July 31, 2014 by Paul Curtin
Just as when Thor was ushered into the Marvel cinematic universe after Iron Man, many were skeptical two years ago when Marvel announced that Phase 2 of their Avengers plan would include the lesser-known Guardians of the Galaxy. A talking tree and raccoon with a rocket launcher? How could they pull this off? How could it all work together with what they’ve already done? Why even take a chance on obscure new heroes when Marvel already has the superhero genre locked down and the license to print money?
Those questions and more have all been answered now that Guardians of the Galaxy has finally arrived. Not only are the Guardians just as interesting as the Avengers, but the charismatic new characters fit perfectly into the Marvel movie universe and are capable of shining brighter.
Right from the start, the tone of Guardians is clearly and eloquently established in its first three opening scenes. Director James Gunn perfectly transitions a heartbreaking introduction of Peter Quill as a child on Earth to a comedic scene with Quill all grown up 20 years later, having fun raiding tombs in deep space under the persona of “Star-Lord” while listening and dancing to ‘70s and ‘80s pop hits on his “Awesome Mix: Vol. 1” cassette tape.
As Quill uncovers a mysterious silver orb that he and the rest of the universe is after (and that will ultimately bring the Guardians together), the playful scene quickly switches to an exhilarating action sequence that will have you on the edge of your seat after just being brought to tears of sorrow and joy. Guardians’ pacing is constantly all over the place, but somehow Gunn makes it all work by never letting the film ever become too heavy or too comical by expertly balancing the two contrasting tones.
As you can gather from the title, the story is all about the Guardians. Gunn makes the great choice of not diving deep into each character’s origins and focuses rather on how they all got to where they are now, ultimately forming this new group of space Avengers. Guardians’ story is just like its characters. It’s fast, cocky, and wastes no time trying to explain every little detail. It just does things in the moment and expects its audience to be smart enough to keep up.
Each one of the five Guardians adds his or her own unique on-screen magic to the movie. Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, (Chris Pratt) helms the lead role as a human taken away from his mother too soon. Gamora (Zoë Saldana) on the other hand has daddy issues as the daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin). Drax (Dave Bautista) has family issues of his own, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) has an inferiority complex, and Groot (Vin Diesel)… well… he’s Groot.
Pratt and Cooper’s Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon are both instant new Marvel fan favorites that no doubt deserve their own origin films. Their performances easily stand out as the two best of the film and best across all of the latest Marvel movies. A child born on Earth in the ‘80s, Quill is the most relatable character. His taste in ‘70s and ‘80s pop music helps bring a certain warmth to the film that you wouldn’t otherwise get from an original score.
The chemistry between the characters and nonstop humor will have you laughing from beginning to end. Bradley Cooper’s take on Rocket, the eccentric heavy gun-wielding rodent, is easily the most lovable for viewers of all ages. By not using his normal voice, you never think of the actor behind the voice and instead let yourself believe in the amazing CGI that helps fully bring the little bad-ass raccoon to life.
Yet, with how great Pratt and Cooper are, each member of the remaining principal cast still holds their own. Even Bautista, the WWE professional wrestler who seems a little out of his element in such a big-budget film has some of the funniest moments playing the straight guy that takes everything literally. Other actors who don’t get as much screen time like Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, and John C. Reilly only help the movie by making the most of their roles.
Marvel has also used Guardians of the Galaxy to finally introduce some of the bigger players in the Avengers universe who have thus far only been hinted at in extra scenes during and after the credits. Josh Brolin doesn’t show up much as Thanos, but it’s a real crowdpleaser to finally see him speak in a couple scenes and tease his big showdown in 2018’s third Avengers film. Guardians‘ more prominent villain, Ronan, looks and acts the evil Sith-like part and does just enough to not steal the spotlight from the other more important characters’ introductions.
With so many characters, it’s unbelievable that each one’s development is so strong. At one point in the film Quill refers to the five main characters as “losers.” But Marvel’s B-team is anything but and together form a new group of superheroes that rival that of Marvel’s own Avengers. It took Marvel nine films to pull off what Gunn has been able to accomplish in just two hours with Guardians of the Galaxy.
This accomplishment, of course, has to give some credit to the rabidly popular foundation that Marvel has built up since the first Iron Man, but you gotta give just as much credit to Gunn’s experience as a filmmaker. Guardians is Gunn’s first chance with a blockbuster budget, and he clearly had the freedom to make the movie that he and the fans wanted to be made. Like his previous films Slither and Super, there’s tons of light and dark humor, quick-witted comments, and even jokes about adult-related material. Overall, Guardians is surprisingly adult for a PG-13 franchise now owned by Disney.
Gunn’s passion for this project goes without question. Guardians wasn’t shot in 3D or IMAX, but it’s one of the best looking 3D IMAX films ever. The various sci-fi planets are each unique and awe-inspiring to see on such a big screen. Every little attention to detail has been given, and even the shifting aspect ratios work with brilliant uses of characters and objects popping out of the screen and over the film’s black bars to give it a real comic book feel.
Guardians of the Galaxy‘s combination of sci-fi, scale, talent, CGI, and music makes it feel like a modern day Star Wars and something special that could have been seen in theaters 30+ years ago. Aside from great acting, action, and CGI, Gunn’s secret to the success of the film is proper balance. We’ve seen plenty of bloated superhero movies over the years that try to do too much in too little time, but Guardians never falls into this trap. Every minute is packed with different emotions, and every character is well developed and has their chance to shine. There are some small nitpicks that could be made, but those don’t justify wasting time harping over, and there’s no question that Guardians of the Galaxy is still one of the best films this summer and arguably even the best Marvel film yet. The real question is how are they ever going to be able to fit all of the Guardians on screen with the Avengers together in one film? Guardians of the Galaxy gets 4.5 out of 5 stars (Awesome).