'Guardians of the Galaxy'
Marvel Studios expands out of superhero yarns and into the realm of goofy space opera with ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. The movie is a rip-roaring adventure that’s silly without feeling slight, and dark without feeling morbid. The only problems are the occasionally distracting creeks in Marvel’s now very familiar formula. Thankfully, only a madman would consider those issues cause to dismiss the movie and I ain’t no madman.
Even though the film takes place in a galaxy that is just too far, far away for the story to be about anyone resembling a superhero, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ certainly fills the Marvel mandate of neurotic heroes who favor snark over dark. What we have here is a spaceship crew comprised of the wise-cracking Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the green-skinned and ass-kicking Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the talking raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the living tree Groot (Vin Diesel), and the lovable muscle-y moron Drax (Dave Bautista). It’s essentially a collection of space outlaws each vying to be the Han Solo or Chewbacca of the group. Watching them come together is just as much fun as it sounds.
The gang find each other while fighting over the film’s glowing MacGuffin, a space gem that will one day be worn by Thanos as part of the Infinity Gauntlet. (Thanos makes an appearance and it isn’t much, but showcases Josh Brolin’s growling vocal stylings). They become a team by breaking out of prison in the film’s finest sequence. Then they duke it out with a handful of colorful bad guys (played wonderfully by the likes of Michael Rooker, Benicio Del Toro and Lee Place) and make friends with a handful of colorful good guys (John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Peter Serafinowicz), before eventually taking part in one of Marvel’s usual city-crunching climaxes. Roll credits. Smiles all around.
Yep, it’s another Marvel movie that’s dogged by origin stories, fraught with neuroses, littered with snark, and saddled with an overblown climax involving a city in peril from giant objects falling out of the sky. For the first time, all that material starts to feel a little too familiar and suggests a bit of rust forming on the Marvel machine. However, the movie transcends its formula thanks to the brilliant decision of hiring writer/director James Gunn to supervise all the space shenanigans. Gunn was an odd choice, yet an inspired one. He’s a guy who loves outsiders and toying with genre conventions, as evidenced by his brilliant horror comedy ‘Slither’, his clever superhero piss-take ‘Super‘, and the fact that he worked at Troma.
Given that ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is a movie comprised of oddball outsiders and takes place in a familiar genre worthy of some goof-off silliness, the marriage of filmmaker to subject matter couldn’t be more perfect. In Gunn’s capable hands, the flick turns into a colorful and goofy space comedy adventure that toys with conventions and nimbly shifts its tone from light to dark. He’s an indie filmmaker playing with big budget toys and having so much fun with the opportunity that you can practically hear him giggling with delight in most shots. If the movie works, that’s because of James Gunn, and hopefully he’ll be part of the Marvel movie brain trust for years to come.
One of Gunn’s other gifts is perfectly casting character actors in weird roles, and he does so excellently here. The central Guardians are all perfectly cast, from Pratt’s slacker-hero and Saldana’s green warrior to Bradley Cooper’s hysterically snide raccoon and Bautista’s show-stopping dumbbell who can’t comprehend non-literal thought. Around the sidelines you’ve got Gunn’s buddy Michael Rooker adding sleazy charm to a blue space pirate and John C. Reilly just doing his thing. You might buy your ticket for the spectacular 3D action, but you’ll quickly become entranced by the eccentric and colorful cast. Only the one-note villain played by Lee Pace feels stock. But aside from Loki, Marvel has yet to deliver a particularly memorable bad guy, so I suppose that’s just to be expected.
Though ‘Guardians’ is every inch a Marvel movie, Gunn has also turned it into a glorious homage to ’80s era ‘Star Wars’ knockoffs (complete with a period appropriate soundtrack via Pratt’s vintage Walkman) that would probably be destined for cult status were it not for the fact that it’s going to be a massive blockbuster hit.
Yep, this is yet another major success for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a little luck, Kevin Fiege noticed the few cobwebs in the movie’s attic and will avoid those traps in future projects. If Marvel can turn this D-List comic property into possibly the most purely entertaining movie of the summer, the studio is clearly on a roll that won’t be stopping anytime soon.