Guardians of the Galaxy revives the fun and adventure that superhero films so desperately need. In an age where men who dress up like bats and spiders is treated so seriously, here is a film that has the confidence to see the humor in a talking raccoon and a walking tree. More importantly, it’s a genuine return to the space opera that does away with the usual dark and grit of modern sci-fi. When the opening scene features the protagonist dancing around an abandoned alien world to the tune of Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, you know you’re in for a good time.
Our one human character for the entire film is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Abducted from Earth as a boy, Peter grew up among thieves to establish himself as the intergalactic menace Star Lord. It’s a handle that’s relatively unknown, but he hopes it’ll stick with repetition. After stealing a mysterious orb, Peter becomes the target of two parties. The first is Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who seeks the procurement of the orb. The second is Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) who desire the capture of Peter for the bounty on his head by his angry gang. All four of them, however, end up caught by the Nova Corps police and are sent to space prison. During their stay, they learn that Gamora is working for the villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) of the Kree Empire. This catches the attention of inmate Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who lost his wife and child to Ronan. Motivated by money and revenge, the five of them band together in a daring prison break that leads them on to universe-saving journey.
This collective of misfits really do grow on you throughout the picture. And that’s saying something when two of them are completely CGI. All five have real chemistry and personality that play well in just about every scene. Peter is the ever present and wisecracking negotiator of the group trying to make nobody cuts out the other’s throat (or, most importantly, his own). Gamora is the straight woman seeking a new life outside of her murderous step-father Thanos (Josh Brolin). Drax takes everything literally making it very hard to joke or speak metaphors around, leading to hilarious misunderstandings. Rocket is snarkiest of the bunch with his masterful escape plans, short-fuse temper and his MacGuyver-style explosive skills. And Groot, the ever-growing anthropomorphic tree, manages to have some very cute and emotional scenes. For a character who’s only lines are “I Am Groot”, you never grow tired of his presence in the film. I wouldn’t be surprised if a talking Groot doll shows up in the toy store soon.
Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) should be given credit for creating such a rich and detailed cosmic environment that’s never drab and never bores. He takes us to ghost planets, thriving utopias, rusted prisons and black market satellites with so much going on in every shot. At one point the Guardians pay a visit to a buyer known as The Collector (Benicio del Toro) with an abode of caged creatures ala Cabin in the Woods. While killing some time at a bar, the group engages in some form of gambling that involves some quadrupedal life form eating smaller creatures on a roulette-style table. I wasn’t quite sure how the game worked, but enjoyed seeing how much the drunken patrons got into it. And the backgrounds are filled with aliens of all shapes and colors on a level I haven’t seen since Star Wars. James Gunn also manages to give plenty of roles and cameos to his regulars such as Michael Rooker (a staple of all his films) and Lloyd Kaufman (president of Troma Films where Gunn first started writing).
Gunn’s expertise stretch far beyond the visuals for Guardians. His script, co-written by Nicole Perlman, never gets old either. Gunn manages to balance the comedy and action in a way that’s not only effective, but surprising. Just when you think you have an idea of where the film is going to go next, it throws a new curve ball into the mix. The perfect example is during the prison break in which Rocket describes the plan in detail which is quickly tossed out the window when one of the elements goes awry before it even starts. The humor manages to be a home run thanks mostly in part to Peter’s Earth references. When describing dancing and music to Gamora, he relates her disdain to the film Footloose in which he describes the legend of Kevin Bacon saving a town. I also really dug how the music choices for the soundtrack tie in so well to Peter’s past and manage to convey both an emotional and comedic vibe to the whole experience.
With so much going on with this ensemble of protagonists, most of the lackluster elements don’t seem so distracting. Several of the action and chase scenes go on a little long making you wish you could get back to more of the dialogue. They’re not boring or at all cluttered with shaky camera moves, but some of them just feel standard for a sci-fi film. That being said, the visual effects for those scenes are still phenomenal with cool looking ships and interesting tactics beyond just firing more guns. Ronan the Accuser felt like you standard conquer-the-universe villain. His motivations are very base and we don’t get a whole lot of character out of him. But, as your classic mustache twirler, he’s suitable enough. And seeing as how most modern films tend to the give the villains a little more sympathy, it was a little refreshing to see one that was just pure evil throughout. The character of Nebula (Karen Gilliam) had a much more interesting arc as the less favored daughter of Thanos seeking revenge on Gamora. It didn’t make her a better baddie, but it gave her better motivation.
Guardians is a whole lot of fun without completely checking your brain at the door. It plays with your expectations, delivers a multitude of laughs, plenty of adventure and an overall spirit of fun that makes you leave the cinema with a massive grin. James Gunn has breathed a much needed dose of wonder and excitement into the current crop of superhero movies. He’s expanded the reach of the Marvel Cinematic Universe into a new cosmic realm so wild and crazy you can’t wait to go back. Here’s hoping the next far away outing isn’t a long time out.