It’s 1988 and young Peter Quill runs from a hospital room where his mom just died. As he sits in an open field, a spaceship flies over him, a huge light shining on him. Some 20 years later and now all grown up, Peter (Chris Pratt) has become an outlaw, dubbing himself Star Lord, with a growing reputation (so he thinks) in a far-off universe made up of countless planets and species. He’s managed to steal a seemingly normal orb for a buyer, but he’s stumbled into something bigger than he knows. The orb is incredibly powerful and whoever possesses it could control the universe. With some unwilling allies, including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an experienced assassin, Drax (Dave Bautista), an enormous warrior, Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a genetically-mutated, talking raccoon who’s become a bounty hunter, and Groot (Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree capable of regenerating), Peter must prevent the orb from falling into the wrong hands…if this crew can pull it together.
If there’s a such thing as a “risky” flick in the Marvel Universe, this one was it. No huge stars, no Iron Man or Captain America or Thor or Hulk, and a story in a far-off universe where many to most viewers have no history…yeah, I guess that is a little risky. Now all that said, $500 million at the international box office seems to indicate that movie-going audiences don’t really give a crap. If it looks good, we’ll give it a shot. Director James Gunn turns in a gem, a movie that shrugs off all those concerns to tell a story in a far-off universe with all sorts of weird characters and species that’s a heck of a lot of fun. Dramatic, funny, entertaining, well-written, action-packed, unique and transporting viewers to a really cool universe. An easy one to recommend.
This is a movie that knows where it comes from in terms of the science fiction genre. It has touches of everything from Star Wars and Star Trek and The Avengers. On another level, it eats up a chance to add a new layer to the men-on-a-mission concept with films like The Guns of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen. Touches, yes, but this is its own movie. It seeks out its own identity. This is a popcorn movie, a true blockbuster that is well-acted, well-told, but mostly? ‘Guardians’ just wants to have some fun. It is stylistically aware of itself without being overbearing. The soundtrack with a lot of 1970s/1980s pop could be aggressively over the top, but the script finds a way to blend it seamlessly into the story. A big, colorful movie that embraces all the good – and very little – of the blockbuster concept. Yeah, the story can be confusing at times with so many characters and planets and situations and history, but it finds a groove pretty quickly.
What’s the best thing going here? The aforementioned men-on-a-mission angle similar to The Avengers and countless other movies. The concept is simple. You put a disparate group of individuals together, some specialists, mostly outcasts in one way or another, and give them some impossible mission to achieve. Here, it works effortlessly, a tribute to the talented cast. Pratt is a huge rising star, the roguish Peter Quill who desperately wants to be an infamous outlaw who’s name precedes him. Saldana is sexy and smooth, Cooper is at his scene-stealing best as the fiery, feisty Rocket (yes, Bradley Cooper provides his voice to play a raccoon), Bautista – an MMA fighter/WWE wrestler – an underplayed laugh machine, and Diesel having some fun as the one-liner repeating Groot. Yes, Vin Diesel plays a tree who has one repeated line, albeit with some different inflections.
More than the action, more than the other-worldly exploration, more than all that flashy stuff, I found the script to be the best thing going here. Working with Nicole Perlman and based off a series of graphic novels, Gunn brings these people to life. That's the men-on-a-mission angle; five disparate, different individuals forced to put their differences aside to get the job done. So many scenes are memorable, most of them worthwhile because of a sight gag among the group or a quick, witty one-liner. They may not always get along, but our Guardians are gonna keep at it. My favorite scene comes late, a staple of the specialist idea. Faced with impossible odds, they have to decide if they should go on, knowing full well many may not make it back. The build-up is hysterical as they talk it out (some would say criticize each other), and the pay-off is sublime, Cooper's Rocket absolutely killing a quick monologue. It is those moments that stick with me days after seeing the movie.
Also look for Glenn Close and John C. Reilly as high-ranking officials and staff on Xandar, the universe's capital. If there's a relative weakness, it's the villains, including power-seeking Ronan (Lee Pace) and his fiery daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Michael Rooker has a lot of fun as Yondu, leader of the Ravagers who kinda sorta likes Peter but also knows he can't fully trust him. Last seen in Thor 2, Benicio Del Toro makes a quick appearance as The Collector while Djimon Hounsou is wasted as a tough guard who is on Peter's trail.
No point overanalyzing this one. Risky though it may have seemed, it is a gem, ranking up there with The Avengers as one of my favorite flicks from the Marvel Universe. Yeah, the story can be tough to follow early on. Yeah, the villains could use some pumping up, but these complaints are almost wasted. This is a FUNNY movie. I laughed here more than I did in intended comedies. For goodness sake, Bradley Cooper lends his voice to play a wisecracking, weapons slinging raccoon. Vin Diesel plays a tree. A TREE. 'Guardians' is everything that's right about summer blockbusters. Can't recommend this one enough. The easiest of recommendations.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): *** 1/2 /****