Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those concepts that should only work on the colorful comic book page, with aliens, talking animals, walking trees, and planet-destroying powers all crammed into one hyperkinetic package. It just so happens to be a non-stop crowd pleasing film spectacle that has just as much heart and it does laughs and action.
Like the first Iron Man did for The Armored Avenger himself, the ragtag intergalactic heroes at the center of Marvel’s sci-fi triumph will soon find themselves propelled into the stratosphere. And with good cause, the movie is a total success and a breath of fresh air for summer blockbusters.
Director/writer James Gunn, who had previously displayed his storytelling insanity in Slither and Super, gives just enough of a unique spin to make Guardians feel like his own film, while still being part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s smart storytelling throughout, mightily balancing strange yet strong characters, comedy, thrilling action, and a huge expansion of the universe.
Guardians’ plot follows the basic narrative outline that countless films have followed before. A ragtag group of strangers from various tough backgrounds must band together for the greater good. Here, human rogue Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill, (Chris Pratt), alien assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), vengeance-minded Drax (Dave Bautista), intelligent raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and living tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), are eventually forced together to fight back against Ronan the Accuser, a mad alien bent on destroying an entire planet and conquering the galaxy. But these aren’t the heroic do-gooders like their counterparts in The Avengers. Rather, they’re thieves, assassins, and bounty hunters.
While Guardians is overflowing with a sense of wonder and discovery, rapidly expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe and consistently throwing new concepts at the audience, it keeps a beating heart underneath all the special effects. Plus, it has a wicked sense of humor, subverting many of the tropes that would force the story into clichés. Most importantly, it’s anchored by five incredibly enjoyable characters, each of whom appeals to the audiences in unique ways while bouncing off the others in fun ways.
At the center of it all is Pratt’s Star-Lord. By opening the film with Star-Lord’s mother’s death and his subsequent alien abduction, Gunn hits the audience with some major emotions, setting the lead character’s narrative in the right direction and giving him some real world grounding. While the story skips to 20 years later, he’s still our navigator in this completely foreign world. Pratt makes Star-Lord cocky, rough, and extremely funny, while still being a deadly and incredibly likable leading man. He’s insanely watchable and could have carried the film on his back if needed. Thankfully, he’s surrounded by wonderful characters.
Gamora and Drax are the film’s most serious leads, with heavy backstories and a love for battle. However, they both provide some great moments of levity. Bautista’s Drax comes from a very literal race, with his inability to understand jokes, metaphor, and sayings leading to hilarious misunderstandings. Saldana’s Gamora continues Marvel’s tradition of strong female leads. She’s quite the opposite of a damsel in distress and has her own self-propelled narrative.
But if there are two characters that outshine the rest, and give Guardians some of its most memorable features, it’s Rocket and Groot. This all-CGI bounty hunter duo are simultaneously tragic and comedic. Rocket is quick tempered, handy with any technology at hand, and obsessed with weaponry. Groot is a simple minded tree-like alien whose nature is both sweet and insanely dangerous at the same time. While Groot’s vocabulary is limited to a single sentence, “I am Groot,” it’s a testament to the animation and Diesel’s varied line readings that the character has real depth. Together, the two form the heart of the movie while also creating some of its most awesome scenes. Their insane shootout in the midst of a prison break will go down as one of the film’s most iconic visuals.
If there’s a weakness to the film, it’s the one that haunts most Marvel Cinematic Universe films – a weak villain. Lee Pace’s Ronan is powerful and visually striking, with a bold mix of blue skin and ritual war paint, but he’s most often relegated to the background. The same somewhat goes for Karen Gillan’s Nebula, but her assassin is involved in some great fights. Thankfully, a host of colorful cannon fodder keeps the action lively, with the Guardians engaging in brawls, shootouts, and spaceship dogfights. Those looking for an action-packed comic book film will find their fill with Guardians.
Leading up to the film, one of the most unique aspects of the marketing for Guardians of the Galaxy has been the music. Poppy songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s have filled the trailers and they are used to their full effect throughout the film. Songs like “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Come and Get Your Love,” and “O-o-h Child” all subvert various scenes throughout the runtime, adding comedy and giving a new spin on what could have been run of the mill. Not only that, but they play a vital role in Star-Lord’s story, with his “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” being his last remaining connection to Earth and his family. It’s an ingenious storytelling tactic by Gunn and one that emphasizes the power of music in the movies.
One of the most exciting features of Guardians is the idea that the film takes place in a fully formed universe. We’re given tantalizing glimpses of countless alien races, strange technology, and mythology that hints at huge events to come. It’s on par with the grand galactic exploration on display in Star Wars and even those unfamiliar with the many comic book ideas on display will not have to worry about being lost. This is a grand galactic adventure where anyone can go along for the ride and have a blast.
However, for longtime fans, Guardians of the Galaxy is quite mind-blowing. While there have been some hints sprinkled throughout, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has kept two feet on the ground for the most part, shirking many of the more outlandish comic book concepts. But that isn’t the case any longer. Without spoiling the events of the film, we’re given understanding of the Infinity Stones, a scene completely revolving around Thanos, and hints at the Celestials. These are not just major leaps from the previous films, but some of Marvel Comics most outlandish ideas on full display. It’s an emphasis on comic book ideas that most studios have been too afraid to embrace so far.
Gunn and his stars have brought these pieces together to make a movie that has all the elements of a sleeper sci-fi hit with the power and impact of a major studio blockbuster. It’s a rousing success and a sign of hope for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.