“Guardians of the Galaxy”, Marvel Studios’ newest film directed by James Gunn (“Super”, a segment of “Movie 43” – no one’s perfect) is easily the best film of the summer. It is fun, exciting and features new and interesting characters who help expand the Marvel Universe in a unique way.
Kicking off with Peter Quill as a young boy, he will not relinquish the Walkman he carries with him at all times, the headphones plastered to his ears, even when visiting a dying family member in the hospital. The cassette in the player is called “Awesome Mix Tape #1”. As an adult, this same Walkman is his most-prized possession and he never wants to part with it.
As we listen to a sample of the mix tape...
…I’m the space invader…
The best thing about “Guardians” is the overt homage to “Star Wars”. Everything about this film begins with Lucas’ original trilogy; the poster features all of the "Guardians" in a design meant to evoke memories of the original "Star Wars" characters. Even the typeface is reminiscent of the late 70s and early 80s.
This is the first time a Marvel film has centered on characters and their explorations in outer space. Except for the first scene, a brief prologue showing Peter as a young boy, the narrative concentrates on distant planets, strange outposts and an outer space prison. And all of these are designed and created in a way to make them seem real and flawless. You never once look at one of the ships, and notice some slip or mistake that calls attention to the fact they are not real. The whole film looks really, really good.
And the location of the main battle isn’t on Earth either, it takes place on Xandar, the home planet of the Nova Corps. A little more on that later. Because all of the action takes place in outer space, “Guadians” is really Marvel’s first ‘Space Opera’ and it follows in some big footsteps.
...ooh, child… things are gonna get easier…
Initially, I was very skeptical, but Chris Pratt won me over as Peter Quill.
So often when a comedian becomes famous, he gets typecast and starts performing the same shtick no matter what the project. Usually, these same performers fall into the “a-little-goes-a-long-way” club. Pratt’s comedic work is definitely that.
But in “GotG” Pratt doesn’t rely on the comedy. Yes, Peter Quill is sarcastic and manages a few zingers, which help to provide some laughs, but these are punctuation marks. Peter Quill, or Star Lord, as he prefers to be called, is a man on a mission. After he finds a mysterious orb on a distant planet, it seems like everyone is suddenly after him, eager to steal the orb for their own use. Thanos (voiced by James Brolin) wants the orb and his henchman Ronan (Lee Pace, TV’s “Pushing Daisies”, “The Hobbit”) is tasked with retrieving it. Ronan reluctantly works with Thanos’ two daughters, Nebula (Karen Gillan, BBC’s “Doctor Who”) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana, “Columbiana”, “Star Trek (2009)”, “Avatar”) to get the object back. Gamora recognizes the destructive power of the orb and wants to get it first, leaving Nebula behind.
Star Lord quickly learns he will not be able to evade these bad guys for long and begins working with a rag-tag team of disparate individuals. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a racoon who has been the subject of many experiments leaving him bitter and caustic, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a large tree-like creature who is Rocket’s right branch root, providing him with protection, strength and companionship, are also out to get Peter Quill, to receive the bounty placed on his head. Gamora wants the orb as well, so all three chase and fight Peter on Xandar. The Nova Corps capture all four and send them to prison, where they meet Drax (Dave Bautista, a professional wrestler) who is eager and willing to kill Ronan because of the havoc Ronan wreaked on his family. Soon, circumstances force them to work together and they board Star Lord’s ship (which, not coincidentally, is similar to the Millennium Falcon) eager to retrieve the mysterious orb.
Peter becomes the de facto leader of this group; he isn’t the type who commands, he negotiates and convinces people to go along with the best idea. This persona fits perfectly with Pratt’s style and makes him seem like a believable, viable character.
Zoe Saldana is very good as Gamora. She clearly has a knack for playing these tough girl roles . Her most memorable roles are strong females (which may explain why the recent television remake of “Rosemary’s Baby” was such a flop) and she has been cast in more and more of these roles. Gamora is also more interesting because she is one of the few characters I can remember in a big budget summer film who actually has a character and she evolves over the course of the film. Initially, she is hunting Peter to get the orb back. We learn a little about her and she realizes something is wrong with her previous way of thinking. She changes. How great is that? She has a character arc! Something virtually unheard of in any summer film.
There is a point when Rocket talks about why he has such a sour, negative view of the universe and it makes sense. Groot is also a unique character; he only says three words “I am Groot” repeatedly, but he says this statement in different ways, conveying the emotion he feels at that moment. And because Rocket has spent so much time with him, the walking science experiment can also hear between the three words and understand what Groot is trying to say.
Bradley Cooper provides the voice for Rocket and he does a great job channeling an old soul, with hints of a New York accent, to create the unique voice of this character. He also says a lot, issuing commands, coming up with ideas, and Rocket provides some of the better laughs throughout. But he is also a viable member of the team, he almost seems human-like and it becomes difficult to remember he is a racoon.
Vin Diesel provides the voice for Groot and it is an example of the perfect pairing of actor and material. Much like Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” or "Speed", the fewer lines Diesel has, the better. As mentioned, he just has the one line - “I am Groot” - repeated throughout. The performance is cute because other people play off the monotony of it. And because he delivers the line in different ways, it makes Groot seem charming.
Dave Bautista’s performance as Drax is the most problematic. He seems to have one character trait, that’s it. It is also easy to see that he is a former professional wrestler, because he isn’t a very good actor. The trait almost seems designed to play into his stoic nature, to hide his inability to act.
John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, Djimson Hounsou, Michael Rooker and Glenn Close all make appearances and lend a certain amount of awesome to the film.
…I’m your ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb…
When a film has such great protagonists, it needs to have great antagonists, to balance out the narrative. If it didn’t, you would feel like the director wasn’t paying enough attention. James Gunn knows this, and doesn’t disappoint. “Guardians’ has three who are ready and willing to wreak havoc to obtain the orb in Star Lord's possession.
Lee Pace illustrates Ronan’s determination to get the job done. He is eager to please his boss, Thanos, but he also wants the power the orb promises. Also, when he is confronted by Thanos, his eagerness is clearly tempered by something else, a need to please the overlord, but also a tempered, barely disguised hatred for the powerful leader.
Ronan also seems displeased to be saddled with both Gamora and Nebula, Thanos’ daughters. Nebula is clearly the most like her dad, the most determined to help him achieve his goals. Karen Gillan is very good as Nebula. It is such a different role from what we are used to from her. Her role on “Doctor Who” was so sweet and plucky. Nebula is a bad mama jama. It is a nice change of pace and shows the actor’s versatility.
Thanos is really little more than video and voice, we never actually see the villian. But the fear others show in the presence of his video helps to give us an indication of how he should be feared. James Brolin provides his voice and the character is rumored to play a bigger role in future Marvel Films.
...I'll be there, when you want me, some way, somehow...
The main battle occurs on Xandar. The Guardians come up with a plan to protect and defend Xandar, leading the Nova Corps to battle Ronan in the skies above.
The battle, Ronan's ship, the Nova Corps... All have roots in the mythology of "Star Wars".
The method the Guardians come up with to destroy Ronan's ship is remarkably similar to the destruction of the Death Star in "Revenge of the Jedi". In fact, it is so similar you may be temporarily caught off guard. But I think Gunn and his crew are working from a place of fan-boy love. They aren't copying the ideas, but adapting them and bringing new life to them. If they were pulling a Brian de Palma and making bad copies of a more masterful work, this would be an entirely different review. But Gunn shows he also has other ideas in his head.
…I want you back…
It is already pretty common knowledge that a sequel to “Guardians” is in the works. A release date has already been announced. This is all good news, because “Guardians” is really good, easily the best film of the summer, and that leaves us wanting more.