GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Review by: Christopher Haskell
August 5, 2014
Marvel wins again with their biggest gamble to date, “Guardians Of The Galaxy”. Taking an almost unknown comic book team and giving them their own film without any precursor does not scream general audiences. Add in a talking raccoon and a walking tree as two of the main characters, and on paper, “Guardians” does not sound like a moneymaking machine. Not to mention, the world of “Guardians” only loosely runs alongside the Marvel’s shared universe, with no real connections to the previous films besides the existence of the infinity stones and a distant foe in Thanos that was only briefly touched on in the finale of “The Avengers”. But director James Gunn rises to the occasion and finds a way to make this original universe and these unique characters the driving force of the film.
Not quite the space Western I was hoping for, the characters and their adventures are still refreshing and give Marvel their own unique iteration of “Star Wars”. Chris Pratt is unrecognizable in the role of Peter Quill aka Star Lord, leaving his old “Parks and Recreations” persona behind him and becoming a completely capable, although often flawed, leader. Basically the Han Solo of the group, Star Lord was abducted from Earth by bounty hunters called Ravagers when he was a boy and raised to lie, cheat, and steal. Piloting his own ship, Quill finds himself to be the first in possession of a metallic orb, which several groups are after including his employer Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) and the rest of the Ravagers, the villain Ronan The Accuser, played by the unrecognizable Lee Pace, and also Ronan’s cohorts Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). With a bounty on Quill’s head, Rocket the raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot the tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) also become intertwined, eventually getting themselves, Quill, and Gamora thrown into a high security prison alongside the monstrous Drax The Destroyer (Dave Baustista), a warrior with a personal vendetta against Ronan and all those who follow him, including Gamora. Even Glenn Close and John C. Reilly find themselves in the middle of the struggle for the orb, as part of the Nova Corps military group, inhabits of the planet Xandar in which Ronan plans to decimate.
With such a strange cast of characters, it is astonishing that the group jives together so well. The lovely Zoe Saldana plays the green Gamora and paired with some amazing costumes, it is impossible to take your eyes off of her every time she graces the screen. Providing the perfect love interest for Quill, the chemistry between the two is undeniable and despite Saldana’s work in the similar space odyssey “Star Trek”, she delivers a completely separate and reinvigorated performance in “Guardians”. Bradley Cooper’s vocal performance as Rocket combined with some impressive visual effects in bringing a raccoon to life, also produces one of the most unique characters in any film to date. The relationship Rocket has with Groot zeroes in on the film’s distinct humor and heartwarming nature, providing the true Han Solo-Chewbacca pairing. Despite his lack of dialogue, Groot also supplies plenty of humor and emotion through just his facial expressions alone. Finishing out the group is Drax, who supplies the muscle needed to give them an edge over their competition and whose literal take on everything carries its own form of comedy. By the end of the film, all their differences together are what makes them such the perfect team, making their changes of heart and eventual understanding of each other that much more powerful along the way.
As much as I loved “Guardians”, it does rely on its comedy way too much, which is a growing fear I have for all future Marvel films. With punchline after punchline, it becomes more of a comedy than an action, sci-fi film, and for that it loses me at times. I understand this to be a nod to the comic books, which were cheesy and comical in their own right, but this often does not translate for me on screen and takes me out of the moment. That being said, James Gunn’s humor shines through and for every joke that falls short there are plenty that land perfectly. One element that continuously lands home throughout the film is the soundtrack, which is comprised of mostly eighties tunes that directly tie to the narrative, as Quill carries with him a portable cassette deck and headphones for the entire film. Creating different moods with different songs, the overall tone would have drastically changed without this retro quality. Giving way to the action adventure score during fight sequences and epic moments, however, is a necessity of any large production and Gunn balances the two forms of music perfectly.
Ideally, “Guardians Of The Galaxy” would have resonated emotionally stronger for me, but by relying on its humor too heavily, the film remains mostly surface level. James Gunn thankfully avoids the typical superhero origin story that uses the entire first film to form the characters into the heroes they will be in the next installment. Instead, he focuses on the building of their bond as a unit and lets the audience get to know the characters gradually and more so through their interact with one another. As we continue to touch on Thanos as the mega-villain in both “The Avengers” and “Guardians”, and as we come across more and more infinity stones, I grow extremely excited for the distant “Avengers 3” which will likely combine both of these worlds. But even if the worlds did not coincide, James Gunn and Marvel do succeed in creating a perfectly standalone franchise out of a group of misfits that most audiences have never even heard of.
August 1, 2014
“Guardians of the Galaxy” by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Walt Disney Pictures
(for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language)