAIT-AND-SWITCH MOMENT, WHERE THIS BROAD DYNAMIC BECOMES THE EMOTIONAL BASIS FOR ROCKET'S SADNESS WHEN HE HAS TO FACE THE REALITY OF GROOT'S IMMINENT SACRIFICE. MEANING THEIR HUMOROUS DYNAMIC WAS ALL THE "TEXT" NEEDED TO MAKE A BIG EMOTIONAL PAYOFF WORK. IT'S NO DIFFERENT THAN ANY ARC, IT JUST GOT THERE THROUGH BASIC COMEDIC JUXTAPOSITION.

THEN THERE'S DRAX THE DESTROYER. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE IS THAT HIS CHARACTER IS NOT ACTUALLY TRYING TO BE FUNNY. IN FACT, HE'S  THE MOST INCREDIBLY SERIOUS PERSON YOU CAN IMAGINE... WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT MAKES HIM SO DAMN FUNNY. THIS DYNAMIC IS BEST ENCAPSULATED BY THE RUNNING GAG WHERE DRAX AND HIS SPECIES ARE 100% LITERAL AND THUS CAN'T GET METAPHORS OR FIGURES OF SPEECH. SO ALL THE JOKES FROM THE GROUP'S TWO BIGGEST WISE-ASSES BOUNCE RIGHT OFF HIM COMPLETELY (OR AS HULK SHOULD SAY GO OVER HIS HEAD "NOTHING GOES OVER MY HEAD, MY REFLEXES ARE TOO QUICK!"). HE'S ALSO SO LITERAL AND PLAINSPOKEN THAT HE DOES NOT REALIZE WHEN HE SAYS MANY OFFENSIVE THINGS. SO YES, HE MAY END UP BEING ANOTHER "FUNNY" CHARACTER IN THE GROUP, BUT ALL THE HUMOR IS NOT ONLY EXPRESSED DIFFERENTLY THAN THE OTHERS, BUT IT'S COMING FROM A RADICALLY DIFFERENT PLACE. AND THAT PLACE IS A PERSPECTIVE. DRAX IS PRIDEFUL. INCONSIDERATE. BLOOD-THIRSTY. OBSESSED WITH HIS PAST. VENGEANCE-CRAVING. BUT THESE COME OUT HILARIOUSLY THROUGH HIS COMPLETE OBLIVIOUSNESS IN FAILING TO REALIZE THAT HE'S IN SITUATIONS WHERE THOSE ATTITUDES ARE UNCALLED FOR. AGAIN YOU WILL NOTE THAT HIS HUMOROUS TRAITS DO NOT JUST COMPLIMENT HIS CHARACTER, BUT ALSO JUST SO HAPPEN (READ: VERY MUCH ON PURPOSE) TO COMPLIMENT THE OTHER CHARACTERS BEAUTIFULLY. DRAX WOULDN'T BE AS FUNNY UNLESS HE WAS BOUNCING OFF JOKEY CHARACTERS. HE WOULDN'T EVEN WORK ON HIS OWN. SO NOW, WE ARE THREE IN AND THE ESTABLISHED INTER-RELATIONSHIPS ARE ALL QUITE CLEAR AND DIFFERENT. AND IT SHOULD ALSO BE SAID THAT JUST BECAUSE THE CHARACTER OF DRAX IS NOT TRYING TO BE FUNNY WITHIN THE FILM'S REALITY, DOESN'T MEAN THE ACTOR ISN'T TRYING. BECAUSE DAVE BAUTISTA'S COMIC TIMING IS JUST INCREDIBLE. HE WALKS RIGHT UP TO THE LINE OF OVER-SERIOUSNESS AND YET NEVER CROSSES IT. THIS IS A PRO'S PERFORMANCE, FOR REAL. AND GIVEN HIS NATURAL PHYSICALITY, HOLLYWOOD NEEDS TO GET THIS GUY IN MORE STUFF, STAT!

ADMITTEDLY, THE FILM ALSO USES THE SAME GENERAL TACTIC OF HUMOR WITH REGARDS TO THE CHARACTER OF GAMORA, JUST IN A SLIGHT VARIATION. GAMORA IS A COLD HARD ASSASSIN, COMMANDED BY THE CAPITAL E-EVIL TITANS OF POWER, WHO IS NOW THROWN INTO A SITUATION WHERE SHE HAS TO PUT UP WITH SOME NINCOMPOOPS, WHICH MAKES FOR SOME GOOD EYE-ROLLING FOOL-SUFFERING. BUT! THE KEY DIFFERENCE IS SHE IS FAR MORE SELF-AWARE THAN DRAX, BUT THAT STILL DOESN'T STOP US FROM GETTING A NUMBER OF HER JOKES BEING BUILT ON HER CULTURAL MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF PETER'S REFERENCES ("Who put the sticks up their butts?" AND OF COURSE "Like Kevin Bacon!"). BUT IT'S ALL BUILT OF GETTING THIS CHARACTER OUT OF HER SHELL OF COMFORT. THERE'S THE GREAT INTERPLAY ABOUT HOW SHE DOESN'T DANCE, LEADING INTO HIS CHARMING RAPTURE AND HER EVENTUAL REFUSAL OF "I will not succumb to your pelvic sorcery!" YOU'LL ALSO NOTICE THAT UNLIKE DRAX, A LOT OF THESE LINES STILL FEEL DIFFERENT BECAUSE THEY ARE INTEGRATED INTO THE MECHANICS OF SEXUAL TENSION WITH PETER QUILL. IT MAY FALL UNDER THE "THE TWO PRETTIEST PEOPLE IN THE MOVIE LIKE EACH OTHER" TROPE, BUT IT'S STILL A STRONG, EASILY-DISCERNIBLE WAY THAT THE FILM FINDS A WAY TO GIVE THEIR RELATIONSHIP SOME DISTINCTION. BUT IT IS ALSO WORTH MENTIONING THAT A NUMBER OF PEOPLE HAVE RIGHTLY INDICATED (INCLUDING OUR OWN MEREDITH BORDERS) THAT GAMORA'S CHARACTER IS STILL THE GUARDIAN WHO CAN'T HELP FEEL LIKE THE MOST LACKING. WHAT HULK WOULD ARGUE IS THAT THIS LACK IS ONE OF THE FEW THINGS IN THE FILM THAT IS TRULY HURT BY THE APPROACH IN PLOTTING AND NOT BECAUSE SHE SOMEHOW LACKS THE SENSE OF HUMOR / CHARACTER PERSPECTIVE THAT THE OTHERS EXHIBIT. IN FACT, IF YOU LOOK AT HER CHARACTER AND YOU CAN SEE THAT THE "TEXT" OF THE CHARACTER IS ALL THERE AND TOTALLY COHERENT: GAMORA LIVES IN THE THREATENING SHADOW OF HER "FATHER" THANOS, SHE HAS A DEEP-SEEDED RIVALRY WITH HER "SISTER" NEBULA, AND ALSO IMMEDIATE TO US ARE ALL THE SMALL WAYS SHE IS TRYING TO DIVORCE HERSELF FROM BEING A COLD ASSASSIN AND EMBRACE A MORE HUMAN SENSE OF KINSHIP. THE PROBLEM IS THAT THESE ISSUES THAT ARE MOSTLY INTRODUCED AND THEN DO NOT REACH ANY LARGER DRAMATIC TURN WITH THE FILM. MEANING HER STORY DOESN'T QUITE EXACTLY MOVE FORWARD IN THE EXACT WAY IT NEEDS TO IN ORDER TO BE FULFILLING. FOR ONE, THE MUCH-HATED THANOS SPENDS THE ENTIRE SITTING TIME ON THE SIDELINE. LIKEWISE, HER RIVALRY / BACK STORY WITH NEBULA IS ONLY HINTED AT AND EVEN THEIR BRIEF CLIMACTIC FIGHT IS CUT SHORT BEFORE THEY BOTH PART WAYS. AND WHILE IT WORKS BEAUTIFULLY IN TERMS OF NOT OVERPLAYING THE ROMANCE ANGLE WITH QUILL (GAMORA SIMPLY WOULD NOT FALL FOR SOMEONE THAT QUICKLY), HULKS STILL FEELS LIKE ONE OF THE BIGGER PROBLEMS WITH HER ARC IS THAT HER ARC OF FRIENDSHIP AND TRUST WITH THE GUARDIANS IS ONLY JUST STARTING TO DEVELOP BY THE FILM'S END (THE CALLBACK TO HER SORT OF BOBBING HER HEAD IS GREAT, BUT STILL JUST A HINT OF DEVELOPMENT). SO IT'S NOT THAT SHE'S A BAD OR INCOMPLETE CHARACTER IN TERMS OF PSYCHOLOGY, IT'S JUST SHE'S THE FULLY-SET-UP CHARACTER MOST HURT BY THE STORY APPROACH. AND SADLY, HULK BELIEVES THIS HAS LESS TO DO WITH A LACK OF REALIZING THOSE NEEDS AND MORE TO DO WITH THE SEEMINGLY-REQUIRED MODERN PENCHANT FOR SERIALIZATION IN THESE FILMS. IT'S LIKE, GREAT, WE GET TO WAIT THREE YEARS TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS WITH THAT STORY WE SPENT ALL THAT TIME ESTABLISHING! WITH GAMORA, IT'S ALL SET-UP, ALL DELAYED CATHARSIS.

LASTLY, WE HAVE PETER QUILL, WHO ALSO HAPPENS TO BE THE FILM'S MAIN CHARACTER. NOW, IF WE WERE TO TALK PURE STORY MECHANICS HULK WOULD START TALKING ABOUT FINDING A BETTER WAY TO INTEGRATE THE EFFECT OF THE HEARTBREAKING OPENING ON THE CHARACTER'S ONGOING PSYCHOLOGY (THE FINAL HAND MOMENT WORKS AS BEING A GOOD BOOK-ENDED MOMENT, BUT LESS-SO IN TERMS OF HOW IT EFFECTS HIS BEHAVIOR UNTIL THAT POINT), BUT HULK'S GOING TO STAY ON THE COMEDY ANGLE FOR THE MOMENT SO THAT IT HELPS OUR COLUMN AIM. ON THE SURFACE STAR-LORD'S COMEDIC PURPOSE SEEMS VERY STRAIGHT-FORWARD AND SINGULAR. HE'S THE SMART ALEC, I.E. THE ONE WHO IS JUST MAKING THE JOKES AND BRINGING THE FUNNY (MUCH LIKE WE THOUGHT ROCKET WOULD BE, ODDLY ENOUGH). BUT THAT'S NOT ACTUALLY HOW PETER'S PURPOSE MANIFESTS WITHIN THE STORY. INSTEAD, HIS SENSE OF HUMOR SERVES TWO CHIEF TONAL AND MECHANICAL FUNCTIONS: THE FIRST IS THAT IT HAS THE POWER TO UNDERCUT A STOIC CHARACTER'S SERIOUSNESS (LIKE DRAX) OR UNDERCUT A NUMBER OF TENSE AND DRAMATIC MOMENTS IN THE FILM ITSELF (LIKE THE SPECTACULAR FINAL DANCE OFF). BUT FAR MORE USEFUL IS THE FACT THAT HIS SENSE OF HUMOR TURNS HIM INTO THE GLUE OF THE ENTIRE TEAM. IS IT BECAUSE HIS JOKES ARE ALL MUSHY AND TOUCHY FEELY? NOT AT ALL. IT'S BECAUSE HE USES THAT HUMOR TO ACT AS OUR HUMAN APPROXIMATION OF EVERYTHING WE ARE EXPERIENCING AS AN AUDIENCE. MEANING HE'S THE PERSON WHO REACTS TO THE RELATIVE INSANITIES OF THE FOUR SURROUNDING CHARACTERS DESCRIBED ABOVE, ALONG WITH BEING OUR GUIDE THROUGH THE WORLD ITSELF. THINK ABOUT THE LANGUAGE WE'VE BEEN USING: THAT'S HIS PERSPECTIVE AND IT SERVES AS A CRITICAL FUNCTION TO THE STORY. HULK WOULD LIKE TO CONVEY JUST HOW IMPORTANT THIS IS BECAUSE SO SO SO SO MUCH OF THE TIME, A FILM WILL MISTAKE THE WHOLE "PUTTING YOU IN THE SHOES OF THE MAIN CHARACTER" THING FOR SADDLING THE AUDIENCE WITH MILQUETOAST STAND-IN WHO SIMPLY LETS THE PLOT OF THE FILM HAPPEN AROUND THEM. WHICH IS NOT ONLY BORING, BUT ALSO A HUGE MISUNDERSTANDING OF A MAIN CHARACTER'S JOB IS IN POPCORN FILMS. WHICH IS REALLY JUST TO GIVE YOU A CONTEXT WITH WHICH TO VIEW EVERY OTHER CHARACTER. REMEMBER, EVEN A MAIN CHARACTER YOU COULD STRICTLY CLASSIFY AS "AN OUTSIDE OBSERVER" IS NOT PERSONALITY-LESS, FOR AN OBSERVER ALWAYS HAS PERSPECTIVE (THINK ISHMAEL IN MOBY DICK. NO STORY. ALL INSIGHT). AND GUARDIANS IS AN ENSEMBLE PIECE THAT WORKS BECAUSE THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT PETER QUILL HAS WITHIN THE GROUP.

AND REALLY, IT'S THAT LAST BIT OBSERVATION TAPS INTO THE KEY OF EVERYTHING. THE FIVE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED ABOVE MAY READ AS "BROAD" OR "STOCK" CHARACTERS FROM ALL SORTS OF POPULAR ADVENTURE TROPES TO SOME OF YOU, BUT NOT TO HULK. INSTEAD, HULK WOULD PASSIONATELY ARGUE THEY ARE CREATIONS OF IN LARGER TRADITION, WHO SIMPLY AND IRREFUTABLY HAVE NEW LIFE BREATHED INTO THEM. AND THAT'S BECAUSE THEY HAD BELIEVABILITY BREATHED INTO THEM. AND THAT'S BECAUSE THEY HAD REAL INTERACTION BREATHED INTO THEM. IF WE GIVE THEM "THE SITCOM TEST" AND LOOK AT THE DYNAMICS AMONG THESE FIVE CHARACTERS, MEANING IF WE THINK ABOUT THE WAY ALL THESE PERSONALITIES BOUNCE OFF EACH OTHER, THEN WE WE WILL SEE THAT THEY EACH HAVE BELIEVABLE DISTINCTION WITHIN THE GROUP. NOT ONLY DO THEY HAVE THEIR OWN GOALS, BUT THEIR OWN RELATIONSHIPS. YOU CAN MATCH THEM UP ONE-BY-ONE TO SEE THAT ROCKET AND GROOT HAVE THEIR OWN RELATIONSHIP. ROCKET AND PETER HAVE THEIR OWN RELATIONSHIP. PETER AND GAMORA HAVE THEIR OWN RELATIONSHIP. AND SO ON. THIS ISN'T EVEN TO SAY THAT THESE RELATIONSHIPS NEED SERIOUS SCREEN-TIME OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT. JUST THAT WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW THEIR PERSPECTIVES CLASH AND THEN THE STORY HAS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT BY EXPRESSING THE CLASHES IN BELIEVABLE, ENTERTAINING WAYS. AND THIS FILM SUCCEEDS BECAUSE IT GETS ALL OF IT'S HUMOR FROM CHARACTER.

BUT THIS IS WHERE THE METHODOLOGY OF CRAFTING JOKES COMES IN...

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HUMOR MAY SEEM LIKE AN ETHEREAL THING THAT EITHER WORKS ITS MAGIC ON US OR IT DOESN'T, BUT OF COURSE HUMOR HAS A SET OF MECHANICS. LIKE HULK EXPLAINED IN THE GROOT PARAGRAPH, IT HAS SET UPS. PUNCH LINES. ZIGS. ZAGS. EXPECTATIONS. RESULTS. HULK TALKS ABOUT IT PRETTY IN DEPTH IN HULK'S COMEDY SEQUEL ARTICLE (ALBEIT TO A MUCH DIFFERENT PURPOSE) BUT THIS ENERGY EXCHANGE IS JUST AS CRITICAL TO ANY STORY BEATS TOO (DON'T EVEN HAVE TO BE COMEDIC). ALL BECAUSE WE EXPERIENCE ANY EMOTION THROUGH CHANGE. SO AGAIN, IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT CHARACTERS TELLING PROVERBIAL KNOCK-KNOCK JOKES, IT'S ABOUT THE DELICATE INTERPLAY OF EMOTIONAL EXCHANGES WITH AN AUDIENCE. IT'S ABOUT BUILDING UP ONE FEELING IT HITTING THEM IN A MEANINGFUL WAY AT THE RIGHT MOMENT WITH ANOTHER. JUST AS IF YOU WERE ON STAGE, YOU NEED ORCHESTRATE THIS IN STORIES WITH A SENSE OF TIMING, COMPLETE WITH THE ADDED CHALLENGE OF KEEPING IT GROUNDED IN CHARACTER IF YOU WANT THE STORY ITSELF TO ACTUALLY MATTER. YES, A FILM LIKE ANCHORMAN CAN GO OFF THE RAILS BECAUSE IT'S ALSO SATIRIZING THE VERY IDEA OF A STORY AND TAKING PLACE IN AN "UNREALITY." BUT EVEN THAT UNREALITY HAS A REALITY ("BRICK KILLED A GUY!") THAT IS BUILT ON A KIND OF PERSPECTIVE. BUT IN A TRADITIONAL ADVENTURE FILM? YOU REALLY, REALLY NEED TO BLEND THE HUMOR IN A WAY THAT STILL MAKES THAT ADVENTURE STORY WORK ON ITS OWN. SO AS MUCH AS SOME PEOPLE SEEM TO BE DISPARAGING THE "LOOSE" STORY OF GUARDIANS, YOU STILL HAVE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT:

1) THE STORY IS STILL COMPLETELY DRIVEN BY CHARACTER WANTS / NEEDS, EVEN IF THOSE WANTS / NEEDS END UP FITTING AWKWARDLY INTO THE LARGER MARVEL MAKE-SHIFT CONSTRUCTS OF INFINITY STONES AND SAVING PLANETS, ETC.

2) IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY AFFECT THE QUALITY AND PROPULSION OF SCENES IF IT IS "LOOSE" BECAUSE THE FILM IS OFTEN PLAYING OFF DRAMATIC CONSTRUCTION TO MAKE A JOKE. IN FACT, PLENTY OF GREAT ACTION COMEDIES ARE EQUALLY LOOSE IN THEIR CONSTRUCTION (GHOSTBUSTERS INCLUDED) SO THAT THE JOKES AND SERIOUS PARTS CAN WORK IN TANDEM WITH THEIR EXCHANGES. AND LASTLY, THAT...

3) IT DOESN'T MEAN THE FILM ISN'T BEING VERY CAREFUL ABOUT HOW THE JOKES AFFECT THE OVERALL DRAMA / TONE OF THE STORY OR IT'S CHARACTER GOALS.

TO WIT, THE FILM CONSTANTLY EMPLOYS A REALLY SMART METHODOLOGY THAT HULK WILL CALL "DRAMATIC ALLEVIATION." MEANING TIME AND TIME AGAIN, THE FILM PLAYS THE DRAMA OR STORY LOGIC OF A MOMENT COMPLETELY STRAIGHT, ONLY TO THEN UNDERCUT THE MOMENT WITH A JOKE / INSULT / UNEXPECTED REACTION. AND REALLY, THIS TACTIC IS A HUGE PART OF THE MARVEL WAY, AS IT ALLOWS FOR THE UNDERCUTTING OF (PERHAPS) THE OVERT SERIOUSNESS OF THE MOVIE ITSELF. AND WHEN IT'S HANDLED WITH THE RIGHT KIND OF BALANCE AND DISPLAY OF HUMANITY, IT ACTUALLY MANAGES TO CREATE MORE EMPATHY THAN ALL THE TOUCHING HUMAN EMOTIONAL EXCHANGES YOU CAN IMAGINE (MOSTLY BECAUSE THOSE CAN TOO EASILY BE READ AS CLOYING). PLEASE COMPARE THIS TO THE HUMAN SCENES IN DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, WHICH IS A GREAT FILM, BUT IT TOO OFTEN TRIES TO GET US TO CARE ABOUT THE HUMAN CHARACTERS BY REPEATEDLY EXPOSING THEIR SOFT TENDERNESS, COMPASSION, LOYALTY, ANDZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ-OH SORRY HULK FELL ASLEEP... OKAY, SORRY THAT CAME OFF A LITTLE CRUEL, BUT THERE'S NO DOUBTING THE STARK DIFFERENCE IN THE LEVEL OF ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN THE TWO METHODS IN THAT FILM. WHICH IS THE EXACT REASON WHY THE "NO JOKES" POLICY OVER AT WARNER BROTHERS DRIVES HULK BONKERS. IT SEEMS LIKE THE WORST POSSIBLE LESSON TO LEARN FROM NOLAN'S BATMAN FILMS, WHICH DIDN'T SUCCEED BECAUSE OF THEY WERE SERIOUS, BUT BECAUSE THEY WERE THEMATICALLY COMPLEX (AND TO BE FAIR, GREEN LANTERN'S FAILURE TO REPLICATE IRON MAN IS PART OF THEM BEING HESITANT TOO). BUT THEY'RE SIMPLY MISSING THE SHEER EFFECTIVENESS OF HUMOR HERE. BECAUSE THE TRUTH IS THAT WHEN YOU APPROACH A FILM WITH CHARACTER-BASED HUMOR YOU ACTUALLY MAKE MORE ROOM FOR THE EMOTIONAL MOMENTS. HECK, GUARDIANS SOMEHOW PULLS OFF A NON-IRONIC "GIVING A FLOWER TO A LITTLE GIRL" SCENE IN THIS MOVIE AND NO ONE REALLY BLINKS AN EYE. THAT'S A SHEER TESTAMENT TO THE KIND OF DEXTERITY AND GOOD WILL YOU ACHIEVE WHEN YOU'RE CHARACTERS ARE ACTUALLY FUCKIN' FUNNY.

BUT AGAIN, YOU GET YOUR CHARACTERS THERE WITH THESE BASIC MECHANICS AND THE EXAMPLES OF DRAMATIC ALLEVIATION ARE EVERYWHERE. WHETHER IT'S THE AFOREMENTIONED MOMENT WHERE GAMORA IS BEING SWAYED BY THE PETER'S MUSIC AND TURNS ON HIM FOR HIS "PELVIC SORCERY!" BUT THEN IT SHOWS UP AGAIN IN THE SCENE WHERE PETER RESCUES GAMORA IN THE SPACE VACUUM. THEY COME IN THROUGH THE HATCH AFTERWARD AND HE LANDS RIGHT ON TOP OF HER IN A SEXUALLY-COMPROMISING POSITION. THIS INADVERTENT PILING THEN STARTS PLAYING AS HEAVY ROMANTIC SCENE, PLAYING WITH THE AUDIENCE'S EXPECTATIONS (WHOA, ARE THEY GOING TO GO HERE???). BUT SOON ENOUGH IT HINTS AT AN ENERGY SHIFT WITH SINGLE EXCHANGE, AS PETER QUILL IS SUDDENLY LAYING IT ON TOO THICK, COMPLETELY OVERPLAYING HIS HAND. AND SHE GIVES HIM A MOMENT OF EYE-ROLLING EMBARRASSMENT BEFORE, OF COURSE, SHE UNDERCUTS HIM BY NEGATING THE ENERGY. IT'S TECHNICALLY THREE COMEDIC EMOTIONAL AFFECTATIONS WITH TWO SHIFTS, AND ZOE SALDANA SOMEHOW MANAGES TO PULL THAT OFF WHILE STILL ESTABLISHING THE SINCERITY OF THANKS UNDERNEATH (NOT AN EASY ACTING / DIRECTING MOMENT TO EXECUTE BY THE WAY. SO KUDOS). BUT PERHAPS THIS WHOLE "METHOD OF ALLEVIATION" BUSINESS IS BEST EXEMPLIFIED ALL THROUGHOUT THE FILM'S BEST SCENE...

WHICH IS OF COURSE JUST FIVE PEOPLE TALKING IN A ROOM.

YOU MAY HAVE ALREADY GUESSED BUT HULK IS INDEED REFERENCING THE SCENE THAT IS ABOUT 2/3 OF THE WAY INTO THE MOVIE, WHEREIN THE GUARDIANS SIT DOWN AND HAVE ONE OF THOSE DISCUSSION THAT POSITS WHETHER THEY (THE HEROES) SHOULD TURN AND RUN OR IF THEY SHOULD RALLY TOGETHER TO SAVE THE DAY (AKA "SHOULD WE HAVE THE LAST ACT OF OUR MOVIE?"). AS SUCH, THE SCENE IS FILLED WITH ALL THE STANDARD RHETORIC YOU SEE IN THESE MOVIES TO LEND WEIGHT TO THE NATURE OF THE HERCULEAN TASK BEFORE THEM, ALONG WITH CALLS OF EMPATHY. AND YEAH YEAH, IT'S ALL THE CLICHE STUFF ABOUT CHARACTERS EXPRESSING REASONS TO CARE AND BEING LOGISTICALLY PIGEONHOLED INTO DOING IT... THE CORE DIFFERENCE IN GUARDIANS IS THAT ALMOST EVERY ONE OF THESE BITS OF RHETORIC IS THEN UNDERCUT BY A JOKE. LIKE WHEN GROOT DELIVERS HIS ONE REPEATED "I AM GROOT!" LINE AS ROCKET MIRACULOUSLY UNDERSTANDS / REACTS / AND TRANSLATES BACK WITH COMPLEXITY. THEN THERE'S THE MOMENT WHERE GROOT SUPPORTS PETER AND PETER LAUDS HIM FOR IT, ONLY TO BE UNDERCUT WHEN THEY SEE GROOT VACANTLY EATING FLOWER OFF HIS OWN ARM. THEN THERE'S THE DISCUSSION ON THE PERCENTAGE OF THE PLAN, OR THE GREAT MOMENT WHERE DRAX ADMITS HE WASN'T LISTENING, OR THE DEBATE OVER ROCKET'S FAKE LAUGH. WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE SCENE STRUCTURALLY, YOU REALIZE THE REAL OBSTACLE IN THE SCENE ISN'T THE MAGNITUDE OF THEIR DECISION BEFORE THEM... IT'S THE JOKES. EVERYTIME THEY TRY TO ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING, THEY JOKE IT AWAY. BUT REMEMBER! THE JOKES COME FROM CHARACTER, RIGHT? SO YOU THEN REALIZED THEY ARE USING A COMEDY ROUNDTABLE TO SHOWCASE THAT REAL OBSTACLE TO THEM MAKING THIS HEROIC DECISION IS EACH OTHER AND EACH OTHERS' PERSPECTIVE. WHICH IS EXACTLY WHY THE SCENE WORKS LIKE GANGBUSTERS. IT'S PERFECT CONFLICT-ORIENTED STORYTELLING THROUGH HUMOR ALONE. EVERY LINE IS JUST A CHARACTER COMING AT ANOTHER WITH PERSPECTIVE, SPITTING VENOM, AND INVERTING OUR EXPECTATIONS WHILE SOMEHOW BEING COMPLETELY STRAIGHT WITHIN THE REALITY OF THE MOMENT. AND BEST OF ALL, THE SCENE HAS ONE BIG EMOTIONAL EXCHANGE LEFT IN THE TANK FOR WHEN IT FINALLY TURNS WITH A MOMENT OF SURPRISING HONESTY. SUDDENLY, THE FILM GETS REAL REAL AND ROCKET EXPRESSES TO THE TRUTH AT THE CENTER OF ALL THESE "RALLYING THE HEROES" SCENES WE'VE SEEN TIME AND TIME AGAIN, ALL BY SAYING "... You are asking us to die." AND WHEN THAT FACT HITS THEM, THERE'S NO JOKES. JUST THE MEANING. AND IT'S FREE TO SIT THERE AND HIT US FOR REAL.

IT'S A TACTIC PEOPLE OFTEN DON'T REALIZE IS INCREDIBLY USEFUL. A LOT OF FILMS TRY TO WRANGLE EMOTION OUT OF YOU BY INCREMENTALLY RATCHETING UP THE EMOTION THROUGH CONSTANT ESCALATION, BUT A LOT OF TIMES IT JUST MAKES EVERYTHING FEEL "THE SAME." EMOTIONAL SWOONS SOMETIMES AREN'T ABOUT "THE LEVEL OF INTENSITY," BUT THE SWING OF HOW FAR YOU CAME TO GET THERE. IF YOU START IN A PLACE OF COMFORT AND LAUGHTER AND THEN ARE SUDDENLY HIT WITH A BIT OF BITTERSWEET EMOTION, YOU WILL FEEL IT MORE READILY. KEEP IN MIND YOU HAVE TO BE CAREFUL WITH THIS. AUDIENCES ARE SENSITIVE TO "TOO DRASTIC" AN EXCHANGE AND WILL GET ANGRY IF THEY FEEL CAUGHT TOO OFF GUARD, BUT IT'S STILL ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE (AND UNDERUSED) MECHANISMS YOU CAN USE IN STORYTELLING (THOUGH ADMITTEDLY A LOT OF ADOLESCENTS GO OVERBOARD AND DON'T LIKE ANY KIND OF TONAL CHANGES AT ALL, AS THEY FEEL LIKE IT'S A "CHEAP" PLAY AT THEIR EMOTIONS... OPEN YOURSELF UP, DUDES. MOVIES INHERENTLY MANIPULATE. IT'S WHAT THEY DO). BUT IN GUARDIANS? THE SUDDENLY-SERIOUS-SWITCH WORKS WONDERFULLY. THROUGH THAT HONESTY, THEY CAN ALL COME TO THE ADMITTANCE THAT THEY ARE LOSERS, IN THE SENSE THAT THEY HAVE LOST AND HAVE NOTHING EXCEPT EACH OTHER. THUS, THEY CAN BE HAPPY GOING OFF TO DIE TOGETHER. THIS HONESTY IS NOT ONLY WHAT GETS ROCKET TO (RELUCTANTLY) COME AROUND OT THE PLAN, BUT THIS TURN IS ALSO A BIG MOVEMENT IN HIS CHARACTER ARC (AS HE'S THE GUY LEAST WILLING TO STICK HIS NECK OUT). BUT EVEN IF IT'S HIS TRIUMPHANT MOMENT, EVEN AS THE FILM IS RIGHT ON THE EDGE OF OVER-PLAYING THE SAPPY NATURE OF THEIR HEROICS, IT KNOWS TO GO BACK TO ONE LAST EMOTIONAL EXCHANGE OF DRAMATIC ALLEVIATION AND SMARTLY TURNS THE RALLYING-CRY RIGHT BACK INTO A JOKE WITH ROCKET'S: "There! We're all standing in a circle!" WHICH IS NOT ONLY A REALLY FUNNY CALLING OUT OF A POPULAR TROPE, BUT IT ALSO ALLEVIATES US FROM THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE TROPE ITSELF.

IT REALLY IS A KICK-ASS SCENE. IT'S FUNNY. IT'S FULL OF COHERENT STORY CONSTRUCTION. IT'S TRUE TO CHARACTER. AND IT'S ULTIMATELY ENGAGING SOMETHING WE'VE SEEN TIME AND TIME AGAIN, BUT IN A WAY THAT FEELS FRESH. AND THEY PULLED IT OFF WITHOUT TURNING IT ALL INTO A DUMB META JOKE BECAUSE THERE'S NO WINK. THERE'S NO HINT FROM THE MISE EN SCENE OR PERFORMANCE THAT THEY'RE BREAKING THEIR OWN REALITY TO ENGAGE THE JOKE ITSELF. IT'S ALL TRUE WITHIN THE CHARACTER'S INTERACTIONS. THEY BELIEVE IT. WE KNOW THEY BELIEVE IT. WE HAVE SEEN ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS WHO THEY ARE. AND THE SCENE PERFECTLY HIGHLIGHTS THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN THE FIVE OF THEM. SO IS THE SCENE JUST LACED TOP TO BOTTOM WITH JOKES? SURE! BUT BY USING THE EXACT RIGHT KIND OF BASIC MECHANISMS WITH THOSE JOKES, IT SHOWS THE HEART OF THE FILM'S ROUSING SUCCESS.

HUMOR IS POWERFUL STUFF.

HECK, SOMETIMES HUMOR CAN BE SO EFFECTIVE IT LIFTS SOMETHING UP THAT DOESN'T ACTUALLY WORK ON "TEXT LEVEL." FOR INSTANCE, THERE'S THIS ONE MOMENT IN THE FILM WHERE PETER QUILL APPARENTLY SENDS A MESSAGE TO THE NOVA CORPS TO ASK FOR SELF HELP. THE LINE OF REQUEST ITSELF IS DELIVERED AFTERWARD TO NOVA PRIME, HERSELF: "I’m an asshole, but what I am not is a 0 dick… we need your help." OKAY, THAT LINE SOUNDS FUNNY, BUT HULK'S SORRY, THAT LINE MAKES NO SENSE. AND IT MAY BE MEANINGLESS, BUT THE SCENE IS IMMEDIATELY HELPED OUT BY THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE JOHN C. FREAKIN REILLY SELLING HOW CONFUSING THE STATEMENT IS. AND IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE A BIG RALLYING CALL, AND THEY'RE UNSURE HOW TO PROCEED WITH SUCH A CONFUSING STATEMENT... BUT YOU KNOW WHAT REALLY SELLS WHAT THE LINE?

WHEN STAR LORD SEES NOVA CORPS SHOW UP IN THE BATTLE AND EXCITEDLY SHOUTS:

"They got my dick message!"

HULK LAUGHED REALLY, REALLY HARD AT THIS. AND THIS IS ONE OF THOSE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT STORYTELLING, WHERE IF YOU CHARACTER 100% BELIEVES IN THE POWER OF WHAT WHAT THEY SAID OR DID (REGARDLESS OF HOW STUPID THE LINE OR ACTION IS), THEN YOU WILL TOO. YOU JUST SIT THERE AND SUDDENLY THINK ABOUT PETER QUILL'S DUMBNESS. HE DIDN'T GET HOW DUMB HIS REQUEST WAS, BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER BECAUSE HE BELIEVES IT. THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HULK MEANS BY THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARACTER PERSPECTIVE. IT'S NOT ABOUT REALISM. IT'S ABOUT WHAT A CHARACTER BELIEVES IS REAL. AND IT EVEN SHOW'S OFF THE FILM'S SOPHISTICATED TRUST IN OUR FINDING THE LINE MEANINGLESS, ONLY TO LATER MAKE-GOOD ON OUR DOUBTS WITH A KICK-ASS JOKE.

AGAIN, HULK IS TRYING TO CONVINCE YOU THAT ALL THIS "FLUFFY HUMOR STUFF" ADDS UP TO SOMETHING VERY, VERY REAL. AND HULK READILY ADMITS THAT THE COMEDY-INVERSION TACTIC MAY NOT REACH THE HEIGHTS OF TOUCHINGLY EMOTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS OF CHARACTERS WHO MATTER DEEPLY TO EACH OTHER (I.E. THERE'S A REASON MARVEL MOVIES DON'T REACH THE RESONANT HEIGHTS OF PIXAR), BUT PEOPLE STILL VASTLY UNDERESTIMATE THE VIABILITY OF USING COMEDY TO REALIZING TOUCHING CHARACTER ARCS. HULK'S FRIEND BENDAVID RECENTLY NOTED HOW MUCH HE ADORES WHEN FILMS USE "running gags that you don't realize are set ups for emotional payoffs" AND THIS FILM IS JUST CHOCK FULL OF THEM. THERE'S THE (ALREADY) FAMOUS ONE WHERE THE CONSTANT UTTERANCE OF "I am Groot!" TURNS TO THE AFOREMENTIONED "We are Groot" BEFORE WHILE WRAPPING THEM UP IN A SAFETY-FIREFLY-NEST AND SACRIFICING HIMSELF. OR WHEN WE LEARN THAT PETER'S INSISTENCE ON THE STAR-LORD TITLE, TURNS OUT TO BE AN EMOTIONAL CONNECTION TO AN OLD NICKNAME HIS MOM GAVE HIM. NOTE HOW WE DON'T NEED ANY MORE INFORMATION THAN THAT: EVEN IF IT WE AREN'T GIVEN A TEXTUAL REASON FOR WHY SHE CALLED HIM THAT, THE NEW INFORMATION IS ENOUGH TO CONTEXTUALIZE WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO HIM.

LIKE HULK MENTIONED WITH REGARDS TO EMOTIONAL EXCHANGES, HULK ADMITS THERE ARE A PORTION OF THE AUDIENCE WHO MIGHT FIND THESE SORTS OF SUDDEN EMOTIONAL MECHANISMS CLOYING, AND WOULD MUCH PREFER MORE TRADITIONAL DRAMATICS, BUT HULK ARGUES THEY DEFINITELY WORK FOR GENERAL AUDIENCES. . LOOK AT THE SUCCESS OF SPEILBERG (WHO IS A MASTER OF THEM). LOOK AT THE TRADITION OF ROMANTIC COMEDIES AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF HOLLYWOOD. LOOK AT PRESTON STURGES. THIS IS NOT JUST A VALID PATH OF DRAMATIC CONSTRUCTION, BUT A TIME-HONORED ONE. AND TO GET CAUGHT UP IN ONE'S OWN REACTION AND ASSUME IT AS "WHAT MUST BE TRUE FOR EVERYONE" IS TO STRAIGHT UP IGNORE THE GENERAL FUNCTIONALITY OF STORYTELLING. YEAH, THEY'RE JOKES, BUT THEY ARE STILL LACED WITH INESCAPABLE MEANING AND PERSPECTIVE. AND WITH GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY WE'RE ALREADY SEEING THE POSITIVE NET RESULTS. THE FIVE CENTRAL CHARACTERS ARE ALL CATCHING ON SO RAPIDLY THAT HULK CAN'T EVEN TELL YOU THE LAST TIME THIS HAPPENED LIKE THIS (ANY SUGGESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS?). AND IT'S HAPPENING NOT SIMPLY BECAUSE "THEIR LINES ARE FUNNY," BUT BECAUSE THEY EXIST AND OPERATE WITHIN THE CONFINES OF BOTH THEIR OWN CHARACTER REALITY AND THE REALITY OF THE STORY TOLD AROUND THEM.

WHICH LEAVES HULK WITH ONE REALLY IMPORTANT QUESTION...

WHY DO PEOPLE THINK THAT "MAKING FUNNY, CHARMING STORIES," AKA WHAT HULK JUST SPENT 6000 WORDS DESCRIBING, IS FUCKING EASY? WHY DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THE CRAFT OF COMEDY? WHY DO THEY NEVER THINK ABOUT HOW IT MIGHT BE HIGHLY ORGANIZED AND INFORMING STORY ARCS? WHY DOES HULK ALWAYS SEE PROFESSIONAL CRITICS MAKE STATEMENTS LIKE THIS ONE, FROM A REVIEW IN THE ATLANTIC:

Throw in an unfocused script that features too many half-explained locations, a boggling array of alliances and counter-alliances among peripheral characters, and a primary villain almost completely devoid of charisma or subtlety, and the result ought to be a cosmic disaster.

Yet remarkably, it’s not. Guardians of the Galaxy may be a bit of a mess, but it’s an extremely good-natured mess, full of humor and even tenderness. Perhaps more surprising still, it’s the very elements that seemed most likely to ruin the film—e.g., the tree-man, the raccoon—that account for much of its improbable charm.

SORRY, BUT IT'S KIND OF THING THAT KIND OF DRIVES HULK NUTS. NOT IN THE SENSE THAT HE'S INACCURATE ABOUT HIS OBSERVATIONS, BUT IN THE SENSE THAT IT COMPLETE MISUNDERSTANDS THE VALUE THOSE QUALITIES HAVE TO THE OVERALL GOODNESS FILM. IS IT "JUST HIS OPINION?" SURE! OF COURSE IT IS. BUT HULK IS ARGUING THAT THAT OPINION IS INACCURATE TO THE REAL FUNCTIONALITY OF THE FILM. AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, THE AUDIENCE RESPONSE ARGUES OTHERWISE TOO. THEY GOT RIGHT THE HECK OVER THOSE THINGS. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, HIS OWN EXPERIENCE WITH THE FILM SEEMS TO ARGUE OTHERWISE AS WELL!!! IF A FILM IS "GOOD-NATURED, FULL OF HUMOR AND EVEN TENDERNESS" THEN PERHAPS ISN'T IT WORTH EXAMINING HOW THE FILM MAY HAVE USED DIFFERENT TACTICS OF GETTING SUCH A RESULT? MAYBE "HALF-EXPLAINED LOCATIONS" REALLY DON'T MATTER. MAYBE IT ISN'T SOME MAGIC SURPRISE. MAYBE THERE WAS NOTHING "IMPROBABLE" ABOUT IT. MAYBE IT WAS ACHIEVED THROUGH REAL UNDERSTANDING AND KNOW-HOW.

PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS ISN'T TO PICK ON ONE REVIEW / REVIEWER AS MANY MORE DID THE SAME THING, BUT TO HULK THE STATEMENT ABOVE PERFECTLY SHOWCASES THE DANGER OF APPRAISING FILM WHEN YOU IGNORE THE POSITIVE EXPERIENCE YOU'RE ACTUALLY HAVING. AND IT TENDS TO GET WRAPPED UP IN THE TROUBLE OF SEEING A FILM AS A CHECKLIST, WHERE YOU START WORKING BACKWARD FROM A SET OF PERCEIVED RULES OF WHAT A FILM MUST HAVE, INSTEAD OF RECONCILING OR ASKING QUESTIONS ABOUT WHY THE FILM IS WORKING FOR YOU AND THE DIFFERENT TACTICS IT MAY BE TAKING IN GETTING THERE. AS THE OLD IDIOM GOES, THERE'S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT. AND YOU HAVE TO CONSTANTLY BE LOOKING FOR THE WAYS FILMS CAN WORK OUTSIDE OF THAT. THIS WAS ACTUALLY A LESSON HULK WAS TAUGHT MANY YEARS AGO BY A FILMMAKER WHO WAS MORE THAN WORTH HIS SALT. HE SAID SOMETHING AKIN TO "You always have to be looking to how a film gets you to a place of greater understanding with an audience, not further disconnect." FILMS CAN OFTEN BE PUZZLES, NEEDING CERTAIN PIECES TO CERTAIN PURPOSES, AND OFTEN IN COUNTER-INTUITIVE WAY. SO AS MUCH AS HULK STRESSES DRAMATIC CLARITY AND ALL THAT STUFF, HULK ALSO READILY ADMITS THAT VERY FEW PEOPLE WALK OUT OF FILMS RAVING ABOUT "ALL THAT CLEAR EXPOSITION!" AGAIN, IT JUST HIGHLIGHTS HOW LITTLE THOSE "MESSY" THINGS MATTER COMPARED TO CHARACTER CONSISTENCY, MOTIVATION, AFFECTATION, AND INTEGRATION. LUCKILY, THAT'S WHERE THE STORYTELLING HEART OF GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY LIES:

IT IS A STORY TOLD, REALIZED, AND ECHOES ON THROUGH HUMOR.

WHICH IS NOT ONLY A VALID WAY TO CONSTRUCT POPCORN FILMS, BUT SOMETHING HULK WANTS TO CONVINCE YOU IS REALLY, REALLY, REALLY FUCKING HARD.

WE MAY LOVE THE AFFECTATION, BUT PEOPLE JUST DO NOT UNDERSTAND HOW HARD IT IS TO WRITE CHARACTER-INTEGRATED COMEDY IN ADVENTURE STORIES. COMEDY WHERE PERSONALITIES BOUNCE AGAINST EACH OTHER WITH SKILL AND UNDERSTANDING. HULK THINKS ABOUT THIS CONSTANTLY. PERHAPS IT'S BECAUSE WE USUALLY SEE THIS DYNAMIC IN "ALREADY-HIT-THEIR-STRIDE" SITCOMS WHERE THEY'VE HAD YEARS TO GET THE DYNAMICS RIGHT AND THUS WE SEE IT AS MORE PEDESTRIAN. BUT IF IT WAS EASY TO DO IN MOVIES, THEN WE WOULD HAVE THESE KINDS OF ENTERTAINING POPCORN MOVIES ALL THE TIME, RIGHT? BUT WE DON'T, DO WE? INSTEAD WE MORE OFTEN GET THINGS IN THE STYLE OF THE "COMEDY" OF MICHAEL BAY MOVIES, WHICH KIND OF READ AS BORDERLINE INSANITY BECAUSE THE HUMOR DOESN'T ACTUALLY COME FROM ANYWHERE (LET ALONE CHARACTER). INSTEAD IT JUST FEELS LIKE JOKES ERUPTING OUT OF SOME OFFENSIVE ETHER. BUT AS LACKING AS HULK HAS FOUND THE OVERALL INTENT SOME RECENT MARVEL MOVIES, WHETHER IT IS IN REGARDS TO HOW SIMILAR THESE MOVIES ARE BEGINNING IN TERMS OF CONSTRUCTION, PROCESS, AND GOALS, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO DOUBTING THE POWER OF THEIR EVENTUAL CORE APPROACH. THEY HAVE NOW BUILT AN EMPIRE OFF OF THIS EXACT TACTIC OF CHARACTER-DRIVEN INTERACTIVE COMEDY AND ALMOST THAT ALONE.

YEAH, WOULD HULK PREFER IT IF A POPCORN MOVIE BALANCED EVERYTHING PERFECTLY IN TERMS OF HUMOR, CHARACTER AND AFFECTATION WITH A PERFECTLY DRIVEN PLOT AND SERIOUS CHARACTER BEATS? SURE! BUT THEN WE'RE TALKING ABOUT MOVIES LIKE THEY ARE SOME IMAGINARY THING WHERE YOU CAN JUST "BALANCE THE HUMOR AND PLOTTING AND EVERYTHING AND JUST DO IT PERFECTLY!" AND YEAH THAT DOESN'T REALLY WORK LIKE THAT. FILMS USUALLY HAVE TO TARGET KEY AREAS TO GET BY IN AND FOCUS ON. IN FACT, BALANCING A POPCORN FILM IS SO IMPOSSIBLY RARE THAT THE FEW FILMS THAT HAVE TRULY DONE IT (RAIDERS, JAWS, STAR WARS, ETC.) HAVE GONE ON TO CLAIM YOUR BASIC MASTERPIECE STATUS (WAIT, CAN WE PUT ATTACK THE BLOCK THERE YET? IT TOTALLY HITS ALL THE MARKS). AND SO TO DISMISS POPCORN FILMS FOR BEING DELIRIOUSLY ENTERTAINING, BUT LACKING THE THING THAT MAKES THEM SIMILAR TO FILMS LISTED ABOVE, IS TO DO THE DISCUSSION OF FILM A SMALL DISSERVICE; FOR IT FAILS TO RECOGNIZE BOTH THE EFFECT OF ENTERTAINMENT ITSELF AND THE IMMENSE DIFFICULTY OF ATTAINING IT.

HUMOR IS NOT A NATURAL, GIVEN, NOR LESSER ABILITY.

NOT IN OUR LIVES, AND NOT WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT. EVEN IF HUMOR MAY SEEM ETHEREAL TO OUR UNDERSTANDING, EVEN IF WE MAY ALL HAVE OUR PARTICULAR TASTES, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THERE IS NOT CONCRETE APPROACHES TO COMMUNICATING HUMOR. NOR DOES IT MEAN THERE IS NOT A REAL CRAFT TO THAT COMMUNICATION. LIKE ANYTHING, COMEDY HAS A SET OF MECHANICS. AND WHEN YOU SHOWCASE AN UNDERSTANDING OF THAT CRAFT THEN YOU CAN NOT ONLY RECOGNIZE IT, BUT LEARN HOW TO DISPLAY IT IN TURN. SO WHILE MAKING A FUNNY, ENTERTAINING MOVIE MAY BE INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT, FAR MORE DIFFICULT THAT ANYONE GIVES CREDIT FOR, IT WOULD BE A DISSERVICE TO CHALK UP THAT ADDED DIFFICULTY AS MAGIC; TO NOT RECOGNIZE THE IMMENSE SKILL, GUILE, AND FORETHOUGHT THAT WENT INTO REALIZING IT.

AND WHEN IT COMES TO RECOGNIZING THE CRAFT OF THE COMEDIC STORYTELLING IN GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, HULK HAS TO SAY THAT JAMES GUNN AND EVERYONE INVOLVED JUST KNOCKED IT OUT OF THE FUCKING PARK.

AND THERE'S NOTHING MESSY ABOUT THAT.

<3 HULK

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