As Marvel keeps adding movies to the MCU it’s natural to assume that they’ll eventually make a movie that drops the ball. Especially when they advertise their movies for so long and get them surrounded by so much hype. However, Guardians of the Galaxy is not going to be the movie that drops that proverbial ball. Warning, very mild spoilers (things that most people know anyway) ahead.
Guardians of the Galaxy jumps straight into the cosmic fringe of the Marvel universe and deals with a lot of characters and places that haven’t been depicted on any screen before. Things like the Kree, Knowhere, Cosmo, Nebula, Celestials, the Nova Corps, etc. are all things that would’ve been too big to try to get into a movie or TV before, but they’re included in this film. So this movie is a big deal just for including that. The Guardians are an established group in Marvel lore, but they’re not one of the big name groups like Spider-man or the X-Men, so I was wondering how this movie was going to play to a broad audience that had probably never heard of them before. The answer is: with humor and attitude. This is a movie that is going to be accessible to all audiences not just the hardcore comic fans that have actually read the niche comic title. It may also be one of the funnier movies I’ve seen all year, which is impressive since it’s not actually a comedy.
Hard core comics fans may have to give the movie some leeway in a few areas. Like other MCU titles, this movie does vary the comic origins and stories of some of the characters. Some of the deviations may seem big when you fist notice them but, by the end of the movie, I think most people would be happy with how they reconcile those deviations. It’s just important to remember that the MCU is still a different universe than the comics so they have the flexibility to change certain things in order to make the movies work. It’s also worth pointing out that the Guardians don’t have a back story that’s that well established, even in the comics. They’re more an entertaining group of characters than a group that has a deep mythology and that’s pretty much just how the movie is constructed. They really trimmed the fat to give you exactly what you need to know about these characters. Given the already light mythology, this is pretty easy to pull off and I don’t think it comes off as being irresponsible with the source material.
While there are still a lot of nods to the comic books, this movie is clearly anticipating that most people who watch it aren’t that familiar with the characters. I say that because anyone who knows the Guardians knows that, despite being mortal, their members seem to be nearly impossible (or really difficult) to kill…at least for good. Still the movie tries to create drama by having characters attempt to sacrifice themselves. While I could tell it was working on a lot of people in the theater around me, I was having a hard time not just blurting out “you know [spoiler]’s probably not dead right”. Despite my reaction, that’s still a sign that the movie was doing something right because it managed to get these people to care about what was happening on screen.
Similar to the comic stories, no one’s going to accuse this movie of having a very deep plot. The plot is pretty straightforward and predictable and you probably already know most of it just from watching the commercials for the movie. In short, the movie is about the formation of the Guardians team. Peter Quill aka “Star-Lord” is an Earthling (also called Terrans) who was taken into space and has made a life as a thief and smuggler as a member of the Ravagers under the tutelage of their captain: Yondu (the movie character is a bit different than the comic one described in the link). Quill double crosses Yondu by stealing an orb that he was commissioned to get and trying to go to the planet Xandar and sell it. It turns out that Ronan the Accuser has also been commissioned, by Thanos, to retrieve that same orb. To help Ronan, Thanos has sent help in the form of his “daughters”, Gamora and Nebula. When Gamora goes to retrieve the orb from Quill she gets caught between him and two bounty hunters, Rocket (Bradley Cooper and Groot(Vin Diesel), who are looking to bring him in for a bounty. The four are arrested by the Nova Corps. While imprisoned, they meet Drax the Destroyer, who has a personal vendetta against Ronan for killing his family under the direction of Thanos. The five form a tenuous partnership to break out of prison and cash in on Quill’s sphere. However, when they discover the true nature of the sphere (it contains an infinity stone) they realize that allowing it to go anywhere where Ronan could get to it would pose a great danger to the galaxy. So, they band together and try to stop him since, you know, they live in the galaxy. That’s pretty much the whole thing in a nutshell. Everything plays out the way you’re probably expecting it to if you’ve watched any kind of superhero movie before.
There are a lot of logical jumps (read “plot holes”) made in the story that you can either harp on or ignore them and continue to enjoy the movie. Normally, I’m of the persuasion to harp on these jumps, but the characters in the movie make it hard to do because they’re just so entertaining as a group. Going in, I didn’t know how I would feel about some of the different characters but I’m surprised to say that I liked all of them in one way or another. I loved Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Karen Gillan as Nebula. Pratt is the undeniable star of this movie and his retro-pop fueled performance sets the tone perfectly for a movie that just never feels like it tries to take things seriously for more than a couple of minutes at a time. I didn’t know that Nebula would have as big a role in the movie as she did, but I’m glad she did. Ronan the Accuser was also really well done as the villain in this and had just the right amount of lackey and genocidal maniac. I also really liked the way they pulled off Rocket and Groot visually and as characters. Rocket was actually another one of my favorite characters and delivered some of the best lines.
My biggest surprise for the movie would have to be Bautista as Drax. I had absolutely no problem forgetting that I was watching a pro wrestler and, better yet, he was legitimately funny in the film. Another surprise for me was that I did have a problem getting into Zoe Saldana as Gamora. It’s a really obvious choice right? I mean Gamora is a sexy, strong, female, assassin and they cast a woman who’s had proven success playing a sexy, strong, female assassin. Just, for some reason, I felt like I was watching some random green woman out of Star Trek instead of “Gamora”. I think it was the makeup and having Zoe play the role a little “girly” at times that was throwing me off. It’s not that I disliked her performance within the confines of the movie, I just couldn’t buy it as a representation of the comic book character that I’m familiar with. At the same, I thought she was really great when she was with the other 4 characters. The entire group seemed to have really great chemistry which can’t be easy when 2 of the characters are CG. Speaking of CG, Groot is great in this movie. Every family with young children would want their own personal Groot after watching this movie. They just make him look like the most loveable, adorable, dopey thing you could possibly imagine. Even when he’s pounding guards into the ground with merciless force he’s still loveable. While I’m talking about characters I do also want to mention that I was really happy to see Cosmo make an appearance in this movie. I really loved that he was an actual dog and not a CG construct.
Guardians of the Galaxy is really driven by the characters and their interactions. The Guardians team is composed of misfits from different backgrounds (and planets) that aren’t used to being heroes. Because of that, they don’t really know how to get along with each other (or anyone else for that matter) and that’s where a lot of the comedy comes from. There’s a great tone and chemistry provided by the group and the film over all. The funny thing is that the movie itself looks a little dark. Even though the characters behave like they’re in an adult version of a Saturday morning cartoon, the movie has all the visual gravitas of any of Marvel’s other large scale disaster-esque movies. Probably the most unique thing about the movie is the music that ties everything together. It’s built into the movie that Quill carries a tape full of pop hits from pre-1988 around with him. That movie is spliced in all over the movie, and creates a real sense of fun about everything. All-in-all this is another stellar addition to the MCU and, in my opinion, probably their best balance of a film that comic book and non-comic book fans will be able to enjoy.