The tenth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy represents the comic book studio’s riskiest endeavor since they started this whole ambitious affair in 2008 with Iron Man. And it pays off. Your favorite character of the summer is likely to be either a talking raccoon or walking tree after this.
Based on a property virtually unknown to the general public, and even on the obscure side for comic book fans, Guardians centers around a sort of rag tag space alien version of The Avengers. A little bit Star Wars, a little bit Firefly, and every bit unique.
First, a little introduction to these characters to give you an idea why you might want to see them in action. Chris Pratt is Peter Quill, aka Star Lord. A swaggering scoundrel of a space captain, you can think of him as this group’s Han Solo and Luke Skywalker combined. If we’re continuing with the Star Wars comparisons, Rocket Raccoon (yes, raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper) also takes on some of Captain Solo’s traits while his pal Groot (performed and voiced by Vin Diesel), the space Ent, is his Chewbacca with extra loveable charm and humor. That leaves Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). These two don’t fit into the Star Wars analogy as well. Gamora is a deadly assassin with Star Trek green skin and connections to the most feared men in the galaxy. Drax is a hulking and somewhat simpleminded warrior bent on revenge against those men. Circumstances will throw all five of these colorful character together as they find themselves on the same side of good vs. evil.
The rest of the stellar cast includes Josh Brolin, Lee Pace, Glen Close, John C. Reiley, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, and Benicio del Toro. Director James Gunn, the legendary Stan Lee, singer and film maker Rob Zombie, and fan favorite Nathan Fillion are among those who appear in one form or another as cameos.
In a scene directly lifted from the outer-space Indiana Jones movie that never existed, Quill deftly recovers an artifact of unknown properties. The moment he does so, however, he becomes target number one for seemingly half the galaxy, including Thanos (performed and voiced by Brolin), the super evil purple guy at the end of The Avengers. One massively entertaining prison-break later, Quill has some new frienemies and a new purpose in life. If ever it was appropriate to use the cliche “hijinks ensue,” this is the time. Despite the world shattering consequences at stake, everything about this movie is high energy fun.
Fun is the one thing that really helps this movie stand apart from the rest of the Marvel films so far. That’s not to say that the previous nine films weren’t a lot of fun and had a great sense of humor, but here, that fun and that humor is front and center with the quest almost secondary. It’s a rollicking space opera filled with characters of all sorts and just the type of imaginative science fiction fable that was needed to shoot some new blood into Marvel’s veins.
Of all the Marvel films, this one perhaps stands on its own the best. There are no connections made to S.H.I.E.L.D or the rest of the Avengers. A few crucial hints are made as to how the paths of the Guardians and Earth’s mightiest heroes will eventually converge, but that’s not important yet.
Continuing what is hopefully a trend started by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians finally gets the third act right by being just as exciting as the rest of the film, fitting in to the narrative seamlessly instead of awkwardly standing apart. It also doesn’t involve robots, evil dark clouds, or mass destruction of a city like just about every other super-hero showdown right now. That’s another thing – these may be comic book heroes, but none of the characters feel like “super heroes.” These are just the A-Team of space, trying to stay alive while doing the right thing. A talented bunch of “a-holes” with a thirst for adventure, a penchant for trouble, and just enough of a conscious to be the good guys.
Visually, it’s stunning. Scenic vistas that give 2001: A Space Odyssey a run for its money. Colorful crowds that call back to the Catina scene in Star Wars. Just gorgeous works of art all around. This is the first Marvel movie I’ve felt like I should go back and watch simply because I’m sure I missed hundreds of cool details the first go-’round. The 3D is sharp and adds an extra punch, and though I didn’t see it in IMAX, I can guarantee that it will look fantastic in the large format.
The only thing holding this film back is the necessity of introducing these characters and giving them at least enough back story that we care. Gunn didn’t have the advantage of each character having one or two solo movies to set up their characters first. While this is deftly done, it still is something I’m glad to have out of the way so that we can just sit back and enjoy the ride when this crew of misfits next takes the big screen.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“I thought it was going to be stupid, and it was, but it was a good, funny stupid.”
My rating: Four out of five hats
Guardians of the Galaxy hooks 4,080 theaters in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D August 1