An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel's “Guardians of the Galaxy” expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits—Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand—with the galaxy's fate in the balance. (from Marvel)
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand, it's not surprising to see the the studio branch out to some of their more obscure properties. While their brand choices so far have made a lot of sense--and have turned their titular heroes into nationwide household names--the little known "Guardians of the Galaxy" raised more than a few eyebrows. However, with the direction that Marvel is taking the series in, this final film in Phase 2 (before Avengers: Age of Ultron next year, that is) seems right at home. Iron Man had grounded the world in a sense of tangible reality (in that "hey, this could maybe happen in our world" kind of way), with the series gradually getting more sci-fi and fantastical. Things like introducing aliens in Avengers--and a flash of Thanos' face at the end--has helped pave the way to this moment: the first Marvel movie entirely set in space (save for the flashback in the first scene).
Following films like Star Wars and more modern efforts like The Fifth Element and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those films that defies all expectations to bask in its own weirdness and make the absolute best of it. It surprises the viewer at nearly every turn, poking fun at itself where it sees fit. It's the movie Mystery Men only dreamed of being, as it unites a band of unlikely heroes - losers even - and makes them heroes. Chris Pratt plays Star Lord (AKA Peter Quill) as a goofier kind of Han Solo, with unusual allies being found in a female warrior; a talking, trigger-happy raccoon; a brawny but slow bruiser out for revenge and a walking plant creature that can only say its own name. On paper, it seems like the kind of mixture that could only work in a cartoon series or ongoing comic book, but it translates amazingly well to the big screen. But, again as Mystery Men proves, it takes the right scope, the right director, the right cast and the right script to pull it all together just right. And Guardians of the Galaxy has that-- in spades.
Going back to Star Wars, there was something truly unique and special about that big screen sci-fi romp. It was Star Trek (the original series) for the wider pop audiences, and it helped shape where sci-fi and action has gone since the late 70's. That legacy alone makes it hard for anything new to top the impact of something like that. Even the Star Wars prequels couldn't hold a candle to or make the impact that its three predecessors could; too many better sci-fi movies had been made in between the trilogies and since then. Guardians of the Galaxy is the first film in recent years to even come close to the imaginative, inviting, and all-out fun of something like Star Wars; it makes us aging Star Wars fans feel like kids again. And I have to tip my hat to the sheer genius of the construction of Guardians. Sure, one could probably sit down with a pen and pad and draw enough comparisons between Star Wars and Guardians to attempt to make a case that the latter ripped off the former, but the fact that it takes a few cues from the famed game-changing blockbuster does not make it in any way a rip-off; it only ever feels like it attempts to capture the spirit of it.
Park and Recreation's Chris Pratt plays a lovable, dimwitted, musically-inclined buffoon on that show, and the television series is better because of that fact. Pratt seems like an odd choice for a movie like this, but upon his first scene, everything makes sense as we get a clear image of the tone that Guardians is going for. Its prologue is semi-serious as we meet an 8-year-old Peter Quill at the bedside of his dying mother in 1988. But it sets it all up beautifully and helps show you, without being too cheesy (X-Men Origins: Wolverine is Exhibit A for exemplifying just how cheesy the childhood origin of a hero can be), just how the human Peter ended up deep in space among a sea of different races of aliens. Guardians ends up being a hearty mix of silly, ridiculous and gritty, and it just makes for good, solid entertainment. But even with all of that, it manages to stir in a necessary dose of heart as well. Star Lord's most prized possession is a mix tape of 70's and 80's hits his mother made for him as a kid and the music not only plays perfectly into the film and its tone itself, but it acts as a thread that's neatly woven from the very first scene throughout the entire movie. It's a really nice touch.
Supporting Pratt is Avatar/Star Trek's Zoe Saldana as Gamora, heartthrob Bradley Cooper voicing the raccoon Rocket, WWE's Dave Bautista as the beefy Drax and Fast and Furious' Vin Diesel as the voice of the tree alien Groot. The Hobbit's Lee Pace is the creepy villain Ronan, and Michael Rooker plays Yondu Udonta, the leader of another band of thieves who tangles with Star Lord throughout the movie. Cooper easily steals the show as the coarse talking Rocket, who's quickly offended at being called things like "rodent" and "hamster" and will readily blow someone away for making that mistake. Pratt channels the comedic energy of his Parks character into Star Lord, but balances the needed heroism and seriousness to make his leading role work as well as it does. However, if Guardians wasn't such a delightfully fun sci-fi adventure, he'd probably prove to be sorely miscast.
The only downside to the film is really within its content (and I may have given it a solid 5/5 if it weren't for that). It's a pretty violent film at times (yet not nearly as jarring as Captain America: The Winter Soldier or the recent and very bloody Hercules), even if it's seldom very graphic, but the language and occasional crude reference is most unfortunate. Pratt stops short of saying "What the f---" by just halting his mouth before making the start of the "F" word (it's unmistakable what he was going to say), while there are a few uses of the "S" and "a" word, a couple of "d*ck," 2 exclamations of "G-d" ("Good G-d" and "For G-d's sakes) and the rest mostly being "h*ll." Then there are several references to Star Lord having many fleeting flings with women throughout the galaxy in his life, with a gag about how dirty Gamora thinks his ship is leading to him saying a black light would reveal just how gross it really is. Some other sexual jokes are made (but nothing too direct), and the alien body count is definitely high. An infinity stone, when grasped, causes the flesh on characters to crack and start to float off of their bodies before exploding, and we see one prolonged moment where this happens to multiple characters all while screaming intensely in agony. (That has a positive outcome, but it's still an intense scene.) All in all, it's not a family film, so the younger ones should be left home (The couple in front of us had a toddler and an infant and it is highly inappropriate for those ages especially).
As a part of Marvel's cinematic "Phase 2," Guardians of the Galaxy is very loosely integrated -- unless you're really paying attention. Thanos was the mysterious figure shown in profile only at the end of Avengers and he makes his first full-on appearance here, voiced by Josh Brolin (the character is mostly CG), setting him up further for future films. Benico Del Toro reprises his role as The Collector, who appeared in the closing scenes of Thor: The Dark World. These snippets rope Galaxy into the string of Marvel films, but it's more likely that we'll see just how much this fits into the context of the already-established cinematic Marvel universe in succeeding films. Guardians ends with a promise that "The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return" and a projected date for the release of a sequel has already been set by Marvel for 2017.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonderful cinematic surprise. It's about as fun as popcorn films can get these days, and it's also visually exciting too. (And man, Pratt is 2 for 2 this year with the wonderful LEGO Movie being his other big hit this year, as he voiced the main character in it.) It's one of those movies that has so much going on and so much meat to its imaginative world, that multiple viewings are necessary to really take in all it has to offer. And before the film reached its equally fun finish, I already couldn't wait to see it again. Marvel has continued to raise the bar on itself this year. (For those wondering about a post-credits additional scene, there is one, but it's quite silly and adds absolutely nothing to the film or the Marvel universe. It's a cameo from another comic book character that suffered from a horrifyingly bad 1986 cinematic adaptation. It probably is not worth staying in the theater and waiting for.)- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/2/14)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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