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***Warning: the following may contain MILD spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy***
Marvel Studios hits another one out of the park with their own space opera Guardians of the Galaxy. Perhaps the most unexpected hit they’ve seen so far, Guardians opens up an entire universe of new possibilities for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Easily one of the most fun times you’ll have at the movies this year, it is hard not to shake it from your mind afterwards. Director James Gunn succeeds in what Guardians aims to provide; instantly-lovable characters in a world filled with classic sci-fi themes and MacGuffins, all while maintaining the interconnected formula that has made Marvel Studios the alpha male of Hollywood in recent years.
In 1988, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is abducted from Earth by a band of Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), and is brought up through a life of theft. Fast-forward to modern day and Quill, now with the self-provided codename Star-Lord comes across a mysterious orb on a deserted planet. Quill soon realizes that he is not the only party searching for the orb, as we learn that Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) has sent Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb for the big boss Thanos (Josh Brolin). Quill comes face to face with Gamora, as well as Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), a pair that has an equal desire to turn the orb into a cash reward.
The four thieves are arrested on the planet Xandar by the Nova Corps and brought to the high-facility Kyln prison, where they meet Drax (Dave Bautista), whose goal is to exact revenge on Ronan for murdering his family. Together, the “agreed to terms” team escape the Kyln and travel across space, attempting to outrun Ronan, as well as Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) and the Ravagers. Along the way they meet the Collector (Benicio del Toro), who also has interest in the orb, revealing it to be one of six Infinity Stones; an artifact so powerful it can only be wielded by certain beings. The manhunt continues, bringing enemies together as allies in an attempt to protect the galaxy.
It’s really remarkable how much of a hit Guardians turned out to be for Marvel Studios. Perhaps the biggest risk they’ve taken to date given that it’s a very obscure comic series, Marvel has managed to take a handful of awesome characters and translate them perfectly to the big screen once again. I saw the film twice this weekend and it was shocking how this movie, originally slated for a $55-$60M opening weekend, managed to shell out a whopping $94M. James Gunn really delivers a knockout punch with this movie, and should be applauded that he is already signed on to write and direct the sequel, due to hit theaters in 2017. He takes a lot of chances with Guardians in the sense that he relies on characters audiences may never have heard of to carry a blockbuster. And it works!
Guardians, like Marvel’s 2012 smash hit The Avengers, is purely character-driven, which works in a shared universe where you want to develop and introduce as many characters as possible. Chris Pratt proves he can carry a movie in his first big live-action lead role, with perfect comedic timing and quips with the other characters. Saldana, previously of Star Trek and Avatar fame, fits without flaw into the role of Gamora (at this point she could really tackle whichever sci-fi franchise she wanted to). Perhaps the two characters who would appear most intriguing from the trailers are Rocket and Groot, the snarky team of thieves who bicker back in forth, most relatable to Han and Chewie since Groot’s vocabulistics ain’t so good. The two are just as fan-friendly as you’d hope for them to be. You start to see a bit more into Rocket’s backstory and how mud he has gone through, providing more than one side to his mostly sarcastic role.
The biggest character surprise for me has to be Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. When athletes/professional wrestlers are hired to appear in movies, sometimes the result can be hit-or-miss. The thing with Bautista is that he realizes the type of roles he is capable of taking on, and is also a giant Marvel fan. He really gives his all into Drax, who ends up having some of the best one-liners and humor in the whole movie. The supporting cast is loaded with great actors who really bring the best out of their characters. Michael Rooker is Michael Rooker when he plays Yondu; a scoundrel who has a much bigger role in the movie than I would’ve guessed. Nebula is another favorite of mine who Karen Gillan (with a shaved head and blue skin) still appears as a sexy, incredibly badass warrior who, paired in battle with her sister Gamora has a lot of heart for a girl driven by hatred.
As far as the main villain of the film, Pace’s Ronan the Accuser is one of Marvel’s weaker baddies. I have to admit the biggest thing keeping me interested in Ronan was knowing his breed is Kree and how many possibilities that could lead to in the future. Other than that, he is just another puppet in the grand scheme of the MCU. Similar to Loki in The Avengers, Ronan is hired by the Mad Titan Thanos to capture another Infinity Stone for him. However, Thanos’ first speaking role (played by Brolin) is much more epic and exciting for people paying attention to the MCU and knowing what’s to come.
Aside from the loads of one-liners and awesome visuals, one of my favorite parts of the film was Tivian, aka the Collector’s treasure room on Knowhere. It is literally an Easter Egg factory for Marvel fans, and we get our second glimpse (after the mid-credits scene from Thor: The Dark World) of just what the Collector keeps hidden away. Mind you, this may get a little spoilery. From a Dark Elf to a Chitauri, Cosmo the dog to Howard the Duck, or Adam Warlock’s cocoon to the slimy worm-aliens as a nod to Gunn’s previous movie Slither. The scene with The Collector also gives some background on the “Infinity Stones”, which we have previously seen harvested in the Tesseract, the Aether, possibly Loki’s scepter, and now the Guardians orb. There is very little doubt now that Avengers 3 will see Thanos wield the Infinity Gauntlet as an all-powerful god.
The soundtrack for Guardians is brilliantly incorporated into the movie, featuring 70’s and 80’s pop like The Jackson 5, Blue Suede, The Runaways, Redbone and Davie Bowie. The songs aren’t thrown in randomly, and play along with the story and the fact that Peter Quill was an 80’s child from Earth, and takes his handy Walkman wherever he goes. We also learn that he will stop in the middle of a dangerous mission just to retrieve it. Each track gives a perfect feeling where they are placed throughout the movie, and trust me, will get stuck in your head for days afterwards.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most entertaining movies of the year, and will instantly grow on you. In fact, the more you watch it, the more it will grow on you. It’s one of those instant classics that becomes quotable, with stand-out characters and an infinite amount of possibilities for future movies. Audiences from children to adults will enjoy this movie, Marvel fan or not. But ultimately, this is a film for the fans; showing that Marvel Studios is not one bit afraid to throw something different at us.
As always with Marvel, stay until the end credits, enjoy the show, and please recycle.
My Rating: 9/10
– Josh Sazin, 8/5/14