By Matthew McKibben | August 1, 2014
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Benecio Del Toro, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, John C Reilly, Djimon Hounsou
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in quite some time. It’s Marvel’s first outright comedy, but don’t be fooled, the action scenes are inventive and funny in their own right. Despite being a property that is unknown to about 99% of the people who will watch this movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is just as good as anything Marvel’s done yet.
The movie begins with a young Peter Quill (young: Wyatt Oleff, old: Chris Pratt) sitting in a hospital hallway, his eye blackened from a school fight. His mom lies at death’s doorstep in an adjacent room. He’s listening to a mixed tape she gave him and is doing all that he can to avoid the horror of his current situation. Before she passes away, his mom gives him a gift, which goes unopened until the final moments of the film. As the horror of what is happening catches up to him, Peter runs outside screaming into a night suddenly lit up by a large spaceship of some kind. Terror is replaced by wonder, but before it can shift back to terror again, he’s snatched up.
The movie picks up some 20 years later with a now adult Peter Quill (who now refers to himself as Starlord with the earnestness of a puppy dog bringing you a ball to throw) putting on that same walkman-headphone-mixed tape combo he got from his mother and searching an abandoned planet for a mysterious artifact. What this artifact does or is, he couldn’t care less. All he knows is that the artifact carries a large reward and that’s good enough for him. Unbeknownst to him, a mysterious group of warriors are also searching for this artifact (because it’s known to carry an Infinity Stone) and put a bounty on Starlord’s head as he escapes. Hot on his trail are a talking Raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a talking tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Also eager to find Quill is Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of Thanos (the bad guy hinted at during the closing credits of The Avengers). It’s after a wildly entertaining brawl on Xandar (sort of the center of the political affairs of the Galaxy–kind of like Coruscant in the Star Wars world, only slightly less lame), they’re all arrested together and thrown into a prison where they meet Drax the Destroyer. Drax’s family was wiped out by Thanos and he’s eager to exact some revenge. Having his daughter imprisoned with him gives him the opening he’s been searching for.
So in essence, you have Starlord and his mysterious orb, Rocket and Groot not eager to let Starlord out of their sight, Gamora who is eager to not let Starlord or the Orb out of her sight, and Drax who is not eager to let Gamora out of his sight. These characters are stuck together. I’ve read many critics who have compared Guardians of the Galaxy to Star Wars. I think that’s true, but only it there was a Star Wars movie inhabited only by Han Solo and bounty hunters. This movie doesn’t have the epic gravity of any of the Star Wars movies, though it does share its DNA with regard to weird aliens, the ease of intergalactic affairs, and viewer-friendly action scenes.
By this point, Marvel has big-movie-making down to a science. Whatever they’re doing over there (with the exception of Iron Man 3, which I was not a fan of), they need to keep doing it. Once again, they’ve found an up and coming director and have given him a huge box of toys to play with. James Gunn was the perfect choice for this movie, as he gives Guardians of the Galaxy an energy and sense of fun that superhero movies often sorely lack. I don’t know what kind of history Gunn has with the source material, but the fact that he presented these unknown characters in such a way that the movie leapfrogs nearly all of Marvel’s other movies and comes close to equalizing The Avengers is a testament to Gunn’s directorial and writing abilities.
As I said above, this is Marvel’s first out-and-out comedy, and its comedic qualities come from James Gunn’s visual sensibilities, but also from the script, which he co-wrote with Nicole Perlman. The dialogue is hilariously written, but many of the action scenes are just as hilarious. You know you have something special when the action scenes make you laugh out loud.
Movies are lucky to have one scene stealing character in it, much less two. Guardians of the Galaxy, by my count, has four such characters in it. Chris Pratt is on the verge of becoming a huge star. He did wonderful voice work in the LEGO Movie, but this will be his star making movie. I can’t wait to see what he has in store with the upcoming Jurassic Park movies and Guardians of the Galaxy sequels. Bradley Cooper as Rocket Racoon and Vin Diesel as Groot make a great team. Bradley Cooper is an actor I’ve been taking note of recently, but this may be one of his best performances. His Rocket is a whirlwind of sarcasm and violence (in a Marvel kind of way). Considering the only words he’s capable of saying are “I am Groot,” Vin Diesel was able to inject a warmth into the character that I found surprising. The uber-warrior Drax (Dave Bautista), who takes everything literally, was intentionally unintentionally hilarious. I know that sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it’ll make sense once you’ve seen the movie. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is often overshadowed by the more flashy characters of the movie, yet she’s the character with the biggest story arc of the entire movie.
Hot on all of their trails is Ronan (Lee Pace), the baddie of the movie. If you’re at all familiar with Marvel comics, you know how important Infinity Stones are. You gain a sense of that here, but I expect the quest to find the rest of the Infinity Stones to be the major driving force in the next phase of Marvel movies. In essence, Infinity Stones are like collectors items… only if those collector items give you more and more powers. Whoever holds all six of them gains god-like powers. So yeah, they’re pretty important. I liked Pace’s performance and make up design, however he’s just a go-between in the larger scheme of things. Although he makes just a brief appearance in this movie, one gets the sense that this is going to be the Thanos show for the foreseeable future.
It’s a sign of strength that the rest of the cast wasn’t swallowed whole by the movie’s leads. Michael Rooker, John C Reilly, Benecio Del Toro, and Peter Serafinowicz all had memorable performances, despite playing characters who don’t get a lot to do. And, to be honest, it felt like Glenn Close was just in this to cash a paycheck.
If I do have one complaint with the movie, it’s that despite being expertly done, this is a Marvel formula movie through and through. It follows the same story beats as every Marvel movie before it so you kind of know what’s going to happen to these characters before the characters do. Luckily this was done so well that you look past its predictability.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack for this movie, which I predict will become just as popular as the soundtracks for Boogie Nights and Pulp Fiction before it. The songs on this soundtrack are amazing and inject the movie with one extra layer of fun.
This is a movie I’m itching to see again. It sits third on my list of favorite Marvel movies (after Avengers and the first Iron Man) and if there’s been a movie released in 2014 that’s more fun, I missed it. I hope this movie is a massive hit because I can’t wait to see what else this ragtag group of bandits has in store for us.