Meet-The-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Even by comic book standards Guardians of the Galaxy is an obscure property. Not that Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America were household names like Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman, but at least people were somewhat aware of the characters whether through comics, cartoons, or embarrassing early 90s movies. Hulk was probably the most well-known amongst the Avengers and even he suffered through two middling movies. Given the success of The Avengers, Marvel could’ve easily picked any number of heroes to launch within their Phase 2, so why Guardians of the Galaxy? Why take the risk on a group no one, not even some die-hard Marvel readers, was aware of with a cast of characters that included a gun-toting raccoon and a sentient tree with a limited vocabulary? I could give you a long explanation about how Guardians fits into the overall mega-event Marvel’s leading towards with Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet storyline from the comics, but in simplistic terms? They could, so they did.

Okay, yes, there’s more to it than that but from the get-go there’s been an attitude surrounding Guardians of the Galaxy, one of “Yeah, Guardians of the Galaxy. Trust us. We got this.” And as moviegoers, we collectively consented to the idea. Marvel had earned enough goodwill that we believed in their vision. The result is yet another blockbuster to keep Marvel on its unprecedented streak of solidly entertaining superhero movies. No two Marvel movies have been entirely alike save for a through line of tone and world building. Thor took us into the realm of fantasy, Captain America gave us a World War 2 era film as well as an action-packed spy thriller, and The Avengers gave us the ultimate team-up. Guardians, however, is straight sci-fi adventure that expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe across the galaxy. Director James Gunn infuses Guardians with his snarky, rebellious attitude coming out of his experience with indie and Troma films, but also rises to the challenge of delivering his first big budget, special effects laden homage to the sci-fi genre.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-posterPeter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, having spent most of his life in space after being abducted from Earth in 1988, unknowingly stumbles upon a highly valued orb that contains one of the infamous infinity stones. Seeking the orb is Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) who sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin), to retrieve the orb so that Ronan can get revenge on the planet Xandar despite a peace treaty between Xandar, home to the Nova Corps, and Ronan’s people, the Kree. Quill is also pursued by bounty hunters Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) after his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) puts a price on his head for going rogue. When the four end up in prison, they gain another ally in Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who seeks revenge on Ronan for the death of his family. Seeing that they share a common enemy, and a desire to continue living, the five band together to thwart Ronan and save the galaxy.

From the moment the first trailer dropped and the first poster circulated around the internet, the marketing campaign for Guardians was unabashedly cocky in its presentation of a team formed from a rag-tag group of outlaws, assassins, thieves, and thugs. It was a choice reflective not just of James Gunn’s style but also the journey towards heroism made by the team. The Guardians aren’t necessarily brought together through nobility of purpose. They’re outcasts, misfits, and loners. They’ve all suffered loss because of the hand dealt to them by the universe, but in finding each other they have a reason to care about something bigger than themselves. Gunn and his co-writer, Nicole Perlman, manage to get this across via cinematic tribute; starting the film with Star-Lord, alone on a planet, retrieving an artifact a la Raiders of the Lost Ark and progressing the narrative the through a visual spectacle invoking Star Wars until the team is truly formed in a shot straight-up lifted from The Right Stuff. Through it all the movie maintains a lighthearted tone, but isn’t afraid to go for the gut-wrenching darkness needed to delve into the backstories of the main characters. It’s the humor, however, that sustains the movie. That and a soundtrack that acts as a time capsule of 60s and 70s pop music sure to make even the surliest fanboy tap his feet. Hell, I’ve had just about every song stuck in my head for days after seeing the film.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Rocket-Raccoon

For an ensemble piece like this you couldn’t ask for a better cast. Pratt truly solidifies his status as a leading man, channeling every roguish character imaginable into a ball of charm and overconfidence that would make Han Solo nod in approval. Saldana makes being a deadly assassin look easy; kicking ass and taking names without breaking a sweat, yet still managing to exude some of Gamora’s vulnerability despite the cold exterior. Bautista is surprisingly good as Drax. I don’t know anything about his career as a wrestler, but whatever limited acting skills he has never made it on-screen. Drax’s inability to understand metaphors actually worked to Bautista’s advantage, giving him some of the funnier lines in the film. And though they weren’t present for filming, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel turn in wonderfully nuanced performances as Rocket and Groot respectively. These were the two characters everyone worried about in terms of audience acceptance, but the special effects team knocked it out of the park with the two bounty hunters. They were textured and expressive, making us believe, from the moment we see them, that they belong in this world. Cooper’s Rocket is a damaged soul, the only one of his kind and his rage and sorrow are played straight during several unexpected moments. But he’s right up there going snark for snark with Quill. Rocket easily steals the movie with his one-liners and overall awesomeness. Oddly enough, Diesel delivers as Groot. He only has three words to work with, but Diesel manages to make each reading different, showing that inflection, spacing, and emotion can make three words seem like a paragraph.

Star-LordAs an ensemble, the Guardians are the epitome of a Marvel family. Their clashing personalities work off each other as they fight and bicker over just about everything. Scenes between just the five characters are the strongest in the film. The timing is perfect and Gunn seems to take great delight in throwing the typical clichés in our faces with a well placed one-liner. The main characters are bolstered by a strong supporting cast including Glenn Close, John C. Reilly , Peter Serafinowicz, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker, and cameos from Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, Seth Green, and Troma director/producer Lloyd Kaufman. Gunn even includes a nice little role for his brother, Sean Gunn, who was the body actor for Rocket during filming. It’s an amazing cadre of actors assembled and shows the pull Gunn and Marvel has for getting quality talent. Even the smallest roles could potentially lead to bigger things in the future.

So with all the praise I’ve been doling out, there are a few problems that most Marvel movie aficionados will see unfold. For one, Ronan the Accuser’s motivation is about as surface level as any Marvel villain. He wants to destroy Xandar because EVIL! and that’s as far as it really goes for him. His myopic goal ultimately aids the Guardians in stopping him because he does little else to prove himself as a formidable villain other than throw Drax around and yell at Thanos. Maybe if we’d seen him destroy a planet that wasn’t Xandar to show exactly how powerful he’s become with the infinity stone and the failed attempt to stop him by the Guardians. Their failure than motivates them to make sure Xandar doesn’t meet the same fate. Something like that. It doesn’t help that the complex backstories of each character only get brief enough mentionsRonan-the-Accuser-in-Guardians-of-the-Galaxy for the needs of exposition. Quill has the biggest arc of the movie in order to ground the audience, but it means Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot’s stories need to be put on the back burner. To the movie’s credit, though, they give us just enough background to give certain scenes the proper emotional weight. Rocket’s drunken outburst about being a monster feels genuine given what we’ve seen and know about him and Gamora’s anger at Thanos for being turned into an assassin is palpable.

Overall, the movie is well paced but there are times where it feels like scenes were inexplicably cut that were needed to make the transitions within the story smoother. Characters just happen to have vital information or show up at the right time out of plot convenience rather than a more organic flow. Yondu and the Ravagers happen to end up on Knowhere at the same time as things go awry with The Collector and Ronan shows up upon Drax’s drunken request because…reasons? It serves the purpose of making the stakes higher and giving us a kickass chase sequence, but how we arrive from point A to point B is a bit hazy. The fight between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan) also exemplifies the need for better characterization and editing. The whole sequence feels like it was supposed to be longer – the trailers at least indicated this was so – since Gamora and Nebula’s sibling rivalry drives the savagery of the fight. Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-GamoraUnfortunately the editing makes it much shorter, which could also be the result of underutilizing Nebula as a character. Though she appears badass and definitely carries plenty of attitude, Nebula becomes more of an obstacle for Gamora and their fight lacks the emotional impact it should between the “daughters” of Thanos. Hopefully there’s a director’s cut that will get released because I’d love to see what Gunn’s complete vision was for the movie.

The problems, however, shouldn’t dissuade you from seeing the film. Like I said, they’re typical of Marvel movies, but there’s definitely an opening for further characterization and storytelling now that the team/family has been formed. If anything, Guardians of the Galaxy shows how a team-up movie can be made without the building block process of individual films Marvel has relied upon in the past. Not only does this open up more possibilities for other Marvel movies, but shines a light of hope on certain other comic book team movies coming out in a couple of years.

Until then, go see Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m more than twelve percent certain you’ll enjoy it.

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