by Ken B.
There’s been a noticeable trend in a lot of big summer movies for the past ten years or so, the main catalyst of which was arguably Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The first film in that set is Batman Begins – a darker, more brooding approach to these kinds of movies, and Nolan’s own trilogy became darker as it progressed. They were successful, so other movies like it imitated at least some of that style. It often works, for sure, but after a while, you long for a callback to the big and splashy blockbusters of days gone by – endearing, easier stuff like Independence Day or Twister. Guardians of the Galaxy not only emulates this but the space operas that they don’t seem to make anymore. This is a fast, funny, and colorful movie, a welcome entry in a movie world (and a real world) often full of doom and gloom.
The story begins in 1988, where a young boy named Peter Quill (Wyatt Oleff) is abducted by an alien spacecraft. 26 years later (and now played by Chris Pratt), Peter (code name: Spacelord) is an outlaw on a faraway planet called Morag. After stealing (and subsequently losing) a strange looking orb, we discover that it is a hotly sought possession, especially for Ronan (Lee Pace), who wishes to retrieve it for Thanos (Josh Brolin), so it may be used for malicious intent. Peter is arrested, and attempts to escape from the high-security prison with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an alien woman with past connections to Thanos, the gigantic Drax (Dave Bautista), whose family died at the hands of Ronan, an anthropomorphic bounty hunter raccoon named Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), and a tree-like creature named Groot (voice of Vin Diesel). After succeeding in their plan, they set off to find the orb’s whereabouts and, well, save the galaxy (That’s why they’re called the “Guardians of the Galaxy”, you see).
There was some reasonable aversion when Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced, largely because these characters are from a series that hasn’t really taken off in popularity. Marvel has banked billions of dollars in movies about their more popular franchises – Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, or whatever. Even more hesitation was laid forward in some circles where the approach to this movie just felt significantly different from what had been tried and proven (I will admit to briefly adhering to this suspicion). However, you don’t have to worry. Director James Gunn, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nicole Perlman, is in full control here. The final result is one of a full, clear vision. The 121 minute movie speeds along at a breakneck pace, but the pacing never feels rushed or uneven. And while the script does suffer from some occasional awkward plotting, sometimes resulting some hard to follow segments, the sharp dialogue and other talents more or less make up for the shortcomings at hand.
Guardians of the Galaxy boasts a solid cast. Chris Pratt, who’s having a great year with this and The Lego Movie, does a good job in the lead role: smooth, witty, and likable. The main comic characters (Groot and Rocket) are voiced well, even though Groot’s dialogue consists solely of three words repeated endlessly. Zoe Saldana provides a strong Gamora, and Dave Bautista’s Drax keeps up with the leads. Overall, the titular characters all have good chemistry and keep the viewer’s interest. The villains are a bit more mixed: Lee Pace’s Ronan never feels that fleshed out until the very end, and thus feels more like an obstacle than a real adversary, but Josh Brolin’s uncredited role as Thanos is more vivid and interesting. I hope the villains will be looked at more in the already scheduled sequel.
The visual effects, especially the CGI and motion-capture based characters, are lifelike and blend in perfectly with the film’s live action elements. I viewed the film in 2D, so I can’t comment on the 3D transfer, but by all accounts, it is satisfactory, and does not detract from the experience. The decision of what format to choose seems up to the viewer’s personal preference, and as I avoid 3D unless I hear a film uses it in a particularly brilliant way (i.e. Gravity), I decided not to shell out the extra three dollars for unwieldy glorified sunglasses.
Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a game changer of the superhero movie or even particularly memorable, but once you get into its rhythm, it still comes through as a great way to spend two hours with its various quirks, even down to the soundtrack (link to purchase below), which consists largely of classics from the late ’60s to the mid ‘70s (one of the first things I did after returning home from the screening was download the music off iTunes). There’s enough good on display here to override some of the story’s issues, and in the end Guardians of the Galaxy shows itself as a great way to signal the start of the close of the 2014 summer movie season: an entertaining motion picture that delivers on its own terms and leaves moviegoers satisfied.
P.S.: Stick around for the post-credits scene in this movie. I don’t want to give too much away. Just trust me on this one.