Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Starring: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana
You have to hand it to Marvel. They are taking the tremendous success and good favor they have built up over the years and challenging audiences with crazier and crazier concepts. Guardians of the Galaxy is unquestionably Marvel’s most unique film to date with its brash comedic style, out of this world atmosphere, and bizarrely colorful characters. There may not be another movie studio on the planet that would even consider material of this nature on such a large scale. Oddities aside the question that really matters is does this all work? Has Marvel bought into their own press too much and finally gone too far?
With the help of director James Gun and a stellar cast Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most joyous experience you can have this summer. There is an earnestness attitude that revels in is makeshift structure—a self-awareness that sees all its own idiosyncrasies and never tries to hide them. Instead it pushes them to the forefront for audiences to enjoy in all their glory. It is a type filmmaking that hearkens back to classic Science Fiction that enjoyed being larger than life. Guardians of the Galaxy is not without its faults as it shares many of the common issues that have plagued the Marvel films since their incarnation. Still, even with a messy narrative and forgettable villains Guardians of the Galaxy is a refreshing breath of fresh air to the superhero genre that is in need of new life.
Director James Gunn should get the bulk of the credit for pulling this off. Gunn has a similar sensibility to now Marvel guru Joss Whedon. Dialogue full of snarky quips, cultural references galore, and a prime understanding of how to play with genre tropes are all characteristics they both share. Gunn though has a sharper edge than Whedon. With movies like Super he has shown he loves to go in some dark and twisted places Whedon shies away from. Guardians never becomes too dark, yet the humor has more adult themes then past Marvel films. When your heroic lead indicates a black light will make his ship into a Jackson Pollock painting it is an early indication there may be some earmuff moments for some parents.
Why the humor works so well is because it is almost always character driven, and oh what fun characters get to drive. Starting with Chris Pratt who stars as the not so infamous Star Lord. Pratt is charismatic and naturally humorous. This is the big break that has slowly been building for him. Guardians could do for him what Iron Man did for Robert Downey Jr. not so long ago. Star Lord was not always Star Lord. He was first Peter Quill an everyday boy living life on Earth in the late 1980’s. Shortly after his mother passed away he was abducted and brought to a new existence galaxies away.
Quill leads a misfit team full of rejects that are the farthest thing away from heroes. Most attention will go to the smart talking and machine gun wilding Rocket Raccoon. The byproduct of illegal experiments Rocket is proof that at this point Marvel can get away with just about anything. In order to only sweeten the pot his bounty hunter partner is a walking-talking tree whose entire vocabulary is made up of the words, “I am Groot”. Some may argue Bradley Cooper was only hired as the voice of Rocket for his star power, but even if that is the case that does not hinder his performance at all. Same goes for Vin Diesel as Groot. Diesel is channeling his inner Iron Giant to a certain degree. With only three words his inflections become key in providing insight into Groot’s emotional state.
Not all the characters work as well as Star Lord, Groot, and Rocket. Dave Bautista as Drax is an expected disappointment. He has a few shining moments, but overall lacks the conviction to make this literal character that misunderstands metaphors fully work. Zoe Saldana, who stars as Thanos traitorous daughter Gamora, is not given a lot to work with as her character is plainly generic. She is basically just a plot device and stereotypical love interest.
Even with their individual issues together they are flawless pieces of different puzzles that somehow fit together. On the surface they are ridiculous creations designed for our enjoyment. Underneath are some damaged souls that have had to endure torturous experiments, the murder of their loved ones, and lack of having a true purpose. Never do their dark backstories become melodramatic. Every time drama approaches expectations are subverted with some well-timed humor.
Thankfully Gunn and co-screen writer Nicole Perlman do very little hand holding as we are brought into this strange new universe full of eccentricity. It’s like watching Star Wars without its traditional crawl that eases you into its universe. There is no easing here. This is a wonderful world already in progress. One that begs for further exploration. We learn the Kree Empire has struck a peace treaty thanks to the help of the Nova Corps with the planet Xandar. This treaty has not gone over well with powerful Kree warrior Ronan who seeks to usurp the treaty and destroy Xandar. With the help of the mysterious and powerful Thanos there may be no stopping Ronan from his quest–except maybe the Guardians.
Narratively the film struggles. As a villain Ronan continues Marvel’s trend of being unable to establish strong antagonists that are not called Loki. Motivations are nonexistent as he is simply evil and that is also the extent of his personality. At times the story feels stuck and some weak reasoning is used to move it forward. Once a character literally calls the enemy to engage in combat logic becomes sketchy. Lastly the final climax is insipidly structured. While packed with engaging action, it also appears to be one of the most poorly planned invasions in history.
Comparing those flaws to what works makes them easily forgivable, and honestly unnoticeable underneath all the laughter and goodwill. Plot issues are nothing when strong characters are given first priority. When action sequences are not only full of entertainment but allow characters to develop. Never does the action feel static as it gradually grows in scale. You have everything from a zany chase on city streets that feels like it was taken right from an early screwball comedy from the silent era to an enormous spaceship battle in the bright blue sky. Finally a film that is not afraid to have big set pieces during the day time!
All this adds up to a risk that pays off. Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s funniest film and wets the appetite for bigger and bolder ideas. I guess all that is left to say is– “I am Groot!”