by Nur Hussein, staff writer
When Marvel first announced they were making Guardians of the Galaxy back in 2012, everyone who was unfamiliar with the then-obscure comic went ,”Huh? What?” And everyone who was familiar with the comic went “Huh? Why?” The comic itself dates back to 1969, and it has been published on and off over the years with a roster of different characters. A lot of people felt Marvel was taking a huge risk with an unfamiliar property, and after seeing the film today, I can assure you those fears are unwarranted; Marvel has knocked it out of the park once again.
The premise of Guardians of the Galaxy is this: a ragtag bunch of space-faring underdogs band together to battle a seemingly unstoppable evil from destroying the galaxy. It’s The Dirty Dozen meets Star Wars (and intentionally so; director James Gunn drew upon those films among others as inspiration). The result is a movie that is as refreshing and entertaining as the first Iron Man film. If you’re a fan of fun space adventures, you’ll love this film.
If you want to know nothing else about the film going in, stop reading now and go and see it (it’s totally worth it).
Some minor spoilers follow:
The movie stars Chris Pratt as Peter Jason Quill (a.k.a Star-Lord, a title he gives himself ), a vagabond who left Earth on a spaceship as a child and grew up in space with a gang of alien space pirates known as Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker). Incidentally, Yondu was one of the original Guardians of the Galaxy from ’69, but here, he is given a different back-story and timeline.
Quill makes a living in the galaxy by hunting and stealing priceless things and selling them to black-market buyers, kind of like Han Solo meets Indiana Jones. After stealing an alien MacGuffin, Quill is pursued by the forces of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genocidal Kree military fanatic with nefarious plans. He wants the MacGuffin for the galactic warlord Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin), who has agreed to help him with his goals. We have seen Thanos briefly in the post-credits scene in The Avengers, and here he makes another appearance, though he is not the main villain. Djimon Hounsou and Karen Gillan play Korath and Nebula respectively, two of Ronan’s henchmen.
Embroiled in this conflict is the hapless Quill, who just wants to make a tidy profit. He soon crosses paths with assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who wants the MacGuffin as well. Because Quill has a bounty on his head, he’s pursued by Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel): a genetically modified raccoon and a walking, sentient tree-like alien, respectively. They all get arrested and hauled off to space prison by the Nova Corp. (Marvel’s space police), and there, they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). After the requisite initial resentment of each other, they band together for a common purpose (although that purpose evolves throughout the course of the movie, as well as the gradually growing friendship between the characters).
The originality of this premise is quite remarkable for a mainstream tentpole movie. Even though it’s an adapted work, I’ve not seen a space adventure movie this off-the-wall in concept since Star Wars. I am so glad Marvel is taking risks with its obscure properties and treat viewers to something new alongside the various sequels we’re getting. Just because the audience is unfamiliar with the characters doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in seeing the film, as long as there’s a great story to be told.
The acting is reminiscent of the original Star Wars; it has a pulp-matinee-serial feel that is serviced by the occasional scenery-chewing performances, but that’s par for the course for a film like this. That said though, Chris Pratt was excellent as Quill. He gives us a charming and likable rogue who’s in a little bit over his head, yet rises to the occasion. Dave Bautista as the overly-literal Drax is hilarious with his deadpan delivery, and even Vin Diesel puts an amazing amount of nuance into the delivery of his lines, even though he has to keep saying the same thing over and over: “I am Groot!” Bradley Cooper is a good choice as Rocket, though his delivery feels a little over-the-top at times. There is one poignant moment where Rocket lets out his anguish and pain, and we really feel sorry for the little guy; Cooper really shines in that scene. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora felt a little too much like her previous characters: an angry space lady. Lee Pace was rather one-dimensional as Ronan, but Karen Gillan was pretty awesome as Nebula (we wish we saw more of her!).
The world-building required for this movie is immense, and there’s a lot to take in: the alien worlds, the various alien races, the Nova Corp., Xandar, the Ravagers, Thanos and company, and the little easter eggs and cameos from the larger Marvel universe. James Gunn manages to present it all without overwhelming the audience, which is quite a task. I’m glad this movie got made when it did, for if the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to move forward with characters like Captain Marvel, the groundwork has been laid by this film.
The production quality of this movie is top-notch. The sets, the colors, and the ships all have a distinct style to them. Star-Lord’s spaceship, the Milano, is a gorgeous bird-like craft, the the Nova Corp.’s fighters look like little stars, and Ronan’s ship is large and imposing. The visual effects team did a great job making the ships look and feel like real objects, and we don’t feel like we’re watching a video game. The music is a majestic orchestral score punctuated with Quill’s favorite pop songs from his mixtape (which featured so heavily in the trailers), and the result is a unique and very memorable soundtrack.
James Gunn has said there’s a healthy dose of humor in this film, and he delivers as advertised. There are loads of funny moments, mainly from Quill’s somewhat-dated pop-culture references. The other characters don’t get them at all, and Star-Lord himself often gets some details wrong (understandably so, since he left Earth as a child). There are also sad moments and touching moments, and throughout the course of the movie, we find we know the characters a bit more. We aren’t shown or told everyone’s entire backstory though, so there’s plenty of material for the sequel (which has already been green-lit by Marvel).
If this film has any downside-factors, it would be that the villain is pretty one-dimensional, or the fact that, although a movie like this takes great liberties with the laws of physics, there are repeated instances of the characters just flying off into the void of space without sustaining any real injury stand out as improbable, even in a fantastic context. One other nitpick I have is the Xandarians: they look entirely human, but we know they’re really just human-shaped aliens. This is probably just for practicality’s sake; the makeup department have their hands full with many of the main characters already, so I can let that one slide.
Overall, this movie is a great, fun romp through space that have been largely missing from the big screen since the sci-fi movies of the ’70s and ’80s. I’m already looking forward to the sequel, and perhaps even a crossover with The Avengers down the road. I give this movie four and a half stars out of five.
Guardians of the Galaxy opens in U.S. theaters on August 1, 2014.
Nur is a tinkerer of programmable things, an apprentice in an ancient order of technomages. He enjoys fantasy, sci-fi, comic books, and Lego in his spare time. His favourite authors are Asimov and Tolkien. He also loves Celtic and American folk music. You can follow him on twitter: @nurhussein