THEATRICAL REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Written by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Edited by: Craig Wood, Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne
Cinematography by: Ben Davis
Music by: Tyler Bates
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Honsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Peter Serafinowicz, Laura Haddock
Based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no stopping the superhero hype train, and, to be honest, I’m quite happy with what’s come about ever since the X-Men and Blade franchises revived the concept and The Dark Knight Trilogy raised the bar and made these movies into this prestige thing (no pun intended) that seemingly everyone from B-list has-beens to A-list Oscar winners were hyped to be a part of, these types of films have really come along way, and despite some embarrassing lows (Green Lantern, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), most of what has come out has been mightily enjoyable – particularly from Marvel Studios, who has managed to turn several B-list superheroes into some of the most engaging and entertaining action heroes of all time. Now, apparently, it’s time for the C-listers to have their chance in the spotlight, as Marvel has gone deep for their latest film, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Not many people were aware of these guys’ existence, and even to those who were and read comics on a regular basis, very little was known about this group of ne’er-do-wells besides the fact that they lived in deep space and that they were kinda weird as a result. Heck, the team featuring in the film wasn’t even the first, having debuted as a collective of previously unrelated characters in 2008, the same year that Marvel Studios kicked off the Cinematic Universe (the original team debuted in 1969 was from the 31st century and is now relegated to an alternate universe from the main one in Marvel’s comics). Not being a comic reader but being a fan of the various movie and cartoons Marvel and DC have put out over the years, I didn’t even have a clue who they were until this movie was announced, having only been exposed to Rocket Raccoon and the related Nova Corps thanks to the video game Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Once I heard the concept, however – a thief, assassin, a bounty hunter duo comprised of a talking raccoon and tree, and a burly thug out for revenge team up in the far reaches of space to stop a violent religious fanatic – I was pretty much immediately sold. Those now iconic trailers featuring Blue Swede’s “Hooked On a Feeling” really only cemented it in my mind as having the potential to be nothing short of awesome. Apparently, everyone else was on the same page.
Beyond the basic plotting, however, there’s not too much to talk about, story-wise, without giving away all the delightful characterizations and engaging plotpoints that follow. All you really do have to know is that Star-Lord (real name Peter Quill) is the suave and quick-witted thief who was abducted from his home planet of Earth, Gamora is a dangerous assassin and daughter of the evil Thanos, Rocket is the short-tempered raccoon experiment and Groot the protective tree-like being who collect bounties together, and Drax “the Destroyer” is bent on revenge for the loss of his family at the hands of the film’s main bad guy, the religious zealot Ronan the Accuser, who unites the group in their willingness to stop him at all costs, even with the authorities on their tail for all the crimes they’d committed. They have a lot of fun adventures together, fight a greater evil, and, intentionally or not, atone for their past sins. The film’s story is by no means superfluous to enjoying the film – it’s a fantastic excuse to take the characters into dangerous situations, get them out in entertaining fashion, and then move on to the next interesting set piece and supporting character – but the focus here really is centered on the core team and getting to know each member, their backstories, and pretty much enjoying every little bit of them as possible.
Much of that is thanks to the writing and direction of James Gunn (and cowriter Nicole Perlman), who makes his debut to major blockbuster filmmaking here, having previously directing lower budget, smaller films at Troma Entertainment and the more well-known Slither and Super (along with the short Beezel, which was probably the only semi-enjoyable segment from the otherwise terrible Movie 43, if only for how unabashedly unhinged it was). A lot of affection went into making these oddballs relatable as people – even if they weren’t all necessarily human. Right off the bat, we explore Peter Quill’s tragic past before we get to the space exploration bits, and pieces of that past inform his character throughout the film – sometimes even spilling over into the editing thanks to the incredible soundtrack of 70s and 80s hits that play throughout the film, courtesy of his Awesome Mix Volume 1 mixtape (which you can and should buy in real life if you haven’t already). And while Peter really is the frontman for the group, each of the remaining members is given their own moment where we see and/or see their own histories, as needed, and the film does an excellent job endearing us to each of them, sometimes in unexpected ways. You’ll laugh and you might even cry, but I’m not really going to tell you which characters are going to make you do that, because that’s part of the fun.
None of this would be possible, either, if it weren’t for the impeccable cast of leading and supporting characters. Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel may be in voice only roles as Rocket and the lexiconically challenged Groot, but combined with the lovely and convincing animation on their characters and their excellent performances, they could easily become your favorite members of the team. That is, if you don’t end up liking the other members better. Zoe Saldaña admittedly gets the sometimes thankless job of playing the badass token girl on the team, but that is the nature of her character, and she’s actually pretty great at letting some of Gamora’s inner warmth come through that justifiably cold exterior, particularly (and predictably) in her scenes with Chris Pratt, who has gone from the loveable, chubby goofball on Parks and Recreation to making a name for himself as likely the next most entertaining man of action working today thanks to this film. I can’t wait to see him take on dinosaurs in next year’s Jurassic World, too. His likability is pretty much effortless, but I was also surprised at how much I ended up loving Dave Bautista as Drax. The wrestler turned actor nails his character’s deadpan, unintentional humor with great timing and delivery. Contrary to expectation, Drax is scripted as an intelligent man, eloquently spoken, unlike most burly guys in action movies, but coming from a completely different culture from the rest of the team, which is where most of his humor is derived from. In fact, I don’t recall the film having very much mean-spirited humor at all, which is likely intentional since there are a lot of surprisingly touching moments, too.
I could pretty much rattle on and on about the film’s best qualities. I could mention things like the rest of the supporting cast, which includes appearances from Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, Karen Gillan, and, as the film’s primary villain, Lee Pace, who pretty much provides the Marvel Cinematic Universe with one of its more terrifying and intense villains thanks to that striking character design and Pace’s Pushing Daisies-defying ferocity in the role. Or I could mention the immaculate special effects that bring the CGI characters, ships, and settings to convincing life in the presence of their live action counterparts. But this is already a review gushing with nothing but enthusiasm and astonishment at Marvel’s ability to continuously surprise audiences by bringing their characters to life in live action and make it a hit with both audiences and critics, so I won’t and just point out that, if the Thor movies were Marvel dipping their toe into the cosmic scale to see how audiences react, Guardians of the Galaxy is their ultimate testing of the waters. The fact that they’ve already greenlit a sequel based on hype alone is proof that they are ready to take us into something incredibly exciting and different, even while developing their more traditional earthbound superhero films. This is something that this film’s completely unexpected post-credits stinger points towards, and, to be honest, after this and the superb Winter Soldier, I couldn’t be happier to follow them into whatever territory they want to send me next. Sure, it’s all a moneygrab, but, as far as I’m concerned, they can take it. Just so long as they keep bringing on the fun.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4.5 / 5