Film Review – Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away roguish heroes taught us that being an outlaw and saving the day didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. With a confident, yet sly smile, a person could go between the halves of the world, the haves and the have-nots, and navigate a path to overcoming the odds. With Guardians of the Galaxy, writer/director James Gunn has fashioned a team of roguish heroes, each a different aspect of the archetype. There’s the straight Han Solo type, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who refers to himself as Starlord. The femme-fatale with the autonomous twist, Gamora (Zoe Saldana); the brutish, yet grammatically diligent Drax (Dave Bautista); and then there’s the animated duo of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). The pair being a raccoon that’s the result of a genetic experimentation and an animate tree, respectively, come off like the Master Blaster duo from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
Guardians knows from the beginning what kind of movie it aims to be, and how to mostly go about achieving that, and in the process creating an almost complete movie unto itself. Being from the Marvel studios cannon, it’s surprisingly refreshing that the viewer doesn’t need to know anything going in. The story begins with a moment of significance in Peter Quill’s childhood on Earth. No sooner does it occur and Peter is picked up by a mysterious spaceship and whisked off to the furthest reaches of the cosmos. We next see a grown-up Quill searching for a rare antique item that turns out to be a gem of major significance. Meanwhile the other members of what will become the fated Guardians are having a slice of their own origins, which sets course for colliding with Quill. Once the team are imprisoned together, after a rather clever introduction of cat and mouse tit-for-tat in a busy street corridor, it’s a matter of realizing they each have a component that together could make up a whole and get them out of their predicament.
What works best, along with the film’s stand-alone narrative, is its constant sense of humor. Dialog and jokes are derived from situational observations, compounded with personality traits that set the characters apart from each other, instead of sounding like their all spewing out the same geek talk, coming from the same geeky writer, as so many of the other Marvel movies come out sounding like. Gunn hasn’t only seen enough space operas and family adventure fare of the 80s, like his contemporaries, he knows how to refashion it without having to make reference to it in the process. The final result of everything successful is a space opera that could better fit into the Star Wars universe than it could the Marvel. In fact, with the absence of the standard superhero lineup, this feels free enough to know it doesn’t need to rely on your love of your favorite superhero, or even love superheroes to begin with.
One of the few drawbacks exists when the villain’s and their plots become intertwined with the bigger Marvel picture. The others come from sometimes stilted action scenes that feel more place-holder than genuine result of their need to exist. One of the best action scenes is one of the first, and comes rather early in the film as the Guardians have their first team-up; it is seemingly built up to with a sense of tension, but suddenly it’s actually happening in order to service a rather funny joke. The scene has that jolting sense of fist pumping excitement, but is rarely repeated, as often the moment of cathartic spectacle is undercut with a joke, that services a movie that’s a better comedy than it is an action film. That isn’t to say the movie’s action is dull, or flat, but it is never given the attention to detail that would elevate the moments not undercut with a joke into the crowd-pleasing spectacle that a Marvel movie wants to carry.
Mostly though, Guardians is the kind of fun that hooks you in without completely immersing you to the point of fantasia. Despite its stand-alone aspects, sophisticated humor, and roguish antics of its main characters, there’s never a full sense that the movie is new or fresh, instead it feels like something you know it should feel like. It hits the beats it should hit, and it doesn’t make dumb choices to feature an out of place cutesy moment or too overt fan-service nod that distracts from the story. But it also never elevates from anything you’d expect. By the time the credits roll and you’ve fallen in love with Chris Pratt and company, everything’s pretty much done what it should’ve done. Now you just have to wait three years for the roguish, yet heroic, team to return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.