A group of interstellar outlaws band together to save the universe in Guardians of the Galaxy. Did Marvel Studios' sci-fi action picture arrive in time to save a boring summer movie season or does it disappoint? 411's Jeffrey Harris checks in with his full review!
Directed By: James Gunn Written By: James Gunn and Nicole Perlman Runtime: 121 minutes MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
Peter Quill/Star-Lord - Chris Pratt Gamora - Zoe Saldana Drax the Destroyer - Dave Bautista Rocket - Bradley Cooper Groot - Vin Diesel Ronan - Lee Pace Nebula - Karen Gillan Yondu - Michael Rooker Korath - Djimon Hounsou Rhomann Dey - John C. Reilly Nova Prime - Glenn Close Taneleer Tivan/The Collector - Benicio del Toro Thanos - Josh Brolin Saal - Peter Serafinowicz Meredith Quill - Laura Haddock Carina - Ophelia Lovibond The Other - Alexis Denisof
In one of the slowest, most boring and dull summer movie seasons imaginable, Marvel Studios comes swooping in to once again save the day with Guardians of the Galaxy. In the largest film of his career, writer-director James Gunn rises to the occasion in delivering one of the most entertaining, emotionally satisfying cinematic experiences of the year. Guardians of the Galaxy features a Star Wars type of aesthetic with a post-modern bent that come together in epic fashion. The movie is both humorous but emotionally balanced. The characters are incredibly likable and developed.
Guardians of the Galaxy is likely one of the more obscure comic titles in the Marvel pantheon, even among comic fans. So, the fact that this movie even exists as such a major event film comes off as an anomaly. The comic series is really an underdog, and the film is about underdogs as well.
Guardians of the Galaxy begins in a very untraditional and unexpected fashion. The prologue opens before Marvel Studios’ trademark logo graces the screen. It is here that the audience meets young Peter Quill. His mother Meredith (Haddock) is cancer-stricken and on her deathbed. One cannot help but to be impressed by Marvel’s ingenuity with the presentation of its stories onscreen. The movie does not necessarily begin how one might expect, much like the first X-Men film opening with a grim sequence set during the Holocaust. In his struggle to cope, Peter runs outside the hospital and is promptly abducted by an alien spaceship. Fast forward 26 years later, and the now adult Peter Quill (Pratt) is searching for his latest score on planet Morag in a hilarious opening credit sequence set to Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love." Quill, a petty thief and outlaw who fancies himself with the moniker of Star-Lord, is looking to jack the Orb. Unfortunately for him, an interested party of Sakaaran baddies, led by Kree underling Korath (Honsou), wants the Orb as well for its master Ronan (Pace). Quill outsmarts the nefarious band and books it out of Morag on his spaceship, the Milano. Unfortunately, Quill took the job right out from under his Ravager boss Yondu (Rooker), who is none too pleased with his former protégé taking his score. This is only the least of Quill’s problems. The Orb is greatly coveted by the Mad Titan known as Thanos (Brolin), who was first revealed at the end of 2012’s The Avengers. Thanos has brokered a deal with the Kree fanatic Ronan to steal the Orb. With the help of Thanos’ adopted daughters Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Gillan), Ronan must recover the Orb for Thanos. In exchange, Thanos will grant Ronan’s wish for destruction of the peaceful planet Xandar, home to the interstellar militia that is the Nova Corps. While Xandar has formed a peace treaty with Ronan’s home planet, Ronan left the reservation and starts a holy war to “cleanse” the galaxy.
After failing to sell the Orb, Quill runs afoul of Gamora and renegade bounty hunter Rocket (Cooper) and his tree-like partner Groot (Diesel). The quartet are arrested by the Nova Corp and thrown into the interstellar penitentiary, the Kyln. There Gamora reveals her true motive of rebellion against Thanos and Ronan. The alien prisoner Drax (Bautista) nearly vanquishes Gamora for her part in Ronan’s crimes against the innocent. Quill manages to stay his hand because Ronan will eventually try to find Gamora, which will give Drax an opportunity to get revenge on the man who killed his family. Quill and the group come to an accord to break out of the prison and sell the Orb to Gamora’s alternate buyer to keep it safely out of Thanos and Ronan’s hands. Quill, Rocket, and Groot will get their big score and become filthy rich. But the Orb is no innocuous artifact, and its power could threaten the entire universe.
Much like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the story has a lot of spinning plates. And some characters are a tad underdeveloped, specifically Benicio del Toro’s The Collector, who was originally depicted in the epilogue for Thor: The Dark World.
That aside, this was easily the most satisfying and fulfilling experience of any film I have seen this entire summer. When I try to explain why I do not enjoy popcorn movies such as Michael Bay’sTransformers movies, it is not because I hate popcorn movies. I do not hate copious amounts of guns, monsters, explosions, and sex appeal. I simply want it to come together with a plot that makes sense, dialogue that does not make me cringe, and featuring characters and actors I can tolerate watching onscreen for the next two to three hours. Unfortunately, the Transformers franchise, for example, fails constantly in every single one of those areas. I am not asking for a popcorn movie to be some sort of Stanley Kubrick cinematic masterpiece. I just want it to make sense and not beat me over the head with mind-numbing dross, incessantly bad toilet and sexual humor, and action that is so over-the-top, you have no idea at all what is even happening onscreen at many points. In this respect, Guardians of the Galaxy plays like the polar opposite of Transformers: Age of Extinction. The execution is not unlike The Avengers, except with a different setting, new characters, and an aesthetic similar to an expert recreation of the original Star Wars Trilogy.
Gunn has greatly matured as a writer and filmmaker. I was never much of a fan of his take on Scooby Doo with his work on the live-action theatrical installments of that particular franchise. Slither was a very fun, entertaining horror-comedy mash-up. For this movie, Gunn constantly walks a very thin line between going overboard with the humor but always managing to pull it back to a more appropriate sci-fi, action movie level. Gunn clearly loves all these characters and this world, and that is most evident in the execution of Rocket Raccoon. Rocket is without a doubt the heart and soul of this film. Gunn clearly put a lot of time and effort into making sure Rocket was done properly. I was always cautious about Rocket because if he was not done properly, the whole movie would fall apart. Frequently, I find characters such as Rocket routinely short-changed or poorly done in a movie such as this. Rocket is a fully-realized, well-rounded, and developed character. A true Marvel fanatic should almost never be happier than the result of this movie’s Rocket Raccoon. Rocket is more than just a small critter or comic relief. He is a fighter and actually a brilliant strategist. He is the focal point in one of the movie’s signature sequences in the breakout of the Kyln, which he masterminds. It is in this that Rocket’s brilliance all comes together in epic fashion. Rocket is not a cartoon sidekick. He is not the execrable CG abominations of the recent Alvin and the Chipmunks or The Smurfs films. He is not a comic relief puppet. He is an actual character and fits right in to this story.
Bautista has an odd, natural charisma and dry wit that works well for the role of Drax. He did very well for what was required of him for the dark, sci-fi actioner Riddick. He pulls off Drax’s gimmick of not understanding metaphors and taking everything literally quite well, without having to force it down our throats. His dramatic turn and quiet moment with Rocket was one of the best parts of the film. The characters’ turn from uneasy acquaintances to allies is quite natural and believable, as is their transition from outlaws to heroes.
Saldana’s Gamora is surprisingly and satisfyingly more compassionate than you would initially suspect. Much like many of the other lead characters, she is misjudged by others--and probably rightfully so, to a degree. This is definitely a more appealing role for Saldana than that of Uhura in Star Trek Into Darkness, where she had little to do but endure a forced, convoluted romantic conflict with Spock that was resolved just as quickly as it started.
Ronan the Accuser will cause some debate for this movie. I quite enjoyed Lee Pace’s performance and what he brought to the table. He is not the level of villain that Loki was in The Avengers or Thor. The conflict with the Kree and Xandar and Ronan’s role among his people could have been a tad more fleshed out. I like the presence of a character such as Ronan as a villain in this story. More than likely, the connection I am about to make is by no means intentional on the part of the filmmakers. However, in looking at the problems between Palestine and Israel in the Middle East, it is evident that there are some people in this world that cannot accept peace. They probably cannot accept peace even after it has been achieved. Ronan plays like a product of this conflict. He is a fanatic who cannot put aside the past. This is actually juxtaposed well with Drax’s conflict and desire to avenge his family. Both the crusades of Drax and Ronan cause the ruination of innocents.
Chris Pratt’s presentation of Star-Lord is almost anachronistic toward my sensibilities in action heroes. In this film, Star-Lord is in no way solemn. He is seldom noble. When we meet him, he is a thieving cad. However, he is also a man-child who was forced into this life as a child, who had his youth taken away from him. He was never formally educated. He did not have compassionate guardians to raise him after his abduction by Yondu. As such, Pratt’s performance and character make sense and gel well with the plot. There is a certain energy and style with Pratt’s performance that is right for Star-Lord and this version of Guardians of The Galaxy. The other reason why I like an actor such as Pratt but highly dislike Ryan Reynolds and his disappointing version of Hal Jordan in Green Lantern is probably a matter of personal taste. Where Pratt is funny, likable, and charismatic, Reynolds comes off as overtly annoying and grating. Pratt is a cunning, clever rogue as Star-Lord. He is an evolution of the likes of Han Solo from Star Wars, Korben Dallas from The Fifth Element, and John Crichton from Farscape, yet still a beast all his own.
In terms of a Marvel film, the feature captures its unique tone and style from the rebooted version of the comic that began in 2008 by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Much of the backstory and the origin of the Guardians themselves have changed, but the spirit and the tone of those comics have been wonderfully maintained. Fans who are annoyed by the setup of other stories might be similarly put off by the connective tissue between Guardians and other Marvel films. However, other than a scant few characters, the story is far removed from the other pictures of the MCU's Phase 2. The film is loaded with Easter eggs and incredible references appropriate for a cosmic Marvel story of this magnitude. Besides the Kree, another significant alien race is finally depicted here. Thankfully, the story does not shy away from the origins or backstory of the mining colony Knowhere. Fans of the legendary artist Jack Kirby should not be disappointed by a certain being’s cameo.
Guardians of the Galaxy is much the same way. The movie is not just the cosmic wing of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It plays like an evolution of my favorite sci-fi, space-faring action tales, such as Star Wars, The Fifth Element, or one of my favorite sci-fi TV shows Farscape. The film is not only a spiritual successor to those properties, but it also brings all of its post-modern elements together in a way that it is something completely new and different entirely.
The 411: Without hyperbole, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best movie experience I have had this entire summer season. If you want a popcorn movie with great characters, fine directing, great action, and actually well-written dialogue, you will actually find it all in this big-budget film. Until next time, Make Mine Marvel!