Marvel has been on a roll. Ever since Iron Man came out Marvel has been reigning king of the summer movies. Sure, some movies have made more money. But no other company has been putting out solid movie after solid movie without any major missteps. To make it even more impressive, the continuity between all ten films so far is one of the cleanest and consistent of any movie franchise. I’m sure there are errors here and there between each movie. But the universe is so large and well planned out that it’s pretty tight.
Other than Thanos and The Collector (along with some other nice easter eggs), Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty stand-alone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think that works out in favor for Guardians. As we saw with Iron Man 2, and a bit with Thor, Guardians doesn’t have any need to cram any unnecessary exposition or universe building that’s specifically for the upcoming Avengers movie. There’s no mention of Shield, Tony Stark, no cameo by Agent Coulson or Nick Fury. Guardians of the Galaxy is here to for the Guardians and no one else. Writer/Director James Gunn (Slither, Super, PG Porn) was given a lot of freedom with this movie. With that freedom, he’s created my favorite, and possibly the best, Marvel movie, and possibly comic book or super hero movie, yet.
Guardians of the Galaxy has one of the best blends of serious and goofy I’ve seen in a movie all year. Mixing the two can be a dangerous thing. Too much of either without the right sensibility or timing can leave a bad taste in your mouth. This is something Gunn seems to have a knack for. Slither, Gunn’s directorial debut, is one of the best horror-comedies that actually has a nice balance of both without being a parody like Shaun of the Dead. While Super tiptoes along a very thin line of depressingly real and darkly hilarious without falling over onto either side. Guardians has these powerful moments of emotional depth and some of the most laugh-out-loud moments all year. It’s serious enough to be heart-crushing one scene, yet goofy enough give us a fun song and dance the next scene.
I was emotionally invested from the first scene. Much like Up, within minutes I’m trying to keep my eyes dry. I thought to myself, “Seriously? It’s barely 2 or 3 minutes into this thing and you’re trying not to sob?” I wasn’t sure if it was because the movie was that good or I had already been ready to accept this movie because of the build up I’ve given it for the past year or so. Upon a second viewing I’ve decided that the movie is indeed that good. This scene isn’t just to try to get tears from you. It’s so you understand the heart of the main character, Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord), before we catch up with him 26 years later.
Peter is taken from Earth immediately after this scene and we spend the rest of the movie in space. Normally in a movie like this we get a protagonist, or someone the protagonist knows, who doesn’t understand the universe to serve as the viewer, like Kevin Bacon in Footloose. That way there’s a reason to stop and tell everyone what’s going on and how things work. Guardians doesn’t feel the need for this. Peter’s been in space for 26 years now and is familiar with how things are. No one’s holding the audience’s hand through any of this. But the movie feels that the audience will be smart enough to catch on to things as we go along. There are a few bits of exposition here and there that do let us know who some people are, where we are, what’s happening. But they’re never done in a way that’s talking down to the audience.
What’s great about not wasting time with an exposition character is that we can spend more time getting to know the characters that matter. We get to see early on who these characters are and what’s unique about them. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are all incredibly well-developed. While Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) aren’t as fleshed out as the rest of the crew, but they’re far from one dimensional. It’s rare to see a movie with five leads where all are feel equally unique and interesting. While The Avengers had the luxury of having a movie for each character before hand to introduce us and get familiar with the several different leads, Guardians does it all in 2 hours.
All the actors are great. Bradley Cooper’s Rocket is definitely a stand-out performance despite being entirely CGI. Maybe I’m a little biased as Rocket’s been one of my favorite Marvel Characters since I’ve read the comics. But even separated from the comics and going on just the movies, Rocket is still my favorite character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only does he get Rocket’s snarky sense of humor, but really brings out Rocket’s heart. Chris Pratt as Star-Lord is kind of like if his character from Parks and Recs was a badass. Pratt is flawless. Vin Diesel as Groot only has 3* lines, along with some grunts, but does a lot with it. Much like his voice work for The Iron Giant, Diesel knows how to do a lot with very little. You could say he’s better when he does less. But when he does less, he’s better than almost anyone else. There’s something special about Dave Bautista’s Drax. He’s so deadpan and literal, but it works so well. There’s a lot of gut-busting laughs because of the dead-serious delivery from Bautista. If there’s one thing I love about Gamora by Saldana is that it’s finally a female character that’s a badass and NOT a love interest to anyone. Yeah, the trailer did make some teases at a Star-Lord/Gamora love thing going on, but no. She doesn’t need it.
Michael Rooker (Merle in Walking Dead, Slither) as Yondu is a surprise. He’s not one of the Guardians (In the original comics he was, but this is a long discussion which I’m not going to get into here) but he steals every scene he’s in. He’s responsible for taking Peter from Earth and sort of raised him. He’s not quite a villain, not a hero, he’s just another badass with goals that interject with some of the main characters. And he also gets a nice moment near the end of the film that rivals Quicksilver’s in Days of Future Past.
One thing you could say is kind of lacking is development with the villains. Lee Pace does a great job with Ronan the Accuser. Ronan is terrifying and it’s made clear early on that he is here to cause havok and you should be afraid. While he is a force to fear, he doesn’t really get fleshed out a whole lot. You could compare him to a Islamic Extremist since his goal is to “clense” those who don’t believe in the Kree Gods and avenge the death of his father and grandfather who died in old wars. Ronan is a tad disappointing as a villain given the wide variety of villains already existing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the movie isn’t really about him. It’s about the Guardians. And if we’re going to spend so much time with the Guardians, time with the villain is sacrificed. If I had to weigh the two, I’m wholeheartedly for spending more time with the Guardians.
To make it as Marvel movie, or a summer movie in general, you need to have some flair. Guardians definitely delivers the goods. Where most movies specialize in one type of crazy spectacle or set pieces, whether it be hand-to-hand fights, chases, space/air battles, Guardians has a bit of everything. All of these sequences are beautifully shot, some sequences are filmed in IMax which look astounding, and well choreographed. There’s never any moment where shots were too close to where you couldn’t see clearly what was going on. But I do feel there were a lack of some wide shots to give us a better scope of how big some of these scenes were. This could be from Gunn’s lack of experience with these large-budget action movies. But I’ll take the lack of wide shots as long as it comes with a lack of excessive shaky cam and quick cuts.
I saw this in both IMax and regular format theatres. If it weren’t for the 3D, I would highly suggest seeing this in IMax. The 3D isn’t bad, but I don’t feel it really adds much to the film. One problem I do have with filming in IMax is when you don’t watch it in IMax, the cropping for those scenes can make things feel a bit more cramped than they should be. And having seen both version, there were times I noticed some shots were missing a bit of space. It doesn’t take away too much from the overall experience. It’s just a minor detail that I, and some other people might, notice.
Just make sure the theatre you decide to go to has a good sound system. The music is incredible. The score is serviceable and does a great job with the necessary sequences. But what really glues the movie together is the soundtrack. While soundtracks are usually just a collection of songs that the director feels will help this scene or that scene, the reason why these songs appear when the do is kind of a big part of the movie. When Peter leaves Earth as a boy, he had a Sony Walkman on him. This walkman with his “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” is one of the few connections to home he has. And all the music for the movie is from that mix tape. As we explore this galaxy into these alien worlds, the music keeps us grounded with something relatable. There’s also character moments that tie into the music being played, and one or two essential plot points come from these songs. The songs also enhance both the serious and cheesy tones of the movie.
Guardians of the Galaxy just works so well. It’s such a tightly wound script with nearly flawless direction. There just aren’t enough movies like this anymore. Aside from being my favorite Marvel movie, it’s going up there with one of my favorite Sci-Fi/Fantasy movies along with Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, and Galaxy Quest. Yes, Galaxy Quest! It plays it serious enough where the emotional notes hit you hard, but cheesy enough to know when to have fun. I was fully invested with the character the entire film, and I had one of the most entertaining times I’ve had in a theatre in years. I’d say the one criticism I have is the third act sort of becomes your typical Marvel, “Stop the badguy from doing the bad thing.” But the first two acts are so unique and original that this is completely forgiven. It still doesn’t take away from sheer entertainment value of the movie. Even if you’re not a Marvel fan, go see this movie.
Little sub-note. I purposely left out connections to the source material because I don’t think it should matter. Yes, movies take liberties with the source material, and Guardians is not exception. But as long as a movie captures the heart or essence of what makes the source great, then go ahead and make whatever changes you feel like will make for a better movie. So stop being a canon-queen and just enjoy the damn movie.