A film review by Craig J. Koban August 7, 2014

 Rank: #6


2014, PG-13, 122 mins.


Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord  /  Zoe Saldana as Gamora  /  Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon  /  Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer  /  Vin Diesel as Groot  /  Lee Pace as Ronan The Accuser  /  Karen Gillan as Nebula  /  Josh Brolin as Thanos  /  Laura Haddock as Meredith Quill  /  Benicio Del Toro as Taneleer Tivan / The Collector  /  Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer  /  John C. Reilly as Rhomann Dey  /  Michael Rooker as Yondu  /  Glenn Close as Nova Prime

Directed by James Gunn  /  Written by Nicole Perlman and Gunn 


GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – the tenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film canon – is one of the most implausibly entertaining summer films to emerge in an awfully long time. 

“Implausible” in the sense that the studio tapped the relatively unproven writer/director James Gunn (SLITHER and SUPER) to helm a near $200 million sci-fi fantasy.  If that were not head-scratching enough, GUARDIANS OF GALAXY tries to mine a relatively unknown comic book property without much of a strong built-in audience – and one that a majority of lay filmgoers have never been exposed to – and make it both eclectically absurd and novel and open and inviting at the same time.  This just may be the gutsiest and riskiest Marvel film to date, but it also jubilantly and triumphantly emerges as their most wonderfully irreverent, zany, and exhilaratingly silly film as well.  

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY sort of lives and breathes as an affectionately self-aware Saturday morning cartoon come lovingly to live-action life.  It’s also a film, much like the original STAR WARS, that seems to wash away cinematic cynicism and ponderous solemnity that has typified so many comic book and sci-fi films as of late.  More often than not, the film plays like the best hybrid work of an in-their-prime George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino: It has the look and feel of those deeply immersive space operas of yesteryear - jam packed with vibrant visuals, fully realized extraterrestrial worlds, and rousing action - but GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has a free-wheeling droll wit that is so rare for this genre, replete with pop culture references, idiosyncratic characters, and crisply humorous and colorful dialogue exchanges.  In a relative age when super hero franchise pictures take themselves far too seriously, it’s almost kind of bold when films like this remember to have fun and laugh with and at the expense of their characters and story.  And this film is ridiculous fun. 



It also may be a coming out party for star Chris Pratt, who gives a charismatic star making turn of the kind that made Harrison Ford a star so many decades ago.  He plays Peter Quill, one of the film’s lone earthlings (or “Terrians”) that was abducted as a child by mercenary aliens in 1988 – just after suffering through a highly traumatic loss in his life…horrible timing – and never returns to his home planet.  Flashforward twenty-six years and Quill is a Han Solo-esque smuggling rouge that lives for stealing alien loot and bedding as many alien ladies as he can.  He has dubbed himself “Star-Lord” and when he introduces himself to his adversaries as that moniker it’s usually greeted with mocking laughter.  He seems pretty happy-go-lucky despite being in a galaxy far, far away from his home.  Thankfully, he still has his Walkman and “Awesome Mix Tape Vol. One” to remind him of his home world, which also serves the purposes of Gunn to lace the film with classic pop tunes from the 70’s and 80’s.  All-too-convenient?  Yes.  Hip and cool, nonetheless?  Correctamundo. 

As we are introduced to the adult Quill he’s about to steal a mysterious, all-powerful orb that, obviously, everyone around him in the galaxy – good and bad – wants (it’s an intergalactic MacGuffin).  Some very nasty alien scum really want it, like Ronan (a rather frightening Lee Pace), whom desperately craves it so that he can wield its power to destroy the Zandarans, his sworn enemies.  Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) is a godlike warlord that yearns to procure it to learn the secrets of the universe around him.  Then there’s The Collector (Benicio Del Toro, arguably never looking more affectionately outlandish as he does here), a relic lover that wants it for his prized collection.  As for Quill himself, he’s very quickly arrested early in the film and separated from the orb, but begrudgingly teams up – while in space jail – with some fellow inmates to break free: green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the Hulk-like Drax the Destroyer (Dave Batista), and…yes…a talking raccoon that loves guns and is a tech freak, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the bipedal tree creature Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) that is incapable of saying more than the same three words over and over again, which leads to the film’s oddball charm and many of it’s strongest laughs.  Together, the unlikely team tries to break free of their shackles, locate the orb, and keep it away from their enemies…all while trying to avoid verbally and physically tearing each other apart in the process. 

On a purely technical level, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is as deeply immersive and spellbinding as any of the previous STAR WARS pictures that it's subtly – and not-so-subtly – riffing on.  Blessed with terrifically vibrant and colourfully cinematography (which serves the relative dimness of 3D rather well) by Ben Davis, exotic production design by Charles Wood, and extraordinary makeup design by David White, Gunn has assemble around him a crack team of skilled film artisans to create a fully tactile universe on screen, which thankfully mixes practical elements and pixelized fakery with a real measured precision.  The characters of Groot and Rocket in particular – completely the product of computer effects – are seamless and endearing creations that rank amidst the most polished work of Weta and ILM.  Like great out-of-body escapist films, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY makes you easily forget your theater surroundings for two hours; you become enraptured in the film’s world so completely that you ignore your earthbound environment.  

Gunn is wise enough, though, to not allow his space opera to be a simplistic, one-note parade of eye candy.  He has gathered a lively motley crew of actors here that all manage to bring something invigoratingly distinctive to their frankly outlandish and “out-there” characters.  Pratt is undeniable winning and a strong focal point of interest in the film; he gives Quill a rugged toughness, an infectiously cocky amiability, and a layer of inborn goofiness that perfectly matches the vibe of the film.  Saldana – making another appearance in a sci-fi film playing a primary colored alien – brings fierceness, exotic beauty, and vulnerability in equal doses.  A surprising performance standout is pro-wrestler Dave Batista as his vengenece-fulled and far-too-literal minded Drax, perhaps the most dangerous and unintentionally hysterical character to populate the film.  He’s also atypically and insanely well spoken for such a blunt force instrument of violence…and someone that has great difficulty reading between another character’s lines.  When Quill, at one point, tells Drax that a metaphor has gone over his head, he uproariously deadpans back, “Nothing goes over my head!  My reflexes are too fast.  I would catch it.” 

The two most memorable and endearing creations in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY are the least corporeal ones.  The sight of a pint-sized, armed-to-the-teeth racoon is jarring at first, but Bradley Cooper subverts the initial shock value of Rocket by imbuing him with a hard-edged motor-mouthed badassery that serves as a perverse personality foil to his otherwise cuddly façade.  He simply does not care who he pisses off and his affectionate snarkiness – that masks inner pains – allows Rocket to become more fully rounded as a character than he otherwise would have been.  Then there is the gravel voiced Diesel as Groot – limited to enunciating the same three words throughout the entire film, sans one moment late in the proceedings – who oddly is the film’s most extraordinarily dangerous (in terms of his abilities to inflict pain) and compassionate (in terms of his penchant for doing good) in the film.  Rocket and Groot, as partners in the story, give GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY an oddball Laurel and Hardy-esque comedic edge that serves it well. 

It could be said that the climax of the film goes on way too long, which is a fair nitpick.  Or that, for example, Pace’s Ronan seems a bit too one-note in his demonic villainy.  And then again…maybe GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY will just be too…I dunno…weird and impenetrable for some glum audience members not willing to take its journey.  Alas, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY manages to be inordinately hip, colorful, and subversively funny as far as galaxy-spanning space westerns go.  Along with being visually arresting, Gunn populates the film with intrinsically rich characters that have an inherent humanity to them, despite some not being made of flesh and blood.  Yes, the film lacks the sobering political thematic content of CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and the contemplativeness of DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES that echoes contemporary woes, but on a level of pure enjoyment factor, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is the most giddily watchable out-of-this-world thrill ride of the summer.  

It’s a grand and, yes, implausibly wonderful entertainment.


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