The only major release this weekend and, I’d argue, the last major release of the 2014 summer movie season is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This is the final movie in Marvel’s phase two leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Marvel is apparently firing on all cylinders and had the guts to create a major movie using E-list comic characters. This adaptation, directed by James Gunn (Super, Slither), will surely pay off at the box office. The Marvel stamp alone brings automatic excitement from the popcorn masses and critics alike. Below, I offer my multiple personality reviews. You can choose which one serves you best.
The Fanboy Review
Guardians of the Galaxy has been perceived as the biggest risk that Marvel has undergone yet. Until now, they have worked solely with the main Avengers cast and kept the stories mostly grounded. Now, Guardians has us leaving Earth and seeing the expansive universe established in Marvel comics.
As the movie begins, we see a young Peter Quill on Earth in 1988. He is never without his Walkman and “Awesome” mix tape that his mother made for him. The movie opens with Peter visiting his dying mother in the hospital and being abducted in a mysterious ship soon after. We meet Quill again, years later, as he searches an alien planet looking for a mysterious orb. He basically frolics to his end goal, rockin’ out to his mix tape, using small alien creatures as impromptu microphones. This scene caught me off guard and opened me up to the feel and vibe of the rest of the movie.
Quill (Chris Pratt), or StarLord as he likes to be known, ends up leading a team of misfits that somehow end up together. This crew is comprised of: Drax (Dave Bautista), the vengeful muscle of the team. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a disillusioned former villain and daughter of Thanos. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a gentle warrior who also happens to be a living tree. Lastly, a genetic experiment turned sarcastic merc named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), who also happens to be a wise-cracking raccoon. This team forms under unlikely circumstances and eventually head the charge to save the planet Xandar from destruction and hopefully the galaxy.
This is easily the funniest Marvel movie since the first Iron Man. In contrast to the standard humor of the rest of the Avengers-based movies, the comedy here feels different. Chris Pratt has natural comic timing. That, combined with the quirky writing talents of James Gunn makes the dialogue some of the best in the Marvel-verse.
There are more than a few elements that make Guardians of the Galaxy unique among Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. These space adventurers are characters that very few moviegoers know. It doesn’t play out like a typical origin story. We don’t need to know what Peter Quill has gone through to end up where he is. We can quickly see his interactions with the rest of the team and immediately connect with the characters. Also, the fact that he references ’70s music and ’80s pop culture so often makes the older audience relate to Quill immediately.
This feels like the spiritual successor to The Last Starfighter. The dynamic of a chosen one from Earth fighting alongside various aliens and creatures makes this one of the most unpredictable Marvel movies. Unpredictability in the Marvel franchise is very good. If nothing else, you will keep watching just to see what situations the crew gets into. The pacing is helped by non-stop humor.
This will easily rank among the top-tier Marvel movies alongside the first Iron man and the Avengers.
Stop here if you still want to like me. I warn you, we are about to disagree.
The Cynic Review
I’m sorry. I’ve tried the Kool-Aid and it’s not my flavor. Kool-Aid is easy to drink and consume and rarely leaves you satiated. This is my comparison for nearly every Marvel movie. They’re harmless, if not a little fun. However, I have never walked out of one of these movies thinking to myself, “I just witnessed greatness!” At best, it’s more of a shrug and “Oh, that was pretty good.”
Which is why I had higher-than-average expectations for Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m done with the standard Captain Vanilla, Bhor and Robert Downey Jr. (I was going to say Irony Man, but I’m already pushing your patience limits). I grew up always wanting to travel to space. This is why the intro of Guardians grabbed me. It was revisiting the genre that I fell in love with when I was young watching The Explorers, Return of the Jedi and the aforementioned Last Starfighter. Guardians had the opportunity to deliver an exciting movie complete with great space battles and witty comedy.
Instead of being the riskiest Marvel movie to date, it follows the status quo (this is not a myth. It’s the reason Edgar Wright left the Ant-Man production). I could post my Thor: The Dark World story synopsis and add a raccoon and a tree and you’d have Guardians of the Galaxy.
To be more specific, Marvel loves their MacGuffins. TvTropes.com defines a MacGuffin as “A term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. It won’t pop up again later, it won’t explain the ending, it won’t do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won’t even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/superweapon that everyone in the story is chasing.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Which is exactly why i didn’t.
So Quill and his crew hold the orb (interchangeable with the Tesseract, Infinity Gauntlet, Aether) and they are being pursued by Quill’s mentor, Yondu (Michael Rooker). There are also several villains who will stop at nothing to get the orb. These villains are Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and finally Thanos (Josh Brolin). Sound crowded yet?
This orb holds one of the random infinity stones that Thanos wants to complete the Infinity Gauntlet (we’ll eventually see unleashed in Avengers 3) and has all too many lackies seek it out. My main gripe with Marvel has always been the lack of great villains. A hero can only be as good as their villain, right? And no, Loki doesn’t count. He’s an anti-villain at best. Now, Guardians has a handful of villains that could have put this movie over the edge. Sadly, not one of them are worth mentioning. Ronan, the primary big bad, is relegated to being completely forgettable and is concerned with destroying Xandar. Nothing is fleshed out for any of these villains. Even Nebula, who looks fantastic, is just a typical forgettable goon. Basically, these villains are just as memorable as Malekith. Who, you ask? Indeed.
Also, I’d rather they didn’t show Thanos. He looked downright silly and unfinished. It immediately neutered the villain that is meant to be the big bad in Avengers 3.
It doesn’t help that the ending was taken directly from Thor 2. Spoiler alert, it all ends in a big, dark cyclone. The only unpredictable things are the random cameos. Glenn Close is in this movie for 3 minutes, for some reason. Djimon Hounsou may have thrown his chances of playing Black Panther away just to play a lame villain that only appears for 2 minutes. Benicio Del Toro is back in a glorified cameo as The Collector in a scene that shouldn’t have made it past the cutting room floor.
The cynic in me still loves Chris Pratt as Starlord. He is never without his natural Han Solo’esque swagger. I was underwhelmed by Rocket. He constantly bickers with Quill. Honestly, one Han Solo per movie is enough. Zoe Saldana plays a green version of every other character she’s played. Vin Diesel and his agent deserve the Nobel Prize for getting paid millions to only speak three words, “I…Am…Groot.” Dave Bautista gets a few meathead lines that work, thankfully he doesn’t try to act too hard. To be honest, the best scenes in the movie are where the group is sitting together in the ship, just talking. More specifically, those two scenes are very funny.
The humor and timing of Pratt obviously alludes to the comedy of Parks and Recreation. It’s not forcefully funny, but when you catch on, you can’t help but chuckle. The references work. Kevin Bacon references always work. However, they’re cheap. There’s a reason that Family Guy still has the audience it does. Cheap references.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a combination of Parks and Rec and….Star Wars episode 3. Visually, there is a ton happening, but it may as well been shots that were cut from the lifeless SW prequels. The space action just isn’t that fun. You never feel the danger. You just shrug and think, “It’s a Marvel movie, everyone is going to be okay.” Essentially, my movie quote for the poster would be “Hollow, but you’ll laugh a ton.”
To wrap up, I hope we’re still friends. You will love this movie. I only liked it. It fit right along with the standard Marvel formula. You’ll be fooled by the visuals and winking comedy and think that it’s the funnest movie of the summer. After all this, I’d still give it a 3 out of 5.
Because this is a Marvel review, there must always be a stinger.