I’ll be perfectly honest with all of you – based on the premise, source material, trailers, and Internet buzz, Guardians Of The Galaxy is a movie that is essentially impossible for me to hate. How could I possibly have any negative reaction to a film that combines elements from just about everything that I hold closest to my geek heart? Namely, ensemble superhero teams; epic, character-driven space fantasy like Star Wars and Firefly; the quirk and humor of off the beaten path sci-fi oddities like Ice Pirates and Flash Gordon, supernatural comedy beats reminiscent of the likes of Ghostbusters and Galaxy Quest; and of course, the impeccable track record of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and director James Gunn seemingly engineered a film that I was predestined to love. So…did I?
In the words of Rocket Raccoon: “Oh…..yeahhhh.”
I. Loved. This. Movie.
Absolutely loved it. It’s been hours since I left the theater, but just thinking about little flourishes like Rocket getting jostled from his sleep and seeing his hair matted down on one side of his face, or the crew walking towards the frame to the sounds of The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” while unholy cosmic warfare is about to be unleashed on the galaxy, brings a big goofy grin to my face. Guardians Of The Galaxy is the kind of joyous, action-packed summer entertainment that specializes in goofy grins – doling them out like candy on Halloween night.
The sense of joy and goofy grins can primarily be attributed to the character work on display by the actors director James Gunn assembled to portray this rag-tag crew of space scoundrels, assassins, ambulatory trees, and talking, gun-toting, genetically modified raccoons. Those latter two characters unsurprisingly steal the show here, with Rocket being the riotous standout. Voiced with tough-guy, vaguely Brooklyn-esque fervor by Bradley Cooper and beautifully animated by ILM, Rocket is a hilarious, fully-realized, and surprisingly heartbreaking character whose antics, insane schemes, and banter will have you howling with laughter one minute, and feeling a lump in your throat the next thanks to his tragic origin and his antagonistic but loving relationship with tree-monster Groot.
Rocket’s best scene in the film is a drunken, emotional breakdown in the second act where he’s ready to blow holes in several of our heroes because he’s sick to death of everyone constantly referring to him as “vermin,” or a “rodent.” Though brash and gruff, Rocket is deeply vulnerable and shows perhaps the most humanity out of the entire ensemble during this gut-wrenching moment. He desperately wants to be considered a being of worth in the galaxy, and not just thought of as a stitched-together science experiment. His bounty-hunting partner Groot, meanwhile, has almost the same level of scene-stealing prowess – and that’s just with three words at his disposal! Vin Diesel expertly manages to coax a full range of emotion out of “I AM GROOT,” via various inflections and impeccable timing.
If Chris Pratt was on the verge of superstardom after his lengthy tenure as amicable dunderhead Andy on Parks & Rec, and convincing turns in dramas like Zero Dark Thirty, he’s certainly past the horizon and soaring now. His Peter Quill/Star Lord is ostensibly what would happen if that goofy, but loveable jock from your high school got his DNA combined with Han Solo and Indiana Jones’, with a dash of Jack Burton’s thrown in to spice things up. Pratt oozes effortless charm and wide-eyed affability; he’s a delightful rogue and the best thing about him is that, in a universe filled with ancient power, untold mysteries, and cosmic riches, his most prized possession is a mix tape of ’70s pop classics. It’s his only remaining connection to Earth and to his Mother, who appears in a pre-credits scene that can contend with Pixar’s Up for the most teardrop-inducing.
The gang is rounded out by Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, a green-skinned interstellar assassin and daughter of mega-baddie Thanos (who shows up briefly in an Emperor Palaptine from Empire Strikes Back-like capacity). Initially, she works with the Darth Vader surrogate, Ronan the Accuser, but turns on him because she wants to get her hands on the Macguffin—in this case, an all-powerful orb stolen by Star Lord in the opening sequence—so she can sell it and break away from his control. Saldana is in full-on badass mode here, and as a result, comes off a bit one-dimensional, but she’s still a better female character than almost anyone else in cineplexes this summer. Wrestler Dave Batista delivers his dialogue as stiffly as you’d imagine, but because his character Drax is devoid of a sarcasm detector and takes everything literally, it works in its own bizarre way. He often comes across as a roided-up, green-skinned, heavily tattooed Spock, without the super-intelligence, of course.
Lee Pace’s Ronan, while underwritten, is still a terrifying and ruthlessly driven villain. We don’t know much about him other than his fanatical desire to annihilate a planet called Xandar (the reason isn’t particularly important), and that he needs to obtain the orb for his boss Thanos in order to accomplish this task, but Pace imbues the character with plenty of menace and the zealotry shines through. A bald, blue-painted Karen Gillen, and an intense Djimon Hounsou fill out the villain crew; they don’t get a whole lot to do—Gillan seems to be there solely to give Gamora someone to battle, Hounsou is just an pit bull—but they add some spark and texture to the universe Gunn has created.
James Gunn isn’t the most technically masterful director around—some of his takes are sloppy and shots are awkwardly framed here and there—but he more than makes up for it by injecting every minute of the running time with soul, wit, and imagination. Guardians Of The Galaxy has spectacle in spades, but it also has heart and guts. The premise is basic, but it’s instantly compelling and makes for one hell of a ride. It also features some of the best sci-fi design in ages – the ships are fantastic, from the neo-gothic hammerhead of Ronan’s ship the Dark Aster, to the sleek tails and fins of Star Lord’s Ravager vessel The Milano, to the star-shaped gold and blue starfighters of the Xandarian Nova Corps. This is a colorful, vast, and wondrous galaxy for the heroes to guard.
One of the things I really loved about Guardians was its inventive combat situations. A lot of space opera action sequences devolve into a maelstrom of laser fire that’s nice to look at, but can get repetitive and well, old pretty damn fast. Many of the guns—like the comically large arsenal Rocket utilizes— fire machinegun-like projectiles instead laser bolts; while Ronan’s evil Kree “Necro Craft” shoots eerie, ring-like “Necro Blasts.” At one point, Rocket and Star Lord are piloting weaponless mining pods with stubby mechanical arms, and rather than engaging the enemy ships pursuing them in another rote, pew-pew-pew space dogfight, Star Lord simply suggests they use the industrial-strength pods to plow right into (and through) the more fragile Necro craft. (Star Lord even rips the top off of an enemy ship and uses the pod arms to control it!) Later, thousands of sunburst-shaped Nova Corps starfighters link together and project an energy blanket of sorts over the Dark Aster to prevent Ronan from touching down on the planet’s surface and unleashing the Orb. And I haven’t even mentioned Yondu’s (a typically batshit crazy Michael Rooker) whistle-powered, bow-less death arrow. Pure awesome. It’s attention to detail like this that separates Guardians from the routine space junk floating listlessly across the pop culture universe.
And while Guardians borrows its style, situations, and many tropes from nearly every star-faring fantasy that preceded it, the movie never feels stale and doesn’t lapse into predictability or cliché. For instance, early on during the film’s Raiders Of The Lost Ark homage where Star Lord is attempting his theft of the Orb, he throws a small metal device on the ground that opens up and creates a contained gravitational field that sucks anything nearby onto it and keeps it there until it’s deactivated. In most films this is an obvious, telegraphed plot device which will figure into the climax; however, here it’s never seen again and the resolution to the narrative is achieved through teamwork and a touching callback to the film’s devastating opening scenes.
I can’t say that Guardians Of The Galaxy is Marvel Studios best offering, but it is without a doubt the funniest and perhaps the most wildly entertaining of their ambitious and cohesive oeuvre. It’s a propulsive blast of sci-fi fun, set in a breathtaking, wholly immersive universe, populated by dynamic, likeable characters who are easy to root for. It’s easily the best movie of the summer, and a joyous experience for any sci-fi/adventure fan, regardless if your first experience with the genre was a Buck Rogers comic or a Star Wars prequel.
4.5 stars out of 5.