Let’s just get this out of the way: Guardians of the Galaxy is unquestionably an insanely entertaining sci-fi adventure that boasts a great ensemble cast, a screenplay with unexpected heart that balances a dense story and stunning visual effects which allow it to comfortably sit next to Star Wars in the grand space epic sandbox.
Marvel Studios took a huge risk by going off their established ranch with a big screen version of this obscure property centered on a group of intergalactic outlaws who mean little to anyone outside of Comic-Con’s Hall H. There has been no shortage of online back and forth in regards to taking such a large side step from the Marvel comfort zone. Well the gamble paid off big time and what makes Guardians even more impressive is that it plays equally well to the fans of Marvel’s grand cinematic story arc (that began with 2008’s Iron Man) as it does to casual moviegoers who enjoy space epics.
Director James Gunn (who co-wrote the winning screenplay with Nicole Perlman) outdoes himself in delivering a swashbuckling ride that rocks a unique soundtrack of hit ’70s tunes and a unexpected tone that successfully plays with its tongue loosely in its cheek.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, knocking it out of the ballpark in this breakout lead role) gathers a ragtag team of self-described losers (as in all who have lost something) who reluctantly step up to the plate into the saving the galaxy business from the evil Ronan The Accusuer (Lee Pace). Quill was kidnapped from Earth 25 years earlier and fancies himself to be addressed as Star-Lord as he lives his carefree days as a space scavenger. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a green skinned assassin and daughter of the Mad Titan know as Thanos (remember that smirking purple alien in the credits scene in The Avengers?). Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) the a wise cracking gun-toting genetically modified raccoon is also a tech whiz and suffered torture early on in his life at the hands of his creators. The sentient giant tree creature Groot, mostly a gentle giant, can only can say “I am Groot” in English (in the voice of Vin Diesel no less) and Drax the Destroyer (WWE star Dave Bautista) is a killing machine out to avenge the death of his family by Ronan.
Quill finds himself on the run with a large bounty in his head when he unearths a mysterious orb that harbors incredible power. Ronan is tasked by Thanos to retrieve it and loans out his deadly adopted daughters Gamora (Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) to help. But Ronan has his own plans to use it as a way to end a shaky peace treaty between his race, the Kree, and the people of Xandar, home of the Nova Corps. This is all fits into the larger Marvel universe scheme and the consequences will factor in down the line in future movies, but Gunn manages to make this loaded plot work all on its own as an accessible story that’s easy jump into.
After the future Guardians of the Galaxy find themselves working together to escape from The Klyn, a brutal prison floating in space, they put their differences aside to pursue their own interests in the quest to defeat Ronan’s evil scheme. The orb not only can guarantee the Kree zealot victory, but factors into a familiar comic lore story arc that involves Thanos’ quest for ultimate power.
From the first scene in the movie that shows Quill as a child in the ’80s at the deathbed of his mother, to the welcome collection of songs he listens to on his Sony Walkman (one of his precious mementos that was with him when he was taken from Earth), to the common bond he finds among his fellow Guardians, the film boasts an abundance of unexpected heart. Each of the heroes have a purpose resulting from their back story which adds a layer of soul to the film.
That’s not to say there isn’t enough physical shenanigans and winning one-liners from Quill and Rocket Raccoon to lighten up even the most serious of sequences. The off beat tone and random pop culture references certainly separate GoTG from what you may expect at any given moment. I honestly found myself enjoying the all the clever quips and laughing the whole way through the film.
The lavish visual effects and production design are damn impressive. Guardians looks like a big event film as much as it is an event film. In the best way possible, the film owes as much to Star Wars as it does to Serenity, with its solid ensemble cast, a collection of aliens and star ships of all shapes and sizes, dog-fight inspired space battles, exotic planets, and a cocky leading man from the Han Solo and Captain Mal school of sci-fi scoundrels.
The main villains provide great opposition against the rather large cast of good guys. Lee Pace is effectively menacing as Ronan and the nearly unrecognizable Karen Gillan as Nebula makes a memorable deadly warrior. The impressive supporting cast includes Glenn Close as Nova Prime, John C. Reilly as Romann Dey, Michael Rooker as Yondu, Benicio del Tor as The Collector and Djimon Hounsou as Korath. There are of course numerous Easter Eggs for the Marvel loyalists, but much of what may seem like minor background plot points promise to pay off tremendously in future Marvel films.
Guardians of the Galaxy is that too rare a tent pole film that boasts substance and spectacle, and entertains on numerous levels. It’s also an absolute blast to behold in IMAX 3D. The film is another gem in Marvel’s crown, even serving as a subtle side step in the grand plan of all things Marvel and not waving a flag as an overt pep rally for the inevitable Avengers 3 cross-over. Gunn’s winning motley crew of intergalactic misfits treat us to an immensely bold take on the too often disappointing space fare. Gunn not only gets the genre, he gets it right. It’s appropriate the stunning achievement that this unique film is reflects the film’s message that even when the odds aren’t on their side, don’t ever bet against the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy hits theaters in 2D and 3D on August 1st.
REVIEW RATING: ★★★½★★
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Glenn Close
Screenwriter: James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Studio: Disney / Marvel Studios
Running Time: 122 minutes