"I'm about to die next to the biggest idiots in the Galaxy” says Gamora, one of the characters in the
latest Marvel adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy. For several years now, Marvel has been doing a good job at introducing audiences to the less popular heroes of their library, and creating an ambitiously interconnected world in the meantime. However, in spite of their previous risks, I doubt anyone would have envisioned them bringing one of their more zany series like Guardians to the silver screen.
A somewhat obscure series in the Marvel archives, most audiences are generally unfamiliar with the characters, unlike the likes of Iron Man and Thor. You might have said the studio themselves would just as adequately be idiots for trying to make a film based on the material. But, try they did. Under the direction of the quirky James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy proves to be yet another gamble that paid off for Marvel. A funny, action packed, and thoroughly entertaining Sci-Fi romp with hardly a dull beat to be found.
In the far reaches of the galaxy, intergalactic ravager Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) – he calls himself Star-Lord – comes across a mysterious orb, and after retrieving it, is sought after by the ruthless mass murderer Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). By chance, he ends up coming across several new faces. There’s Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin who wishes to retrieve the orb to prevent it from being used by Ronan or Gamora’s adopted father, Thanos. Next is Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who wishes to kill Ronan and avenge his deceased family. Last but not least are bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), who initially attempted to turn in Quill for a price on his head, and now look for any means of surviving. Despite being such mismatched losers, idiots, and even A-holes, the five of them reluctantly band together to fight off Ronan’s forces, and keep him from exacting mass genocide on a planet-wide scale.
More so than perhaps any Marvel film thus far, the greatest strength of Guardians of the Galaxy comes from its exceptional cast and great characters. Leading them with wit and charisma is the hilarious Chris Pratt. Many critics have been quick to compare his Peter Quill to Star Wars’ Han Solo, but if you ask me, a more appropriate comparison would actually be to Trigun’s Vash the Stampede, only with much less property damage. Quill is such a lovable goofball, constantly quirky, totally charismatic, always thinking on his feet and ready to fight when the moment calls for it, yet at the same time, his wit often tends to act as a defense mechanism to hide his inner turmoil and traumatic past, providing some of the film’s most touching realizations, including whenever he listens to a Sony Walkman he carries around that acts as his nostalgic gateway to a past he long left behind. Pratt is fantastic in the role, and with this film, is geared up to be a megastar in his own right.
Joining him along the way are the other well selected Guardians cast members. Zoe Saldana is exceptionally fierce and vulnerable as Gamora, and while it may have threatened to feel too similar to her roles in other big Sci-Fi series like Avatar and Star Trek, she does a great job at making the character a unique one. Dave Bautista, while perhaps cast more for his physique and martial arts than acting chops, gives his performance as Drax his all, lending powerful insight into his unfortunate past, and providing great humor with his character’s obliviousness to metaphors. By far the most scene stealing members of the quintet are Vin Diesel as Groot, whose protective nature and endearing presence make him absolutely lovable, and Bradley Cooper’s riotous Rocket Raccoon. Cooper is virtually unrecognizable in the role, consistently hilarious, and fascinating in how deranged and insecure repeated genetic tampering has made him. Also joining in great supporting roles are Michael Rooker as Quill’s mentor Yondu, and Benicio del Toro as the enigmatic and curious Collector.
Unfortunately, however strong the acting may be, the one problem Guardians of the Galaxy suffers from is the flat villains. They’re threatening for sure, but lack any real depth or uniqueness, leading to the underuse of several great actors, including sidekicks played by Djimon Hounsou, and Karen Gillan (unrecognizable in heavy makeup). However, those are easily forgivable faults as they don’t actively disrupt the film’s seamless flow. The film’s focus is on its leads, as should be the case, and unlike more serious minded action flicks in recent years, embraces that what its audiences truly want is pure escapist fun.
As a matter of fact, fun is name of the entire game in this film. James Gunn has proven himself a more than capable comedic talent in past efforts, and his sense of quirk is perfectly suited to the vibe of the film, which is by far the most hysterically funny entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to the point that it almost becomes a borderline satire. I’ve already mentioned the strengths of the individual performers, but the movie is truly at its best when it showcases all of them together. The five actors share a perfect, relaxed chemistry with each other, constantly alternating between rationalism and argumentative banter. They are so brilliantly mismatched in their personalities and desires, yet the fact that they can find the will to band together despite it all makes for one of the film’s most engaging elements. In fact, several times when the film would cut away from their arguments for an action sequence, I’d be saying “No, wait! I want more banter!”
But even then, to the film’s credit, even the action is a full on rush. It’s still got plenty of great character interactions, and the staging and pace of them all are of the highest caliber possible. The film carries a refreshing 80’s inspired tone, taking loving influence from films such as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the action is refreshingly in the same old-fashioned vein, from Quill’s investigation of ruins in the very beginning, all the way to a slick prison escape, a stunning rocket chase in the quadrants of Knowhere, and all leading up to the film’s pulse pounding climax. These scenes are all visually exquisite, and never overstay their welcome. I also saw the movie in 3D, and while it isn't really necessary to enjoy the film in full, it's atmospheric nature provides an excellent and immersing experience, and one of the best uses of post-conversion 3D in any movie to date.
The film itself never overstays its welcome, moving quickly throughout most of its two hour running time, yet fitting plenty enough fantastic material for us to walk away satisfied, and still keep us eager to return for the film’s recently announced sequel. I am so glad this film was made. This could have been a certified bomb if not in the right hands, but Marvel’s capable handling of the material, matched with the brilliantly chosen talent both in front of and behind the camera, have delivered us another exceptional entry in their ongoing series, and one that even makes for a refreshing break from the usual superhero mold. It might not quite top The Avengers as the studio’s best, but would certainly give the epic crossover a serious run for its money, as it is the most thoroughly entertaining film of the summer.
As always, be sure to stick around for a special clip at the very end of the credits. It isn’t completely essential to stick around for, but it’s worth watching for a hysterical final gag.
****1/2 / *****