What happens when a rag-tag band of movie reviewers come together in a last-ditch effort to critique the hottest movie of the summer? It just so happens that the power of love overcomes them all! Read on, True Believers, and find out why Guardians of the Galaxy is the surprise hit of the summer — and maybe the year!
I did not expect to love Guardians of the Galaxy. Rocket Raccoon has been one of my favourite characters ever since I read the reprints of his first series in the back of Marvel UK’s old Transformers comic but I’m under no illusions that he’s anything more than a C-list character.
Of course Marvel keeps on making absurd amounts of money from its superhero films, and has become very slick — some may say “formulaic” — at making them, but Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t really in that genre, so in many ways the film is an experiment, something new and untested.
I expected to like it but in the end consider it a noble failure. I did not expect to love every second of it.
Well, almost every second. There are a couple of moments where character and plot development is a little jarring; for example, one prominent member of the Nova Corps starts off hating the Guardians but by the end of the film comes around to a position of grudging respect. It’s by no means an illogical change and it is backed up in dialogue but even so it doesn’t feel as if the film worked to earn it, and I suspect the missing steps of character development were left in an earlier version of the script or in the editing room. This happens two or three times in the film and that’s a bit of a shame.
The big final set piece is also a little disappointing, not because it’s dull or badly shot — it is neither of those — but rather because it’s more or less the same as the big fights at the ends of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble A Longer Title Than Is Strictly Necessary, Thor 2: Thor Harder, and Captain America 2: Seed of Bucky. I would have hoped for a bit more imagination.
A slight failure of imagination and a couple of choppy moments in the script is about the worst I can say about the film because the rest of it is glorious. Much was made of the classic rock soundtrack in the trailers and Star Lord’s “Awesome Mix” is put to good use in the film, making it seem almost like the space opera Tarantino hasn’t made yet. The visuals are splendid; a big, a veritable three-bean dip for the eyes, with lots of movement, bright colours, and impressive designs. The computer effects are magnificent; CGI artists have become dab hands at inanimate objects over the years and so things like space ships and secret asteroid bases have become — dare I say? — easy, but living creatures still cause trouble for even the pioneers of the field at Industrial Light and Magic. The legion of CGI artists behind Guardians of the Galaxy seem to have cracked it, and both Rocket Raccoon and Groot — and (ANAGRAM SPOILER TIME) No Hats — look not only amazing, but real.
They’re also the stars of the film. Everyone else is good — special applause goes to Dave Bautista who could have settled into a bruiser role but instead pulls off some decent acting; I forgot that he was Dave Bautista and saw him as Drax from about his second scene — and Chris Pratt anchors the whole thing with his charming portrayal of Han Solo James Kirk Star Lord, but Groot and Rocket are the heart of the film, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been a Rocket fan since I was five.
The animators deserve a lot of credit for giving Groot so much personality and Vin Diesel does a good job with the difficult task of conveying a character through a three word vocabulary; Groot is a loveable dunce with a heart as big as the galaxy and it’s amazing that the film-makers managed to convey this given the inherent limitations of the character. Rocket is even better; Bradley Cooper doesn’t overpower the role — as voice actors have tended to do ever since Aladdin — and instead inhabits it, bringing a fair bit of depth and pathos to the character. I liked the incongruity of the cartoon and video game Rocket being English — we don’t have raccoons over here — but Cooper does an excellent job with his Joe-Pesci-as-Batman approach.
The writing is strong — it’s difficult to believe that it’s co-writer Nicole Perlman‘s first filmed script — and while there’s plenty of the snarky wit we’ve come to expect from Marvel’s films there’s also a lot of charm and heart; I can’t be the only viewer who — prepped by the trailers — was surprised by the opening scene set in a cancer ward. There is also a lot of surprising depth in the script; for example, Star Lord’s human idioms being incomprehensible to his alien friends is a running joke, yes, but it also tells the viewer that this is an alien setting and things are different here.
Guardians of the Galaxy is an unexpected triumph. It shouldn’t be as good as it is, but a combination of good performances, an excellent script, and brilliant characters has delivered a strange and refreshing thing: a science-fiction action comedy with a big heart. I adore this film.
– Kelvin Green
This is the most immersively Marvel product yet from the world of Marvel movies. Instead of having become somehow Disney-fied (the “adorable” Rocket Raccoon is the bawdiest of the lot, and doesn’t even know what a raccoon is), Marvel cinema is investing further and further into its own mature and massive amount of legendary continuity. It’s like everyone has finally realized what an endlessly rich tapestry 50 (or more, I know, but it’s a Kirby/Lee vibe that really underlies this franchise) years of space opera can be. They know Thor looks like a god but is really an alien. They know there are gods (or near-gods) in the heavens, but also that they’re caught up in relatively familiar things like the Kree/Xandar war and ancient betrayals and femme fatale assassins and power-mad despots and a lot of other things not necessarily centered in the hegemony of Christian iconography. Superheroes can go there, but they also go further back; to Vikings, to Greece, to Sumeria and Egypt.
That’s all pretty high-faluting for the actual mood of this movie, but it’s there in the scenes between Ronan (Lee Pace) and Thanos (Josh Brolin), and thank goddess they’ve found those two actors for these key roles. Both can deliver an evil line with sinister dread and not look ridiculous doing it (and the look for Thanos is improving with every film he cameos in, much as Hulk and even the Thing did over the years). It’s there in the campy relish that Benicio Del Toro embraces for the Collector as well, and there in the number of references the film makes to other bits of Marvel lore. In this film the Kree and Ronan are the Dark Elves, and the militaristic, shiny coastal Nova Corps are the good guys being threatened with annihilation. You don’t cast John C. Reilly as a corpsman with a wife and kid if you don’t want us choosing his race as the Everymen, or give Glenn Close a Dick Tracey-worthy wig and getup as Nova Prime for that matter.
Xandar isn’t all that matters, though, the movie also cares a lot about Peter Quill and his outsider band of misfits, who bond in an extended prison sequence that is quite gritty but somehow polished to a comic book shine of whimsy, too. There’s something slightly wrong about making the spiritual Yondu (the Native American archetype—yes, maybe stereotype—amongst the OG Guardians) a criminal Ravager instead, but Michael Rooker definitely delivers the grubby Mos Eisley Cantina vibe that goes a long way to filling out the outlaw pioneer edges of this alien society. There are wonders in this Marvel cinematic universe as yet undiscovered, and the Guardians of the Galaxy turn out to be the best tour guides yet.
– Shawn Hill
The Guardians of the Galaxy are a group of five fantastically bizarre characters trapped within a story that feels a little too down to earth. It’s a good movie to be sure – all of the ingredients we love about Marvel movies are there: the action, the characters, the visual effects, the unabashed celebration of the weirdness that is comics, but it would have benefitted from a little more… spice to the recipe.
As this is a superhero team-up movie, it’s hard not to make comparisons to The Avengers, especially when they share the same plot boiled down. Basically, the big bad, this time Ronan the Accuser instead of Loki, (although both were working for/with Thanos) tries to rule/destroy a world (Earth in Avengers/Xandar in Guardians) using a glowing artifact (infinity stones) and a team of unlikely friends must ban together to stop him.
The group of misfits this time around feel a lot more like outcasts than heroes, and that’s a good thing. They’re mercenaries and outlaws who have no one else, and so form their own family throughout the film’s runtime. The problem here being that they had no “Coulson is Dead” moment to truly make them put aside their differences and work together. They just sort of decide they will stop Ronan because it’s the right thing to do, and that’s it. It’s not quite as compelling as The Avenger’s climatic team up, and thus feels a bit flippant.
In addition, because there’s less conflict between them and little standing in their way, most members of the team don’t develop as much as Captain America and Co. Gamora and Drax arguably have the largest character arcs, though they feel more like half-arcs than full-arcs. Peter Quill, the main character, is the same person at the end that he is at the beginning. He may now have a family, but we’re shown little before that to indicate that’s something he actively wants. He’s a fun character, and Chris Pratt is perfect, but it would have been nice to see him doubt himself along the way at some point. His cockiness never seems to falter. For instance, a scene in which he selflessly nearly dies to save another ends with him turning the act into a chance to flirt. Quill feels almost underused in a film where he is the central character. In addition, Nova Prime and the Collector are fascinating and played by great actors, but appear little.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the show and are so entertaining to watch they could carry a movie on their own. Groot in particularly is irresistibly lovable and Drax the Destroyer gets many of the funniest lines and comedic scenes despite his serious, muscle-bound appearance. Gamora can feel a bit too close to The Black Widow, but by the end of the movie carves out her own place in the Marvel movie-verse.
Design-wise, Guardians is a refreshing departure from typical superhero fare. This entry galactically expands the Marvel cinematic universe in a way that’s reminiscent of sci-fi 90’s films like The Fifth Element. The movie’s impressive visual effects and set dressing make this work fantastically. The world of Guardians is alive, colorful, and quirky.
On the whole, Guardians is still a great summer blockbuster that is well worth the price of admission. Now that all the groundwork has been laid, the next Guardians movie seems set up to be bigger and better, without the added weight of introducing five new characters who have no prior movies. It may not stray too far from the formula, but Marvel fans will still cheer when the credits roll.
– Amanda Lafond
I won’t deny that I’ve been really looking forward to this movie. Every new bit of news has ratcheted up my expectations, so before going in, I tried to talk myself down. I convinced myself that a film that was going to have to introduce an entire cast of new characters and tell a story that moves from planet to planet isn’t easy. There hasn’t been a space-faring action adventure film that really did it well since the original Star Wars trilogy (except maybe parts of The Fifth Element). And while Guardians of the Galaxy does have some issues early on establishing and re-establishing who’s who and what their motivations are, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman have crafted a script that succeeds far more than it stumbles.
And the biggest reason for this is that despite whatever misgivings some critics may have with the plot, the real heart of this film is the character relationships. Marvel is making its name by walking that fine line of representing an unironic form of heroism on-screen that could very easily come across as sappy or sentimental. These aren’t films where characters are driven to be heroic necessarily because of tragedy or because they don’t have any other choice. Marvel heroes, and this is especially true with the Guardians, are people, usually pretty flawed people, who are confronted with evil and make a conscious decision to do the right thing despite the personal sacrifice involved.
It’s old-fashioned and inspiring and in a movie landscape where heroes are getting darker and darker with higher and higher body counts, it strikes a nerve with audiences. I know it does with me.
Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, exciting, heartbreaking, and inspiring all in turn, bringing most of the thrills and action of The Avengers without the benefit of previous films to establish the characters. By the time all is said and done, all of the characters have moved beyond being one-note stock characters and have become a family.
This is especially impressive because the characters all begin as isolated, self-involved thieves, rogues, and assassins – all of whom have either lost their families or are the last of their kinds. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have both tried to form family structures to replace what they lost, but neither are in situations where the results are anywhere near ideal and the film’s McGuffin – the orb – are their tickets to freedom and new lives. Drax (Dave Bautista) is alone with just his rage and desire for revenge to keep him company and Gamora is his best opportunity to find either death or vengeance. Finally, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) are both the only of their kinds and are also the only ones to have found friendship and family before the film begins, albeit, as outlaws and bounty hunters living from bounty to bounty; the orb is also their chance at freedom.
Their transition into a bizarre family unit is what makes the film work overall – although it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got an impressively threatening villain to work against in Ronan (Lee Pace).
– Paul Brian McCoy
I’ll spare you the preamble about how no one expected this movie to be made. Honestly, it still doesn’t seem real to me.
The buzz around Guardians of the Galaxy ascended to thunderous levels over the last year, and with each piece of news or rumor it was teased that this could be another knockout winner amongst an already impressive output of blockbusters by Marvel Studios. In fact, the general comic book-loving, moving-going audience viewed this with such anticipation that the fantastic Captain America 2: The Winter Solider kind of snuck up on us.
James Gunn proved he could do a complex, violent, funny, spiritually and thematically meaningful movie in 2010′s Super and he doubles the effort with his newest film. Although Joss Wheldon worked magic by successfully cramming the Avengers into one movie this one takes a bunch of unknowns and combines them one entity in less time and without the luxury of precursor solo movies. Guardians of the Galaxy expertly welds five wildly diverse characters into a digestible package that rarely slows down and excels in the small moments.
That’s due to Star-Lord who buoys the film during its rare valleys and adds an element of clownishness to the wild peaks. Chris Pratt seized the role of Peter Quill in the style of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki before him. Pratt’s flawless delivery is followed up with a somewhat surprising voice-acting job by Bradley Cooper as the ornery and sarcastic Rocket Raccoon. Cooper’s a fine comedy actor, but I doubted he had the flair for a character with the gravity of Rocket. It’s great to be so wrong. It’s now very clear why Marvel has pushed the character into the mainstream since the start of Marvel NOW!
In a similar vein, Groot gets some deeply soulful moments that resonate with the movie’s core messages. Vin Diesel repeats the same line of dialogue over and over but manages to nail it every time. The characters of Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) get shorted in terms of character building, though. They’re warriors marred by tragedies we never see, but provide tons of satisfying action and essential comedy moments. On the negative end of the spectrum lots of the side and background characters fail to deliver. Yondu (Michael Rooker) and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) are goofy as shit, and the movie’s villains, while menacing, remind me too much of what happened in the Thor sequel.
In terms of a summer movie, it scratches a lingering itch. It’s a mix of Iron Man and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a film bursting with a feverishly fun premise against the backdrop of a goofy and limitless playground of aliens, dangers, and bright colors. In some ways I missed the connectivity of the previous Marvel movies, but on that same note the new outward focus promises bigger, more unimaginable things for the future.
Seriously, how the hell did this get made?
– Jamil Scalese
And with that our nefarious but loveable crew of misfits flies off into the sunset to write reviews that are a good, bad, and a bit of both. And there’s not an A-hole amongst them.
Bill Mantlo co-created Rocket Raccon. Bill Mantlo was also hurt in a hit-and-run accident and now requires constant medical care. I have heard that Marvel is now helping with some of those costs, an admirable move, but if you’d like to contribute you can do so here: