Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guardians of the galaxy

Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel
MPAA: PG-13

3 Stars

I’m getting tired of comic book movies. It’s just that so many of them them tend to follow a specific pattern, the “Marvel” formula, if you will, and are becoming more and more unsurprising with every next inevitable installment.  Bad guys want something, good guys try to stop them.  Bad guys get the thing, good guys stop them.  Cue credits, a sequel, and a spin-off.

I want to say that Guardians of the Galaxy is an exception to this trend, and in many ways it is.  For starters, it’s the funniest Marvel movie to date.  The jokes come at you in rapid succession, some of them so humorous that you may find yourself laughing at specific ones well onto the next (sometimes unrelated) scene.  The setting is also a breath of fresh air.  Instead of taking the generic “big city stomping” approach found in many summer blockbusters, Guardians risks geographic relatability by placing all the action in another galaxy where standard Earth rules don’t always apply.  It wears its space-opera badge with pride, taking more cues from Star Wars than any other film in recent memory.

Something else to praise: the casting is fantastic.  Let’s be honest here, who would have thought that the goofy guy from Parks and Recreation would be able to carry a tentpole summer flick?  Chris Pratt defies the odds as Peter Quill, a wise-cracking, self-proclaimed intergalactic outlaw known–usually only to himself–as Star Lord.  He’s introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy as an Earth child in denial, refusing to take his dying mothers hand before getting abducted by an alien spacecraft.  The beginning sequence is strangely poignant, one of the few moments in this film where humor takes a backseat to emotional heft.

Director and co-writer James Gunn wastes no time getting to the good stuff, though, and quickly takes the audience 20-odd years into the future, where an adult Quill is attempting to steal a mysterious orb for an equally mysterious buyer.  Things don’t go as planned–do they ever?–and he winds up in prison thanks to the meddling of a green skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and a walking tree known as Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).  Since they all have a stake in retrieving the orb, this unlikely bunch teams up and attempts to escape, but not before befriending Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a warrior seeking vengeance for his murdered family.

If this all sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is.  But hey, nobody has ever accused a Marvel film of prodding in reality.  It has all the makings of an amazingly bad sci-fi movie, but Gunn treats the material here in a manner very similar to that of Slither, his 2006 B-movie take on a gooey alien invasion.  Like Slither before it, Guardians of the Galaxy is pure nonsense at it’s core, but it delivers the goods with a wink and tongues firmly planted in everyones cheek.

This isn’t to suggest that Guardians is a spoof.  Though the film appears to be self aware at times, it never dives into parodic territory, and everyone plays it straight.  Saldana is predictably great–as comfortable in green skin as she was in blue.  She has a knack for this sci-fi heroine thing.  Bautista’s portrayal of the literal minded Drax is also spot-on.  Sure, he treats almost every line of dialogue as if it were a Wrestlemania event, but it’s just one of those things that contextually works.  And what about the talking raccoon and the walking tree man?  Happy to report that they’re absolutely scene stealers.  Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon is a foul-mouthed wonder, written so well that you’ll forget he’s essentially a rodent with a trigger-finger, and Groot is by and large one of Vin Diesel’s best roles–second only to the The Iron Giant (where he had even less to say).

Alas, Guardians of the Galaxy is not without fault.  Despite excellent casting–and an equally excellent soundtrack made up completely from a mixtape left to Quill by his late mother–it falters in the narrative department.  This could be due to the very nature of the film–the plot exists to to keep the humor coming, not vice versa–but this doesn’t excuse the inclusion of totally lame villains, who are oddly never in on the joke.  With the exception of Thor’s Loki, this is a problem that plagues many a Marvel Studios production.  Oddly enough, most “non-Marvel” Marvel films don’t have this issue–see Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and any given X-Men movie as proof.  What’s it going to take for these guys to introduce antagonists that we give two craps about?

Case and point: Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).  I get it, he wants “power” and all that, but why?  It’s hinted that he is a religious radical of sorts, but hints aren’t enough to gain the empathy of those unfamiliar with the source material.  Pace does what he can with this humorless part, while Josh Brolin is completely wasted during his tenure as Thanos, a big-bad warlord with barely any screen-time.  We’ll probably be getting more of him in the future, but as it stands, there’s not much to say except that he’s got one burly chin.  Seriously, Jay Leno has nothing on this guy.

By the end, I left the movie theater smiling, but caring very little as to how the events in Guardians of the Galaxy relate to the over-encompassing Marvel film universe canon.  As an ensemble comedy, it’s brilliant.  As an action-adventure, it’s bogged down by a simplistic plot made overly complex due to nonsensical exposition.  Regardless of this, Guardians is a highly enjoyable film that does a fine job introducing new characters into an already-crammed playing field.

And that post-credit sequence–well, let’s just save that for a later date.  Nothing will come out of it anyway, as it was likely just a joke.  A terrifying joke, but a joke, nonetheless.


Guardians of the Galaxy Theatrical Trailer

 

 

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