Guardians of the Galaxy review
Hooked on a feeling for Marvel
It’s true that the majority of the movie-going public hasn’t heard of the lesser-known Marvel Comics’ property Guardians of the Galaxy, but they will after this first August weekend. James Gunn (Slither, Super) directed Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth and preeminent installment of what has become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU) that includes films featuring superheroes such as: Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, etc. Gunn achieved this distinction by combining what made some of the more celebrated MCU films memorable into one film. Guardians of the Galaxy maintains the impactful origin story demonstrated in 2008’s Iron Man (the first MCU installment) while keeping the focus on a cohesive super group team-up similar to the The Avengers (the MCU’s crowning achievement to date). Gunn finds inspiration outside of Marvel as well, proving his ability as filmmaker is matched only by his devotion to canon. Marvel Studios hasn’t presented anything better than Guardians of the Galaxy to date, raising the stakes for their next chapter.
In a contest for most depressing beginning, Guardians of the Galaxy narrowly loses to Up, but not for a lack of trying. Immediately after the death of his sick mother, a young boy rushes out of a hospital and into an alien abduction. Each member of the Guardians has their own sad, relatable moment but none ever get as gloomy as that opening scene. From then on, Guardians of the Galaxy shapes up to be one of the most entertaining science fiction narratives ever filmed, on par with Star Wars and “Firefly” in more than a few facets. Guardians of the Galaxy features a roguish, charming protagonist not unlike Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds named Peter Quill, or “Star Lord,” played by Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation,” Zero Dark Thirty) and it’s his mother we see pass away at film’s start. Pratt sparks like a firecracker on screen with perfect comedic timing and bringing the emotional weight when required. It’s his show and nobody steals it from him despite nary a weak performance from the cast. Hollywood needs look no further for its next Harrison Ford.
Like the Serenity, a rag tag band of misfits make up the Guardians. Zoë Saldana (Star Trek into Darkness, Out of the Furnace) plays Gamora, adopted daughter of the mad titan Thanos (an un-credited cameo from Josh Brolin). Saldana’s performance as Gamora has the obvious deadly facet coupled with a subtle vulnerability for doing the right thing, inspiring Quill to be the guardian he was meant to be. Pro-wrestler Dave Bautista (Riddick, The Man with the Iron Fists) keeps his shirt off as the vengeful Drax the Destroyer. Bautista’s Drax can do more than look strong and beat up bad guys as the actor surprisingly becomes the film’s moral compass. Drax isn’t out for money like the other guardians—he has a personal vendetta with the film’s main antagonist, Ronan, for killing his family. Voice acting rounds out the Guardians with Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, American Hustle) channeling Joe Pesci as Rocket Raccoon for a majority of the film’s laughs and Vin Diesel (Riddick, Fast & Furious 6) finding a tremendous amount of vocal range for one line of dialogue as the movie’s emotional weight, Groot, the humanoid tree.
The supporting cast outside of the Guardians doesn’t disappoint, either. Oscar-winners and nominees pop in throughout. Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs, 101 Dalmations) plays a thankless role as an executive leader of sorts on a planet in the far reaches of the galaxy targeted by Ronan the Accuser. Lee Pace (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Lincoln) takes on villain duties as the ruthless Kree alien Ronan the Accuser. Pace’s menacing, fanatic Ronan would stick to the old Kree ways through using an infinity stone to destroy Close’s planet of Xandar. By destroying Xandar, Ronan achieves vengeance for his father and negates a peace treaty sparking a new age of Kree rule. Benicio Del Toro (Savages, Sin City)reprises his role as Taneleer Tivan, the Collector, from the mid-credit scene of Thor: The Dark World. Although he receives very little screen time, Del Toro is up to his usual bizarre, eccentric rhythms and adds that much more intrigue to the scenes featuring the Collector. John C. Reilly (Chicago, Gangs of New York) also gets a few scenes as a humble corpsman and family man, happy to help the Guardians if it means saving his home planet.
In spite of touting the best performances and deepest cast of an MCU film, Guardians of the Galaxy succeeds in other key areas of filmmaking. Quill’s mix tape of songs from his mother reminds the viewer that Earth never leaves Quill’s heart even if the real distance seems astronomical. The classic rock soundtrack perfectly fits the exciting atmosphere and amusing tone that Gunn clearly intended for his picture. Without giving away any spoilers, the third act unfolds like a Star Wars finale or Avatar with the action constantly jumping from airborne dog fights to a heist-like sequence on the ground to war room decision-making. The pacing never ceases, allowing a more fluid, entertaining film. The 3D post-conversion also looks and fits better than it has before in an MCU entry. Copious amounts of bright CGI lends itself well to a 3D viewing and Guardians of the Galaxy offers plenty. Gunn isn’t afraid to get a little edgy, either, because GotG is also the crudest MCU film if we look past Loki’s line to Black Widow from The Avengers.
The future of the MCU certainly looks bright. After laying down plot elements rippling across the Earth-bound stories in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the reveal of HYDRA, Guardians of the Galaxy lays some foundation for cosmic ripples as the infinity stones get more focus and explanation than ever before onscreen. Marvel’s Phase Two will draw to a close with their next entry, The Avengers: Age of Ultron next May and begin Phase Three in July with Ant-Man. Outside of Ant-Man, Marvel Studios remained tight-lipped about their Phase Three lineup until Comic Con last week in San Diego when they announced Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for July 2017.
Although the Star Wars comparisons are inevitable, keep in mind that Marvel Comics has published the adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy since 1969 when they use to appear in the 31st century—a full eight years before George Lucas’ 1977 classic. However, Gunn’s film has flair to spare and should easily shake off comparisons to similar genre narratives to emerge as the top Marvel film property since Iron Man. I know I wouldn’t plan the third Star Trek entry close to a Guardians sequel. An unflappable lead in Chris Pratt, strong cast lacking a weak link, sure-handed director with James Gunn, and catchy, appropriate classic rock soundtrack make Guardians of the Galaxy the most fun film of the summer and Marvel’s most entertaining entry in their cinematic universe.