I should admit this outright. Whether it’s the nature of my job, or the seemingly endless deluge of Marvel Studios news that we write on everyday, I’ve succumbed to Marvel fatigue. That’s why I was instantly drawn to Guardians of the Galaxy. From the first trailer on it promised something entirely unique within the Marvel formula, and although it too is a stepping stone within Marvel Studios’ grander scheme, it stood out for good reasons.
With a quirky director whose only done smaller projects, a star studded cast painted green and voicing things like animated raccoons and trees, its 70s rock inspired soundtrack, and its complete foray into comic book oddities, Guardians of the Galaxy could’ve easily been Marvel’s biggest failure.
Good thing it’s not.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Director: James Gunn
Release Date: August 1, 2014
Guardians of the Galaxy is the story of Peter Quill aka “Star-Lord” (Chris Pratt), a boy who was abducted by space pirates in the 80s after the death of his mother. Twenty years later, he’s now a thief who stumbles on a powerful stone and gets wrapped up in a fight between Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and the Nova Corps. After a couple of shenanigans he winds up with unlikely allies: the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and the bounty hunter Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and his tree companion, Groot (Vin Diesel). When Ronan poses a threat to the entire galaxy, it’s up to this group of unlikely heroes to band together and stop him.
With Thor: The Dark World breaking ground on Marvel’s cosmic universe, Guardians quite literally shoots for the stars. I was worried initially that it’d be hard to accept all of these outlandish things, but the casting fixes all of that. Pratt especially utilizes his screen time well as having him at the center (sort of an audience stand in as he’s the guy who’s made the world his own, but still is an outsider) brings the film down to Earth. Pratt brings a suave awkwardness that gives the film’s tone a pulpy 70s science fiction vibe. You know, like where he could start smoking at any moment and it would only make him that much cooler. Other standouts include Zoe Saldana (who by this point is used to playing the badass), Vin Diesel (he works so much out of three words), the delightfully weird Benecio Del Toro, and Bradley Cooper, who’d be even better if he weren’t forced to make terrible jokes most of the time. Unfortunately, everyone else misses the mark.
While I want Dave Bautista to go on to a successful acting career after his WWE days, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t the best showcase for it. Most of his dialogue is stunted as his stiff delivery brings down every scene he’s in. He’s got the physicality, and his yelling is top notch, but completely hurts in smaller moments. That stiffness extends to some of the supporting cast as well. Whether it’s a result of poor characterization, or poor delivery, the villains all seem hollow. While that’s good for the tone of the film as the Guardians should take center stage and focus should be on the why instead of whom they’re fighting, it’s a shame to see their threat deemed virtually meaningless. It’s hard to rally behind this group of losers when you don’t care if they win or not.
But what about the plot? It’s something you’ve see many times before, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Although it’s formulaic, it’s a formula that’s never been applied to Marvel films and the intrinsic wackiness of this property gives it a fresh spin. Although the action scenes are a bit clunky with noticeably poor stunt work in every scene but Saldana and Karen Gillan’s, Guardians of the Galaxy is having such a relaxed, good time with itself that you’ll be hooked into that feeling too. Trying to fill the faulty cracks with humor (when it lands, at least), Guardians’ pleasant carefree tone also makes criticism a little tough.
Although it annoyed me to hear so much “shit” and “bitch,” in the place of actual dialogue (thus making the Guardians seem more like children than badasses), how much of it is serious? The humor may clash with emotional wells later in the film, but how deeply am I supposed to think about this when the film repeatedly reminds me of its juvenile roots? At least it finds the time to break up the potentially monotonous action scenes with that humor…even if that leads to rough patches of stagnant space in the story.
In the end, I think I’m just floored by how this was pulled off. Sure there’re plenty of little things that bother me more than they’ll likely bother fans (or you), and those problems added up enough to factor into my final decision, but Guardians of the Galaxy is still entertaining.
Guardians of the Galaxy may be yet another building block to a future film, sure, but for the first time in a long time, I really am looking forward to what happens next. With an ensemble rivaling The Avengers in its star quality, I can’t wait for all of these dynamos to share a single screen ten-twelve years from now when all of these wrinkles are ironed out.
Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a flawless victory, but it still wins.