Guardians of the Galaxy: Review

posterby Aaron Einhorn
When it comes to my favorite superheroes, believe it or not, I’m very much a DC Comics kind of guy. Superman will always be, for me, the ultimate expression of what a superhero should be. Batman, when handled right, is a fascinating character, and Wonder Woman should be the ideal to which all ladies can look up to.

But for the past decade or so, I’ve been solidly in Marvel’s camp. Not only have their comics been consistently better written, featuring both more nuanced character development but also having better epic, world-shattering events (despite a few missteps along the way), but the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been knocking things out of the park, ever since Iron Man. While there have certainly been some films I enjoyed more than others, I haven’t disliked a Marvel movie yet.

That said, not going to lie, the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy left me cold. Peter Jason Quill, aka Starlord, seemed like an impudent man-child, and the film seemed like it was going to focus on humor of the lowest common denominator. Was this what the Marvel Cinematic Universe had come to? After the brilliance that was Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Later trailers softened my opinion, showing a bit more action, a bit more plot, and showing that Quill is rarely rewarded for acting like an idiot – so much so that, by the time I was able to attend a screening last night, I was actually quite looking forward to Guardians. So, now that I’ve seen the movie, did a thief, an assassin, two thugs and a maniac deliver on a film that is worthy to stand alongside The Avengers? Read on.

XXX GUARDIANS-GALAXY-MOV-JY-0693.JPG A ENT

The Milano flies away from Xandar.

Synopsis

From Marvel, the studio that brought you the global blockbuster franchises of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, comes a new team–the Guardians of the Galaxy. 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.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which first appeared in comic books in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 (Jan. 1969), stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, featuring Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, with John C. Reilly, Glenn Close as Nova Prime Rael and Benicio del Toro as The Collector.

team_jail

The team assembled before their jailbreak.

The Feature

Guardians of the Galaxy is a fairly straightforward team-introduction movie, but that doesn’t make it boring or predictable. The movie begins with a very young Peter Quill on Earth, who following the death of his mother, is taken in to space. Why is he taken in to space, and by whom? Well, you’ll have to wait until later in the film for that. We then flash-forward several decades until Quill is a grown man and a thief, who in the pursuit of a MacGuffin, runs afoul of both the Kree and the Xandarians – two races who until recently, were at war. Caught between two galactic empires and a bounty on his head from a former partner, Quill crosses paths with Gamora, Rocket and Groot, which leads to all four in jail together where they meet Drax.

What follows is almost a comedy of errors and betrayals, as Quill and his companions escape the prison, attempt to sell the orb, then realizing that the Orb is actually one of the six Infinity Stones (and we have it confirmed for us that the Tesseract and the Aether are as well – clearly we’re building to the Infinity Gauntlet – a hypothesis only strengthened by the presence of Thanos as the man behind Ronan), we see the team trying to stop Ronan from using the stone to destroy all of Xandar and the Nova Corps.

Along the way, there is a lot of humor, a ton of action, and some surprisingly human and tender moments between Quill, Gamora, Drax and Rocket (with Groot continuing to steal every scene it appears in.)

nebula_wide

This is *not* Amy Pond.

The Visuals

Guardians is fairly middle-of-the-pack when it comes to visuals. Action scenes are shot well, with a minimal amount of shaky cam and quick cuts, from both space battles to hand-to-hand fights. We get some impressive scenery shots of both planet-wide-vistas and close-ups of exotic locales. I was particularly impressed with Knowhere, for instance. But where it does deserve special mention is in creature design. Guardians features more alien races than your typical Star Wars film, and each and every alien is believable. There’s still an emphasis on rubber-forehead aliens, but the more exotic creatures are present and fully-realized.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Rocket and Groot. Although it’s impossible to be completely unaware of the fact that these two characters are CGI over a mo-cap suit, both characters feel like they’re actually present and have weight – and that takes some serious skill.

Rocket and Groot engage in carnage.

Rocket and Groot engage in carnage.

The Music

James Gunn has discussed the use of the soundtrack in the film and how he made use of it on the set. By having the audio tape worked in to the plot, we have a convenient excuse for why music of the late seventies is playing throughout the movie, and while the question of where, exactly, Starlord gets AA batteries for his Walkman is valid, it’s easily handwaved.

"Oh... yeah."

“Oh… yeah.”

The Good

The Guardians themselves are just about perfectly cast, and not a single one of them is the one-dimensional character you might expect them to be. Each member of the cast shows some nice development throughout the course of the film’s action, and every time I expected a cliché to rear its ugly head, Gunn manages to avoid it. I particularly like the fact that Gamora does not become a love interest for Quill – and the mostly naked shot of Zoe Saldana from the rear which is so prominent in the trailers did not make it to the final cut of the movie.

This isn’t strictly limited to the Guardians, either. We do manage to see some really nice character moments from Thanos’ daughter, Nebula (played by the lovely Karen Gillan), from Glen Close’s Nova Prime, and even John C. Reilly’s Nova Corpsman gets some nice moments.

Ronan was deadly before getting an Infinity Gem. Now? He may be unstoppable.

Ronan was deadly before getting an Infinity Gem. Now? He may be unstoppable.

The Bad

One of the reasons that The Avengers worked so well is that by the time the characters start meeting each other and making each other miserable (in advance of becoming an actual team), we had already met them all. We knew who Stark was, we knew who Steve Rogers was, we knew Thor. Guardians has to do a massive amount of world-building and character establishment before it can get us to that point, and it doesn’t always work. There are elements that simply do not get fully realized, and while some of this leads to future hooks for the next film (Who is Quill’s father? Comics fans know, but general audiences don’t. When Christina asked me, and I told her, she looked at me blankly and flat out said “You could be completely making that up.”), some of it just seems undeveloped.

"I'm Star-Lord, man."

“I’m Star-Lord, man.”

The Ugly

Some of those underdeveloped moments really hurt the development of the film’s villains. Much like Thor: The Dark World never had time to establish anything about who Malekith was and why he wanted to destroy everything, much less to define his right-hand-man, Kurse, we see the same thing here. Ronan’s defining moment is the way he first stands up to, and then betrays, Thanos. But that’s it. Why were the Kree and Xandar at war? Why was the peace treaty so hard to get signed? Why did Ronan reject it? Who is Korath? What drew Ronan into Thanos’ orbit, and why did Thanos give him the use of both Nebula and Gamora? We have no clue. And Ronan from the comics is not a one-note villain. He’s a man of honor and quite devoted to the good of the Empire. This Ronan has about as much personality as the Destroyer armor from Thor, and that’s a disservice to him.

Also, the stingers at the end of Marvel movies have been one of my favorite elements of them, and the stinger for Guardians was held back from the preview screening.

One by one, the cosmic McGuffins are assembled.

One by one, the cosmic McGuffins are assembled.

Final Thoughts

So, I quite liked Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie is a lot of fun, and is excellently paced – perhaps the best paced of Marvel’s films yet. The action is solid, the humor is great, and the acting deserves kudos all around.

I am already hearing people say that it’s the best Marvel film to date, and I think that is, perhaps, taking it a bit too far. I still think that Winter Soldier is the most perfectly put together of the Marvel Cinematic Universe entries, and The Avengers has better moments than Guardians – and more of them.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Guardians of the Galaxy is everything I would hope for in a summer action film, and remains a worthy addition to the canon. The cosmic element of the Marvel Universe is here, and had a very solid foundation to build on.

yondu

(Disclaimer: I was provided free tickets for the preview screening, however I received no other compensation. All opinions are mine and mine alone.)