These days, I don’t find myself getting genuinely hyped for many movies anymore. I still get excited, but anticipation to the point of feverish obsession I suppose just decreases with age. However, as Guardians of the Galaxy came about, and all of the oddball pieces started to fall into place, that same feeling came rushing back. As the mix of oddball characters, fantastic actors, and a director who I think is one of the most unique voices working in film today started to form, I very quickly realized that this was going to be something very special, even by Marvel standards. So after two years of seemingly endless waiting, I sat down in the theater last night completely braced, but in the back of my mind, knowing that I could be let down. Then, the film started, and as I watched Star Lord, our hero, happily dance through an alien ruin while kicking little creatures out of his way without a care in the world over the opening credits, I quickly realized that I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
Guardians of the Galaxy begins with a young boy being abducted from earth by a group of Alien thieves called the Revengers. This boy ultimately grows up to be Peter Quill, or as he would like to be called, Star Lord (Chris Pratt). In the aforementioned alien ruin, he discovers a mysterious orb that seems to not only be very valuable, but that everyone wants to kill him to get. You see, this orb holds one of the infinity stones, which an insane rebel named Ronan (Lee Pace) wants to use to destroy the planet Xandar. As Quill is ultimately captured and inprisoned, he comes across a group of allies. Gamora (Zoe Saldana), is a pawn for Ronan with an itch to betray him. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), is a massive, completely literal man who’s family was killed by Ronan. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is a cynical, take no prisoners bounty hunter Raccoon fused with robotic parts though genetic experiment, and finally Groot (Vin Diesel) is a walking, talking tree who can only express himself through three words “I am Groot.” Together, they pledge to take down Ronan, and even if it means being good people for a while, save the Galaxy.
What makes this movie so wonderful is that it does not just feel like another cog in the Marvel machine. What writer/director James Gunn has created here is a wildly original, endlessly funny, and wonderfully acted piece of sci-fi that completely stands on it’s own two legs, while still planting seeds for the larger universe. Not an once of this feels tampered with, or calculated. It’s an utterly genuine labor of love to anyone who enjoys these types of films, and even for those who might not.
Everything here could have fallen flat on it’s face if even one of it’s main characters were dysfunctional. Thankfully, that couldn’t be farther from the case. This group is just fantastic, with not one single weak link. We’ve been seeing the transition for a while, but here, Chris Pratt proves undeniably that he is a movie star. Completely charismatic and likable, his performance grounds all of this insane stuff to a very real, human level. Saldana is fierce and physical, bringing depth to what could have been just an obligatory female member of the team. Bautista is a riot, perfectly delivering Drax’s bewildered reactions to the sarcasm of the other characters. However, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is our two entirely CG characters who emerge as the highlight. Groot could have just been reduced to a cheep gag, but through the various subtle inflections in each “I am Groot” Diesel really brings out his warm, childlike personality, even if this particular child sometimes slaps peoples brains out with his branches. Rocket Raccoon is one of the best characters of the year, a perfect mesh of adorable, and edgy. While often the most heavy source of comic relief, he also gets a couple of very well realized dramatic moments, with both sides pitch perfectly voiced by Bradley Cooper. The little guy is an absolute powerhouse. It’s as if all of the most interesting characters from a series of other sci-fi films came together to form a team.
James Gunn does a fantastic job both on the page, and at the helm, infusing everything in his own distinctive style. The heavily comedic writing here is absolutely spot on. Not only are the interactions between the characters all filled with hilarious moments, but there are also a great deal of visual gags and very few if any fall flat. I laughed out loud more in this film more than I have in many, many comedies. Everything looks great, each planet with it’s own unique visual sensibility, with the people in the background all having unique designs and their own things going on. Everything has that very ‘lived in’ feeling that feels very reminiscent of Star Wars. The action sequences are visually stunning and exciting. I can’t remember the last time I saw an honest to god space battle, and this provides that in spades. It even uses the 3D really well, with some genuinely startling moments.
Another strong touch here is the use of music to fuel the narrative. Quill has a mixtape given to him by his mother filled with 70s classics, which essentially serves as his last connection to the world he left behind. What could have easily felt like a cheap gimmick to up the ‘cool’ factor, instead is used to fuel the story, each song coinciding with the scene it’s being played in. There’s also a wonderful score by Tyler Bates that gets plenty of air time in the more rousing moments.
The only major issue I had here is with the villains. While Ronan certainly isn’t the worst villain in the Marvel universe so far (that still belongs to Malekith in Thor 2), he comes across as very generic. It certainly isn’t a lack of effort on Lee Pace’s part, who does what he can, but he can only do so much with what is just a snarling villain with none of the depth the other characters have. Karen Gillan certainly comes off a little better Gamora’s evil sister, Nebula, but she is also given very little to do. Even Thanos, the big bad of this whole cinematic universe, is hardly present in his first speaking appearance, and while I like Josh Brolin a lot, I’m not impressed yet with his heavily doctored voice work.
Even with that fairly major hang up, Guardians of the Galaxy still stands as by far the most entertaining movie in a summer that has had some pretty damn great movies. It’s a film that brought back that childlike sense of glee that made me love movies so much to begin with. It’s a tonally perfect, beautifully characterized shot of pure originality. I think that in twenty years when the conversation of Sci Fi classics comes up, we will be seeing plenty of this one. You owe it to yourself to check this one out.