Better than eleven percent
At this point I’m considering giving Marvel films their own set of standards upon which to grade them, because from Iron Man 3 to Guardians of the Galaxy, Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to produce a film worthy of anything less than an A. Even on an upwardly curved scale, though, Guardians of the Galaxy would score a nearly perfect grade, because somehow Marvel took one of their more obscure, much more bizarre comic series, and crafted possibly their finest film from it.
The film’s cast of characters includes a Parks & Rec actor, Zoe Saldana with yet another colorful skin pigment, a perpetually shirtless alien wrestler, a raccoon, and a tree with a vocabulary that spans 3 words, and it’s easily the strongest cast of characters Marvel has produced. The film’s 2 hours proves ample time to flesh out each character’s quirks, motivations, and genuinely sentimental backstories. Something’s gone right when a tree grumbling its name for the fifteenth time leads to the most powerful emotional catharsis the film has to offer.
Peter Quill, better known as Starlord (Chris Pratt), is your typical 80s classic-jamming thief searching for artifacts to sell all across the galaxy. He stumbles upon an ultra-powerful stone that makes him the target of many power-hungry aliens, including but not limited to green-skinned, father-betraying alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana), gun-toting bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his trusty sidekick, a walking, rumbling tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).
A three-way scuffle over the orb and potential bounty rewards lands all four in alien jail. Fellow inmate Drax (wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista), whose species is never really specified but probably isn’t human, plans to kill Gamora to avenge his own family after they were killed by Gamora’s father figure, Ronan (Lee Pace). When the five realize their best bet at escape is each other, they somewhat begrudgingly work together – after all, this is hardly Rocket’s first prison break.
Though the idea of a team that has to work together despite not liking each other may seem recycled, even by Marvel themselves (cough, Avengers, cough) it’s hard to resist any story arc that has this cast of characters leading it. Bautista should probably put wrestling aside if it means cranking out more performances like his hilariously literal Drax, while Cooper and Diesel, whose characters are divided by vocabulary but united in their brutality, make an excellent pair.
The film takes a refreshing break from ultra-serious superhero films for a more whimsical, colorful and self-deprecating mood courtesy of director James Gunn. Audiences are given more breathing room than usual action films, though it’s put to good use to catch your breath between the constant stream of laughs.
Guardians symbolizes what Marvel does best. Great action scenes, check. Great visuals, check (in fact they may be Marvel’s most impressive as well, as the galaxy’s cool pastel colors are juxtaposed pleasantly with the numerous explosions happening around them). Great characters and dialogue, quintuple check. Great villain not named Loki, well, not yet. But it’s hard to fault a film for anything when its intention and execution are this clear.