Directed by James Gunn
Written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
The immense success of Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been somewhat of a miracle these past six years, considering the properties they brought to the screen and the directors they chose for the job. Back in early 1998, no one knew what to expect from an Iron Man movie directed by the guy from Swingers, and yet its artistic and commercial success paved the way for an incredible string of well-received comic book adaptations. Given Marvel’s current status as a cinematic powerhouse, some would have thought they wouldn’t take as many chances and stick to what works, and while they have focused mainly on sequels featuring well-known characters, they have shown with their newest film Guardians of the Galaxy that they are not afraid to open up the MCU to include even more worlds and characters that the general moviegoing public have even less prior knowlege of. An even more daring choice was in hiring Troma alumni James Gunn, best known for the cult horror comedy Slither and the wonderfully subversive superhero satire Super, to bring these five interstellar misfits to the big screen. The end product stands out as both an excellent addition to the MCU and a perfect showcase of Gunn’s filmmaking talents for the multiplex crowd.
Instead of wasting valuable screen time in explaining the backstories of its eccentric cast of characters, Guardians has enough faith in its material to drop the viewer right into the action, with only the main protagonist Peter Quill, aka Starlord (Peter Quill) being given an origin story of sorts in the film’s effective and unexpectedly emotional opening sequence. From there, the viewer is plunged right into the main plot, which involves Starlord’s theft of a mysterious and potentially deadly orb and his efforts to unload it while evading his former mentor Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and a number of mercenaries on his trail, including a deadly green woman named Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the team of Rocket and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively). Quill’s first encounter with the latter three beings land them all in a prison colony run by the government of Xandar, their hilarious attempt at a prison break adds another member to their ramshackle group, a large tattooed being named Drax (Dave Bootista…oops, I mean Bautista), who is out to avenge the death of his family at the hands of the insane Kree terrorist Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), whom Gamora is revealed to be associated with earlier in the film. Gamora, the adopted daughter of the mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), is planning to betray both Ronan and her father by selling the artifact to a seemingly harmless party in The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), and all five of them eventually band together to keep it out of Ronan’s clutches.
Gunn’s anarchic style and sly sense of humor brings the space-faring team of outlaws to the big screen in a film that hearkens back to the action-adventure blockbusters of the early to mid-Eighties. The plot structure is comparable to the original Star Wars, with many plot elements loosely borrowed from that seminal Summer blockbuster, and the scene that introduces the full-grown Starlord is reminiscent of the first sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s even a little bit of Pulp Fiction thrown in there in a scene in which Pratt risks being recaptured by the Xandarian guards in an attempt to reclaim his beloved Walkman, one of the last remaining remnants of his home planet. Each member of the Guardians is perfectly brought to life and contribute their own brand of humor to the group, such as Drax’s inability to grasp sarcasm and metaphor, Groot’s unwavering optimism, and Rocket’s endearing wisecracks. Gamora is more or less the “straight woman” of the group but also shows a great deal of warmth and humanity, so to speak. In a movie chock-full of CGI special effects and impressive action set pieces, the chemistry of the group as a whole provides the film with a great deal of heart and endears the viewer to each and every member.
The only real flaw to Guardians of the Galaxy is in Lee Pace’s portrayal of the main villain, Ronan the Accuser. Amidst all the wackiness in the script, Ronan is portrayed as a straight comic-book villain, which clashes a bit with the overall mood. A much more interesting antagonist is Thanos’ other daughter Nebula (a practically unrecognizable Karen Gillan), who is given much more motivation and depth of character by Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman via her sibling rivalry with Gamora and utter hatred of her father. Her inclusion helps to redeem the “villain scenes” which otherwise would have been flat and boring compared to the sequences focusing on the Guardians. Michael Rooker’s joyously droll performance as Yondu also helps to lighten up the mood of the film while at the same time projecting a legitimate aura of menace. With all these elements in place, Guardians of the Galaxy succeeds enormously as an old-fashioned space adventure that features immensely likeable but still edgy characters. Their interactions are so enjoyable that the viewer is easily able to cast aside many aspects of the plot that make little to no sense. When a movie is this fun, we are much more forgiving and able to suspend our disbelief just a bit more than usual.
Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another shining example of how much faith Marvel gives to the creative minds in control of bringing their comic book properties to life. The announcement that Guardians has already been granted a sequel again proves how much faith Marvel has in James Gunn’s vision for this formerly obscure property, and as the movie shows, it’s truly in the right hands. Even with the loss of Edgar Wright from next year’s Ant-Man, the goodwill that Marvel Studios has earned from their films thus far has audiences optimistic that the film will still be worth seeing in the hands of the much less beloved Peyton Reed. If Ant-Man is half as fun and substantial as Guardians of the Galaxy, we’re sure to be in for another surprise treat in 2015. Guardians of the Galaxy earns 4.5 out of 5 Rejected Dance-Offs.