Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel tosses the dice with Guardians of the Galaxy and hits the jackpot.

It goes without saying that Marvel’s film properties have been a huge success. Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One accomplished the unthinkable: five great superhero films that shared the same universe that culminated into a live action Avengers dream team film.  With Phase Two, Marvel executive and producer Kevin Fiege is pushing the boundaries of cinematic possibility by expanding the Marvel film universe further in order to incorporate the Mad Titan Thanos and his quest to acquire the Infinity Gems. Thanos is a much bigger villain than Loki and a whole new set of movies are being made to introduce him as the next adversary. This insurmountable threat may be too much for Earth’s mightiest heroes and necessitates the introduction of new cosmic characters to help them out.

In the grand scheme of things, Guardians of the Galaxy is a gamble. Ask any person on the street and no doubt they’ll have heard of Iron Man, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk. But Peter Quill? Rocket Raccoon and Groot, a talking tree? Hell, I didn’t know these characters existed until Marvel released the first trailer for the movie. With no familiar faces for mainstream audiences, Peter Gunn and Nicole Perlman have to sell these characters harder than any other Marvel property. And they do so by breathing life and personality into a film that shares a strong resemblance to Joss Whedon’s Firefly. I saw Guardians of the Galaxy and had a magnificent time.

After a brief introduction on Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy firmly plants itself within a galaxy far, far away. Peter Quill is a cocky and rather juvenile (making Chris Pratt an obvious casting choice) space pirate who scours the ruins of some forgotten civilization for a mysterious artifact all the while listening to a mix tape of songs from the 1970s. Armed with various tricks of the trade, Quill – “Star Lord” – is caught in the middle of an intergalactic conflict between the warring Krell, led by the fanatical Ronan, and the peaceful inhabitants of the planet Xandar. With the orb in his possession, Quill becomes the target of Gamora, Thanos’ adopted daughter and assassin, and the unlikely duo of Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon, and the Wookiee-like tree creature Groot. Quill, Rocket, Groot and Gamora are caught and jailed by the Nova Corps but manage to escape, picking up the angry and vengeful Drax who suffers from the death of his wife and daughter at Ronan’s hands. Proving that money can buy alliances, the group heads to Knowhere, the wreckage of a massive celestial being, to sell the orb to The Collector (Benecio Del Toro reprises his cameo from Thor: The Dark World) and reveals that the orb contains an Infinity Gem, a stone of unimaginable power. With the stakes so significantly raised, Quill and his Guardians will set their personal grievances aside to defeat Ronan and protect the Infinity Gem from evil.

One thing I noticed about Guardians of the Galaxy was its similarity to The Avengers in terms of structure. Act One is introduces and brings the heroes together, Act Two shows them defeated and at their absolutely lowest point, and Act Three has them working together and through teamwork, they save the day. The films are almost interchangeable and as a result, it doesn’t feel like something I haven’t already seen. The familiarity doesn’t ruin the movie because the characters are what make it so entertaining. Perlman has given the Guardians a great sense of character and personality which makes them a lot of fun together. The Guardians of the Galaxy are not space faring analogs of the Avengers, though Quill does tend to behave in a manner similar to Tony Stark but without his Billionaire Playboy Philanthropist trappings. The green-skinned Gamora plays the role of the fierce, independent huntress and feels removed from the plucky girl sidekick character tyhpe. Her role in the group is vital, more than Black Widow’s in The Avengers, because her connection to Thanos makes her existence far more important in the fight against Thanos. She understands him better than anyone else. I grew a bit wary of Drax acting as comic relief by being the butt of the jokes. As a tortured soul, he speaks in a grand, “might makes right” manner of speech. So focused is his quest for revenge that he has no time to understand metaphors, responding to Quill’s throat-slitting hand gesture literally: “Why would I touch his neck?” He gets a bit more palatable by the end of the film but his characterization and dialog make it seem like Perlman ran out of ideas. Speaking personally, the real stars of the movie were Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Channeling The Iron Giant, Vin Diesel gives so much life to a character that can only say, “I am Groot.” Given his limited vocabulary, there’s a Pixar-level of attention paid to the creature’s facial expression, letting his smile, frown and puppy dog eyes help him emote. Groot plays the Straight man to the excitable and hyperviolent Rocket, a lovable furry fuzzball who has an equal love for money and guns. There are so many examples that showcase his hilarious desire for violence and sometimes twisted sense of humor, but the best moment has to be during a chase scene involving Ronan’s forces in Knowhere. When Rocket realizes his small mining craft can rip through the Krell ships, I laughed and laughed as veered off and smashed his ship right through the Krell without so much as a care.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a very pretty film and as a sci-fi adventure, it goes for broke. Massive ships, futuristic technology, unique wardrobes, aliens, epic ship to ship combat – Guardians has it all. The special effects are quite dazzling, especially during the ship battle in the skies of Xandar during the movie’s final act. The film’s much talked about soundtrack utilizes hits from the 197os from David Bowie to The Jackson Five and works surprisingly well. I purchased the soundtrack before seeing the movie and I was on the edge of my seat trying to figure out how on earth this style of music could have a comfortable home in the movie. It is truly a wonderful treat for the ears.

Guardians of the Galaxy was a gamble but as far as I’m concerned, it has paid off beautifully. Sitting through the credits, I was left wanting so much more. I want to see more adventures with these characters. Marvel should should seriously consider a television series in between films. With the right people, it could very much have the potential to be the next Firefly. I am chomping at the bits to see the Guardians team up with The Avengers to battle Thanos mostly because I want to see the Earthbound heroes react to Marvel’s cosmic team up.

As with all Marvel films (and you really should know this by now), stick around for the post-credit tag. It doesn’t offer hints like the Phase 1 films did, but it serves as a hilarious wink and nod to Marvel readers familiar with a certain talking waterfowl.

 

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