‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is among Marvel’s best work
To say I know little about the background to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” would be an understatement. I’m not much of a comic book guy to begin with, and it’s never been high on my priority list to delve into this particular canon. But after watching “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I’m pretty sure that was a mistake.
Comically mischievous, hilariously goofy, intelligently inventive, surprisingly clever and just out-and-out charming, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its rag-tag group of characters take the comic book-turned-movie genre to a new celetial height, portraying an origin story (because there will be sequels) both rich in individual story-telling and chock-full of the expected explosions and chases. In a world of ever-sterile blockbusters formulaically created, this blast of directorial sensibility was sorely needed.
But if watching “Guardians” leaves you conflicted as to whether you’ve just watched a western spliced with a space opera or a modern-day version of “Star Wars,” don’t worry: You’re not the only one. Directed by James Gunn, “Guardians,” which first hit the comic book stands in 1969, revels in its mashup tendencies, pulling bits and pieces from popular genres while throwing in a healthy dose of “Who cares?” attitude.
In this version of “Guardians,” our motley crew is led by the perfectly timed Chris Pratt, who somehow simultaneously comes off as the dorky yet persuasive charmer and the deceptively intelligent looter on the search for his next big score. He fits the role of Peter Quill — otherwise known as Star-Lord — with the ease he’s known for, and all that charm pays off for “Guardians.”
Quill, the definition of antihero if there ever was one, flitters across the stars, visiting stunningly beautiful worlds with both inspired and familiar alien lifeforms littering them throughout. Right from the get-go, our scavenger finds himself in a world of danger as he comes to possess a shiny metal orb that holds unbelievable destructive power.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Though not unpopular, this particular franchise never quite enjoyed the same fame and recognition as some of Marvel’s “The Avengers” and its crew of A-list heroes. Instead, what we got here is more motley than that, a modern-day version of “The Dirty Dozen,” a group of misfits who manage — against all odds, mind you — to save the universe against the machinations of fanatical supervillains.
So, in effect, you don’t need to be fluent in comic book lore to understand what’s going on here, largely in part because the main characters don’t known what’s going on. Really, they don’t even know each other when they decide to team up to save all of creation against the world-ending plans of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). All they’re doing is trying to escape being shot out of the sky by maniacs with a penchant for planetary genocide.
On the utopia-esque planet of Xandar, Quill finds himself up against outlaws Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon given voice by Bradley Cooper, and Groot, an anthropomorphic tree voiced (though that’s a bit of a stretch) by Vin Diesel. The two want to collect the bounty on Quill’s head after he betrays his fellow scavengers. Not to be left out of the testosterone-heavy battle, enter Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who seems to be the go-to girl for sci-fi films these days). The daughter of a galactic overlord, Gamora is tasked by Ronan with collecting the orb from Quill, though not all goes as planned. Soon, all four are arrested and imprisoned, where they meet up with the last of our motley crew, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who seeks vengeance against Ronan for murdering his family.
And yes, the “Guardians” crew even sets up like the “Star Wars” crew: leader Quill as Luke Skywalker with a potent burst of Hans Solo in him; Gamora, the daughter of royalty, as Leia; Rocket as the true Hans — brash, violent and effective; the powerhouse Groot as Chewbacca. Even Ronan pulls a Darth Vader on us, donning a black helmet and speaking through a hologram to the true evil of the galaxy.
As you can see, our heroes come from different planets and backgrounds, each having his or her own sob story to boot. And while understanding the sheer volume of information flying at you can be a bit daunting (the movie was probably 15 minutes too long), you’re better off just going with the flow. It’s not necessary to know all the minutiae because you’ll be too busy enjoying the alien planets lush with gorgeous life and the beautifully rendered action sequences. It really does help to enjoy Ronan chasing down our heroes so he can use the orb to destroy Xandar when the 3-D works as well as it does here.
Speaking of graphics, “Guardians” excels on all counts. From the starkly serene world of Xandar to the metallic-laden floating head of a gigantic celestial being long since dead, these realms created by Gunn and his team are imaginative and detailed, showing us a fully realized world where each turn will take you into yet another breathtaking locale worth exploring.
Let it be said, though, that the film does star off a tad disappointingly. I mean, does it always have to be a mother’s death that so impact our hero, and does he always have to be a womanizer after the fact? It’s a bit sad knowing, even that far into the future, that our hero’s worldview is stuck in the 1950s. But I suppose that’s a column for another day.
In the end, “Guardians of the Galaxy” manages to pull off a rare feat: to not take itself too seriously yet still be an excellent movie. Director Gunn takes plenty of creative leeway with the source material, but few will mind considering the polished gem he produces. He revels in creating genuine characters who, even with all their flaws, prove impossible not to love. In essence, “Guardians” proves yet again all that glitters is not gold, and sometimes our greatest heroes are those you never expected to be.
Five galaxy-saving stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.