Marvel’s film universe expands into the cosmos in this visually spectacular and fun-filled sci-fi adventure.
“Why would you want to save the galaxy?” – Rocket Raccoon.
“Because I’m one of the idiots that lives in it!” – Peter Quill aka Star-Lord.
For Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy is a pretty big gamble for its ever-growing film franchise. The source material isn’t as iconic as The Avengers and its stars are not big names like Downey Jr. or Johansson. Regardless of the numerous doubts, Marvel’s hands-on marketing strategy has shown that they have faith in this production. With its promotion, instead of focusing on what Guardians was about, they displayed who they are. From the very first trailer, straight away we were introduced to the five central characters. In just a few minutes, it gives us a glimpse of what they look like, what their premise is, and what their personalities are. Even with the chance that it wouldn’t do well in its theatrical run, at least Marvel cared about the integrity of their sprawling universe and characters. Fortunately, Guardians of the Galaxy is another bona fide hit for the studio. It’s also one of the strongest films in the MCU – bringing in the same wit and excitement that these flicks are known for, but it also has its own unique identity and presentation that sets it apart from its fellow entries.
The story follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) – or “Star-Lord” as he calls himself – a human thief who was abducted from Earth when he was just a child in 1988. Twenty-six years later, he now works for a group of smugglers called Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker). After stealing a mysterious orb from a desolate planet, he becomes hunted by a tyrant named Ronan (Lee Pace) who is working under the MCU’s big baddie, Thanos (Josh Brolin). Ronan sends Thanos’ adopted daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), to hunt down Quill and retrieve the orb. All the while, Yondu puts a bounty on Quill after he refuses to relinquish his steals to him, which gets the attention of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a duo of bounty hunters. All four characters scuffle in the home planet of the esteemed Nova Corps, which results in them being sent to prison. Being associated with Ronan, Gamora attracts attention from Drax (Dave Bautista), a powerful prisoner whose family was killed by the power-mad villain. As Quill eases the tension from his fellow outlaws, they find out Gamora’s true intentions and what the orb is worth. With the knowledge of Ronan’s evil plans and an opportunity of a huge fortune in their hands, the five rouges reluctantly make a volatile alliance that will lead them to be the unlikely saviours of the galaxy.
The newest entry in the MCU changes the pace somewhat as this is not your typical costume-clad origin arc. The five very different characters are not your usually just and moral protagonists – they’re outcasts with dubious histories who do shady, unlawful things for their own personal gain. It’s an underdog narrative where we root for these personalities who are not one step above backstabbing each other. Despite their roguish repertoires, we instantly cheer for them because they’re oddly charming, and you get invested in them because you gradually watch them turn into heroes. Choosing a cast that are not on the same level of bankability as the star-studded troupe of The Avengers plays well with its dark horse approach, which gives the flick its intended underdog feeling.
Director James Gunn had a pretty hefty task with Guardians since he had to establish and balance its colourful group of characters without any build up from prior MCU films, and he did a solid job at that. That said, there are times when it feels like the characters are fighting for screen time rather than sharing it. The amount of things that it has to juggle within its long run time is impressive, even if it results in its story slightly lacking in pace and execution. Gunn promised that this flick would be as weird as he could possibly make it – and he does not break that promise. With Quill’s introduction, where he dances through a hazard-filled planet with a cheerful pop song in the background, it quickly establishes the film’s oddball nature. And speaking of songs, Guardians has a very eccentric retro soundtrack played through Quill’s Sony Walkman, with tracks ranging from the 60s to the 80s. In context, each song should not work with their respective scenes, but because the movie’s already so weird, it quickly becomes the norm. It’s strange yet very funny to hear Blue Suede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” playing while Quill gets repeatedly stunned by an electric prod.
Evident by its staggering production values, the film has a very overwhelming amount of visual splendour. At times, it is so visually busy that it can get a bit confusing to know what’s going on. Kudos to the set designers and special effects crew on creating such a colourful and imaginative-looking feature. While it’s not difficult to tell if it’s CGI or an actual prop, the movie has a good mixture of them – resulting in numerous jaw-dropping intergalactic sceneries and exhilarating spaceship chases that really establish Guardians as a true science fiction blockbuster – almost to the point where it nearly embodies the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy.
The film stayed very true to its character-based marketing as the five Guardians did not disappoint in the least, all thanks to its incredibly likeable cast. Lovable goofball Chris Pratt, who is usually cast as a supporter in films, gives a very charismatic leading man performance as the snarky and carefree Star-Lord, and this role should hopefully elevate him into a similar level of stardom like Iron Man did for Robert Downey Jr. Saldana’s Gamora is the most level-headed out of the group, and her stoic personality clashes with her male companion’s abrasive attitudes. Rocket could have easily become a one-note novelty (in that he’s a talking raccoon), but thanks to Cooper’s gusto voice work, he gives the anthropomorphic character a lot of heart as well as a badass persona. Despite the many jokes and speculations arising with Diesel’s involvement as his character only speaks one phrase, the actor evoked many different emotions in such limitations with his Groot character, and along with Rocket, they steal the laugh-out-loud moments of the flick. Last but definitely not least is Bautista’s understated performance as Drax. Wrestlers are usually shunned whenever they have a role in a big budget movie like this, but Bautista plays his role with a lot of dignity and he manages to get a chuckle out every now and then.
The supports are also good. Nova Corps officials Glenn Close and John C. Reilly do solid jobs of being on the lawful side of justice. Rooker’s Yondu is both menacing and amusing, acting like a very dysfunctional father figure to Quill. Also, that mind control arrow of his is incredibly cool. The villains – with the exception of Brolin’s short appearance as Thanos (a near-perfect choice) – are unfortunately the downside of an otherwise fantastic cast of characters. Ronan is just your boring, run-of-the-mill baddie with a straightforward but annoyingly predictable goal. Thanos’ other adopted daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan), was more interesting but her limited screen presence wasn’t enough to cover for Ronan.
As the MCU reaches the end of its second phase, Guardians of the Galaxy keeps the franchise’s momentum going while expanding into new, interesting territories that open up more possibilities on what this ambitious shared universe can offer. Not only is this the funniest Marvel film made yet, its also a fantastic sci-fi extravaganza. The weak villains and slightly messy execution are easily forgiven because it has enough action, humour and heart, coupled with extraordinary visuals and a very charming cast to justify it as one of the most exciting and fun-filled movies to come out this year.
As is tradition with Marvel films, stay after the end credits to witness a very funny surprise…