SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure / Comedy
DIRECTED BY: James Gunn
WRITTEN BY: James Gunn & Nicole Perlman
PEW PEW: Guardians has all the action and excitement of Star Wars, and then some!
CAT FOOD: The film has a great deal to say about friendship and mutual support as the team comes together.
When it was announced that Marvel Studios were going to be making a live action adaptation of their obscure comic title Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought they’d gone mad and that this was going to be the Disney-owned studio’s first big face-plant. As promotional material started to surface, however, I began to seriously warm up to the thing. Then, as the eve of the film’s release drew near, I wanted very much for the movie to succeed, mostly so that it might pave the way for some other obscure comic adaptations.
Those who know me well know that I am an avid superhero film collector. I have hundreds of them spanning about nine decades. While there are many featuring heroes that a lot of you have never heard of, a good chunk of them are ‘safe’ titles like Batman, Superman, etc. I love when obscure titles are chosen for adaptation. I love it even more when they don’t totally suck balls.
So it truly is testament to what we’ve learned in the thirty some odd years since the Howard the Duck adaptation when something as quirky as Guardians of the Galaxy totally kicks ass (and furthermore manages to feature that same damn duck somewhere within it as well).
We are introduced to a young boy named Peter Quill, whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s quite sad, really, and definitely the low point of the film. After his mum dies, Quill charges out of the hospital with only his knapsack and Walkman cassette player, and is promptly abducted by aliens.
Decades later, Quill (who has been raised by his captors, blue people called ‘Ravagers’ led by a pirate named Yondu) has become (not so) notorious outlaw Star-Lord. After discovering a softball-sized orb on a ruined planet, our hero finds himself wanted by Yondu, who puts a bounty on his head. The bounty attracts a delightfully mouthy, anthropomorphic raccoon named Rocket and his sidekick, Groot, who is essentially a walking tree whose speech is limited to the stating of his name.
The orb itself draws the attention of galactic terrorist/tyrant/warlord Ronan the Accuser, who sends the absolutely stunning assassin Gamora to retrieve it. Once all four come together, it is revealed that Gamora plans to betray Ronan and sell the orb to a high-paying buyer. Realising their goals are the same, all four eventually form an uneasy alliance. The fifth and final member, Drax the Destroyer (whose family has been murdered by Ronan), works his way into the scheme, believing Gamora to be his key to vengeance.
If this seems like a lot to take in, don’t worry, the film’s narrative is brilliantly benign and mostly easy to follow. Each heavy scene is followed up by a few fantastic, gut-busting laughs, and the plan is reiterated several times at key junctures so as to refresh anyone who might fall behind.
As with Star Wars, the characters, the soundtrack, and the excitement are the key to Guardians of the Galaxy. Visually stunning, the film takes us to a number of vibrant and exotic locales and the frenzied combat is broken up only by fabulously charming comedy, Ronan’s sinister dealings, and a few intimate moments that are replete with feels but never get so heavy that a good one-liner or eighties pop-culture reference can’t bring us out.
The soundtrack is its own kind of genius. When Quill is abducted from Earth (or Terra, as the aliens call it), it is in the nineteen eighties, so most of the culture references are form that decade, but the majority of the music featured in the film is found on a cassette his mum made for him, which features some great groovy tunes from mostly the seventies. It adds an even further to the film’s already sunny charm.
Finally, the main characters are truly amazing. My favourite is Rocket, of course. He’s adorable and he’s a mischievous little bastard too. My favourite scene in the film involves something he orders Quill to steal from someone during the prison escape sequence. Groot fits the Chewbacca sidekick mold perfectly. All he can say is “I am Groot,” but Rocket understands him as if he’s actually making conversation. The expressions on the tree-dude’s face are priceless and totally sell his character.
Quill/Star-Lord himself is played magnificently by Chris Pratt, who is one seriously funny dude. While he is undoubtedly a sex symbol, one can relate to him in a way that one really can’t with many other superhero actors. Dave Bautista really surprised me as Drax. One would assume the man would be one of the meat-with-eyes types, but he actually brings humanity and charm to his musclebound character with skill. There are subtlties to his performance that really impressed me. When he pets Rocket’s head at the end, for instance, it’s really rather sweet.
And Zoe Saldana, who did nothing for me in Avatar, but who rocked in Star Trek, presents one seriously gorgeous green babe in her portrayal of Gamora. She’s a badass warrior who’s just in it for her at the beginning, but she very gradually softens just the tiniest bit. She never becomes the hopeless female archetype, however. Rather, she manages to mellow into a really cool chick that is both badass and sexy while remaining dignified and strong. That prison outfit, man… Ay caramba!!!
The supporting cast is stellar as well. The only weak link, in my opinion, was Michael Rooker’s Yondu. While I’m usually in favour of Rooker’s ability to craft greasy, unlikable villains, his blue space redneck is terribly annoying at times. I don’t mind the character, but there are situations (such as when he won’t let the art gallery dude finish talking) that are plain stupid and don’t really gel with me.
Guardians of the Galaxy presents what I think we needed badly from a superhero/comic book film. Amidst a sea of gloomy and gritty superhero flicks, Guardians is a feel-good movie. When I left the theatre, I made the claim that Guardians of the Galaxy was better than Star Wars. At the time, we’d only had the six original Star Wars films, which were great classics, but perhaps weren’t the best all around movies. To me, the series lacked even one picture that was truly great fun beginning to end.
As Star Wars: The Force Awakens neared release, someone asked me what I expected from it. As I’d weathered the almost dismal prequel films, I had extremely low expectations, but on top of the list was that it be good enough for me to take back that Guardians of the Galaxy was better than Star Wars. It thankfully accomplished this and then some.
So there you have it. In the realm of space action/adventure films, Guardians of the Galaxy is second only to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s just so damn much fun!