Starring : Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Peter Serafinowicz, Josh Brolin
I will admit, I had absolutely no skepticism or misgivings last night as I entered the theater for a viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth film installment of Marvel Studios' cinematic oeuvre. Many others may have seen this movie about a bunch of relative comic book unknowns as a risky endeavor for the Disney subsidiary, but I had utter confidence in the man behind it. As a fan of director James Gunn's cult hit horror-comedy Slither, I was prepared for something very different from the past nine movies in the connected Marvel Universe, and I am happy to report that Mr. Gunn did not disappoint my expectations.
Guardians of the Galaxy is every bit as idiosyncratic and tongue-in-cheek as you would hope a Gunn flick to be. It's irreverent, bizarre, exciting, funny, and heartfelt. Guardians is essentially a B sci-fi movie with an enormous blockbuster budget, and you feel like you're getting someone's passion project on the screen even as your senses are bombarded by millions of dollars worth of special effects. With his latest offering, by applying his unique vision and sense of humor to the shared Marvel U tapestry, I think James Gunn has finally laid to rest the assertion that all Marvel films look and sound alike.
Guardians follows a human intergalactic bounty hunter and out-dated pop-music enthusiast, Peter Quill, who also goes by the codename Star-Lord, as he pilfers, Indiana Jones-style, a mysterious orb. Quill isn't the only one looking for said orb, however. The barbaric Ravagers, led by the relentless, tchotchke-loving Yondu, whom Quill double-crossed to attain the orb, are hot on Star-Lord's heels. But even this is the least of Quill's worries as a merciless, revenge-driven Kree warrior known as Ronan the Accuser, a psychopathic terrorist and underling of Thanos the Mad Titan, sends out Thanos' deadly daughter Gamora to retrieve Star-Lord's stolen artifact.
A violent encounter between Quill, Gamora, and two other opportunistic bounty hunters, Rocket and Groot, lands all four in a Nova Corps prison, where they run into and ultimately forge an alliance with the vengeful Drax the Destroyer, who has a bone to pick with Gamora, and discover Gamora's true hatred for her father Thanos and for Ronan. A harrowing jailbreak sends the five anti-heroes on a space-faring quest to evade capture and to turn in the orb for a cash reward, but Ronan, with the aid of Gamora's sister Nebula, intercepts the team and acquires the relic just as it is discovered that it contains one of the most devastating weapons to ever exist. To save the galaxy from annihilation at the hands of Ronan, the team goes through some really dynamic changes throughout their tribulations, and the end result is one of the most euphorically cathartic resolutions in recent memory.
Individually, each character in the ensemble cast is played brilliantly. Chris Pratt's Quill is as charming as he is skeevy. Zoe Saldana's Gamora is strong but also played with an incredibly empathetic vulnerability. The chemistry between Pratt and Saldana is palpable. Bradley Cooper does a fantastic job voicing the acerbic and ever-overcompensating raccoon-hybrid Rocket, as does Vin Diesel with the dimwitted and loveable tree-creature Groot. Both actors disappear into their characters, their voices largely unrecognizable. Dave Bautista's turn as Drax is perhaps the most surprising of all five main characters, however. Like Saldana, Bautista plays up the strength and unexpected vulnerability of his character, but he also succeeds in giving one of the best comedic performances of the film, which is truly saying something, with his expert timing, dry wit, and 100% commitment to the role. Even as tertiary characters, actors like Michael Rooker (Yondu) and Benicio Del Toro (The Collector) give inspired performances. And Lee Pace is truly frightening as the fanatical Ronan. The only complaint that I have with regards to the cast is that I would have liked to have seen the Nova Corps, played by such fantastic and virtuosic actors as Glenn Close and John C. Reilly, and Ronan's cronies, played by the equally fantastic Djimon Hounsou and Karen Gillan, given a bit more room to explore their roles. Many of these supporting characters end up being a little two-dimensional and mostly static.
The film has other shortcomings. The plot comes straight out of "Misfits Save the Galaxy from Arbitrary Evil 101" (relatively the same premise as Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers), and really the weight of the story is carried upon the shoulders of incisive character interaction, gleeful and raucous battles, awe-inspiring set-pieces, and a refreshing blend of slapstick, wit, and nostalgia rather than intelligent, risky, or challenging plot developments. Gamora's pivotal impulse to betray Thanos and Ronan isn't really given the weight it needs to ring true either, and her sister's similarly conflicted impulses are just kind of confounding. Additionally, I wouldn't mind at least one filmmaker elucidating Thanos' death-worshiping motivations. If I wasn't familiar with his character from the comic books, I think I'd find his character in the films pretty flimsy, and perhaps it is this ambiguity which contributes most to the hollowness of his familial dynamics in Guardians.
None of this, however, does much to tarnish the pure, unbridled fun of experiencing this film. James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best movies in Marvel's lineup with a genre-reinvigorating slant that puts it right up there with Iron Man and The Avengers. I really didn't want this movie to end: It's that much of a good time.
Note: Keep your eyes peeled for Slither and Thor: The Dark World Easter eggs in The Collector's lair, and stay until after the credits for a hilarious surprise.