Iron Man and Thor had cartoons in the 1960s. Captain America has several movies made in the 1970s . But the general public’s first exposure to the Guardians of the Galaxy would probably be this film. Therefore, Guardians of the Galaxy would have to bring its A game to measure up to the rest of Marvel’s output. A dodgy trailer made it look like it would be Marvel’s first flat-out comedy, featuring assassins and cold-blooded killers no less. But the trailer was misleading. What we get is movie that expertly balances humor, action and a surprising amount of sentimentality and presents us with an entertaining story.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was an Earth child who abducted into space at age 8 by a bounty hunter/treasure hunter named Yondu (Michael Booker). Yondu raises the boy and trains him a little bit too well in the art of deception, as an adult Quill decides to steal a valuable orb before Yondu can. After he steals the orb, Quill winds up in prison with Drax, a man looking for vengeance against the people who slaughtered his family (Dave Bautista), Gamora, a woman called “Thanos’ daughter who is looking to reform (Zoe Saldana), Rocket, a raccoon bounty hunter looking to return Quill to Yondu (voice of Bradley Cooper) and his muscle–a walking tree called Groot (Voiced by Vin Diesel). When it becomes apparent that a radical member of the Kree race named Ronan (Lee Pace) wants the orb so he can destroy an enemy planet full of innocent people, the five have to join together to keep it away from him.
Admittedly, I went into the film with low expectations,but even if I had high hopes, they would have been exceeded. This is solid film making resulting in a solid film from top to bottom. The tone works throughout. You’ll laugh out loud on a number of occasions, but you’ll never feel that the threat the heroes face is anything less than severe. James Gunn and Nicole Perlman create interesting characters that you will care about, and in the most simple and economical ways (How do we know Drax is one mean operator? Every other prisoner–some of the most dangerous scum of the universe– gets out of his way when he wants something).
Each of the main characters come together as a group in a believable way and goes through a character arc that puts them on the side of the angels without erasing their less-that-angelic nature. On the surface, bad guy Ronan has just a little bit more character development that the woefully underdeveloped Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, but that “little bit” goes a long way. The movie tell us again and again that Ronan is a Kree extremist who hates the Xandarians, but it also shows us exactly how extreme by showing us that he bathes in the blood of Xandarians. That really sells what he means to do to the planet, how far he is willing to go and ups the stakes just a little bit more. And the film is filled with moments like that.
The acting is great from top to bottom. Pratt is perfectly cast but I was especially impressed with Dave Bautista. Typically, professional wrestlers aren’t exactly known for their acting skills, but Bautista came through in spades. There is a lot of layers and shading in his portrayal of Drax–you can see the pain and anger behind each and every one of his actions. And he is saddled with the most “comic book-ish dialogue” but delivers it in such a natural way that it never seems all that out of place.
There is loads of fan service here as well. We get our first look at Thanos, a cosmic race of giants I NEVER thought I’d see on film and cameos from people ranging from Lloyd Kaufmann to Stan Lee to a certain Marvel cinematic star of the 1980s.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a great film. I’m sorry I ever doubted that it would be. My only hope is that Marvel gives other little known characters in its IP warehouse a similar chance to shine in the sun.