When Marvel Studios announced it was launching with a film called Iron Man back in 2005, everyone thought it was crazy to take a gamble on a B-tier character. The general public didn’t know or care who Tony Stark was, let alone Robert Downey Jr. Almost ten years later, Iron Man is a world-wide phenomenon. Marvel sought to pull off another magic trick with another relatively unknown property: Guardians of the Galaxy…and, masterfully, they did just that!
From the start, the film doesn’t pull the emotional punches; a young Peter Quill awaits the inevitable loss of his mother and is kidnapped by extraterrestrials. Cut to the quirky, kick-ass title/opening sequence introducing the adult Quill (Chris Pratt) or Star-Lord, as he loves to be referred to. In Indiana Jones-type fashion, he is tracking down an elusive orb to sell for a hefty sum. The orb, which apparently everyone wants, leads Peter down the path of meeting the galactic misfits who will aide him in stopping the Kree Zealot, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from achieving mass genocide.
The film is loosely based off the 2008 run from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Absolute blast of a read-the trade paperbacks have been rereleased to coincide with the film’s release), where unlikely heroes band together to stop cosmic threats. Director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (first woman to receive a screenwriting credit for a Marvel film!) nail the comical, yet emotional dynamic of the team and put their own spin on some their character traits. In particular is the very literal Drax the Destroyer, portrayed amazingly by the former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista.
Guardians hits all the beats you expect from a genre picture, but it also takes those very tropes and flips them on their head. Scenes that border on melodrama are quickly brought back to relevance with the sharp wit of the dialog or character’s action(s). Chris Pratt gives Downey Jr. a run for his money on snarky heroism department, but the characters that truly make their mark on screen are the digital ones: the tree-like humanoid Groot and his raccoon friend Rocket. Groot only speaks one line, but Vin Diesel is able to breathe emotion and inflection each time he speaks. Bradley Cooper delivers a rough, hot-headed performance for Rocket, who is arguably the star of the film.
Marvel Studios showed that it could transcend the comic book film genre with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that trend is continued in this film. This is truly a space epic; the sheer scope and production design that went into this is just mind-blowing. Every planet, ship, outfit, weapon, and character makeup is beautifully rendered on screen and pays proper respect to the source material.
If all this wasn’t enough to make Guardians of the Galaxy stand out, the music adds a flavor all its own. The teaser trailer gave us a taste of Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” and that motif of 70’s music, in combination with Tyler Bates’ score, further drives the fun home. Also, there are plenty of Easter eggs throughout the movie that fans will go gaga over. Make sure to stay for the after credits sequence (if you don’t already do this for every Marvel Studios film, then there is something wrong with you), it doesn’t necessarily tease anything major, but it will leave fans grinning from ear to ear.
When the teaser was released, I said this would be the dark horse of the summer and it is so gratifying as a moviegoer to have the statement become fact. This does not feel like a Marvel film and that is a compliment. If possible, Guardians should be seen in IMAX; Gunn converted the aspect ratio of several key scenes to make full use of the IMAX screen real estate…an absolutely stunning experience! Go see Guardians of the Galaxy at least twice and let that awesome feeling sink in.