Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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Plot: When “legendary outlaw” Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) obtains a dangerous artifact, he becomes the subject of a massive manhunt. Hot on his tail is the villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and his allies Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). Armed with a strong sense of purpose, Quill brings together a small group of criminal misfits in a desperate attempt to save the galaxy from imminent doom.

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It’s been reported ad nauseum that Guardians of the Galaxy was a tough sell. If Iron Man was considered a B-level hero in terms of popularity before Robert Downey Jr.’s amazing turn, the Guardians are C-level or lower. Star Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (David Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), and Groot (Vin Diesel) are definitely not household names. They never had a corresponding cartoon, or Halloween costumes (They did have mass produced action figures at one time). Only people who actually read the comics would have an understanding of what Marvel was trying to do. So what this meant was that Marvel was counting on its own success to bring in viewers and not previously established knowledge of the characters. Guardians of the Galaxy honestly could have failed a million times over. Plenty of people even scoffed at the idea. “A talking raccoon? A talking tree? The chubby guy from Parks and Recreation?! There’s no way this will work!” Yet it did work. It worked so well, Guardians of the Galaxy is probably one of the best films within the MCU.

What Guardians of the Galaxy really has going for it is its undeniable sense of fun. While there has been plenty of comedy throughout the previous films, Guardians is quite possibly the funniest of them all. The vast majority of humor stems from the main five characters and it’s their unshackled attitude towards doing the right thing that makes them believable. How else can you portray murderers and thieves as heroes? They’re not supposed to have the righteous mentality of Captain America or Iron Man. By making the characters crass and violent, Marvel continuously reminds us that the individuals we’re supporting are those that would be criminals in any other instance. It’s a delightful twist to the constantly used formula of a good person doing a good thing because they’re good. These are bad people doing a good thing because it’s just the right thing to do. It also helps that the film is kept together by an absolutely outstanding soundtrack from the ’70s. Just when the tone should be heavy, tracks like “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede kept things light. It’s great.

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Of course, none of the main five would work without the pitch-perfect casting. Each actor completely owns their roles. Pratt, already a gifted comedic star, brings an impeccable and necessary sense of swagger to Peter Quill. People kept calling him Marvel’s answer to Han Solo and they’re absolutely correct. Saldana is equally as excellent as the assassin Gamora. Her turmoil as the adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin) comes across crystal clear and her epic fight with Nebula had a tinge of added intensity that can only come from two adopted siblings fighting. Bautista, in his third major motion picture, was perfect for Drax. Let’s face the facts: Bautista is not a great actor. He’s in this role mainly for his size. Yet since Drax isn’t exactly a ranged character to begin with, Bautista has everything he needs to dominate. It was Drax’s thickheadedness that actually lead to some of the best comedy.

Rocket Raccoon and Groot are something else entirely. Since these characters have to be done entirely in CGI and motion capture, they were naturally the most daunting to create. Gunn himself went on record as saying that if Rocket didn’t work out, the movie is a total bust. A little dramatic, but you can see his point. Yet with the excellent vocal talent of Bradley Cooper, the wiseass Rocket Raccoon becomes the breakout character. He’s funny, he’s sad, he’s dangerous, and he’s exceptionally rude. But that’s exactly what you want with a cast like this. As for Groot, all praise goes to Vin Diesel for successfully turning a three world character into the emotional center of the movie. Who could have thought that “I am Groot” can carry so much weight with only a slight change of inflection?

The rest of the supporting cast were great as well though some did fall by the wayside. Since he’s the main antagonist, Ronan was the right amount of ruthless to give this film a strong sense of danger. Korath and Nebula primarily existed to flesh out the villains and they did their jobs well. Michael Rooker owned the screen whenever Yondu appeared, and he has this awesome scene near the end that will make you cheer. John C. Reilly and Glenn Close did their absolute best as Rhomann Dey and Nova Prime, though they didn’t receive nearly enough airtime to become really fleshed out. I personally would have liked to see more of the Nova Corps in action, actually flying around and shooting lasers out of their hands like in the comics. The Collector (Benicio del Toro) and Thanos were essentially cameo roles that were just a little more detailed than their previous experiences. They handily served their purposes though and I’m ecstatic that we actually got to see Thanos in full form. Putting Josh Brolin behind the Mad Titan was brilliant.

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Guardians also does the necessary task of connecting everything together for a much greater conflict. Before this movie, many fans predicted the Infinity Gems were coming. Now we have a confirmation of that. This is actually the first time we’ve officially heard the name Infinity Gem, but the screens showing the Tesseract and the Aether prove they’re in the same family. Clearly these objects are not to be messed with and we witness the full scale of an unaltered gem in this film. How it all plays out is epic in scale, and if this is what we get with one gem, imagine what all five can do. Yikes.

Of course, now that Guardians is one of the hottest movies of the year, the floodgates are open. This is basically Marvel’s big ticket to do whatever the hell they want in film. If they can make a movie about galactic misfits work so well, keeping all the necessary weirdness intact, their future prospects are now limitless. Will it all become a bit much? That’s exceptionally likely. If the movies are all this good though, it almost doesn’t matter. Guardians of the Galaxy is one action-packed and fun thrill ride. I remember declaring Captain America: The Winter Soldier as my favorite individual Phase 2 film, but clearly I spoke too soon. This takes the cake hands down.

Rating: 9.5/10

Post-Credits Space! SPOILERS!

Really not much to mention here. Instead of teasing a future film, the post-credits scene existed solely to prove that Howard the Duck is definitely in the MCU. Don’t know who Howard the Duck is? To paraphrase, he was an extremely popular character in the 70s and was the source material for one of the worst movies ever made. Howard’s bit part in Guardians is likely nothing more than a humorous nod, though now the door is open for more duck filled adventures. However, Marvel will probably keep him to the Guardians films and nothing else. Regardless, it was a clever way to cap off this film that was already packed with 70s references.

Related Articles:

Trailer Tuesday: Guardians of the Galaxy (Bill Bodkin & Logan J. Fowler)

Pop-Ed: Ranking Marvel Phase 1 (Daniel Cohen)

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.

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