Review: Ain't No Thing Like James Gunn's 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
by Jeremy Kirk
August 1, 2014
"Ain't no thing like me, 'cept me." So says Rocket Racoon, a genetically modified racoon with a bad attitude and a fair point. The same can be said for the movie he's in, Guardians of the Galaxy, the cosmic superhero epic that continues the Marvel cinematic universe. For that matter, you can lay that dialogue and its meaning at the feet of the film's writer/director, James Gunn, who has spent his days since Troma delivering hard-edged horror and unbelievably cool superhero stories. This is his first chance at a big comic book story, and the sci-fi action, comedy extraveganza within Guardians of the Galaxy is cool, comical, and a cracking great time. One could almost be inclined to call it the best Marvel Studios film yet. More below!
But it's difficult to claim any, one Marvel movie as better than the rest. Each comic book adaptation brings with it a slight switch on the superhero sub-genre. Captain America: Winter Soldier, while also holding the throne by many as the biggest and best Marvel has to offer (myself included, still), is a conspiracy thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy is a different beast entirely, an action team origin story kickstarted by a sci-fi, prison-break movie wrapped in a space opera of gigantic scope. Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have a fun time playing in all of these fields.
That team, by the way, is made up of the following: Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a young space explorer and smuggler who was abducted from his Missouri home as a boy (this was 1988, and the boy's only item from home is a cassette tape labelled "Awesome Mix Tape #1" that is…awesome); Gamora (Zoe Saldana), an alien assassin whose adopted family seeks control of the whole Universe; Rocket, that unique raccoon whose voice sounds an awful lot like Bradley Cooper; Groot, an alien tree-being who has recently become Rocket's travelling companion, voice provided by Vin Diesel; and Drax the Destroyer, whose name implies a lot and the fact that he's played by former WWE pro wrestler Dave Bautista backs those implications up. These are the Guardians of the Galaxy, and they are unbelievably cool.
Gunn's film doesn't waste any time, not even a second, the story of young Peter Quill's abduction beginning even before the Marvel logo splashes across the screen. It's not necessarily a broken rule that begins Gunn's film, rather the first in the assortment of eccentricities with which he loves to line his work. Like the characters that inhabit it, Guardians is an odd bird, a tongue-in-cheek adventure that is as awesome as it is hilariously entertaining. How else are you going to work a Lloyd Kaufman cameo into a Marvel movie?
As eccentric as it is, Guardians is also the most purely entertaining Marvel film to come along. Serious drama comes up here and there, Gamora's family issues, mainly those regarding her psychotic brother, Ronan (Lee Pace), and his wicked plans for the universe, being the primary example. Yet, nothing in Guardians ever reaches past a certain level of seriousness. We're never that far removed from a humorously cynical line from Rocket, a goofy face and a charming line from Star-Lord, or even an instance of Groot uttering the only line he has in the movie, "I am Groot." Be prepared for kids to fall head-over-heels in love with the big, wooden lug.
That is what's most surprising about Guardians, how well the adventure and all that comes with it work for any demographic that might choose to see the film. Kids will love Groot, adults will laugh at Rocket, Star-Lord is a classicly goofy "straight-man", Gamora is an ass-kicking alien that will spur on the female audience members, and Drax is basically the same thing for the pro wrestling, testosterone crowd. Add to all of that the impressively huge-scale and incredibly fun adventure Gunn and company have pulled together, and there's really not much here that isn't working at top-notch levels.
The team coming together is probably the only area where Gunn and Perlman's screenplay slips up, just a bit. It's as if the five of them are predestined to join sides even when, at first, they're going up against each other. But what the hell, right? How it all plays out is so enjoyable to watch you can't help but forgive it for such a minor flaw. Beyond that, the adventure, the worlds Gunn creates, and the delightfully odd characters who fill those worlds are all superbly executed.
Even that main cast is firing up perfect execution through-and-through. Pratt and Saldana make a fine one-two punch to lead the team. Bautista is not only impressive to look at, those years delivering goofy, pro wrestling lines have given him the courage to make a fool of himself, but I wouldn't say that to his face. Cooper and Diesel are another satisfying pair, comic relief for different generations 0f viewers whose timing and delivery are so spot-on they effortlessly cross those demographic lines. Diesel's "I am Groot" delivery works as well for adults as it does for kids, and Cooper's lines hit just on the right side of lewd, like a fine Looney Tunes short. Some of the raccoon's lines might be a little racy for kids, but it's not like they're going to understand what's being said anyway.
Pace leads a heavy charge of first-rate villains, Karen Gillan as his other sister, Nebula, dropping a finely villainous performance. Other supporting players like Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, and Peter Serafinowicz fill roles that are as amusing as they are genuine, especially in this world. Likewise, Benicio Del Toro as a collector of interstellar oddities and Glenn Close as head of an intergalactic military force are welcome additions to the Marvel pool of talent and extremely interesting characters to boot.
Guardians of the Galaxy is loaded down with sci-fi adventure and rip-roaring, superhero fun, so much that it's two-hour running time seems almost impossibly short. How can they fit so much in such a decently-sized package? In that regard, it fits in nicely with some of the best adventures put to film, and not just those from Marvel, either. In time, Guardians will surely be as admired as the best adventures from the likes of Lucas and, yes, Spielberg. 8-year-olds will remember this film 20 years from now exactly as those of us coming into adulthood in 2014 remember Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, or whatever cinematic milestone in your life jumpstarted your movie-loving brain, and feeds your taste for nostalgia even now. Gunn can certainly pat himself on the back for that and for giving us an awesome comic book movie that is, say it with me, as unbelievably cool as Guardians of the Galaxy.
Jeremy's Rating: 10 out of 10
Follow Jeremy on Twitter - @JeremyKKirk