Guardians of the Galaxy dazzles and awes as a Star Wars for the new age, in all its oddball glory

The most entertaining movies are the ones we don’t ever want to end.

At the end of James Gunn’s first real epic, Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll be sitting in your seat, breathless, and hoping that there’s more.

Marvel Studios’ first foray into space (and yes, it is a Marvel property) is an absolute masterpiece, a modern Star Wars/Dirty Dozen mashup with laughs, bright colors, and memorable characters.

The film was a rare gamble for Marvel, featuring a group of characters not nearly as recognizable as Captain America or Iron Man or Thor. I can almost see Gunn at the outset of producing Guardians saying “Who cares?”

Because if there is one thing that Guardians of the Galaxy proves, it is that officially nothing is too daunting a task for the studio. And they make us all fools do have ever doubted that they could pull this off. They take what has made each entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so successful, elevate it, and then throw it in a blender with whatever you find in the head of a child who grew up in the 1980s era of Steven Spielberg. Those were the days where every blockbuster had action and humor with levity, where you care for the heroes, no matter who they were. Guardians draws inspiration from such films.

Guardians of the Galaxy tells the story of five misfit criminals who must band together to stop the evil Ronan the Accuser from destroying the galaxy.

And that’s where I’ll leave it as far as plot, because to say anything more would be a disservice to what truly makes the film a masterpiece.

Few blockbuster films are able to achieve such a perfect balance and synergy that Guardians does. It’s thrilling. It’s intimate. It’s by far, by FAR, by FAR the most fun that you’ll have had at the movies at the end of a relatively dull Summer movie season. And it also might just be the funniest film of the year to date.

It’s certainly the most unexpected.

Right from the beginning, you can tell that this isn’t your average MCU entry. Guardians has the first cold opening of any Marvel film that I can remember, and it is one of the most haunting and emotionally daunting sequences of any superhero film this side of DC. The scenes that come quickly after immediately give you an idea of how many genres Gunn is drawing from.

Scene. Stealers.
Scene. Stealers.

Gunn’s direction is absolutely terrific, almost genius. Previously the director of the little-seen but much-admired Slither and Super, he has architectured probably the most gruff and mature movie in the MCU yet, but he never goes overboard. He knows when to install humor into action sets, nostalgia into the slower moments, and full-on imagination into his first real epic. His talents show, and as a result, Marvel Studios has another winner on their hands.

The film has a distinct disadvantage from its other MCU counteparts…who are these characters anyway? Peter Quill? Gamora? Rocket, Groot, Drax? Unlike previous Marvel entries, Guardians doesn’t arrive at the heels of several movies explaining the backstory of each character. But then again, it doesn’t have an obligation to connect to the other MCU films; there arene’t any references to The Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. or anything happening on Earth, save for our first real glimpse at the big baddie in charge of it all. That provides us with a breath of fresh air from the sometimes overwhelming story of the interlocking, ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Because of that, Gunn is able to focus on the characters and their distinct personalities, one of the many highlight of the film. Soon-to-be-breakout Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, Zero Dark Thirty) is perfectly cast as Peter Quill, Marvel’s edgiest hero yet, a cross between Indiana Jones and Han Solo. The always excellent Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek) continues to be a presence in movies exploring the final frontier, this time as Gamora, the sly, lethal assassin with her own agenda. UFC fighter Dave Bautista also excels as the sentimental but dangerous Drax the Destroyer, with some of the most perfectly timed comedic deliveries in the film.

But the real treat, of course, are CGI creations Groot and Rocket, voiced by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, respectively. They are hilarious as bounty hunting partners, the perfect foil to one another, and I’ll be damned if Rocket the Raccoon isn’t installed into this year’s pop culture by weekend’s end. You’ll never get tired of Groot’s signature line, and Rocket is probably as profane a character you can get without being profane.

A Millenium Falcon for a new generation.
A Millenium Falcon for a new generation.

Just as Gunn balances humor and spectacle and sci-fi absurdity to a T, he even provides character development. A major theme of Guardians is overcoming your past and having faith in what you can become, and those tropes show in each of the characters and how they develop into heroes.

Of course, Marvel Studios amazes as always with their action. The spectacle is even grander in Guardians, which probably has more production value than the last five Marvel Studios films combined. Sounds and sights never become a blur (*coughcoughtransformerscough*), and the actions is varied, from Indiana Jones-type expeditions to space battles reminiscent of George Lucas.

And the music, oh the music! What is there to say? Quill’s devotion to his Sony Walkman, his only real connection to Earth, is on display for all to experience. Is Cherry Bomb supposed to fit into a movie like this? Or the Jackson 5? Marvin Gaye? Not at all. But Gunn integrates some of the most popular pop hits of the 70s and 80s seamlessly, and it just adds to the absurd majesty.

Guardians is an absolute nostalgia trip, but just new and crazy enough to be something we don’t recognize at all. And that’s a good fantastic thing. Even a universally recognizable property like Marvel needs a dose of originality sometimes. At the bottom of the one of Guardians’ final posters, there is a tagline which reads simply “You’re Welcome.” Well. Now we know why.

 

In a Nutshell

Marvel’s entry with the least amount of human presence is actually one of the most human stories they’ve told to date. And considering how outlandish Guardians of the Galaxy is, that’s as much an accomplishment as saving the universe. The Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly has its work cut out for it next Summer.

 

  1. 5 / 10 or Ain’t no mountain high enough for Marvel Studios. This one may just be their best yet.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sic-fi violence and action and some language

Starring: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace

Directed by James Gunn

2014

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