Guardians of the Galaxy
by: S. Scott Stanikmas
Marvel Studios has been riding a wave of momentum ever since 2008 and Iron Man. Once the credits stopped rolling and Nick Fury mentioned the Avengers Initiative, geek hearts were all aflutter. What was once just a dream was soon to be reality. Forget all the naysayers who said that you couldn’t bring together that much A-list talent in a single movie as co-leads without something going wrong. The Avengers won the hearts of critics, fanboys and fangirls, and regular non-comics fans alike. Not since The Dark Knight had a comic book movie been such a critically acclaimed success. And with Guardians of the Galaxy it looks like Marvel may have another Avengers-style hit on its hands.
What’s great about GotG is that it isn’t a bunch of well-known characters whose stories have been engrained in the public consciousness. It’s not Iron Man, Captain America, or even the Hulk. Hell, my grandmother knows the official comics origins of those three and even she nit-picked and noticed some of the minor tweaks that the movies made from the comics. But how many people really know who Star-Lord is? How many non-comic readers know the backstory of Drax the Destroyer? James Gunn was essentially given carte blanche to jump start the cosmic corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While there was the series written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning that spawned from Marvel’s Annihilation: Conquest event to use as a rough guideline, it was never specified that Gunn had to recreate the series directly to the screen. Its greatest strength could also be construed as its greatest weakness though as well. Because, really, will the average person know who Star-Lord or Drax is? Ask them who Rocket Raccoon or Groot is and you’ll likely be met with a blank stare. If all people see is a bunch of weird characters in space blowing stuff up, will that be enough to bring in the masses?
James Gunn fixes that by the end of the movie. Each character has their chance to shine, both on their own and with the other members of the team. And that was no easy task because, unlike The Avengers, none of the Guardians received origins films to explain who they were to the movie audience. In a little over two hours, Gunn had to, not only provide you with enough backstory to make you comfortable in your knowledge of each Guardian, he had to do it in a way that didn’t feel forced and hokey AND had to do the obligatory team origin story as well. By the end of the first hour, mission accomplished.
And let’s talk about the sixth Guardian- the music. I saw this movie with my girlfriend Jenn and fellow Indierevolver.com contributor Adam Glass, and Adam made an excellent point as we all watched the end credits roll, waiting for the accustomed bonus scenes. He said that the soundtrack felt like its own character, and it did. Adam went on to say that the music choices added much more depth and background to the movie than most people would realize, and that the overall storyline might not have been the same without said music. While I’m not someone who is hugely into music I wholeheartedly agree with him on this. With a mix of energetic and catchy hits of decades past, the soundtrack to GotG was truly an entity unto itself.
While some of the past Marvel movies have had more than their fair share of darkness in them, Guardians of the Galaxy manages to take what could be a truly dark story (the destruction of the universe) and still keep a light and somewhat happy tone throughout. Sure, there were moments where the mood got a little somber, but a good joke, snarky remark, or catchy tune were right around the corner. And this is a welcome change of pace, because compared to the Phase One movies the Phase Two Movies have been decidedly darker as of late. Even Jenn’s favorite franchise Thor took a turn towards the depressing side in its post-Avengers sequel The Dark World. GotG is probably Marvel’s most light-hearted movie since the Cinematic Universe began.
Not once did it ever feel like James Gunn talked down to the audience. He had so many new characters and concepts to introduce and he did it in the most natural way possible- through dialogue and conversation. Not just mindless voice-over exposition and “Bwa-ha-ha” villain monologue, but actual interaction between the characters that didn’t feel forced just to make a point. Jenn had no idea who the Nova Corps or Ronan the Accuser were, but by the end of the movie she was enjoying everything being thrown her way and seemed extremely disappointed when the credits began to roll. She, much like Adam and I, wanted more from this new corner of Marvel’s universe.
It’s hard to pick a standout Guardian as they all work so well. If pressed I’d say Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord was phenomenal and probably the standout of the bunch. Known for being the heavyset funny guy in many TV shows and movies, Pratt stepped up his game and owned every second he was on the screen. And he didn’t seem afraid to make himself look like a fool either. He got as good as he gave, slinging jokes and being on the receiving end of the punch line as well.
We had a friend who couldn’t attend with us but I did call him afterwards to give him my glowing recommendation of the movie. He asked me if the movie lived up to all the hype it’s been getting. I could only say that there was no hype- this movie delivered in every way that I wanted it to. He then asked me if I loved it as much as The Avengers. I had to say that I loved them both equally but for different reasons. While The Avengers had everyone’s favorite Marvel heroes all under one roof and the epic Battle of New York in the last leg of the film, it was still a very dark and serious film. Guardians of the Galaxy was much lighter, while having much more at stake. There were times where I was crying from some of the jokes.
Guardians of the Galaxy is not without its flaws. I feel they tried a little too hard to make an emotional connection at the start of the film, with a young Peter Quill and his dying mother. It felt a little heavy handed. It did tie in later in the movie, but at the time and all by itself it seemed a little much. Also, I would have liked to have seen more of Ronan. Lee Pace killed it onscreen.
Much like I said Boyhood is as near perfect as cinema can get, Guardians of the Galaxy is damn near perfect in its own ways. While it’s not high drama and it won’t win any Oscars, it’s still damn entertaining. We don’t buy a ticket to a movie like this expecting Shakespeare performed at the Globe Theatre. We want to see a large green and red alien team up with a sentient tree beating up villains. And I couldn’t have been happier.