So we are well over a week past the release of this flick, and I am just now getting around to posting a review about it. Does that mean I worked harder on this post more than any other? Sadly no. I just focused on a different project that I had been neglecting for over a year. Also I am gearing up to go back to work so I am at least happy to report that laziness isn’t the key reason this is coming in late.
2008 was a pretty crucial year for Marvel Comics. It was the year Marvel Studios launched with the first Iron Man film as well as the lesser renowned (and lower quality) Incredible Hulk. Coincidentally it was also the year the company dedicated a book to a little group of obscure cosmic Marvel characters that deemed themselves “The Guardians of the Galaxy” and was co-authored by two Marvel mainstays: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. I only found out about the group through a friend of mine who praised both the quality of the stories and colorfulness of the characters. After a lot of build up I finally gave in and read the first few issues and fell in love. It was refreshing to delve into a section of the Marvel U that I had little to no knowledge beforehand. It didn’t hurt that the characters were also so unique and lovable.
If you had told me in 2008 that eventually we would get to a point where a multi-million dollar film would eventually spin out of this obscure series, my reaction would have been as follows….
Now it appears that the joke is on me.
I say all of this to not only highlight just how far Marvel Studios has come since 2008, but to give the company mad respect for taking such a risk. While The Avengers was pretty much a sure fire hit, a movie that features both a talking raccoon and a talking tree in a universe that mass audiences have never heard of isn’t. Not only that but it is written and directed by James Gunn, one of the most unique and wonderfully weird writer/directors working today. To say this movie had a lot going against it is an understatement of Hulk-sized proportions. I’m happy to report that Guardians gleefully defining expectations (other 2014 examples include The Lego Movie, The Edge of Tomorrow and The Fault in Our Stars) to become not only one of the best blockbusters of the year but possibly my favorite Marvel movie to date!
“After stealing a mysterious orb in the far reaches of outer space, human Peter Quill is now the main target of a manhunt led by the villain known as Ronan the Accuser. To help fight Ronan and his team and save the galaxy from his power, Quill creates a team known as the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ to save the world.” – IMDb
Right off the bat, I want to give a lot of props to James Gunn for making this movie work as well as it does. He isn’t a household name yet, but after this I hope his name will come up outside of film circles. For those in the know, Gunn is a very peculiar filmmaker in that his films typically have some odd elements and stray far from convention. It’s an easy guess that this stems from his time spent at Llyod Kaufman’s Troma Entertainment, the independent studio behind The Toxic Avenger and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken. Like Kaufman, Gunn traditionally keeps cast of regulars (including Michael Rooker, his brother Chris, and Nathan Fillion to name a few) and writes scripts with scenes that would have no place in a mainstream Hollywood wide-release. While he has dipped in much more conventional fare, such as his his scripts for Scooby Doo and its 2004 sequel Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed, Gunn has a penchant for the weird. Such as the scene in Super in which Ellen Page rapes Rainn Wilson for comedic effect…
Or just about all of his 2006 movie Slither…
In other words, you’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable candidate to helm a film focused on Marvel’s weirdest team. So props to Marvel for taking a chance and giving it to Gunn and thankful the writer/director didn’t drop the ball,delivering a loveably weird movie.
The opening credits, that play to the beat of “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone, features a cock-sure Chris Pratt dancing along. It’s a cocky way to open a movie with the strange aspects threatening to shadow the entire film. It’s as if Gunn and Pratt are telling us, “Calm down, everyone. We got this.”
Of course there are obviously some concessions in order to make this movie accessible to a wide audience, this movie is distinctly a James Gunn movie. One only has to look at the odd character quirks and comedy beats to notice it.
I loved just how unapologetically weird this movie is. There is minimal exposition which both helps and hurts the overall film. Let’s talk about the pros first. There are only about two scenes that I remember in which important information is discussed slowly and only one of them is close to the beginning of the film. The rest of the film we, as an audience, are just along for the ride with Gunn in the front seat. Luckily Gunn and company have created a vibrant world, unique from any other science fantansy/western hybrids that shall remain nameless. At no point do we question why every one is speaking English (and at points have southern accents) or why there are humans besides Chris Pratt in space. I credit good writing, production design and the film’s soundtrack. There has been enough praise to why the oldies mixtape soundtrack is awesome, but I think it contributes to the film not feeling cold and distant. At first it is odd to hear a song like “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 in a space opera, but hearing such a familiar song in an unfamiliar cinematic environment somehow makes this strange new world feel like home.
If Edgar Wright’s departure from Ant Man made you question Marvel’s business plan concerning individual director’s visions, this film should put those concerns to rest as this without a doubt the movie Gunn wanted to make. And if a guy like Gunn can get a movie like this made through the studio system, chances are Wright’s script must have been a tad unreasonable. (My money is on Wright wanting to be free from the Marvel continuity, and Marvel responding with a “fuck that.”)
Speaking of the world, Guardians sports absolutely gorgeous effects, sets, and practical make-up. Taking a note from the Star Wars prequels and doing the exact opposite, Gunn opts for a majority of crowd shots full of practical aliens as opposed to CGI ones. When CGI is used, it is used masterfully. Characters like Rocket Raccoon and Groot look photo realistic and rival Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in terms of motion capture performances.
Like The Avengers, this is a team movie but unlike the earlier film Guardians truly feels like a team film with no weak links to be found character wise meaning that no one on the hero side is shortchanged. The same can’t be said about the villains but I will get to that momentarily.
I’m happy to report that everyone featured on the film’s poster is phenomenal here. These are some of the best characters Marvel has put out film-wise to date. For the first time during one of these films I found myself sad that the movie was ending. I WANT to spend more time with these characters and eagerly await their return in the sequel.
Let’s go through the roster:
Burt Macklin himself, Chris Pratt, takes the lead as Han Solo meets Mal Reynolds Peter Quill aka The Star-Lord. I’ve said it before, but Pratt IS the next big actor. With his role in this he only solidifies the fact. He is able to sell both big laughs and the more dramatic moments as well. Between this and The Lego Movie, 2014 will be known as “The Year of Pratt.” Next year he will be facing off against dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park sequel, Jurassic World. With Parks and Recreation ending soon, Pratt schedule is about to open up drastically meaning that get used to seeing this face more and more in a theater near you.
Zoe Saldana continues to build herself as “the queen of the nerds” as she takes the role of super assassin, Gamora.
If I HAD to say there was a weak link, I’d point to Gamora if only for that fact of not getting to see her be the super assassin she is purported to be. She is given plenty to do, but she hasn’t proved to be the asset Scarlett Johanson’s Black Widow was to Captain America in The Winter Solider. I did appreciate her not falling for Quill’s “pelvic sorcery” by the time the credit rolled. I dislike the trend of having female superheroes always ending up with someone by the end, and Marvel has done a halfway decent job of avoiding the trend.
The biggest surprise to be found in this film by a large margin is Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer. Back when he was simply known as Batista, the guy was one of my favorite wrestlers growing up. Largely for moments like this…
That being said, wrestlers are not known for their acting abilities outside of the ring, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper excluded. Color me shocked to find Bautista being not only on-point with his comedic timing but also the most compelling character in the film. They don’t make Drax a bumbling idiot. He is actually the most well-spoken of the team. He just doesn’t get sarcasm or metaphors which is one of the funniest runners throughout the film.
Rounding out the team is the film’s two true scene stealers, who also come in the form of its weirdest participants: Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel).
These two obscure Marvel characters made a big resurgence with the 2008 comic. Now after this they are about to blow up in popularity. The film almost rides on the success of these guys. Cooper’s Rocket is a one-liner machine that could have easily been played as annoying comic relief ala Jar Jar Binks. Instead he is a character with much more weight. Yes, he is hilarious and is given some of the film’s best comedic moments, but there is also a twinge of sadness to him. We get a very brief glimpse of his origin and it takes the character from being just a wise-cracking raccoon to a guy you have a lot of empathy for. The same could be said of Rocket’s associate Groot who serves as the latter’s muscle/houseplant. Was there a better person to play this part of Vin Diesel? Between this and The Iron Giant, there is no one who can top this man as super lovable giant characters with limited vocabulary. That isn’t a shot at the guys acting, but his voice and demeanor play a big part in the success of Groot. He is extremely dangerous but most of the time he is happy just giving you a smile and a hug. Now if we could just somehow get him to meet up with Hodor from Game of Thrones.
Let’s switch over to the villainous side, and talk about the weak links in the film. Lee Pace plays Ronan the Accuser, who serves as the film’s main antagonist and he is as bland as white bread. Often we are told how evil this guy is, but we hardly ever see him do anything evil. I’m still not even sure what his motivation was beyond just attacking the Nova Corps for killing his father. There were points were I forgot he was even in the movie and whenever we cut back to him I found myself bored. It seems like quite a waste to have someone with a voice like Pace’s (which was genetically designed to be the voice of a bad guy) in a part as thankless as this one. Marvel needs to step up its game villain wise because Loki can not carry the torch forever. Ronan’s team consists of Nebula (played by former Companion and future Mrs. Tyler Talley, Karen Gillan) and Djimon Hounsou’s Korgath. Hounsou barely registers as a part in the film with all of maybe three scenes, and Gillan is the closest of all three to come to an actually interesting part. She has a past with Gamora and fingers crossed she makes a return in the sequel.
Josh Brolin’s Thanos also makes a small appearance. It’s no secret that Thanos will serve as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate bad guy when Avengers 3 rolls out in a few years so it was disappointing to get a scene in which he is not all that threatening. Maybe it would have been better to only hear him or see him in the shadows because I don’t think many audiences really care about Thanos yet. I know I am much more pumped for Ultron when he takes center stage in next year’s Age of Ultron. I will give credit to Marvel for setting up all of their MacGuffins to eventually be the ultimate MacGuffin – or MacGlovin – in the form of the Infinity Gauntlet.
Other small parts are filled by a number of familiar faces including Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, and John C. Reilly. Some argue using such big names for small rolls is a waste, but I think it is a strength when the main cast is so good. Why not have the supporting cast be strong too? Gunn also calls upon his regulars to make both crucial and small appearances. Michael Rooker plays Yondu, a Ravenger who has been refitted and tailored specifically for Rooker. Like any Michael Rooker character, you will go through the gambit of emotions towards this character concerning whether you like him or not. I am in the camp that believes that any movie could use a little Rooker in it. Be on the look out for Sean Gunn, Greg Henry, Rob Zombie, Nathan Fillion and Seth Green who all have cameos at one point or another. If you hang after the credits, you’ll catch Green’s role and if you are like me you will lose your shit.
Let’s wrap things up before I ramble…well ramble even longer. Weak villains aside, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of Marvel’s strongest cinematic outings yet leading me to place further faith in the company. Later this year we will see them take yet another risk with an equally obscure team: Big Hero 6. It’s refreshing to see a movie like this do so well box-office wise and will hopefully lead Marvel to take more risks with different genres. With Ant Man allegedly being a “heist” film, my fingers are crossed that Doctor Strange is a more in line with a truly creepy horror movie. While all these risks may not pay off, if Guardians is any indication of the talent Marvel is willing to bring into the fold, I think we can all rest easy.