Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Producer: Kevin Feige
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Running Time: 122 minutes
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro
It’s been called this generations Star Wars, the best Marvel move to date, an epic space adventure. One thing’s for certain, there’s a lot of hype surrounding Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It broke all box office estimates, raking in just over $94 million domestically, coming in just behind Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Solider. So the question is, does it deserve all of the hype and praise? To an extent, yes. Is it this generations Star Wars? No, it most certainly isn’t. The best Marvel movie to date? Sorry, it’s not that either. So then just what is Guardians of the Galaxy? One thing is for sure, it’s the most comic book like movie Marvel has ever made, and that’s not a bad thing. No where near it. Unfortunately it doesn’t make it the best movie they’ve made either. For all its fun and action, the movie is left with a few flaws.
My anticipation for a Guardians of the Galaxy movie has been high since Marvel first unveiled plans back at the San Diego Comic-Con International in 2012. I’ve been a fan of the comic for a number of years and the thought of seeing Rocket Raccoon on screen had me as giddy as a school girl. So after two years of waiting I went on opening day with the expectation of being blown away. I walked out extremely satisfied, but I immediately knew this was not the best Marvel movie made. Personally, I believe that title goes to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. So why couldn’t Guardians take the title? Two reasons, I actually thought there was too much humor and far too often the actions of characters felt out of place.
Let’s start from the beginning though, to get a feel of why I’m coming where I’m coming from. The film opens in 1988 with a young Peter Quill, whose mother is deathly ill. Peters family surrounds them in the hospital room as his mother passes away, something that clearly impacts Peter hard. With the realization that his mother is dead, and having never met his father, Peter takes off running into the night. Where to? Only he knows, but his decision to run off will change his life forever. A bright light shines down on Peter as he runs through a field, and he’s whisked into the light.
Cut to the present day, in the far reaches of space. Peter, played by Chris Pratt, is now 26 years older and from the looks of it he’s made a living for himself as the swashbuckling anti-hero. With the same headphones and cassette walkman he left Earth with, Peter dances his way across a desolate planet in search of a valuable artifact. When he finally gets his prize he’s confronted by some aliens who are also seeking the artifact. After a bit of verbal haranguing, Peter, who also goes by Star-Lord, manages to escape and make his way to the planet Xandar where he has a buyer lined up for the artifact. It’s clear that Star-Lord is the charming smuggler with the who me look that Han Solo is so well known for.
Unfortunately for Quill, his buyer decides to cancel the deal and now he’s left holding something that a lot of people are looking for. Just who are these people? Well there’s Yondu, played by Michael Rooker, the man who ‘rescued’ Quill when he was a young boy. Apparently Quill has double-crossed Yondu and his band of Ravagers and they’re looking for Quill, the artifact and a payday. Then there’s Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace, who has agreed to find the artifact for Thanos, and in return Thanos will destroy Xandar.
Hold on a minute. Thanos? Yes Thanos, perhaps the worst villain someone could run across in the Marvel universe. Father to Gamora, Nebula and many others. Thanos is a bad, bad man, who will stop at nothing to collect the Infinity Stones in order to attain the ultimate power in the universe. Speaking of Gamora and Nebula, they feature in Guardians as well. Played by Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan respectively, Thanos’ daughters help Ronan search for the artifact. And that’s where we cut back to Xandar and Peter Quill.
Back on Xandar, Gamora is hot on Quill’s trail as are two bounty hunters. Rocket and Groot, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. Apparently there’s a bounty on Quill and they’re looking to collect. After a bit of wrangling. Rocket, Groot, Quill and Gamora are all caught by the Nova Corps, the police force on Xandar, and brought in for processing. Here’s where we get a formal introduction to the characters, and the manner in which it’s done works well. Nova Corp member Rhomann Dey, played by John C. Reilly, reads each characters rap sheet to another Nova Corpsman and in doing so he manages to deftly introduce each character to the audience and give a little background to them. This was an excellent way to introduce the characters to an audience that is not likely to recognize these obscure Marvel characters.
Fast forward a bit to the Nova prison space station known as the Klyn, a place where the worst of the worst are sent. This is where the four meet Drax the Destroyer, played by Dave Bautista, who has a beef to grind with Gamora. It seems that his wife and daughter were killed by Ronan the Accuser and her affiliation with him, and being the daughter of Thanos, only paints a target on her back. After an exciting jailbreak involving a prosthetic leg and some other parts, the Guardians find themselves working as a team as they plan on selling the artifact to a buyer that will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.
This brings them to Knowhere, a mining colony inside the head of a long dead Celestial, where the Collector awaits the rag tag team. The Collector, played by Benicio del Toro, was previously seen during the after credits scene of Thor: The Dark World. Over the years he’s amassed an impressive display of items, ranging from the living, to the dead and inanimate. For fans of Marvel the Collectors room is filled with items that could have implication in Marvel films down the road. Eagle eyed viewers will recognize a Dark Elf (from Thor: The Dark World), Cosmo the dog (fans of the Guardians comic will know and love him), the creatures from Slither (from James Gunn’s directorial debut), and an impressive looking cocoon that has been verified as being Adam Worlock’s (the implications which could be far reaching).
We also learn from the Collector that the artifact they’re carrying is an Infinity Stone, one with immense power that can destroy entire worlds with a touch. This ties back to Thanos and his search for all the Infinity Stones and the power they could bring him. After an incident with one of the Collectors servants that causes mass destruction within his confines, the Guardians are confronted by Ronan and Nebula and they lose, badly. Ronan now has the stone and the Guardians have been captured by Yondu and the Ravagers.
Quill works out a deal with Yondu to get the stone back, and he sends a message to the Nova Corps warning them of the impending attack on Xandar by Ronan. After a bit of talk and some planning, the Guardians, along with the Ravagers head to Xandar to fend of Ronan and recover the stone. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as they plan, but they ultimately manage to pull it off with the help of the Nova Corps, which are decimated. At the end of the day the good guys win and all is right in the universe.
So what’s the problem? Well dear reader, read on…
A major point of contention for me is the inconsistencies in the characters attitudes. They change far too quickly and it’s not because of the actors, rather it’s the script they’re working with. The villains are a definite weak link in the narrative. Lee Pace is fully committed as the fanatical Ronan, but there were instances where the character seemed to act out of character. The biggest one for me was near the end of the movie, after Ronans ship had crashed landed and he’s being confronted by Star-Lord, who decides to do a dance off (which in and of it self was ridiculous). Here is a feared enemy that is powerful and driven and he’s distracted by a guy doing some cheap dance moves. The confused look on his face, the way he said “What are you doing?”, it all felt out of place. I would expect him to simply take his hammer and touch Quill, rid him of his problem. Instead we’re given a cheap laugh and a poor plot mechanic.
There’s also how quickly the team came to form up, they went from wanting to kill each other to working with each other near instantaneously, with Drax’s hatred of Gamora being overcome too quickly. I also didn’t buy the attraction between Gamora and Quill and how quickly that progressed. It felt forced. Lastly there’s Nebula, who has a great design and makeup job, but the character gets precious little to do in the film besides hovering in background looking twitchy. She felt like she was thrown in as an after thought.
Then we have the humor. I don’t mind humor in a movie, I actually like it, but when it’s appropriate and makes sense. There were a lot of little quips from Quill that felt like they belonged there, but there were times that felt like the humor was forced. Of note was Quill’s dick message to Nova Corpsman Dey and Dey’s relaying of the message to Nova Prime. It felt out of place and came across like a 10 year old telling a bad dick joke. Then there was the use of a-holes. With the amount of profanity in the film, having them say a-holes also felt like a cheap joke told by a 10 year old.
It’s Not all Bad
Despite all my griping, it’s not all bad. As a matter of fact, there’s a lot of good to Guardians of the Galaxy. The acting was top notch, with Chris Pratt stepping into the leading man spotlight with all his comedic, dramatic and physical attributes at the ready. Saldana does a good job as Gamora, her action scenes look believable, but the green makeup on her look a little awkward. Then there’s Dave Bautista, whose acting inexperience actually works well for the off-kilter, awkward delivery that makes Drax an admirable character. Despite the lack of subtext or subtlety, the actors are able to give life to their characters with an extra does of reality.
The CGI characters Rocket and Groot are no doubt amazing and contribute heavily to the movies success. Between the impressive visual effects and motion-capture used to create them and great voice work by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, Marvel has brought to life two of the most iconic members of the Guardians of the Galaxy. They managed to breath life into the characters and show a wide range of emotions, making them the fan favorites.
We can’t overlook the movies soundtrack. Not since the movies of Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie has the music played such an important part of the narrative. The song choices were outstanding and brought levity to the various scenes, as well as Peter Quill. It’s powered by a literal cassette mixtape — Awesome Mix Vol.1 — made for Quill when he was still a kid, by his dying mother who wanted him to hear her favorite songs. They classic ’60s and ’70s hits have survived enough time to accrue the heft of collective memory. The songs shaped Quill into the man he is today.
A Risk Worth Taking
It has to be said that Marvel took a big risk basing a movie on some obscure characters that have never been considered mainstream in the Marvel universe. Few people could pick out Drax the Destroyer, or Peter Quill in the Marvel universe, yet Marvel felt comfortable enough with them to make a big budget film with a summer release. Thankfully it paid off and now the Guardians of the Galaxy are a household name and everyone recognizes the talking raccoon and walking tree. In hiring James Gunn to write and helm the movie, it’s clear that Marvel intention is different than its other movies. They felt that they could take a risk, and it was a bold one. Luckily for them it paid off. In Gunns indie filmmaker hands, we get a Marvel film that is off-beat and sardonically witty.
At the End of the Day
When all’s said and done, Guardians of the Galaxy is the most comic book like movie Marvel has made to date, and that’s a good thing. I honestly don’t believe it would have worked any other way. Despite my gripes, it’s still a fun movie. It’s still a good movie. It’s clear that Marvel found a formula that works, I just hope they tweak it for the sequel. You know there’s a sequel, it’s a Marvel movie and it did gang busters at the box office. It doesn’t hurt that the sequel was announced before the movie even opened either. Still, at the end of the day whether you’re familiar with the Guardians or have never heard of them. There’s no reason not to see this movie. Marvel has another hit on their hands, and now they’ve proven that taking risks is worth it. Hopefully this leads to bigger and better things in the future.
My After Credits Scene
It wouldn’t be a good review of a Marvel movie with a little postcript review. If you stayed after the credits, and by now you should know you do this at every Marvel movie, you’ll have noticed a couple things. The first is Howard the Duck, he was hard to miss. It’s clear that he was a prisoner in one of the Collectors cases, but the other one is the aforementioned cocoon of Adam Worlock. Earlier in the film it was intact, but in this scene it’s clearly been broken and whatever was inside is now out. The ramifications of this are enormous. Warlock has played a big part in the battle against Thanos over the years, even joining with the Guardians along the way. I can fully see him being part of Marvel’s future plans, especially in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.