Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (screenplay), Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (comic)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Josh Brolin, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly
So it’s really come to this. A mere six years after Marvel started self-producing movies based on their vast catalogue of characters with Iron Man, we’re getting a movie based on the Guardians of the Galaxy, a D-list team of cosmic crusaders that are about as far removed from typical superheroes as you can get. Ever since this movie was first announced, people have been wondering if the higher-ups at Marvel have lost their minds. Can they really turn a team that includes a sentient tree and a talking raccoon into a movie franchise palatable for mainstream audiences?
But let’s face it, the weirdness of these characters is also part of the appeal. This is something so completely different that it is impossible to say the Marvel Cinematic Universe is falling into a rut. It continues to expand the size of the universe while also opening it up to being more playful and imaginative. At this point, Marvel has built up enough goodwill with moviegoers that they will see just about anything with the Marvel name on it. The fact that they have spun this strange property into one of the best Marvel movies to date makes it clear that their dominance in the summer blockbuster field is no coincidence.
The story centers on a human named Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who at a young age was randomly picked up by a group of Ravagers in a space ship and abducted from Earth. He lives the life of a space pirate for a while before eventually striking out on his own, stealing a mysterious orb that the Ravagers are also seeking. An alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) also wants the orb and dispatches an assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve it. He also puts a price on Quill’s head, soon putting him into contact with bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) plus a warrior named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who is seeking revenge on Ronan. When they all find out what the orb is capable of, however, they realize that they must put aside their differences to essentially prevent the destruction of the galaxy.
As complicated as that sounds, the plot is pretty standard stuff and mostly revolves around yet another MacGuffin. There are some dull moments of exposition, but overall it’s amazing how briskly paced the movie is. I am reminded of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, a movie with a fairly braindead plot that wisely chose to focus on the characters instead. Much like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy benefits from being another team flick. Even in that first scene where the primary cast crosses paths, it’s clear that this odd assortment of misfits have great chemistry together.
It’s probably no surprise that Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the show, after all, this bizarre duo stick out like a sore thumb. Still, the fact that they are CG creations could have posed a real barrier to their interactions and Groot’s standard three-word response could have gotten old real fast. But somehow they don’t. I actually think Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket is the difference maker, infusing him with a kind of working class Brooklyn accent and perfect comedic delivery.
Chris Pratt proves to be charismatic and funny in the lead role as a swashbuckling rogue in the vein of Han Solo. They were wise to choose someone with a little personality as opposed to one of the other bland action stars that are currently dominating the blockbuster realm. Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista get overshadowed a little bit, but they still bring something unique to the team. Bautista spends most of the movie speaking like he’s straight out of a wrestling PPV but there is something endearing about it. John C. Reilly and Michael Rooker also both make the most of their screen time with some memorable moments as well.
James Gunn was a pretty unlikely choice to direct this film, but he turns out to be a great one. At a time when Marvel is being accused of churning out an assembly line of generic superhero flicks, Gunn is a distinctive voice whose movies have always been a bit rough around the edges. He got his start making movies for Troma, and even though this is a PG-13 Disney flick, that influence still shines through here and there. He manages to sneak in some darker, off-colour jokes and a self-aware tone that also meshes well with Joss Whedon’s sense of humour from The Avengers.
The movie is peppered with lots of pop culture jokes, but before you roll your eyes, realize that it works because Peter Quill is from Earth and he’s clinging onto the things that remind him of home. Gunn goes to great lengths to insert ’70s classic rock and pop songs into the film’s soundtrack, imbuing an old walkman with high sentimental value. While the choice of certain songs seems to border on hipster irony, it definitely gives the movie a very different feel from almost every other sci-fi blockbuster. It somehow makes this fantastical universe more welcoming and familiar to us as Peter Quill brings us along for the ride.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that James Gunn also does his best to ensure that the movie emits genuine emotion at times, starting right from the opening scene which is unexpectedly (and overwhelmingly) sentimental. All of the main characters get some backstory, and even if some of the revelatory moments feel forced (ie. the bar fight), you quickly start to care about these weirdos. The core theme of the movie is a group of outcasts finding solace in each other, and although Gunn hits us over the head with it by the end, there are plenty of moments where he pulls back and pokes fun at the emotional beats as well. Perhaps Gunn is afraid to be too earnest, but it’s also appropriate considering the irreverent tone of the film.
My primary complaints about this movie, as per usual, are the uninteresting villain and the relatively rote mega-battle that takes place during the climax of the film. Lee Pace is a little too over-the-top as Ronan the Accuser, but not in a fun way. He essentially serves as a stand-in for Thanos, who probably should have been the main villain but is seemingly being saved for a bigger showdown down the road. As you’d expect, the final battle is mostly just another loud and obnoxious CG fest that makes you want to tune out, but at least it is punctuated by a few humourous moments.
Guardians of the Galaxy is shiny, fun and eager to please and for the most part it does exactly that. It is an ideal popcorn flick for the summer movie season and it proves that far out fantasy and sci-fi stories can still appeal to the masses. I think even those who have disliked most of the previous Marvel films will find something to like here. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is the best Marvel movie to date, it’s definitely the funniest and the most unique. The current incarnation of The Avengers won’t last forever with its cast of expensive stars, but with newcomers like the Guardians of the Galaxy ready to take their place, Marvel is guaranteeing themselves a very bright future ahead. — Sean