Friday, August 1, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review

(dir. James Gunn)

Walt Disney Studios

“I look around and you know what I see? Losers!... But life's giving us a chance.”

     Guardians of the Galaxy is a celebration of how weird and wild the Marvel Universe can be when you delve deep into it. As the tenth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Guardians delves deep, getting into the oddities and the Jack Kirby cosmology of it all. The film acts as a refresher, a throwback to the kind of science fiction movies that aren’t made anymore. It’s Star Wars filtered through classic MTV coolness and injected with a satirical edge it actually earns. It’s a comic book come to life. The film pushes aside the notion of realism that so many comic adaptations have aspired to and instead dives head first into its source material without feeling the need to apologize for it.

     Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter Quill-Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a space-pirate who finds himself in possession of an orb that has the power to destroy worlds. This orb is also sought by Ronan (Lee Pace), a Kree radical and servant of the mad-titan Thanos. Quill’s quest to sell off the orb brings him into conflict with the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) and the warrior Drax (Dave Bautista). What follows is an unwilling team-up between some of the galaxy’s most wanted to prevent the orb from falling into the wrong hands while trying not to kill each other along the way.

     Guardians works as a true ensemble piece and James Gunn and screenwriter Nicole Perlman give each character their moment to shine. With his affable, roguish charm Chris Pratt makes for a great and unconventional leading man, a standout in what has been a summer of rather unconventional leads. Zoe Saldana makes Gamora one of Marvel’s best and most well-developed female characters. The film smartly avoids forcing her into the romantic role though it does dance around the idea. Dave Bautista has surprisingly great comedic timing and brings the right amount of gravitas and likeability to Drax. Each of the Guardians is immensely likeable but Rocket and Groot are true standouts who make up the heart of the film. The talking tree and talking raccoon were purported to be the riskiest aspect of an already unconventional film, but it is these characters that everyone was talking about leaving the theater. While Lee Pace and Karen Gillian deliver delightfully outrageous performances as Ronan and Nebula respectively, both could have benefited from a little more screen time. But with the exception of Loki, who’s had three movies of character development, the Marvel films are always more invested in their heroes than villains. While this aspect diminishes the threat somewhat it also allows for a lightheartedness that makes Guardians one of Marvel’s funniest films.

     Beyond its fantastic cast, what really makes Guardians work so well is that it has its own signature style, sound, and color palate that differentiates itself from the more uniform look of the rest of Marvel’s films. In the same way The Avengers carried Joss Whedon’s signature, Guardians carries James Gunn’s and he finally has the budget and space for all of his wild ideas. And let’s face it, very few writers or directors can pull off making a talking raccoon and a tree that only says “I am Groot” some the year’s most compelling characters. But Gunn doesn’t simply rely on his special effects budget and great soundtrack, rather they are used to enhance the emotional arc of the characters who all undergo notable changes that aren’t drawn out but never feel forced. There is a theatrical, or dare I say musical, quality to Guardians that truly makes it feel unique and less like an installment.

     Guardians is proof that Marvel Studios isn’t a afraid to take risks or simply rest on using their established line-up of characters. With talent like Gunn and Whedon in their pocket these risks are sure to seem a lot less risky going forward. It’s an amazing testament to the strength of the studio that in six years Marvel has taken us from Iron Man to Guardians of the Galaxy and succeeded with very few bumps along the way. Gunn’s film is truly cool in a reclamation of the word. Guardians of the Galaxy is a candy store of color, a gift bag of 70s and 80s pop songs and pop culture references, a heartfelt letter of friendship, and it very well may be the most fun you’ll have at a theater this year.

Grade: A+

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