Directed by: James Gunn
Written by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper
Music by: Tyler Bates
Release date: August 1st, 2014
Marvel are really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. They no longer own the movie rights to some of their most popular franchises, such as Spider-Man and the X-Men, so now after establishing the Avengers, they've turned to the Guardians of the Galaxy: a super-obscure team known only to the geekiest of nerd. They were hardly crying out for a live-action adaptation. It's a testament, then, to Marvel's finesse and credibility as a studio to not only make almost $800 million from a movie about a walking tree and a talking raccoon with a machine gun, but to have it also be utterly charming.
Guardians begins in 1988 by introducing us to Peter Quill, A.K.A. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), who is abducted by an alien spacecraft after the death of his mother. Fast forward to 2014, and Quill has become part of the Ravagers: a group of intergalactic thieves, smugglers and pirates. After being captured trying to steal an Infinity Stone, Quill finds himself unwillingly put together with a band of misfits: Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), an anthropomorphic gun-toting raccoon with a taste for explosives and the occasional alcoholic beverage, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree-like creature whose "vocabulistics" are limited to "I" and "am" and "Groot" (exclusively in that order), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a deadly assassin and adopted daughter of an intergalactic mass murderer, and finally, Kratos from God of W--um, "Drax the Destroyer" (Dave Bautista), a member of some unnamed greenish-reddish-skinned race who has a vendetta against Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) for murdering his family. Together, they plan to relieve themselves from their irksome confinement and sell the Stone to a dealer for a huge amount of money. But when they discover that the artifact brings immeasurable destructive power to the owner, they decide to deliver it to the intergalactic police force known as the Nova Corps, before it falls into the hands of Ronan.
So it's pretty safe to say that Guardians of the Galaxy deals with some fairly outlandish characters and concepts. There's quite a lot to digest here, between the extensive cast and extended cameos, the zany alien worlds and the busy plot. But the heart and soul of the movie and what really makes it work is its humour and infectious fun factor. Guardians is a space opera fused with enough warmth and heart that it's accessible for both the audiences that crave explosions and cosmic laser battles on a planet far, far away, and the people who simply want to be entertained for two hours. It's the easy way out, but it works so well here. Marvel's now-signature blend of action and comedy has been utilised in many of their offerings, particularly since the release of The Avengers in 2012, and while it has proven to be a bit excessive in certain outings, if there's any Marvel franchise that this style is suited to, it's this one. Whether it's Star-Lord challenging Ronan to a dance-off or Drax's hilarious inability to grasp the concept of a metaphor, it's integral to the DNA of the film. Guardians of the Galaxy simply wouldn't be as enjoyable without it.
As aforementioned, there's a lot to talk about in terms of characters here. The main Guardians are generally quite well-realised. Rocket and Groot are without a doubt the best of the bunch, and are probably going to be making hefty progress up the Marvel food chain when all's said and done. They're incredibly endearing and have been brought to life by some astounding CG work that somehow manages to be quite subtle in the sense that you aren't reminded that these characters are computer generated every time you see them (or if you are, it's in a positive way). They're extremely lifelike, they fit in perfectly with the rest of the crowd, and you might be surprised when the character you feel the strongest emotional attachment to in the end is a tree with Vin Diesel's voice. Star-Lord, albeit still rebellious and charming, is as the relatable everyman compared to the rest of the team and Pratt delivers what is probably going to be the performance that defines his career. Drax may seem like a fairly one-note character at first, but he actually provides some of the most quotable lines and biggest laughs. While he probably won't be winning any Oscars any time soon, wrestler-turned-actor Bautista also gives a surprisingly solid performance. Gamora is arguably the weakest link here. She's still a worthy addition, but her personality isn't as distinctive as the rest of the team's and she has a backstory that yearns for more exploration.
Mad Titan and father of Gamora, Thanos (Josh Brolin, pictured above), makes his first true appearance here since his cameo during the after-credits scene of The Avengers. The big bad of the Marvel universe's presence is felt throughout much of the movie through numerous name-drops, but as far as appearances go all he has is a glorified cameo where he says something villainous before sitting back in his floating space chair and twirling his imaginary moustache. It's a huge "squee" moment for fans, but it doesn't serve much purpose other than to remind audiences that he's gonna kick Iron Man and Thor's behinds in the not-too-distant future. Former Doctor Who star Karen Gillan plays Thanos' second adopted daughter, Nebula (pictured below, left), and from the looks of things she'll be rearing her bionic head in future instalments, which is A-OK as long as she continues to be as much of a stone-cold badass as she is here. Lee Pace serves as the main antagonist in the form of Ronan the Accuser (pictured below, right), who is the latest in the extremely long line of forgettable Marvel villains, save Loki, brother of Thor. Ronan is the definition of a comicbook villain: a one-dimensional character whose motives you don't care about nor truly understand. Pace has an imposing presence but his character probably isn't going to be on your list of highlights from the movie, and only really serves as a reason for the Guardians to band together.
The score for Guardians of the Galaxy is adequate, but what's much more important here are the songs selected for the soundtrack. Just as crucial to the overall mood of the film as the characters and humour, it includes popular 70s tracks from The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, and probably the most famously, Blue Swede's cover of "Hooked on a Feeling". The heavy use of music stems from Star-Lord's love of the medium due to an "Awesome Mix" tape given to him as a child by his mother, and it helps to not only add immense charm and appeal to the film, but it helps it to separate itself from its peers, which is all the more important in this day and age.
For all it's praises, Guardians does have its drawbacks. While it's all very well done and visually appealing, the action in the final act drags on a bit and the Marvel formula of a climactic battle ending with a massive object crashing to the ground is starting to get a bit stale. Elements such as the aforementioned Thanos scene and various other components can make the plot feel slightly overstuffed, as not only does it need to tell the story of our five main characters but also advance threads left dangling from previous movies and then create even more. The "origin story" of Star-Lord is also glossed over in an usual way, as we're introduced to him as a child during the beginning, then his mother dies from cancer and literally seconds after running out of the hospital to an open area, a huge alien spaceship comes out of nowhere and abducts him completely out of the blue. Then that's that, cut to present day on an alien planet and Quill is now an adult stealing potential weapons of mass destruction while listening to Redbone. It pulls you right in and makes you wonder what the hell is going on, and then the concept is completely abandoned and never mentioned again until the last few minutes of the movie in which a single line basically tells us we'll find out in sequels.
Fortunately, none of this stops Guardians of the Galaxy from being a well-directed, funny and highly enjoyable romp that is aware of the absurdity of its source material and embraces it with open arms. It's probably up there with Marvel's best, and while that term is often uttered by many for the first few months after the release of practically anything the studio puts out, this time it might actually stick. This isn't a particularly deep or profound outing, but the key word here is "fun". As long as you have a pulse beating in your body, it's very likely that you're going to find Guardians of the Galaxy hard to resist.