Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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With most of their popular characters already adapted to film — Iron Man (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and The Incredible Hulk (2008) — the next plausible step for Marvel Studios was to delve into their lesser-known properties. So, when Guardians of the Galaxy — an obscure intergalactic Dirty Dozen series, created by Arnold Drake and George Colan, which takes place entirely in space — was announced at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, it was widely believed to be the first true gamble for Kevin Feige and his company. What’s more, in the wake of The Avengers (2012) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) both receiving critical praise, the final feature of Marvel’s Phase II, Guardians of the Galaxy, had a lot to live up to.

Written and directed by ex-Troma member James Gunn, Super (2010), and co-written by Nicole Perlman, Guardians of the Galaxy — the tenth Marvel Studios feature — had to accomplish — in approximately two hours — what it took six films to do in Phase I of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; establish character origins, have the crew meet and team up against a power beyond their abilities and finally, have audiences care about these characters. Furthermore, the picture had to establish itself as an existing property within the current Cinematic Universe and do so through means other than simple crossover cameos. So, it comes with great pleasure to announce that Guardians of the Galaxy manages to achieve all of these feats while offering the best Marvel Studios outing to date.

Move over Avengers, and make way for the Guardians of the Galaxy!
Move over Avengers, and make way for the Guardians of the Galaxy!

After his mother’s passing in 1988, an emotionally broken child, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), is abducted from Earth by a group of space pirates known as the Ravagers. Twenty-six years later, Quill has transformed into an intergalactic scavenger who calls himself Star-Lord, working for the Ravagers, led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). When Quill comes across a mysterious orb — a source of unimaginable power — on the planet Morag, he betrays Yondu by taking the orb for himself, in an attempt to sell it on the Nova Corps homeworld, Xandar, for some extra cash. Unaware of the orb’s immense power, Quill finds himself caught in an intergalactic feud, becoming an unsuspecting target for those who seek the item in his possession. Things intensify when Gamora (Zoe Saldana), adopted daughter of the evil king Thanos (Josh Brolin), sets out to retrieve the power source. All the while, bounty hunters Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered raccoon, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a tree-like humanoid, discover a bounty placed on Quill’s head by Yondu, swiftly hunting him down in hopes of receiving a large reward sum for his capture.

Following a calamity on Xandar, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket and Groot are all arrested by the Nova Corps and are imprisoned in the Kyln — a galactic maximum-security prison. While inside the Klyn, the crew of outcasts team up in an effort to escape confinement with each planning to use Quill’s orb for their own personal desires when freed. Along the way, they are joined by Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a warrior in search of vengeance against the being responsible for the murder of his wife and child. With an even greater threat hot on their heals in the form of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a rogue in league with Thanos, who is out to steal the orb to crush his enemies, the group of mercenaries are forced to band together in an attempt to protect themselves and the galaxy from total annihilation.

Lee Pace nails it as Ronan the Accuser!
Lee Pace nails it as Ronan the Accuser!

For their Guardians of the Galaxy film adaptation, screenwriters Gunn and Perlman have taken most of their inspiration from the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy incarnation of the series created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, which offered a newer Guardians team — one that also consisted of various supporting players from other Marvel properties. Right from the onset however, it’s clear that Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a very different Marvel movie, for starters, it does not take place on Earth. From the minute the film begins, we see Star-Lord dancing his way through the movie’s opening credits to Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love, and are instantly assured that this in not your typical comic book film; even Gunn himself claimed that Guardians of the Galaxy is, ‘much more of a space opera than a superhero movie.’ Whilst not straying too far away from the established Marvel formula — the narrative predominantly revolving around a MacGuffin — Gunn, in particular, has managed to mix his love for oddball, Troma-style comedy and cinematic textures together into a traditional arc of heroism, friendship and family, one that truly works thanks to its terrific performers and Gunn’s able direction.

The film’s wonderful cast has a chemistry that could rival that of The Avengers (2012). Leading the pack is Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, played to perfection by Chris Pratt, Her (2013). Part Han Solo, part Indiana Jones, Pratt has propelled himself into stardom with his portrayal of Quill, melding humor, emotion and a badass attitude together whilst remaining remarkably believable in the picture’s action sequences. To prepare for the role, Pratt went on a strict training regimen and dieted for six months in order to drop some of his weight and produce a six-pack for his shirtless scenes, a worth while venture on Pratt’s behalf. Gamora, played by the alien empress Zoe Saldana — who has managed to breathe life into the biggest science fiction heroines of this era with Avatar (2009) and Star Trek (2009) — depicts her tough-as-nails character to precision, subtly portraying Gamora’s softer side by gradually revealing her desperate need to escape the life she’s trapped within. Saldana’s general appeal radiates alongside Pratt and her co-stars, adding a vigorous dynamic to their compelling group.

We're on a road to Knowhere
We’re on a road to Knowhere

WWE superstar Dave Bautista, Riddick (2013), is a riot as Drax and provides much of the film’s comic relief as the brutish destroyer whose race of people are so literal that he is unable to understand sarcasm or metaphors. Here, Bautista showcases his merit as an actor along with his comic skills and timing, hitting the right notes at precisely the right times. An almost unrecognizable Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook (2012), provides the voice for crowd favorite, Rocket Raccoon, with plenty of energy and flair. For such a little creature, the fast-talking, take-no-nonsense Rocket fills the screen in such an enormous way thanks to Cooper’s terrific voice work. Equally Vin Diesel’s, The Iron Giant (1999), humanoid tree, Groot, provides a lot of laughs as Rocket’s companion; while Groot may have a rather limited vocabulary, his facial expressions speak a thousand words. According to Diesel, he recorded Groot’s iconic line, ‘I am Groot,’ over 1,000 times and in several different languages. While Rocket and Groot come as an established double act, their interactions with Star-Lord, Gamora and Drax are important in identifying the way the crew’s friendship form and bonds develop.

Lee Pace, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), leads a heavy charge of first-rate villains with his Ronan the Accuser. Despite the fact that Ronan is a bit of a cardboard-cut-out bad guy — he is frequently predictable and his motivations are often unclear — he still serves as a solid threat to the galaxy and makes for a frightening baddie. Ronan’s assistant, Nebula — the adopted daughter of Thanos — played by Karen Gillan, Oculus (2013), is equally as menacing with her robotic features triumphantly blending well alongside Gillan’s human softness.

Other supporting players are genuine and fun, from Michael Rooker’s, Cliffhanger (1993), Yondu — sounding somewhat similar to his Grant Grant character from Gunn’s Slither (2006) — to John C. Reilly’s, Step Brothers (2008), earnest Corpsman Dey, whilst Glenn Close, Mars Attacks! (1996), seems to be enjoying her role as head of an intergalactic military force. Benicio Del Toro, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), a collector of interstellar oddities, is both strange and offbeat, while his weird assistant Carina Walters (Ophelia Lovibond), should have had a bit more screen time. Look out for Troma Entertainment co-founder Lloyd Kaufman as a prisoner in the Klyn and Jame’s Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn, Gilmore Girls (2000), as Yondu’s right hand man, Kraglin.

Groot ... lightening the mood!
Groot … lightening the mood!

Guardians of the Galaxy is a sight to behold — imagine the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars (1977) expanded or Brian Henson’s Farscape (1999) on a larger budget — with extraordinary make-up providing a semi-practical wonderland of aliens, all rich with textures, color and detail, to intricate seamless visual effects; from the mining colony of Knowhere, located in the head of a decapitated long-dead Celestial being, to the temple ruins in the deserted wasteland of Morag, the technical work on the project is a triumph. What’s more, while this universe could have been alienating and muddling for non-comic book fans, the picture remains blissfully accessible thanks to Gunn’s terrific handling as he establishes the franchise in an understandable, easy-to-follow way. Clear goals laid out for the crew, back-stories are handled with care — making sure the viewer understands exactly what drives these personalities — threats are obvious, and the emotional fragility of the crew is truthful.

At its core, Guardians of the Galaxy feels like a throwback to an era long past, capturing that sense of awe, excitement, adventure and rip-roaring fun I felt growing up amidst eighties films. There are strains from Star Wars (1977) engrained in this picture’s genetics; the same can be said about Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Explorers (1985) and even the Back to the Future series. Guardians of the Galaxy is a rocking self-aware tribute to the nostalgic pictures of yesteryear, effortlessly rekindling my inner child. Additionally, Gunn has skillfully loaded Guardians of the Galaxy with eighties references — Quill’s ship The Milano is named after his childhood crush, Alyssa Milano and inside the ship are numerous eighties related items including an Alf (1986) trading card — winks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a Dark Elf from Thor: The Dark World (2013) and a Chitauri from The Avengers (2012) can be seen inside The Collector’s museum — and other Easter eggs — the slugs from Gunn’s Slither (2006) can also be spotted in The Collector’s containers.

'Where did I store that darn Tesseract again?'
‘Where did I store that darn Tesseract again?’

The film’s post credit sequence is also a winner and features a long forgotten character, voiced by Seth Green, Family Guy (1999), from Marvel’s past, who many assumed would never grace the silver screen again. Adding to the feeling of days gone by is the film’s killer soundtrack — explained by way of Star-Lord’s walkman as he plays tracks from his Mix Tape Volume I to remind him of home — chock-full of nostalgic hits from the seventies and eighties including The Jackson 5, 10cc, The Runnaways and Marvin Gaye — though it’s unclear how Quill powers his battery operated walkman. Let’s not forget Tyler Bates’ larger-than-life score, which equally fits the picture’s tone.

Guardians of the Galaxy is best summed up with a quote by Rocket, ‘Ain’t no thing like me, ‘cept me,’ as Gunn and his team have crafted a fresh and uniquely thrilling cosmic adventure loaded with pulse pounding action, an honest heart and comical humor that’s easily accessible to any demographic regardless of age or gender. Hopefully this carnival ride halfway across the universe is the start of an exciting new Marvel franchise as this series is laced with endless potential for future possibilities. That said, I very much recommend taking the journey with this rag-tag crew of misfits, as Guardians of the Galaxy is stellar entertainment of the highest order.

4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Guardians of the Galaxy is released through Marvel Studios