Welcome to the Cosmic Marvel Universe! Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel movie like none other. It immerses you in the galactic section of Marvel’s stable of characters and, while still a Marvel movie, is a science fiction romp. Guardians was always going to be Marvel’s riskiest movie yet. It dunks the viewer into a world as rich and diverse as Star Trek, introduces you to myriad alien cultures and worlds, and depends on a team that is 40% comprised of a CGI talking raccoon and anthropomorphic tree. After a summer season filled with cookie cutter failures, Guardians is sensory-blurring triumph of imagination.
I’m always torn on how much of the plot to reveal in these reviews. As with Cap 2 and Thor 2, I’m going to err on the side of encouraging people to get out and see this rather than digressing on the details. The plot is actually very simple at its core, but the amount of information and introduction necessary in this first venture into the Marvel galaxy is massive. I’m in the small percentage of being very familiar with these characters and the Marvel cosmos, so at times I felt like we were getting a little bogged down in exposition, but I seriously doubt that’s going to be an issue for 99% of people.
Essentially, the entire movie is a giant fight over the orb everyone has seen Star Lord/Peter Quill pick up in all the trailers. From getting it, to fighting over it, to discovering what it actually is (not going to spoil) and dealing with its effects, the whole galaxy is chasing this orb. It’s an effective (and necessary for the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe plot) MacGuffin to introduce you to Quill, Gamora, Drax, Groot, Rocket, the Kree, the Nova Corps, Ronan, Thanos, Nebula, The Collector and about a dozen other characters and their relationships with one another. It’s an elegantly simple way of leading you into this larger world.
When I say “larger world”, it’s not an exaggeration to say that most of the Star Trek movies haven’t had as many alien races, factions and characters as are introduced in Guardians. Most are very true to the comics, with one notable exception. The Guardians are not the Avengers. This is a very different team dynamic. There’s a very good reason the five team members bond in a prison – they seriously deserve to be there.
The cast of the movie is stellar. There are actually too many, in my opinion, big actors in this film. Glenn Close, John C. Reily and Benicio del Toro have such small roles in the film that it felt a little jarring to see famous faces in those parts. The team is anchored by Chris Pratt who, with the exception of Zero Dark Thirty, is breaking out of a strictly comedic career. He’s asked to shoulder a lot of the movie and he does a very good job. He has to walk a thin line with Quill in making him heroic and capable while yet comic and vulnerable. It’s a tricky role and Pratt lays down a solid foundation to build Star Lord into a major player in the MCU. Zoe Saldana is outstanding as always as Gamora. The character is made more noble than her comic counterpart, but enough nuance was left to hint at her dark past. Dave Bautista, who is a professional wrestler, nails Drax and surprised me with his comedic range. The interaction between the team is made all the more impressive when you take into account that only three out of the five Guardians were actually there when they were shooting.
Never in my wildest dreams, did I think I would ever see Rocket Raccoon and Groot in a movie. The two are among my favorite characters in all the Marvel Universe and I don’t think I could have asked for a better translation to the screen than they get in this movie. Rocket and Groot are going to be the breakout stars of this film, Groot in particular. It’s not easy to swallow a weapons-crazy talking raccoon and his sidekick mini-Ent, but by the film’s end my audience was worshiping the strange duo.
The villain of the piece is Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and they took a serious departure from the comics in making him an ally of Thanos (who, yes, does have a small but pivotal part to play in this film). In the comics, Ronan is more often than not allied with the Guardians. The film version, while keeping Ronan’s look, completely revamped his motivations, turning him from the principled law enforcer he is in the books into a power-hunger madman. It’s a nitpick, and he really does make an effective opposing force, but it’s one of the biggest diversions from the source material that Marvel has made with their onscreen characters.
From the time the Marvel fanfare sounds until the final credits roll, this movie is pedal to the floor action. There’s a stupendous prison break that unifies the team and a final space battle that rivals anything you’ve ever seen in science fiction before. The f/x are flawless and the confidence it took to slap down the kind of cash it took to make these characters and giant set pieces come to life are going to pay off for Marvel in a huge way. The film’s earned critical praise across the board, it’s doing fantastic at the box office and it takes the Marvel Universe in a diverse, new direction. You can tell all kinds of stories in the MCU. We’ve had the traditional super hero stories. We’ve had mythology. Cap 2 was a straight-up spy thriller, and now Guardians brings in true science fiction. It’s not perfect, but its such unadulterated fun that it seems fickle to dwell on anything negative. This was a tremendous gamble for Marvel, but they pulled it off. Guardians of the Galaxy continues the Marvel Cinematic Universe tradition of excellence. Get out and see it in the biggest format you can and get in on the fun.