Guardians of the Galaxy | James Gunn | August 1, 2014
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I’ve been looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy ever since the project was announced, if just for the oddball nature of the film. Granted, once I got hooked on Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s 2008 series that the film is based on and Brian Michael Bendis’ current run, my eagerness to see cosmic Marvel on the big screen continued to build. And now that Guardians of the Galaxy is finally here, it’s time to bask in the 70s/80s pop culture-influenced milieu.
If you’re not familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the short version is that they’re a ragtag group of intergalactic heroes, kind of like The Avengers. The 1969 team is comprised of six members, each of whom is the last of their respective species, and bears little resemblance to the modern team, but they’ve since appeared in the modern Marvel universe (2008 and 2012) here and there. The modern series (and the film) chooses to focus on Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) – minus additional team members from each respective modern iteration. Rather than jump into their adventures in media res, Guardians introduces the team piecemeal as they reluctantly come together to save the galaxy (and the Nova Corp homeworld Xandar) from Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), a brutal and blue Kree purist, and Nebula (Karen Gillan), the cybernetically-enhanced adopted sister of Gamora and adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin). And, by proxy, that includes Thanos, but he’s like a cunning chess player or Emperor Palpatine right now in the Marvel franchise.
The issue at the heart of the film is family, or a lack thereof. Quill was abducted from Earth in 1988 by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and the Ravagers after running away from his mourning family; Gamora is the last Zen Whoberian; Drax’s wife and daughter were killed by Ronan; and Rocket, a bipedal and cybernetically-enhanced talking raccoon, and Groot, a humanoid tree, are best buds, loners, and bounty hunters. These individual issues are dealt with well enough as the Guardians form their own little family, and it lays the possible groundwork for the plot (or a plotline) of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which is set for release on July 28th, 2017.
At first glance, Guardians of the Galaxy may seem like the wildest and most unrealistic Marvel movie yet. On paper, this sort of film shouldn’t work – if just because of the key CGI characters, the tangential connective tissue to the Avengers films, and the out-there concept. Then again, a billionaire with a flying metal body armor suit, a scientist who turns into a giant green rage monster, a cryogenically preserved super soldier from World War II, a Norse god/alien from another realm, a master archer, and an ex-KGB assassin teamed up to take down a full-scale alien invasion of Manhattan. It’s just a matter of suspending disbelief.
However, Gunn and his regulars (brother Sean, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Nathan Fillion, and composer Tyler Bates, among others), along with help from Age of Ultron cinematographer Ben Davis and original scriptwriter Nicole Perlman, manage to make it work and keep it grounded Troma-style with spaceships designed by Chris Foss, breathtaking and colorful space-scapes, a comedic script, and practical production design and aliens. Bates’ score has its dark orchestral, choir-y, and Giacchino-esque moments, which counterbalance the perfectly curated ’70s sunshine pop soundtrack. The cast and CGI direction is spot-on, with Pratt breaking Quill out of the rogue cowboy/James T. Kirk mold, Saldana proving to be a formidable Gamora, Bautista nailing the deadpan literal tone of Drax, Cooper handling Rocket’s snark and pain, and Vin Diesel conveying so much with just a look and “I am Groot.” Admittedly, they didn’t don the mo-cap suits for the roles, but the point still stands.
Frankly, Guardians of the Galaxy is the most fun I’ve had in theaters since last year’s Pacific Rim (okay, and also this year’s The Lego Movie). The perfect mix of self-aware drama and comedy helps boost the film into the ranks of Marvel’s best, and it might be the factor that guarantees a repeat screening. I can’t speak to how the full-length film looks in 3D or IMAX 3D apart from the preview in early July, but from what I’ve heard, it may be worth shelling out the extra dough. And it goes without saying that sticking around through the credits is worth it for an amusing (but not MCU-relevant) stinger.