The Bi-Mon Sci-Fi Con
Sometimes I look at this blog, and I think ‘Man, what happened here? Post after post of topics that I thought might be interesting or concerned recent events. I need to get back to my roots: talking about movies that are so old people have stopped caring.’
So I saw Snowpiercer this week. It was definitely a film that grabbed my attention. One that almost demands a response, and I was definitely planning to give it one.
Then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy the following night. And while that was a much more “by the numbers” approach to filmmaking, it also seemed like a much easier topic to write something about. And if there’s one thing the internet has taught me, it’s “Always go for the long-hanging fruit.”
But then I realized that this is (probably) the first time in my life that I’ve seen two sci-fi films starring someone named Chris in the same week. So rather than writing a boring post just talking about one of them, why don’t I write an exciting post comparing them and telling people which is better? That could be fun, right?
Well, I think it sounds fun. So here we go with our first point!
The interesting thing about these films’ plots is that Snowpiercer started really strong but faded to a very unsatisfying end, whereas Guardians started poorly but turned into a thoroughly enjoyable ride. By watching them back-to-back, I basically saw the weakest two acts of these films sandwiched in between four fantastic acts. But which three made the stronger overall film?
Snowpiercer definitely feels like the more ambitious of the two. Guardians, not surprisingly, is much more content to tell its silly story and exist primarily for fun. Not that it doesn’t have any important themes or things to say about (and I’m quoting the main character here) “[Giving] a shit,” but it never gets any more serious than, say, The Lego Movie.
On the other hand, Snowpiecer can get very serious at times, and it has a lot of serious things to say about class warfare. For example, it wants to make sure that you know that… it’s bad. Not only that, but global warming, another relevant topic addressed in the film, is… problematic.
I guess that’s one of my problems with Snowpiercer. I know that there’s a point the director wanted to make, and given the overwhelming praise from critics, some people clearly thought he made it well. To me, though, any themes or commentary the film had to offer seemed stunningly simple, and it looks like I’m not the only one. There’s every possibility this is caused by a cultural difference, Snowpiercer being a Korean film, but I didn’t find anything thought-provoking in this film that I couldn’t have found in The Hunger Games. Which is not to say it’s by any means bad, it’s just… been done.
This is a tough choice, but I’ll give a close nod to Guardians here, because it at least was aware of its lack of depth.
This, too, feels like a tough call, but only because I’ve been sort of a fan of both of these actors for a while. From an objective standpoint, Evans is head and shoulders better.
For starters, Pratt just is not believable as an action start. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen him get beaten up by this twerp. More likely it’s his role as the hilariously dim Andy on Parks and Recreation. He certainly has the look for it, but any time he was asked to do anything in a combat scene (which, to the filmmakers’ credit, was not often) I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to, but… I mean, look at that face!
More importantly, though, Pratt just lacks the acting chops. He’s never had to get in front of the camera and carry a movie before, and don’t get me wrong, for the most part he does a fantastic job. Unfortunately, he stumbles at the worst possible time: when giving the customary hero monologue. This comes as his character, Peter Quill, is trying to rally his friends to stand up to the evil Ronan the Accuser. Pratt’s delivery here was so bad, I assumed they were trying to make a joke, satirizing the “inspirational heroic speech that convinces otherwise rational men to willingly agree to a suicide mission.” Turns out Pratt just can’t deliver serious dialogue for more than a minute, I guess.
This is in stark contrast to Evans, who, in addition to filling the part of an action star nicely, gives an absolutely brilliant performance as Curtis, especially in delivering his hero monologue at the end. It’s moving, it reveals his character, and it answers questions that were raised early in the film. There’s not a whole lot more to say except that his performance alone was worth the $7 I paid to stream that flick.
Best Supporting Cast
Comparing these films’ casts is not quite fair. Both have villains that are played by excellent actors (Ed Harris in Snowpiercer, Lee Pace in Guardians) who give strong, memorable performances despite a limited presence in the script. Apart from that, however, they’re vastly different. Besides Evan’s Curtis, Snowpiercer has only a handful of significant characters, many of whom die or are left behind by the plot partway through, and it consequently focuses mostly on Curtis for much of the run time.
Conversely, Guardians has four other main characters, with Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista appearing in the flesh and Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel lending their impressive voice talents. With the exception of Baustista, each gives an excellent performance, and even Bautista was a pleasant surprise. Having been a wrestling fan for a few years (shut up), I can tell you that watching Bautista try to act is painful (and that’s compared to other wrestlers). It’d be a stretch to call him “good” here, but he’s in the perfect role and isn’t asked to say much, and he does manage a few hilarious one-liners.
Unlike Snowpiercer, then, the five main characters of Guardians split the screen time fairly evenly, each getting their own moments of development, and the film is better for it. So comparing these two different approaches to forming a cast, let alone declaring a winner, is difficult. Ultimately, though, I have to go with with Guardians on this one because Vin Diesel is just so darn wonderful as a voice actor. In fact, if every single movie from now on involved Diesel voicing one animated character with almost no dialogue I would be extremely happy.
So, by a score of 2-1, your winner is… Okay, no, I’m not declaring a winner, at least not using that method. Doing that is the worst thing in the world, as if you can break down the quality of a film into a series of points, each of which have equal weight. We might as well start measuring poems. The great thing about film, or art in general, is how subjective it is, especially in determining what makes a particular work “good” or better than another.
These were both very good films. In fact, lump these together with the Cruise/Liman film Edge of Tomorrow, and it’s been a surprisingly strong summer for science fiction. On the whole, Guardians of the Galaxy was probably the more satisfying film, although Snowpiercer is the one I want to rewatch more (and gets points for not having the dumbest weapon I’ve ever seen in a science fiction).
It’s not hard to see why they’re the third- and second-highest reviewed movies this summer, respectively, and there’s absolutely no reason to choose between them. Watch both for two great tastes that taste great together.
Guess I should have saved the Neutral President picture for the end…