Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
Check out Chris Bumbray's video review HERE!
PLOT: In the furthest reaches of the cosmos, a disparate band of misfits put aside their differences in order to save the galaxy from a villainous warlord bent on controlling the universe.
REVIEW: The coolest thing about GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is that it feels like it has nothing to lose. Here's a gigantic outer space epic, presumably costing north of $150 million, produced by the biggest movie studio going - a studio on a roll that can't afford a misstep. There's a lot on the line, but don't tell that to the Guardians, or to James Gunn, the madman hired by the studio against all odds to deliver this quirky, subversive comic book movie to the masses. Much like his protagonists, Gunn recognizes the pressure but doesn't sweat it. He has a cocksure attitude and laughs in the face of danger. A great man once said, "Never tell me the odds," and you know those words have echoed inside Gunn's head before and during the making of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.
The movie is terrific. It's funny, it's sweet, it's exciting, it feels fresh and familiar all at once. In some ways it has all the trappings of a schlocky 80s-era direct-to-video sci-fi flick, but it wears its heart on its sleeve, places tongue firmly in cheek, and never once gives up trying to "wow" us. It comes at a time when comic book movies are incredibly familiar; even the best ones have started to resemble one another. (Those bleak and tragic DARK KNIGHT movies aside.) GUARDIANS is off in its own world, doing its own thing, and it has the advantage of catching the audience with its guard down because most of them will have never even heard of the central characters. I really admire the way Marvel has built its movie universe, but there's absolutely no doubt GUARDIANS is so refreshing in the way it pushes most of the mythology aside and exists on its own. Yes, there are elements that tie into the past Marvel pictures, and it plants seeds for the future, but anyone can walk into GUARDIANS blind and have an absolute blast. Guaranteed or your money back.
The story combines plenty of well-worn elements from a host of different genres; while it's predominantly sci-fi, GUARDIANS is also a fantasy, a film noir, a western, a screwball comedy, an escape picture... and more. Remind you of another franchise set in the stars? It's bold to compare this to STAR WARS, but the comparison is served on a silver platter by Gunn and company, because why not? Why not aim for the highest possible target? GUARDIANS is self-aware and sardonic in a way that STAR WARS isn't, but both owe tremendous debts to the many movies that got them to where they are. GUARDIANS just doesn't mind saying it right to your face.
So there's the dashing anti-hero Peter Quill (the fantastic Chris Pratt; a star is born), who's basically out for himself and whatever will put money in his pockets. There's a sexy/deadly female warrior named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who couldn't be less interested in the hero until she is. There's the brooding tough guy, Drax (Dave Bautista), seeking vengeance against the villain who killed his family. We've got two sidekicks, one a wise-cracker - a raccoon named Rocket with the voice of Bradley Cooper - one a loyal gentle giant named Groot - who happens to be a tree (with the voice of Vin Diesel). All archetypes of characters we've seen before, yet Gunn and screenwriter Nicole Perlman (and let's not forget original comic creators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) fill them with enough vivid life and personality that we're wholly invested in each of their plights, hence they never feel anything but new. A smack-talking raccoon with a penchant for flying off the handle could be a funny visual and no more, but in GUARDIANS the character is actually given layers - like a lot of tiny tough guys, he's carrying around an ample amount of self-loathing - and we quickly forget about the charming visual effect and become sympathetic toward the character. Ditto for Groot, who is so lovable you want one of your own ASAP.
The gang is thrown together in an intergalactic prison at serious odds with one another. Rocket and Groot are attempting to kidnap Quill for a bounty, while Quill and Gamora have their eyes on a priceless, and destructive, orb and will presumably fight each other to the death to get it. Drax has a grudge against Gamora because he thinks she aided in the killing of his family, as she's supposedly the daughter of the evil Thanos, who lords over this tale - and the whole Marvel franchise - like a God growing ever less patient. But low and behold, if they can work together to escape the prison and defeat their common enemies, they might just be able to set aside their differences and become.. friends?
The plot is almost beside the point here. The orb is a classic MacGuffin, and Gunn doesn't let an opportunity to mention "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Ark of the Covenant" go by. The villain, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) is a more or less standard-issue megalomaniac looking to destroy worlds and control the universe, while also having to cower in front of the great Thanos, who is the real threat. Whereas the last Marvel film, the splendid CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, hung its hat on its complex plotting and deft twists, the tale the Guardians engage in is just a way to get our heroes from crazy situation to crazy situation, letting the characters be the focal point. And as the stakes are raised, the closer their bond becomes; it's a literal joy to watch these losers (Quill's words) find value in each other's company. By the time they're risking their own lives for their comrades, you're downright touched. (As snarky as the movie's attitude can be, it can be just as sincere in a pinch.)
Enough can't be said about the perfect cast Gunn has assembled. Pratt is just great, and while Quill is clearly equal parts Han Solo and Mal Reynolds, he's also his own person, with a somber yet simple backstory that informs everything he does. Saldana continues to build an impressive resume of take-no-shit women, and her Gamora is maybe the most impressive creation yet. Cooper can, of course, be counted on to liven up any situation - even if it's just his voice we're hearing - and Diesel reminds us of his heart-wrenching voice-over performance as THE IRON GIANT with the equally warm and cuddly Groot. (He only says three words, "I am Groot," but the range of emotions employed is impressive.) The real surprise is Bautista, heretofore simply a wrestler doing bit parts in movies, now a compelling screen presence capable of selling sadness, drunken enthusiasm, diligent honor and even subtle comedy. Drax might fly under the radar a bit, but he turns out to be a great character, and that's thanks to a great effort by Bautista.
Not to be forgotten are a few stand-out supporting turns; Gunn favorite Michael Rooker is essentially playing an intergalactic version of his "Walking Dead" character as a bandit out for Quill's neck, but everyone loves Rooker and he's just right. John C. Reilly and Glenn Close are clearly having fun as two officers of Nova Corps; basically the space cops out to save the galaxy before the Guardians can muck things up. And Benicio del Toro cameos as an eccentric collector of bizarre items from different parts of the universe; it's almost too short of an appearance considering all the fun hinted at, but this movie has enough nutty things going on that it can afford to use del Toro as a bench player. That's saying something right there.
Oh, the soundtrack! Cannot forget the soundtrack. Gunn has compiled the most foot-tapping, head-bopping melange of tunes this side of a Quentin Tarantino movie. They're all a bit out of place with the fantastical insanity going on, yet they work in perfect harmony with them. If you're not smiling as Quill busts a move to "O-o-h Child" in a climactic scene, you have no soul at all.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is the best movie of the summer, the most purely enjoyable movie Marvel has made, and a triumph of out-of-the-box thinking and giddy imagination. I enjoyed the hell out of every second of it, and you will too.
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