‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ impresses with its maturity and continued personality

Editor’s Note: In an attempt to keep some resemblance of consistency, I’m actually getting another review out the gate faster than I thought I would. I’ve written a review for almost every Marvel movie (Thor: The Dark World and Ant Man) since Iron Man so I wanted to get this out there as quickly as I could. Actually really liking the movie didn’t hurt either. 

The first Guardians of the Galaxy is definitively my favorite of the Marvel Studios’ canon at present period. I wouldn’t say there was a single terrible movie in the batch. It mainly falls to some being much more memorable than the others, and out of all of them I’d wager Guardians is the one to beat in that regard.

My review of the first film can be found here.

Writer/director James Gunn just brought such a voice to that film movie it  transcended beyond anything the company had done up to that point. Much credit to Marvel for actually allowing the guy to down his thing albeit within the confines of their big picture. I just wish the same sort of situation could have worked out for Edgar Wright and his Ant Man movie which I would have thought to the be the one that topped Guardians but I digress.

Going into the sequel, I didn’t have much doubt I’d enjoy it particularly since Gunn was coming back along with the entire original cast. The question was whether it could actually surpass the original. Too often sequels go too big, favoring familiar rather than innovation. Luckily Gunn is a smart enough filmmaker to largely bypass some sequel (Chris) prat falls other directors do, delivering a product that may not be as good as its predecessor but comes mighty damn close in some respects.

This will be a spoiler free review, Nick.

The plot:

“Set to the backdrop of ‘Awesome Mixtape #2,’ Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the team’s adventures as they traverse the outer reaches of the cosmos. The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mysteries of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Old foes become new allies and fan-favorite characters from the classic comics will come to our heroes’ aid as the Marvel cinematic universe continues to expand.” – IMDb.com

The review: 

Thankfully that all important personality I was drowning on and on about in the preface carries over here, almost even more so. There are so many weird things I want to talk about because Gunn goes for some off-the-beaten path pulls this time around. I remember freaking out in the first film when he went so far as to include Howard the Duck (who returns briefly) near the end. Here we have Ego the Living Planet as a major character as well as shout-outs to the original Guardians of the Galaxy (led by an actor I’m surprised wasn’t included in the marketing more) and even the Watchers.

Pardon me as a scratch off yet another thing I assumed I’d NEVER see in a major motion picture.

It’s also a movie bursting to the brim with color, unafraid to embrace an entire palate rather than brood in the shadows providing yet another line-in-the-sand for Marvel against their distinguished competition over at DC.

Gunn is our sole credited writer this time out and it shows, given this movie does something almost unthinkable in relation to the sequel-dominated cinescape we find ourselves in today: rather than expanding this insane universe, Gunn brings us inward. At times, this movie is downright intimate; given that once again a talking raccoon and sentient tree are major characters, this is all the more shocking.

From the offset, Gunn shows us how these characters have changed since last we met. Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is a little less reckless, recognizing himself as the caretaker of his team’s larger-than-life personalities. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is less hardened, actually opening herself up to genuine care and affection. The same could be said of Drax (Dave Bautista), who is downright jovial this time around. Conversely, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is a much more bitter; his wise cracks sporting a sharper edge.

Also Groot (Vin Diesel) is now a baby….referred to as Baby Groot, obviously.

Oh by the way, Gunn communicates all this subtly within the first ten minutes of the film; no easy feat to be sure, particularly just how many characters I just listed without even getting to the rest of the returning cast and new recruits.

Largely focused on the idea of a family being what you make of it (much like the first film), Vol 2 splits our characters off from one another for portions of the film, partnering them up with another guardian as to allow for some further development/playing of each other in different ways. 

Think of it like the fourth season of Arrested Development only here we actually have multiple scenes of the entire family altogether.

As you may have guessed, the story kind of takes a back seat in this entry leaving a film that is much more leisurely in its pacing. The larger MCU doesn’t really factor into the events, leaving our characters to take the reigns which I actually ended up liking quite a bit. It doesn’t hurt that these are such lovable and weird characters obviously.

The cast is again uniformly outstanding. Dave Bautista’s Drax is yet again the comedic highlight and in many ways come to represent the heart of this franchise. He gets to spend some quality time with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a personal favorite of mine from the comics. Their interactions are basically everything I wanted and more, leading to some of the movie’s funniest bits.

I was kind of worried Marvel was going to lean in really hard on Baby Groot, who is obviously very adorable, but luckily he’s used effectively and more or less sparingly.

If the movie were to belong to anyone in front of the camera, it’d be Gunn mainstay Michael Rooker pictured below with a local drunk.

Rooker’s Yondu is partnered with Rocket and the two really get down to the nitty gritty as to why their characters are they way that they are, both of whom share arguably the best arcs in the entire film. Quill’s notion of “building your family around” is something that obviously stemmed from Yondu, and is explored to poignant effect here.

Rooker’s one of those character actors that is basically good in everything he appears in, which is no easy feat given the sheer scope of his body of work as a character is. Seriously go check out his IMDb page and come back. So know I’m serious when I say this may just be his best performance to date. I won’t divulge into specifics but the movie’s best beats (both comedic and dramatic) all go to him, and I feel it’s a performance we’ll all be talking about for a while. Given the guys super talented, it should come as no surprise and it’s awesome to see Gunn give his friend such a hefty role in such a huge movie. Not that he needs it, but I hope this means we’ll only see more of him in bigger films.

This film also passes the bechdel test, which is something I always like noting in major blockbusters. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, perhaps the least developed of the guardians, is given much more time with her adopted “sister” Nebula, played by my favorite companion Karen Gillan. The two share quite a few nice story beats throughout, playing once again into the whole family theme.

If anyone gets shortchanged, oddly enough it’d be Chris Pratt’s Star Lord, who is paired with his father Ego (of course he’s played by Kurt Russell). Pratt really doesn’t do a whole lot another the final act and it’s not like he’s out of commission a majority of the movie. He’s just a lot lest dynamic to the plot outside of he’s just met his apparent father. To go another further would be too spoiler-y, but even though it’s kind of late in the game, Pratt is consistently in his element here. Unlike Jurassic World or Interstellar, Pratt is the perfect quasi-level headed mantle piece for this insane galaxy to rest its shoulders. He’s an insanely charismatic everyman, unafraid to look stupid or take a joke at his expense.

So if I were to take any qualms with this one it’d be that it’s almost too easy on plotting, drifting off in some sections where some tightening could have been beneficial. This becomes increasingly apparent during the middle section where we linger on beats that drag on just a tad too long. This becomes jarring once things ramp up in the third act and we have action happening at a lighting fast rate.

The film’s soundtrack, following in the footsteps of the unlikely mega-hit that was the Awesome Mix, Vol 1, is similar to the film itself in that it is perfectly great but just not up to the exact bar of its predecessor. Their are certainly some stellar tracks put into play here though with my favorite Fleetwood Mac song of all time being the largest standout for me personally.

Although Glen Campbell’s inclusion was also a worthy of note too, particularly the ludicrously silly scene it accompanies.

To be a nitpick, I’d argue the songs in the first film “fit better” in that each and every one was obviously carefully picked one-by-one as to go specifically with each scene in which it appears. Vol. 2‘s soundtrack, while also doing this to a degree, feels just a little bit more like an oldies jukebox. There’s really nothing wrong with that. It kind of just boils down to personal preference. It comes no where near the level of ego/incompetence behind the ADD music cues in Suicide Squad, which were part showing off and part shamelessly attempting to emulate the success of the first Guardian‘s soundtrack.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether Vol. 2 a better movie than the first film; it’s a hell of a lot of fun all while being much more mature, opting not to rest solely on the past accomplishments of its predecessor to make it great. It builds on them. Think of this as the Paul’s Boutique to the first film’s License To Ill. Sure it lacks the populace appeal of the first outing as well as its conciseness, but it’s deceptively simple as it hides layers of complexity to be discussed and examined beyond its initial release.

I for one can’t wait to see this motley crew back in both Avengers 3 and the third (and presumably final) film with Gunn on writing and directing duties. Like it or not (why would you not), Gunn has carved out a whole universe for himself; largely undictated by the larger demands of the MCU and a sandbox for which he and his team may let their collective imagination run rampant.

While ultimately just “meh”, ‘Suicide Squad’ lacks the MASSIVE personality the marketing promised

Good marketing can be one hell of a double-edged sword, can’t it?

Like it can be really good and really bad of course, but doesn’t it suck when it’s REALLY good and the actually product is something else? Namely, a bad movie.

Remember the trailer for Battle:Los Angeles?

Or the trailer to just about any Zack Snyder film?

Suicide Squad isn’t what I’d consider a bad movie, but it sure as hell fell way short of the incredible time the marketing set me up for.

And I really wanted to love this movie too. The Suicide Squad is a concept I’ve loved for a fairly long time now (although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a stronger affinity for a similar DC team, the Secret Six) and longly anticipated a film version of since it’s announcement.

The Dirty Dozen with C and D-list super villains is an idea so good that it sends even the mildest of nerdy brains into a frenzy. And the marketing around this movie did an absolutely stellar job at selling that to us. Every trailer, still, spot and BTS feature sold us an insane flurry of action, comedy and general fucked-upness that promised a wholly unique comic book movie, the antithesis of DC’s earlier cinematic outing, Batman Vs Superman:Dawn of Justice, a movie so boring it dared you to stay awake.

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The plot:

“It feels good to be bad…Assemble a team of the world’s most dangerous, incarcerated Super Villains, provide them with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal, and send them off on a mission to defeat an enigmatic, insuperable entity. U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller has determined only a secretly convened group of disparate, despicable individuals with next to nothing to lose will do. However, once they realize they weren’t picked to succeed but chosen for their patent culpability when they inevitably fail, will the Suicide Squad resolve to die trying, or decide it’s every man for himself?” – IMDb.com

The review:

So yeah, I was fairly disappointed in this flick. It’s not BvS bad by any means. I was actually engaged for a good portion of this movie and even had fun more than once.

That all said though, it still suffers from a bunch of the same problems the earlier movie did.

David Ayer is a director/writer that is very hit-or-miss for me. Of his last 5 movies, I’ve only really liked one (End of Watch) with the others (including this one) ranging from bland to terrible.

I don’t even know if Ayer is really meant for blockbuster tent-poles. He’s better off doing his own thing (typically) and this film only strengthens that argument. I’m interested to see how his pairing with Max Landis with Bright pays off as both men are really, REALLY good with concepts but often seem to drop the ball in terms of actual execution.

This movie also reeks of studio tampering (which can be good at times) and lacks any real individuality that I was hoping it’d offer like Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool did before it. Anyone else getting sick of “big glowy thing in the sky must be stopped to save earth” in comic book movies? I cannot be the only one…in fact I know I’m not so I guess I was just being redundant. 

Now this could either be Ayer’s fault or the studio’s, but this movie moves a weird pace that kind of baffled me. Scenes sort of just happen when they will with little rhyme or reason. For example, the movie starts by introducing us to Deadshot and Harley already in Belle Reave, only to re-introduce as after the title now with backstory and the whole movie operates this way. You’ll be moving along when a flashback will hit you out of nowhere (much like BvS did with its overabundance of dream sequences).

So how about our cast? Well they are largely….fine…yep…just fine for the most part. See, this movie REALLY wants to have and eat its cake so bad that it through in just about anything it could so what we get is a bunch of actors fighting over control of the camera. I’d argue Captain America: Civil War had just as many characters, if not a ton more, but it had the benefit of pre-establishing a good amount of them in earlier movies. I think a better comparison would be Guardians of the Galaxy which this movie has attempted to emulate to a degree that is almost blatant.

In that movie, we not only had to deal with a bunch of new characters but an entire chunk of the MCU that’d we’d never seen before, full of weird things like talking trees and raccoons. It did an absolutely phenomenal job at bringing both of those elements to the table by establishing them in a way that almost seemed effortless. You guy the Guardians as a team by the end as we’ve come to know them and they each other.

This movie never really congeals in a way that makes later moments seamed earned. The team really doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking to one another as the movie spends a lot of time establishing them independently of another, even having some just show up right before the main mission starts.

Will Smith is fine. He’s Will Smith so he’s never allowed to go too bad which is a shame given he’s playing Deadshot. Given Deadshot is one of my favorite DC-characters, I was both elated and disappointed that Smith would be taking the role. Elated as he is a quality actor whose charisma could probably power the entire Eastern seaboard if we found a way to convert it. Disappointed as since the cast Will “I make more money than you ever will in 20 lifetimes” Smith meaning he’d almost never wear Deadshot’s iconic mask. (I think he wears it maybe twice in this which is twice as many times as I thought he would to be fair.)

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But what of Harley Quinn, you may ask. If anything, she was probably what I was most interested in seeing pulled off as it’s a character I’ve been a fan of since I’ve been a fan of the Batman mythos. She also probably has the most “controversy” around her more than any other aspect of the movie as a whole.

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In short, Harley Quinn is not the scene stealer I was hoping she’d be which is fairly disappointing given how Margot Robbie was absolutely destined to play her.

I was hoping for something akin to when Robert Downey Jr. BECAME Tony Stark. While she certainly livens up the proceedings, Robbie isn’t given too much wiggle room in the way of actual character development. She gets a fair chunk of the story dedicated to her and her backstory, sure, but a lot of that is at the behest of her love affair with the Joker, which also isn’t given room to breath either.

Now while we’re on Harley Quinn, allow me to rant for a bit…

When did people start acting as if Harley Quinn was a character in which we should look to as a beacon of feminism? Did it happen over night? It feels like it happened overnight.

She will never be a figure of female-empowerment or aspirational figure, no matter how much you wish to change the narrative. It’d actually be AGAINST her character to do otherwise. Yes, she was a brilliant psychiatrist. Yes, she is a tragic character. Yes, she is a fun character outside of her sexuality. But you know what? She can also be boiled down to a murderous groupie, who at one point even mass murdered children IN CANON.

And as sexuality has evolved so has she. Yes, she seems to wear less and less with each iteration. I’ve always found that more fascinating than sexist, but I am a man so I’m probably wrong. (The only costume I remember outright not like was the “sexy nurse” outfit in the first Arkham game, but it fit for what they were going for.) And this isn’t me writing her off as some sex object expressly meant for teenage boys. But you are kidding yourself if you think for one second that sexuality isn’t an important to not only her character but her actual creation. Least we forget one of her creators (Bruce Timm) have gone on record that they created her based partly on the fact that they liked to draw women.

What’s fun/interesting about her is just how fucking deranged, bizarre and unhinged she is through her emulation of the Joker, right down to his white skin.

I mean, she is inches away from killing Batman in “Mad Love,” but throws it away at the thought of Joker not validating her.

Characters like Poison Ivy, Catwoman or Talia are characters in their own right. They can be put on certain pedestals because they stand on their own accord. Harley, as a character, has never worked for me unless she’s paired with others, be it the Joker, Ivy or the Suicide Squad. I’ve read recent attempts to move her away from the Joker in the comics (she’s basically DC’s answer to Deadpool when I last checked in) which is all fine and good but it will never be fully absolved as people are perpetually going to wait for him to show back up for her inevitable relapse. Which is sad, but hey, comics need to get sold.

Let me also make sure I’m clear: I’m all for her as a character. She’s engaging, fun, at times empowered (her joined up with the Amazons in the comics is one of her strongest arcs to date) and tragic all in one package. But let’s stop acting like just because she is a female character she needs to represent something she never did. There are plenty of strong, good female heroes for which to aspire. It’s fine to have a few strong bad apples as well.

Anyway…

I don’t really get why their are any strong reactions to Jared Leto’s Joker one way or the other as he isn’t in the movie nearly enough to properly categorize it as bad or good. He’s a glorified recurring cameo.

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I liked his look and it seemed like there was something memorable waiting to burst out but, as is the case with many things in this movie, it isn’t fully formed. In fact, outside of Katana or Slipknot, he is the most needless character in the piece. For all the hullabaloo about all the prep he did and pranks he pulled on set, I assumed he’s be a prominent figure but it was not meant to be. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume there was more abusive stuff related to his and Robbie’s characters which is still a tricky rope to cross while attempting to pull of a somewhat fun movie about individuals with SEVERE mental illnesses killing people. The moments I liked best with him though are when we see him with Harley. Joker in love isn’t something we’ve seen on-screen before and it would have been cool if that were explored a bit more.

For what’s it’s worth, I thought he was fine. Not the worst Joker by any means. If he committed any crime it would be how unmemorable he is due to his inconsequential part in the movie which is perhaps the biggest sin any version of the Joker could commit.

I’d probably give my personal MVP (on the actual squad) to Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang. A personal favorite of mine (as are most Flash villains) since I ever started reading comics, it gave me giddy pleasure even just seeing the character in a multi-million dollar movie.

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Don’t get me wrong: he’s almost completely useless in this film in terms of actual contributions to story progression. He doesn’t even have much in the way of any arc, but he’s amusing and that won me over at the end of the day. I also appreciated that he was caught by the Flash (Ezra Miller, in what I assume was a studio mandated cameo) instead of Batman. I hope that sets the stage for his appearance in the (hopefully fun) solo-Flash film with the rest of the Rouges.

I was also a fan of Viola Davis as Amanda Waller. Davis, like Robbie, is a perfect fit for a role she was seemingly tailor-made for her. Should the DC films, continue I hope her involvement carries through them as DC-darker answer to Nick Furry.

And the rest? I think we are treated to longer shots of Robbie’s ass than we are of a good portion of the other characters they crammed into this thing.

Joel Kinnaman’s Col. Rick Flag is just kind of…there. Kinnaman has yet to pop for me in any films that I’ve seen him in (he does some solid work on TV however between The Killing and more recently House of Cards) and he isn’t given a heck of whole lot of memorable things to do here other than make sure the team behaves.

It astounds me that Tom Hardy was originally cast in this roll which would have been a waste of talent on his front. (The again, that seems to be a recurring theme for this film so maybe he would have been right at home.) He’s given a vanilla romance with Cara Delevigne’s Dr. June Moone (comic book movie, remember) who goes on to become possessed by the film’s main villain, Enchantress, another villain so bland and awful they should have her team up with Ghostbusters‘ Ronan. 

Killer Croc and Katanna show up to, you know, just be there so I’m not really going to dedicate time to whether they actually add anything or not.

 Adam Beach’s Slipknow is in it so little that I’m not sure why I’m dedicating a sentence to him.

Not really interesting, but I brainstormed about writing a movie based on either the Suicide Squad or Secret Six back in high school (as I was being cool and what not) and actually still have some notes on how I would have liked to see one pan out….which I will now share since I bet you’re asking….maybe…probably not….oh well!

WE’VE NOW ENTERED THE ANGRY, BITTER BASEMENT DWELLER SECTION OF THE REVIEW WHERE AN ANGRY, BITTER BASEMENT DWELLER TELLS YOU, THE READER, HOW HE WOULD HAVE MADE THE MOVIE “BETTER.”

ALL ARE ENCOURAGED TO SKIP THIS SECTION AS WE MUST DO OUR BEST NOT TO ENABLE THE ANGRY, BITTER BASEMENT DWELLER. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.

  1. Minimize the team – A real point of contention for me in this was just how wide it cast its next in terms of its cast of characters, often at the cost of development. I mean we get longer shots of Robbie’s ass than some of the characters on the titular team. So keep Deadshot, Harley and Flag. From there you can add two more members. (I’d go with Boomerang as he is a favorite of mine and Killer Croc as you need muscle. You can keep Slipknot too if he is still only there to prove that the bombs actually work and you need a meat shield.) Maybe give Killer Croc the Diablo plot point about finding humanity instead.
  2. Minimize the scale – This movie seemed to miss the entire point of the Suicide Squad as a concept. They are a COVERT team. COVERT meaning they are sent to clean up messes too small for the Justice League but important and dangerous enough to warrant the expendable meta-human calvary. They have really no business fighting a world ending threat. Maybe follow the model of the animated film that came out a couple years back, Assault on Arkham, and have them be forced to stop the Joker or some more localized threat. Think The Dirty Dozen or Assault on Precinct 13. I think this movie would have benefited from something a bit more confined.
  3. Minimize or expand the Joker – As I said before, Leto’s Joker isn’t given the proper allotment in time actually even register. So if you’re going to have the character, I’d make the case for either limiting him to one scene (perhaps a flashback with Harley or post-credits scene for his eventual Batman-centered feud) or beef his part up by making him the film’s central threat. Maybe their was a riff between Joker and Harley, leading to her having something personal stopping him. That would have allowed her and him to have some development instead of having nothing really interesting going on between them.
  4. Embrace the R – My goodness, this movie WANTED to be an R. Now, I’m not going to argue that an R-rating equates to good, but I would argue that creators should typically play to their strengths. Ayer’s strengths lie in the obscenely violent and vulgar based on his past successes so what better comic book property to match that with than a team of hardened super-criminals?
  5. Embrace your source material – This movie went above any beyond in reminding the audience that our bad guys weren’t so bad. I argue for the opposite. Show us how deplorable this team actually is with glimpses of their humanity later a’la Game of Thrones. This movie is stemmed from the common complaint that villains are often more interesting than heroes and yet it does little with that potentially great concept and instead goes out of its way to continually remind us of how these people are actually good. (Don’t forget, Will Smith has a daughter therefore his actions are justified.)

NOW LEAVING ANGRY, BITTER BASEMENT DWELLER SECTION. YOU MAY NOW RETURN TO YOUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED REVIEW.

Some random observations:

  • Was anyone else hoping we’d be treated to a shot of Captain Boomerang riding a unicorn during the sequence in which Enchantress is showing the Squad members their “deepest desires?” Like the set-up was there and everything!
  • If Cara Delevigne’s wacky Enchantress spell-dance isn’t a gif by the end of this sentence, I will be as disappointed in the internet as I was with this movie.
  • This movie’s soundtrack needed to calm the fuck down. It reminded me of Guardians but with none of the cleverness or nuance. It seemed like their were 10 to 15 pop songs used within the first 30 minutes alone. It’s as if they thought of a song and said, “Fuck it. We got the money. Throw it in!”
  • Why did we need a bunch of army guys escorting the team throughout the film when they are proven utterly pointless? I feel the explosive chip and Flagg would be enough to keep the team in line.
  • It’s important to note that Guardians also had a fairly shitty villain but made up for with strength of its core team, something this film falls to do by trying to fit so many into frame.

A recurring theme with the last few movies I’ve gone to is squandered potential. Ghostbusters (2016), Jason Bourne, the absolutely terrible Killing Joke adaptation and now this.  Out of all of them though, this one may hurt the most. This movie was the most disappointing thing since Mr. Plinkett’s son.

It’s no where near Fantastic Four disaster that a lot of people are purporting it to be however nor did it earn its pretty rough RT score. You may disagree and that’s your prerogative, but this movie was a “meh” with the good equally measured by the bad for me.  Make of that what you will. I just hope these DC movies start showing real, tangible improvements rather than just one being a bit better than the other.

Make way for the motha ‘uckin’ ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

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 MovieThe 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!

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THE PLOT:

“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

THE REVIEW:

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.

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Zoe Saldana continues to build herself as “the queen of the nerds” as she takes the role of super assassin, Gamora.

She is both one Star Wars movie and DC movie away from taking the throne!

She is one Star Wars movie from taking the throne!

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).

It's going to be a tight race for People's "Sexiest Thing" this year.

It’s going to be a tight race for People’s “Sexiest Thing” this year.

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.

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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.