Guardians of the Galaxy
Review by Daniel Rester
Guardians of the Galaxy is a lesser-known comic from Marvel. Throw that ingredient in the pot with ragtag team and space opera mixtures and it feels like you get a bastard child B-movie idea from Marvel in adapting it to the screen. But it works. And why shouldn’t it? I mean Iron Man was never huge in the comics and look where he is now in movies. Marvel has a way of getting us to root for the little guys in their transition to the big screen. Galaxy is no different in that aspect.
The film, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman and directed by Gunn, is different in a Marvel-sense in a few respects though. At least in the case of the “Cinematic Universe” so far it is. It takes place in the stars, yet it feels separated from the same Thor (2011) stars. This space setting feels more in tune with something like Star Wars (1977). Even further, the story and characters we get feel like they could have hopped out of the Mos Eisley Cantina with Han and Chewie.
We are first introduced to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a human treasure hunter who likes to think of himself as a legendary outlaw and calls himself “Star Lord.” Quill does have some connections to Earth from the past, so that makes the idea of this expansion in the Cinematic Universe more agreeable in handling; even Thor ended up with humans on Earth in his first outing. This allows us to have someone easy to root for and get behind from the beginning.
Quill soon gets into trouble when he comes across a mysterious orb on his adventures. The problems escalate when he comes across Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an assassin with connections to Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Ronan is a mighty villain who works for Thanos, the upcoming big Marvel baddie that was teased in The Avengers (2012). Gamora seeks to take the orb from Quill, but they both land in prison.
While in prison, Quill and Gamora team up with Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Drax (Dave Bautista). Rocket is a genetically-modified being who looks like a raccoon; he is also a hot-tempered bounty hunter who has a knack for making things. Groot is his sidekick and a tree-like being with a limited vocabulary. Drax is a muscly, tattooed being with past connections to Gamora and Ronan. After escaping prison, the five-member team sets out for the orb and Ronan – all with their own agendas.
The fun of Galaxy begins with Pratt. The actor proves to be a terrific leading man, bringing charm and cockiness to Quill in equal measures. The character may be a fish out of water, but Pratt makes it easy to see how the Han Solo-like Quill fits in to such a universe. He knows how to work during the serious moments, but he also brings it in sillier scenes involving dancing (Quill has a tape of 70s pop hits that help fill out the memorable soundtrack).
Saldana and Bautista are good as well, but I thought they could have had a bit more to do. Still, Saldana kicks some butt and Bautista (occasionally wooden performance-wise) gets some of the best laughs. The scene-stealers, however, are Rocket and Groot.
Cooper brings both hilarity and emotion to the wild Rocket, scoring a bull’s-eye as a supporting character. Diesel doesn’t do much voice-wise, but he does get some mileage out of it. The Groot character is still very effective, having a sweet heart and being beautiful to look at (the CGI on him is perhaps the most impressive of the film). Both he and Rocket feel totally organic and never seem strange to look at, which is amazing since we are talking about a talking raccoon and a talking tree.
What Gunn, Perlman, and the cast nail best is the chemistry between these oddball characters. All of the five main misfits are interesting in the first place, but it’s the relationship-building between them and the varied grief they share that resonates the most. I actually found myself more impressed by Gunn’s handling of the smaller, more intimate moments than the large-scale set pieces. One particular scene near the finish with Rocket and Drax is especially satisfying, adding some unexpected poignancy. It goes without saying that the visual effects (especially during the climax) in this Marvel film are stellar, but it’s the shared moments among the characters that highlight the film.
Gunn and Perlman did well in defining the characters for the screen and giving them some sharp dialogue to spout out (much of it hilarious). They also had fun in cutting short certain scenes that could have easily led to comic book clichés; this irreverent style is entertaining to see play out. However, the script and film lack in other areas.
First off, the villain is very standard-issue and lacks range in emotions and motivations. His “destroy part of the galaxy” plan is rote and has no complexity to it. Ronan and all of the sub-villains are well-designed in looks, but none of them ever shine in characterization. Even worse, Pace’s terrific talent is wasted by giving him nothing to really play with. Djimon Hounsou is also wasted as one of the side villains.
Taking this even further, a number of other great actors show up in smaller parts and don’t have much to do. Such people as Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, and Benicio Del Toro pop up. It is nice to see them but it again seems like talent wasted. Only Michael Rooker, as a bounty hunter named Yondu (who has connections to Quill), manages to add anything beyond the five main characters.
I had a few other issues as well. The film takes a bit to get into its groove, providing a clunky first 20 minutes or so (with a forced Stan Lee cameo to boot). Much of the dialogue during this time and the mid-section is exposition-heavy and banal, battling with the other dialogue that is flavorfully funny. There is also a surprising amount of dim lighting in the settings (or poor color correction) and sound levels that seemed off. A few times I struggled to see some of the detail Gunn and his team put into their creations; I also found myself missing some of the jokes because of music overcrowding the diegetic sounds. Perhaps a few more post-production touch-ups should have been considered.
Galaxy is an exciting ride and a departure from usual Marvel fare in terms of settings and characters. The story is basic and the film has its issues, but the movie mostly succeeds due to the main characters and the talent behind them. This is an entertaining, if over-hyped, comic book outing. I look forward to seeing where these guardians go next in the planned Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language).
Runtime: 2 hours and 1 minute.
U.S. Release Date: August 1st, 2014.