We’re So In Love With Guardians Of The Galaxy, We Should Marry It.
Guardians of the Galaxy.
Director: James Gunn.
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman (screenplay); Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning (comic book).
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro.
Where it’s playing: Everywhere.
Breathe easy, movie lovers: Guardians of the Galaxy is here to save the day.
The tenth film from Marvel Studios — and clearly one of its best, not to mention the most punk rock — Guardians isn’t really the kind of superhero movie you’re used to seeing. It has all the action and flashy sequences it needs to entertain and wow you, sure. Of course it does; the genre requires it. But it also arguably has more attitude than any superhero movie that’s come before it.
Yes, this is a film well worth admiring — and for a few reasons, actually.
For starters, there’s the fact that Marvel Studios took a chance on James Gunn to make a big superhero movie his way. Gunn’s a newcomer in the big-budget director’s chair, but he’s no stranger to comic-book cinema. A few years ago, he wrote and directed Super, a Rainn Wilson-starring indie about a less-than-average guy that dresses up as a superhero to fight local crime. That was a hyper-violent film — and one well worth the obvious comparisons to its also-2010-released rival, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass. Didn’t catch Super? Well, you still might know Gunn’s monster-adoring work all the same: He is, after all, the guy that changed the way we look at zombies in cinema, having penned the screenplay for 2004’s Dawn of the Dead — a film that also marked the directorial debut of Zack Snyder, a guy who knows a thing or two about superhero movies himself and now sits at the helm of the rebooted Superman franchise.
The point? Gunn’s a real pro. And with Guardians, it shows. The film really is quite — wait for it — marvelous. In his hands, superhero storytelling is altered in exactly the way movie lovers need it to be. Gunn’s vision is impressive, sassy and stylish. It’s destined to become beloved by comic book and space-related movie fans alike.
In part, that’s because Gunn gets the dramatics out of the way quick. His Guardians of the Galaxy opens in 1988, where a little boy watches his ill mother die on a hospital bed. Angry, he runs out of the building and bangs the ground with this fists as hard as he can, frustrated that he’s now all alone in this vast universe. Except not quite: In an instant, a large UFO appears, hovering above him. Before we really know what’s happening, he’s beamed up inside of that spacecraft and, as the opening titles start to roll, the audience is left wondering why him and why now — important questions that will later be answered in the film.
His identity is the first reveal: That boy, Peter Quill, grows into a man known (mostly to himself) as Star-Lord. Star-Lord (played by a disarmingly charming Chris Pratt) makes his money by traveling the galaxy, stealing things and then selling those things to chumps for profit. He’s pleased enough with himself — very much a legend in his own mind — but his luck takes a weird turn when, on commission, he steals a special orb that can destroy anything and everything in its path should it get into the wrong hands.
Which, no surprise, means that everyone — including space pirates, governments and a particularly evil sonofabitch named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) — wants it. Star-Lord, for his part, mostly wants the profit that comes with getting rid of the damn thing, but he’ll accept Ronan not destroying the galaxy as a close runner-up.
Along the way, a band of misfits helps him in his mission: a curiously Ronan-affiliated killing machine (played by a green Zoe Saldana); a too-literal maniac seeking revenge for the death of his wife and child (played by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, except blue and covered in tattoos); a test-lab raccoon gone wrong named Rocket, who’s kind of a dick but also really smart (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Rocket’s protector, a soulful tree creature named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) that goes for the less-is-more approach when it comes to a vocabulary even as he still manages to speak volumes.
Together, they are by no means the guardians the galaxy deserves. But, through a series of mishaps, they end up being the ones the galaxy needs right now.
And Star-Lord, if only default, is the ringleader here. Whether he’s the hero his new friends require him to be is up for debate, but the fact that he’s so obviously the hero that cinema has sought for some time now isn’t. Pratt, who has long played the idiot on TV, shines incredibly bright in this role, too. If he wasn’t a household name prior to this film, he’s certainly about to be: His performance as Star-Lord is the kind of showing that Hollywood has so desperately tried to pull out of Ryan Reynolds for years. (That’s not necessarily to knock Reynolds, who has always been likable and funny enough. But Pratt just showcases so much heart in this role. His honest charisma just wins you over at every turn.)
Which is fortunate: With Cooper and Diesel relegated to voice roles, there’s not much star power on the screen. Granted, Benicio Del Toro (who could pass as Jim Jarmusch’s long-lost brother here), Glenn Close and John C. Reilly are all in the cast, yes. But their parts, while strong, are ultimately minimal. And while some may be disappointed at their small amounts of screen time, the truth is that it’s just not their show. It’s The Chris Pratt Show — and, to a slightly lesser degree, that of his fellow Guardians.
Lucky for audiences, that’s a show well worth watching — and one worth listening to, as well. It’s important to note the role that the soundtrack plays in this film: It’s key to connecting the whole thing together, and, really, it’s just an awesome collection of tunes. This is music you have danced to your whole life. More than likely, you’ve belted out some of these tracks at karaoke at some point. In the hands of a lesser film, their inclusion could very well be perceived as contrived and cheesy. In the context of Guardians, their use — along with a handful of other well-timed pop culture references — ends up inarguably entertaining.
Just as the whole film is — and rather triumphantly at that. To use a metaphor that would go over the head of at least one of this film’s main characters: Guardians of the Galaxy is this summer cinema season’s true hero, no doubt about it.