Directed by: James Gunn
Premise: Based on the comic book. Set in space, a salvager (Chris Pratt) teams with an assassin (Zoe Saldana), a pair of bounty hunters (voice of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper), and a criminal (Dave Bautista) to keep a magical artifact from falling into the hands of evil.
What Works: Virtually every science fiction and fantasy film to be released in the past thirty-seven years has owed a debt to the original Star Wars. In most cases that debt is found in the special effects, the visual style, and the stories of galactic warfare. However, one element of the original Star Wars that later films have frequently missed—including the Star Wars prequel trilogy—is the fun of the 1977 film. Guardians of the Galaxy is as much a piece of post-Star Wars fantasy entertainment as anything else in the genre but this particular film is distinguished by its humor and fun. The movie has a lot of great action scenes and they frequently include quips and physical comedy that make for big laughs. The central cast of this movie is great. Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill (otherwise known by his outlaw nickname Star Lord) and Pratt is able to do something unique: he is convincing as an action hero but he also manages to be funny and the humor makes the character likeable and exposes his vulnerability. That combination of humanity and physicality are also found in the other cast members, especially Zoe Saldana as alien assassin Gamora and Dave Bautista as escaped convict Drax. Something that the filmmakers do very successfully with these characters is give them a sense of culture. Gamora is from a warrior background and Drax speaks a language that is entirely literal and has no understanding of metaphors or sarcasm. This is very rare in Hollywood fantasy movies and the filmmakers are able to use these cultural eccentricities to define their characters and allow for moments of humor. The central cast is rounded out by two computer generated characters: Rocket, a hard talking and gun toting raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and Groot, a humanoid tree voiced by Vin Diesel. Channeling Han Solo and Chewbacca of Star Wars, Rocket contributes a lot of humor and Groot possesses an innocence that makes him unique among the guardians. Circumstances fling this group of misfits together and at first they are distrustful. The filmmakers create credible scenarios through which they grow as a team and eventually put themselves at risk for each other, which defines them as characters and makes the Guardians genuinely heroic, something that is lacking in a lot of recent adventure movies.
What Doesn’t: Guardians of the Galaxy suffers from some of the characteristic problems of a movie like this. Namely, the picture has been made for viewers who are familiar with the source material. As the story shifts from place to place it is challenging to keep up with what is happening on screen and it is sometimes unclear where the characters are going and why. This is especially evident in the antagonist of the movie. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) wants to destroy the planet Xandar with a magical object known as the Orb. Why Ronan wants to destroy the planet is never explained nor is the way he fits into the universe and viewers who aren’t avid comic book readers may be confused by the unfamiliar and unestablished worlds and characters. Ronan’s cloudy motivation keeps the drama very simple; he wants to destroy the planet and the Guardians and their allies have to stop him. That works for the movie but the conflict is superficial. Unlike Loki in the original Thor or the betrayal between Obadiah Stane and Tony Stark in Iron Man there isn’t much to this aspect of the story. The film is much more about the Guardians coming together and that is done well but their challenge would be more dramatic if they were fighting a villain with a more meaningful motivation.
Bottom Line: The Guardians of the Galaxy is among the best of Marvel’s films, maybe the best since the original Iron Man. The picture is a little overwhelming in its frantic vaulting across the galaxy but the movie is extremely well made with compelling characters and a great sense of fun and adventure. This is popcorn cinema at its best.
Episode: #503 (August 10, 2014)