“Guardians of the Galaxy”

From Marvel, the studio that brought you the global blockbuster franchises of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, comes a new team-the Guardians of the Galaxy. An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits-Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand-with the galaxy’s fate in the balance. (taken from Rotten Tomatoes)

Cast
Chris Pratt (Peter Quill)
Zoe Saldana (Gamora)
Dave Bautista (Drax)
Vin Diesel (Groot) (voice)
Bradley Cooper (Rocket) (voice)
Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser)
Michael Rooker (Yondu Udonta)
Karen Gillan (Nebula)
Djimon Hounsou (Korath)
John C. Reilly – Corpsman Dey
Glenn Close (Nova Prime)
Benicio Del Toro (The Collector)

Directed by James Gunn
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B16Bo47KS2g

X X X X X

There’s a great joke from Kevin Pollak about how, in the late 80’s, everyone tried to be an action star, and perhaps the most unlikely of them was Jeff Speakman…who, by virtue of his name alone, didn’t have much of a shot.

My favorite of the new guys is Jeff Speakman. A Chicago boy. Yeah, new action hero Jeff Speakman. What kind of a name for an action hero is Jeff Speakman?!?! Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Jeff Speakman!

When it came to the Marvel “Avengers” movies universe and their latest cinematic release, the problem wasn’t so much the movie’s name as it was the material it would be based on.

Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy…

Wait. Hold up. What was that last one?

Among comic book fans, the Guardians of the Galaxy weren’t exactly well known, and they definitely lacked name recognition among the casual moviegoer. Mostly everyone had some inkling of the Hulk and Captain America, but the Guardians of the Galaxy? I wouldn’t blame people for thinking it was the subtitle to a Galaxy Quest sequel. Just looking at the characters who would be in the movie gave even the most die-hard Marvel fan pause. Star-Lord? Drax? Groot? Rocket Raccoon?!? From the beginning, it was looking like Guardians of the Galaxy would be the first major misstep in Marvel’s recent cinematic endevours.

Then the first piece of test footage was leaked. Rocket Raccoon firing a big-ass gun. And people were intrigued.

Slowly, the teasers and trailers were released. Each one gave fans a little more insight into what type of movie Guardians was going to be. Word of mouth began to spread, and with it a sense of anticipation. The trailers contained a mix of wry humor and quick snippets of action, building on what promotional materials had come before. The worry about the movie becoming a flop turned into a wonder of just how amazing and awesome the movie would be. The final trailer, released the day before the movie’s opening, was a 30-second short done entirely in Lego stop motion, perfectly summing up everything about the movie.

So, the question is, for all the hype and hope from movie fans, is Guardians of the Galaxy worthy of a consumer’s entertainment dollar. The simple answer is “yes.” The larger answer is “hell yes.” Guardians of the Galaxy is a movie made and written by people who grew up on the sci-fi movies of the 70’s and 80’s. It mixes amazing action sequences with moments of brilliant comedy from by a strong cast of both live action and voice-over performers, firmly setting up the intergalactic portion of Marvel’s cinematic universe without losing the human elements that keep it grounded.

Peter Quill was abducted from the planet Earth 26 years ago. Now, he’s an intergalactic scavenger, scouring the galaxy for artifacts and junk to whoever will pay him. A job to pick up a strange orb leads Quill, aka “Star-Lord” (a name no one else calls him), to cross paths with Gamora, an alien soldier ordered by a military radical named Ronan to steal the orb from him. At the same time, the bounty hunters Rocket, a genetically engineered raccoon with a mean streak, and his partner Groot, a tree-like humanoid, try to capture Quill to fulfill a bounty on his head. Their attempts to rob and capture Quill lead the four of them to be arrested by the intergalactic police force known as the Nova Corps. Thrown into prison, Gamora finds herself at the mercy of Drax, who’s family was killed by Ronan. He seeks revenge against Ronan, and killing Gamora would be an excellent place to start. It doesn’t take long for the team to realize that they need each other not only to escape prison, but to stop Ronan from using the orb, more specifically the item it contains, to wipe out the home planet of the Nova Corps.

So who are the Guardians of the Galaxy? In the Marvel Comics universe, the current incarnation are a ragtag group of criminals, quasi-criminals, and superheroes who decide to form an unofficial “respond to a potential crisis before it becomes an actual crisis” sort of team in response to a galaxy-wide war. With the film version of the group, it’s your standard “ragtag bunch of misfits team up to stop a madman from committing mass murder” plot that’s been done time and time again throughout movie history. But as the credits rolled on Guardians of the Galaxy, I honestly felt like I had just seen a movie that could become this generation’s Star Wars. James Gunn, writer of the 2002 Scooby-Doo movie and the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, steps into the director’s chair for the third time (his other efforts being the B-movie homage Slither and the dark comedy Super) with Guardians. From the opening credits sequence, where Peter Quill dances through an alien ruin with Rebone’s “Come and Get Your Love” playing over his Walkman’s headphones, using an alien rodent as a faux microphone in the process, Gunn puts his own unique stamp on the film and tells the viewer exactly what type of movie they’re going to see; a flick with a sense of humor and a sense of wonder. No time is wasted with large amounts of awkwardly delivered exposition by the characters. Instead, the script by Gunn and Nicole Perlman puts it all on screen. One doesn’t need to know the details about the war between Nova Corps and the Kree Empire. All they need to know is Ronan the Accuser refuses to stop fighting the war and won’t let a peace treaty stop him. The alien races, pink skinned and yellow skinned humanoids and the blue skinned, red-slightly-mohawked Yondu, don’t need to have their species named or their planets laid out. The visuals speak for themselves, and this allows Gunn to spend more screentime developing the characters. And the humor is prevalent as well. I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie in a very long time. Even pure “comedy” movies like Neighbors and 22 Jump Street didn’t have me huddled over in my movie seat, almost pounding the floor with laughter at several parts. And I wasn’t alone, as sometimes I couldn’t hear the next line of dialogue because the rest of the theater was laughing just as hard!

Chris Pratt is best known for playing the goofy Andy Dwyer on NBC’s sitcom Parks and Recreation as well as starring in Zero Dark Thirty and The Lego Movie. There is none of Andy Dwyer in Pratt’s performance in this film. He shed a lot of body weight and gained a good bit of mass (to the extent that I heard a few whistles during his shirtless scene), but instead of the oblivious manchild from TV, Pratt plays Peter Quill as a charming rogue always looking for the easy score, both with regards to money and with the ladies. Of course, under the exterior is a heart of gold and a sense of honor, the type of honest humility that allows Quill to rally his newfound teammates when everything looks lost. This should be a breakout role for Pratt, who just radiates a sense of likability that screams “Han Solo meets Marty McFly.” ‘

Zoe Saldana has pretty much established her sci-fi credentials after turns in Avatar and the Star Trek reboots. Eschewing CGI for practical make-up, Saldana’s does great in the action scenes where she needs to kick butt, but she suffers a little bit when it comes to explaining why she would betray Ronan and help Quill. It’s the standard “I was trained to be a weapon and I’ve finally had enough” trope and the lines that should define that sentiment get lost in the shuffle.

All Vin Diesel says in the movie is “I am Groot.” Detractors, and some fans, of Diesel might say it doesn’t come as a surprise, but I’m going to give credit to Diesel. The WAY he delivers those lines throughout the film come at the viewer from a variety of different directions and inflections. Diesel, an admitted comic book and gaming geek, deserves credit for his delivery, and the special effects people should get a shout out for the design of Groot as well as his onscreen portrayal. He’s a big walking tree, but he’s not slow like the Ents from The Lord of the Rings. His facial expressions are hilarious and emotive, and when he gets into combat, like during the big fight at the end where he spears a whole group of bad guys and spends 30 seconds just slamming them into a wall over and over again, the CGI is just incredible. My favorite gag of the entire movie consists of Rocket explaining his big escape plan and just how carefully they’ll have to go about things…and in the background is Groot, having heard just one part of the plan, going about executing it without waiting for any direction or feedback as Drax casually looks on.

Speaking of Rocket, he’s a talking raccoon on two legs. What should have been the biggest flop of the entire movie turns out to be one of its best parts, thanks to Bradley Cooper’s voice acting. The CGI for Rocket is incredible. There’s no sense of “this thing doesn’t belong in the shot/scene” with regards to how he’s “drawn” on screen. Even when drunk off his tail and pointing a large gun at Drax, the movie viewer is taking Rocket seriously. Cooper is the “funny” comic relief of the film, with his over-the-top love of weapons and bombs and his attempts to be the only sane being in the entire team. And his reactions, such a hand over his mouth or idly scratching himself, are so “human” and natural that when he gets his “dramatic” scene towards the end of the movie, it’s completely and utterly believable.

I saved Dave Bautista for last because he’s the “straight” comic relief of the film and is absolutely hilarious. Drax doesn’t mean to be funny, but the writers sure as hell made him so, with a charatcer who doesn’t understand metaphors (“His people are completely literal. Metaphors are going to go over his head. “Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it”), and Bautista’s deadpan delivery is just perfect. Anyone who’s seen him during his time with the WWE knows he can be vicious and violent too. Drax is full of rage and only cares about revenge, which leads to a great scene where he CALLS Ronan and tells him (all off-screen) “I have what you want, come and face me.” I wouldn’t say Dave Bautista is going to be Shakespeare anytime soon, but his growth from revenge-fueled engine of destruction to…revenged-fueled engine of destruction who works as part of a team is believable and very well done.

One of the great things Marvel has done is surround the main characters a great supporting cast in their movies, with bit parts performed by well-known actors. It adds a level of “seriousness” to the movie while keeping its comic book roots firmly in place. We have Glenn Close as Nova Prime, who could have let her hair do all the acting, and John C Reilly as a Nova Corps officer, taking their parts as seriously as the script would allow, though Reilly gets a great riff on the “Star-Lord” “code name” at one point. You also have Benecio del Toro in a small part as the Collector, who’s just as weird and mercenary as he is in the comic books. Karen Gillan is Ronan’s right hand woman, who has a grudge against Gamora and does her outright best to destroy her. I mean the highest of praise when I said Gillan, in the supporting villain role, is vicious, cruel, and did not at any point in the movie remind me of Amy Pond. Lee Pace is Ronan the Accuser, who I would put below Loki and above Malekith on the “cosmic villain” scale. Every word Pace says, he delivers like the pure power of the word could destroy a world. What got me most about his performance was his stillness. When he wasn’t in motion, Pace stood absolutely motionless, not even moving his eyes as he took everything in. It was definitely creepy, and I do wish we could have seen more of him before his demise. The best supporting role goes to Michael Rooker, playing Yondu, Quill’s quasi-mentor/business partner/scavenger rival. With blue skin and an arrow he can control by whistling, Rooker dives into the part when he’s on screen, always looking for the angle and willing to kill Quill until he realizes just how much money they could make and instantly becoming his best friend once again.

I definitely need to point out just how great the special effects were. Nothing looked or felt out of place, from the wonder and splendor of the Nova Corps home world Xandar to the rough and tumble mining colony of Knowhere and the cold sterile nature of Ronan’s Kree warship. The makeup job on the aliens were superb as well. Drax’s scars were a standout, but the background is peppered with aliens of different skin colors and “head crests,” adding to the alien and multi-cultural nature of the universe. The scene that stood out for me was Nova Corps’ “net” to keep Ronan’s warship from landing on Xandar. Very neat looking, and very well done!

When the movie ended, and the words “The Guardians of the Galaxy will return” came on screen, the entire theater clapped. I mentioned earlier that I kind of felt like this could be Star Wars for a new generation. The universe was wide and wonderful, with aliens and locations that were familiar but different from anything we know. The characters were unique, charming, roguish…and some of them, it’s obvious we’ll see again. Memorable lines will get woven into pop culture within the next few months. And people will wait with eagerness for the sequel due to be released in 2017. But really, it’s the fact that as we were walking out of the movie theater that myself, my fiancee, and my stepdaughter were all ready to turn right around and walk back inside for another showing that speaks volumes of just how good Guardians of the Galaxy was. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough. If you have seen it, see it with someone who hasn’t. If this is the opening salvo of Marvel’s “Phase 2” movie universe, I feel like we’re still in good hands, even if I’m still a little wary of the Ant-Man movie…

Synopsis – The best and most fun movie of the summer, Guardians of the Galaxy has something for everyone; action, humor, a solid script, great special effects, and amazing performances. Highly recommend to see in theaters.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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