MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

THE DESTRUCTIVE BEAUTY OF MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Review by Bass Wakil–June 26, 2015

What a great invention of destruction.

The great joy of the Action Story rests in excitement; the thrilling balance between safety and danger. Too much puts the audience off. Too little, bores. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD rides that balance, expertly modulating the intensity of excitement around moments of great kinetic spectacle that exposes the snobbery of cinematic awards ceremonies: stunt choreography is as much an art form as dance.

Much like farce, stunt choreography lives and dies on the precise, clock working of kinesis — yet, appearing effortless.

In MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, we see road warriors leaping from the top of a truck to underneath a car, then landing on a motorbike. We see “polecats”; warriors on giant arcing poles, bending downward, then back up, like some nightmarish bungee.

A fight in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD involves Mad Max, Impriosa Furiosa and Nux in which, wrestling over a single handgun, the only working firearm available, Max is chained to an unconscious Nux, who wakes up during the fight. Choreographic ingenuity reminiscent of the master, Jackie Chan.

These talents are hard to find, often ignored, and when lauded, are done so only as “dumb fun” instead of what they are: an intensely disciplined art form. A ballet of carnage.

Beyond this, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD also exposes another recent problem in the industry of the Action Story; the over-reliance on CGI and green screen.

George Miller, in directing MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, keeping dialogue to a minimum, focused on using storyboards in lieu of a typed out screenplay, carefully planning and focusing his attention on the kinetic stunt choreography of his story.

Carnage that took years to design.

So MAD MAX: FURY ROAD doesn’t have CGI cars bouncing weightlessly across a desert, kicking up weightless sand. It has real cars. Really driving. Across a real desert. And CGI is there to get rid of strings, harnesses, and to add in elements that would be too dangerous to do like exploding shrapnel.

The combination of practical effects and CGI is as difficult as the balance between excitement’s need for safety and danger, and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD shines here too.

Hopefully, this will lead to a resurgence of the practical effect and the world of the prepared stunt.

Probably not.

But lest one think that MAX MAD: FURY ROAD only shines in the superficial world of spectacle, as one may think for a film that was filmed almost exclusively from storyboards, the Action writing of FURY ROAD shines too.

I’ve already mentioned the ingenuity of stunt choreography; which itself, is a key part of Action writing as important as the architecture of character-psychology and backstory is to the drama, and just as complex.

George Miller’s team don’t just repeat the same sort of violence, rather, it’s modulated in a way much akin to Escher’s stairwell; lowering one area of intensity and raising another to give the impression of an endlessly rising intensity. We see a frenetic car chase turn into a blustering ride through a hellish storm, to a hand-to-hand fight next to a stationary truck, then back to a fast-moving car chase. We get a car chase in a swamp; the quagmire makes it the slowest car chase ever filmed, and yet, one of incredible tension. One set-piece has them fleeing from pursuers, another has them rushing through a gauntlet of motorcyclists and monster trucks. Variation within a small spectrum, with great consideration as to pace and structure.

More than this, the world-building of FURY ROAD is not only well designed, but excellently presented.

Instead of lengthily expositing on why characters or sets look the way they do, we pick it up the best way possible; by watching people live consistently within their world. We don’t need an explanation in dialogue when we see, called to war, the halfboods rush to a wall of steering wheels and pick one for a car to ride into battle. We intuit the viking-like culture. We don’t need Furiosa or Max explaining why they know where every single hidden weapon is in the War Rig. It’s Furiosa’s War Rig. She lives in it and has to deal with raiders. Mad Max is a road warrior; he lives in his car and so knows all the tricks of the trade.

We understand too, that these vehicles have multiple weapons and defenses for different kinds of attacks; a giant plow to kick up sand to deal with motorcyclists but an ineffectual tool against the high-riding polecats. We also grasp immediately that you send the smaller vehicles with spikes first to puncture and slow down the target before bringing in the bigger, gas-guzzling claw-trucks.

The writer and set designers have lived in these worlds in their head, rehearsed and researched so intensely that when brought out, they can show us a lived-in world, rather than tell us about one they saw distantly at 3am in desperate need of coffee and ten new pages.

As for character, the Action writer’s focus turns to their imagined external world, not the internal world of their characters and so what is required and wanted is often very little. And FURY ROAD is no different; Mad Max is a marvelous invention of two simple dimensions.

Mad Max, beset by guilt-ridden fevers of past failures, tries to save everybody, yet has no compunctions in leaving people to die. He also is willing to die to save others, yet almost everything he does is an attempt survive, even at the cost of other lives.

These two dimensions are magnificent for the protagonist of a Post-Apocalyptic World that focuses on how the savagery of humanity not only killed the world, but now, when the dominant feature of humanity is such selfish savagery, the concept of morality now left a fragile notion, easily quashed.

However, while MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is really very good, it is not great.

It has one serious failing; there is no core event. Every story genre has a core event; and in Action this is the moment where the Hero is at the Mercy of the Villain. The Hero, helpless to stop the Villain, lies at his Mercy.

This scene is the most intense, the most exciting scene that can be told because the disparity between the power of hero and villain cannot be greater, the villain’s success cannot be closer.

And MAD MAX: FURY ROAD never does it. Neither Max nor Furiosa are ever truly helpless before the villain, Immortan Joe. They come close, but it never happens. And so the audience, happy with the expert delivery of the tale, leave still somewhat unsatisfied. Something was missing. Max wasn’t enough of a protagonist, they think.

It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is a sad omission in what separates films like this from the greats. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s a failure; It is much harder to go from “very good” to “great” than “mediocre” to “very good” (though that itself, is not easy). And it’s not the first in recent memory: THE DARK KNIGHT also lacked such a scene.

Perhaps it’s worth noticing just how marvellous FURY ROAD and DARK KNIGHT had to be to overcome the fact they didn’t have a good mercy scene, to see just how centrally important to the Action Story the mercy scene is.

Bass Wakil is the co-author with Robert McKee on their upcoming book on the Action genre, ACTION: The Art of Excitement. Bass shared the stage with Robert McKee in New York City and Los Angeles to give a day-long lecture on the subject.

Like this review? Read more about action and spectacle here

Robert McKee on AMERICAN SNIPER Success

How America Fell In Love With Snipers

Q: “Where do Americans stand on war films today? Are they finally able to more deeply examine the consequences of the Iraq War?”

A: “There is a tremendous curiosity in America to understand this war, what it was like to fight in this war, and what the point of this war was … I think one of the reasons for the success of ‘American Sniper’ is it does try its best to somehow sort out morality.” 

Public Radio International’s The Takeaway recently asked Robert McKee about the reasons for the surprising box office success of American Sniper (2014), starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood.

Read an excerpt here, or listen to the full interview.

KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (2014)

As the title suggests, the biographical documentary Keep On Keepin’ On sings a bebop hymn to perseverance. This well-told film portrays the life of legendary jazz artist and mentor of musicians, Clark Terry.

Born in St. Louis in 1920, Clark played lead trumpet for Duke Ellington’s orchestra. His brilliant stylings inspired many hopefuls, including a very young Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. Even though his life-long battle with diabetes cost him his eyesight and both legs, Terry, at age 94, still coaches the talented musicians who flock to his Arkansas home.

The film’s co-protagonist is one of his students, a blind pianist, Justin Kauflin. Kauflin is a jazz prodigy but plagued with self-doubt, stage fright, and an over active intellect that gets between his feelings and his music. In other words, he keeps thinking himself out of success.

The Major Dramatic Question becomes “Will Terry’s musical and psychological mentoring put Kauflin’s future on track?” Spoiler alert: It does.

A documentary or fiction about two people who suffer from severe physical disabilities is an open invitation to emotional indulgence. So the writing lesson here is the difference between sentiment and sentimentality; how to express the hard truth of sentiment without wallowing in the mushiness of sentimentality.

Sentimentality delivers outpourings of warm emotion unbalanced by life’s negative experiences. Sentiment moves us with beautiful emotions but only after negative events have fully tested the characters. In others words, characters must earn their happy endings.

Study this film to see how Allan Hicks and his co-writer Davis Coombe document the grit and pain in the lives of both protagonists. Kauflin suffers his burdens of blindness, poverty and failure with grace. Clark Terry, in his life and teaching, embodies that rare combination of a heart as loving as sunlight and a mind as tough as Bethlehem Steel.

The key to the satisfying, moving climactic triumph over adversity in “keepin’ on” is the protagonists’ disciplined dedication to music and their unrelenting persistence in life: sentiment without sentimentality.

Robert Mckee – Jan. 7, 2015 

COMING HOME (2014)

One of the many beauties of the cinema is its storytelling flexibility.  The screen not only takes its stories from the imaginations of screenwriters, but it also recycles stories that were first created by playwrights for the theatre, researched by historians, reported by journalists, or most frequently, written by the authors of literature.

Stories created for the page demand a special talent for retelling in film.  And as COMING HOME once again demonstrates, Zhang Yimou is one of the world’s most brilliant conveyers of prose to the screen.  In fact, with one or two exceptions, the stories in this master’s finest films have almost always been adapted from novels:

RED SORGHUM (1987)

RAISE THE RED LANTERN (1991)

THE STORY OF QIU JU (1992)

TO LIVE (1994)

SHANGHAI TRIAD (1995)

KEEP COOL (1997)

THE ROAD HOME (1999)

HAPPY TIMES (2000)

CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2006)

UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE (2010)

THE FLOWERS OF WAR (2011)

COMING HOME (2014)

The critical problem of adapting novels to the screen is this:  The great power and beauty of the novel is the dramatization of inner conflicts, conscious and subconscious: whereas, the great power and beauty of the cinema is the dramatization of outer conflicts, social and physical.  The expressivity of page and screen are at the opposite ends of human experience.

On page, in either first, second, or third person, a novelist can directly invade a character and use literary language to describe and imitate the profound flow of thoughts and emotions in the depths of the mind and soul.  But the camera cannot photograph thought; the unseen life within a human being can only be implied from images of gestures, facial expressions, and tones of voice, augmented and nuanced by images within the setting, their lighting and colors.

In other words, literary adaptations demand superb acting to bring subtext to life within the character, and then superb directing to house these performances within expressive frames.

In COMING HOME, Zhang Yimou placed the characters played by Gong Li and Chen Daoming in delicate, quiet compositions of naturalistic rooms, hallways and streets.  Then he wrapped their faces in subtle, sensitive light.

Trusting to Zhang’s vision, these two magnificent actors brought their characters’ complex psychologies and inner turmoil to life.

This combination of implied inner action and expressive imagery gave the COMING HOME film audience what Geling Yan’s novel, The Criminal Lu Yanshi, gave its readers: the power to see with seemingly supernatural vision through the surface behaviors of the characters Lu and Yu to the wordless passions, confusions, and undying love within them.

Robert McKee - Oct 30, 2014

EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014)

Tom Cruise gives a wonderful performance in EDGE OF TOMORROW, with a combination of heroism and “are you kidding me?”

We know that a time travel film is a convention of absurdity so there’s often a comic, tongue-in-cheek sense of “look, you and I know this is rather ridiculous but let’s agree that it’s not for the sake of this story.” Here is how you know a film is in the spirit of comedy: when the film is over and when the hero makes the world right again, no one actually got hurt. In EDGE OF TOMORROW you see a lot of dying, constant deaths, but ultimately no one is hurt. Other good examples of this convention are BACK TO THE FUTURE and TERMINATOR.

However, in films like THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE and SOMEWHERE IN TIME, time travel is used as a romantic device. For example, time travel in SOMEWHERE IN TIME is not some sort of sci-fi device, there is no time travel machine, no DeLorean car that goes to the future or the past. In SOMEWHERE IN TIME, you will yourself back into the past. And the ability to will yourself into the past is based on how deeply you love. And so it’s kind of a psychic time travel based upon love, and passion.

EDGE OF TOMORROW is also a perfect example of multiplying the forces of antagonism. Just when you think they have reached the limit of these forces of antagonism, it builds again in a spiral and you think there is no way out of this. Turning points keep spiraling up and constantly surprising you, keep on building the negation of negation right to the edge. And finally, when you’re saying enough is enough, they switch gears again and end the film brilliantly.

I highly recommend it.

Robert McKee - Oct 15, 2014

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

Review by Bass Wakil - August 16th, 2014

The biggest movie of August ever.

Starring a talking raccoon and a talking tree.

No one thought it would work.

Because it stars a raccoon and a tree.

But: biggest movie of August ever.

I am the co-author with Robert McKee on our upcoming book on the Action genre. I shared the stage with him in New York to give our first ever day-long lecture on the subject. That’s credentials.

Other credentials: I’m a Marvel Zombie. (It’s what we call ourselves.)

I grew up buying all the individual issues of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe: Master’s Edition. It was vast. A series of A4 sheets with the picture of a Marvel character on one side, and on the back all the biographic information you could imagine, including a bibliography of their appearances.

I read them all. (Except the accursed two issues that I could never track down.)

I know the names of some of the oddest, craziest characters Marvel would like you to forget. The tap-dancing hobo, Tatterdemallion. I knew the names of the Celestials; Arishem the Judge, Oneg the Prober, One Above All. The Elders of the Universe and which infinity gem they had. I knew the names of the Heralds of Galactus. I would buy comics based on the bibliography: Juggernaut vs Thor? Sold. When the sweeping series EARTH X was released, I was one of those entrenched fans who actually knew all those characters well enough that I got goosebumps when the series revealed the identity of the only-mentioned-once “He Who Remained”. I respected EARTH X’s seamless connecting of the strangest, oddest, farthest edges of the Marvel Universe into one cohesive whole so much precisely because I knew who all those characters were beforehand.

I’m just trying illustrate how much of a geek I am, not out of pride, but to make this point clear:

I did not know who the Guardians of the Galaxy were.

I knew of Rocket Raccoon; he was a character that had some ironic fan appeal, but I don’t recall Star-Lord or Groot. I had seen Yondu, but I’d forgotten his name. I remembered Drax and Gamora.

And I remembered that they were rubbish.
You have to realize: even Marvel fans couldn’t understand why the Guardians of the Galaxy were getting a film. They were one of those many terrible “three-in-the-morning” decisions.

But then, so was Iron Man. That guy was always a rubbish character. He was his own bodyguard (which made no sense) and carried his armour around in a suitcase. He had one good story to his name: the story where he became an alcoholic for a month. That’s it.

Now look at him.

It’s not a stretch to think that Iron Man might be the most beloved superhero right now. Maybe Batman has him beat.

Guardians really shouldn’t have had a film. Outside of the recent reboot of the series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (which the film draws upon), no one expected or particularly wanted a Guardians film.

The reason for it: Marvel has a whole bunch of “cosmic” related characters: Ronan the Accuser, Nebula, Thanos… these are big Marvel villains. And the in-road to them was always the Fantastic Four.

Aaaaaand… Marvel doesn’t own those movie rights.

Fox does. So in order for Marvel to do all its alien things like the Kree, the Inhumans, and Thanos, it needed a way into that world.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, then. (I don’t know why they didn’t just use Thor… or Nova.)

So, from the disinterested moviegoer to the die-hard fan, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was an odd, risky, long shot.

Biggest movie of August ever.

Hence, the desperate attempts to “explain” just how this thing pulled it off. Out come the critics: a hollow exaltation of its characters and tone far beyond what it is. Or, a besieging of such an exaltation, “GUARDIANS has no plot!” they cry. Or, the weak-willed cynicism that rejects passion, “I liked it even though it was dumb. So because I know it’s dumb, I’m not dumb, right?” Trying to appease both sides.

Bah. A pox on all your houses.

I reject this whole discussion: it’s a good film, not that good, but it’s good enough that it’s success shouldn’t be surprising.
In what way does it have no plot? It has a fine plot. Originality is not the only benchmark of quality. When an orchestra plays a four-hundred year old composition or a troupe puts on a four-hundred year old play, the judging of quality is not on originality of content or form, but on the execution of it, the expression and competence of the performance. And GUARDIANS has a finely executed plot. A plot combining the Action Story with the Buddy Salvation Story and the Redemption Story. The Action Story, an exciting tale of life and death. The Buddy Salvation Story, a love story between friends. The Redemption Story, as Star-Lord grows a conscience. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY not only balances these three genres, it does so well, and does so as comedy.

And not as a snarky, tongue-in-cheek comedy. The comedy isn’t at the expense of the world, the comedy is inherent to the world. It’s not some postmodern, self-satirizing series of cheap shots mocking the concept. It’s funny because the choice of event and its expression is done so with a comic wit. It’s a great bit of original plotting to have the hero get out of the villain’s mercy by biding his time with a fake dance-off. When was the last time you saw something that audacious?

No plot?

It fixes THE AVENGERS and THOR 2: THE DARK WORLD.

In THOR 2, the villain, the Dark Elves led by Malekith are uncharismatic and unimpressive; just monstrous space-terrorists with a space-nuclear bomb that they want to detonate and end civilization as we know it today. Unfortunately for Malekith, he was upstaged by Loki — in fact, Thor and everyone else was upstaged by Loki. Malekith didn’t even really have much of a connection to anyone beyond killing Thor’s mother. And considering that Malekith’s plan was to end all of time and space, I can’t see why the writers felt Thor and Loki needed more motivation to stop him. In GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, no one upstages Ronan, and his lack of menace, rather than hindering the excitement, allows the extremely important Buddy Salvation and Redemption stories to feel part of the whole, rather than an intrusion on the Action. And the balance between the excitement of end-of-the-world Action and personal drama is a difficult one to strike; as any quick look through a list of blockbusters will illuminate plainly.
It fixes THE AVENGERS: the major problem with THE AVENGERS is that the team of all the best superheroes is such an over-dog, there’s little excitement in watching them continually win fights against villains, particularly Loki, who was only ever a henchman for Thanos. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’s Ronan is also a henchman for Thanos… until the last Act where he usurps Thanos and promises that, once he’s done destroying Zandar, he’s going to kill Thanos. And it seems like he can do it, too. That’s another great bit of plotting: Ronan shows up and dispenses, with great ease, of the Guardians, then gets even more powerful before the climax. A textbook example of the principle of the villain’s tactical power (a principle that we go at length through in the Action lecture). And far from being over-dogs, the Guardians are underdogs and failures; GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has a greater excitement from its more effective balancing of power than the mega-blockbuster that was THE AVENGERS.

Balancing of hero/villain power relationships and genres: all consideration of plot. And to note one more impressive aspect of this balancing act: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY combines three different genres, and each genre focuses on a different level of life. The Action focuses on the extra-personal struggle for life against death. The Buddy Salvation on the personal eddies of friendship and enmity. The Redemption on the internal war between morality and immorality.

Hard to do, but they did it in the best way possible: they made it look effortless.

It’s why everyone’s so surprised. It’s easily underestimated.
As for compelling characters: The Guardians are very empathetic, but they’re not some amazing piece of character architecture that needs to be modeled on. Each Guardian is a variation on the same single dimension. A dimension is the combination of two contradictory traits. Each Guardian has a variation of “Hero but Criminal”. Gamora is, on the one hand, a ruthless assassin, but she’s incredibly heroic: the only Guardian who needs no convincing to risk her life to stop Ronan getting a hold of the orb. Drax is a violent killer, one who laughs in the face of danger, literally (but then, it’s Drax; of course he does it literally), but on the other hand, Drax is a very tender, paternal character willing to die to protect those he cares about (and Dave Bautista’s tenderness makes Drax the sleeper hit of the film). Groot is a monstrous creature, but also a gentle tree. Rocket and Star-Lord are slightly more compelling than the others because they each have two dimensions. Rocket is a cute li’l raccoon that is also a harsh, callous sonuvabitch, while Star-Lord, on the one hand is emotionally detached, betraying Yondu and forgetting the names of women he sleeps with, yet on the other, deeply emotionally attached, not just to his friends, but to the memory of his mother — it’s why he calls himself Star-Lord, after all. The nature of this second dimension keeps both of them as interesting as the other three Guardians, who have their dimensions from the get go, but the “Heroic Criminal” dimension Rocket and Star-Lord don’t actually possess to begin with (so without a second dimension, they would run the risk of being overshadowed by the rest of the cast). These two characters are redeemed over the course of the story: Rocket and Star-Lord would never have risked their lives to save a stranger at the beginning of the film, but by the end, you know they are true heroes (though it took Rocket a little longer than Star-Lord).

The fact that the Guardians are only one or two-dimensional is not a criticism of them: Action characters typically only have two-dimensions; DIE HARD’s John McClane is only two-dimensional after all. THE DARK KNIGHT’s Batman is only two-dimensional (foppish Bruce Wayne yet hardcore vigilante; uncompromisingly driven and principled, yet desperate to give up the fight — that’s all).

Rather, the point: the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY are not some sort of new wave of super complex Action characters. They are unique, but traditional, characters that are terrifically polarised and distinct from one another, operating on all three levels of life.

Like the cast of GALAXY QUEST. Remember that gem?

So why all the commotion that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is the biggest film of August ever?

I’ll tell you why: because everyone is a giant snob.

The whole discussion stems from a faulty premise: films like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY aren’t good. It was a “risk” after all. Why was it a risk? Because playful live-action fantasies aren’t good. As a matter of principle. So, of course, success such as it has wrought brings a bamboozling that must be solved.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has a talking tree and a raccoon. So what? Pixar would reject that as being too cliché. But then, they make cartoons. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is an expensive, live-action summer blockbuster franchise. We must take that seriously. Those things can be fun, but live-action cannot be whimsically preposterous. If live-action is to be light, it can only be light in one way: if not dark, then heavy, if not heavy, then dark. But light in both ways, neither dark, nor heavy?

Such a film cannot be good.
Well, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a film where the big Action climax involves a dance-off to “O-O-OH Child” by the Five Fairsteps. Where, whenever a character talks about his tragic backstory someone makes a joke out of it. Where the only hero who dies comes back and dances to “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. Where one character has an arrow with no bow, that flies around according to his whistle… and he is a secondary character. A film that gets Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro to play bit parts with outrageous hair-dos and doesn’t make a joke about them. This is a film whose marketing campaign won over hearts and drove interest by turning the drum beat of “Hooked On a Feeling” by Blue Swede into the bass drum beat of an Action trailer.

That tone set in the trailer is there when the film opens, when we see Star-Lord dancing, a tiny speck on the screen beneath the bloated titles, dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone: the tone of play.

And it keeps you in that world of play, engages you, draws you in, because it never stops and mocks itself, insults itself to dare to play (and thereby extension, mock and insult you for wanting to play along). It never gets too serious or too silly, it never lets you snap out of the daydream. It makes a promise, and delivers on it.

It lets you play.

How dare it?! THE LEGO MOVIE was all about play, but that’s a kid’s cartoon about a kid’s toy, that’s fine. But you can’t play with a live-action blockbuster franchise! Doesn’t James Gunn understand? Playing is for kids. It’s not mature or serious. Playing is fun.

Fun can’t be good.

No one sat back and went, “Wait. THE DARK KNIGHT is serious, mature writing… and that’s good?! Wuuuhhuh?” It wasn’t a surprise that a serious, dark, heavy, Action story could be successful. It wasn’t a surprise that THE AVENGERS, the franchise built of franchises was successful. But a playful film?

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is better than THE AVENGERS, so why is it a surprise that it did so well?
It’s only a surprise if you presume fun can’t be good. If you accept that fun, as fun, actually can be good, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’s success warrants no more explanation than the obvious: why did it do well? Because it made a promise and delivered on it in a way you wanted but didn’t expect. It was executed professionally with an engaging cast, and is unique when placed against its contemporary releases, standing out from the clichés.

Why should its playfulness trump all that and make its success surprising?

Ironic isn’t? That a film, whose success is due to its skillful expression of play, would generate such a reaction of mechanized analysis trying to tear it down to some constituent element that can be plugged into a formula to be replicated (fun fact: originality, which this film possessed, can’t be replicated — a replica by definition isn’t original, so enjoy that fool’s errand). GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY resonated with a sense of play in the humanity of its audience, and the reaction is to dismiss that humanity and ask why the programmable cattle that is the cinematic audience responded so. Well, if you ignore the humanity of the audience, no wonder it’s confusing to you. And if you’re wondering why it’s done so well when it’s good but not some genre-defining masterpiece, maybe it’s because, when it comes to filling the audience’s desire for play, it has no competition.

It’s certainly why I saw it three times. Why I wrote this essay listening to the soundtrack.

Good, and nothing like it in the last 13 years.

Thanks for the fun, Mister James Gunn.

Bass Wakil is the co-author with Robert McKee on their upcoming book on the Action genre, ACTION: The Art of Excitement. Bass shared the stage with Robert McKee in New York City to give their first ever day-long lecture on the subject.