Every once in a while, there comes a movie that is destined to stand the test of time. A movie that will be beloved by those that watch it upon its initial release in theaters, and then 20 or 30 years later, will be looked back on as a “classic.” Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters: Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those movies. It also stands on its own far better than any other movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’d argue that you could walk into Guardians of the Galaxy without having seen any other Marvel films and feel right at home. It’s that same uniqueness that nudges it firmly into “classic” territory. What James Gunn and Marvel Studios have accomplished with Guardians, is something that will undoubtedly stand the test of time and transcend generations. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy is that good.
The story begins on Earth (or Terra as the more “cosmic” characters like to call it) and features a young Peter Quill in the ’80s, who is given a gift from his dying mother in a surprisingly emotional opening sequence. Without spoiling too much, the young Quill ends up being sucked into space, and we’re then thrown 20 or so years into the future. In modern day outer-space, we find Quill, or “Star Lord” as he now likes to be called (played by Chris Pratt) is hunting down a mysterious orb. This strange orb is the film’s McGuffin, an object of mysterious purpose that propels the film’s plot forward. The plot is filled with action beats, moments of high adventure and moments of real beauty and poignancy. Each and every minute of the film is packed with either some exciting set-piece, some bit of humor, or some moment of great character development. The film is almost perfectly paced. There’s never a dull moment, and that’s mostly because of the expertly written heroes.
What makes Guardians of the Galaxy work so well as a film, is its diverse cast of characters. Every major player has their moment, and each member of the team plays well opposite any other member. Star Lord is brash and cocky, but sentimental and somewhat sweet… when he needs to be. He’s basically Han Solo, only funnier somehow. Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana) is a wounded, but incredibly strong, and surprisingly honorable assassin who just happens to be the adopted daughter of the movie’s mysterious puppet-master villain, Thanos. Drax the Destroyer (played by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista) is a red-tattooed bruiser who hooks up with the other main characters, seeing an opportunity to avenge the murder of his wife and daughter by the movie’s menacing antagonist, Ronan the Accuser (played by Lee Pace). In the comic-book source material, Drax is often the most uninteresting member of the Guardians team, never saying much, or contributing a whole lot in the way of personality. I was worried about how well he’d translate to the big screen, but it would seem writer and directer James Gunn knew exactly how to make him work. Gunn and Bautista gave Drax that same kind of boring personality, and singular motive of revenge and turned it into a comedic gold mine. Drax’s misunderstanding of metaphor, or anything non-literal provides the movie with some of its funniest one-liners. Just when I thought Drax’s singularly driven motives were becoming a little played out, the character is given a great moment of reflection, and he pivots toward a new objective. By Drax not having much in the way of an outgoing personality, Gunn allows him to be a perfect foil for the other outlandish characters like Rocket Raccoon and Groot.
Rocket is voiced by Bradley Cooper and Groot, by Vin Diesel. Both of their performances are great, and make the characters super fun to watch. Rocket is a munitions and tech expert, while Groot is an 8 foot tall anthropomorphic tree… and Rocket’s muscle. Groot’s entire vocabulary consists solely of three words: “I am Groot.” And yes, exclusively in that order. Groot’s three word declaration, is often spoken at just the right time, leading to either moments of hilarity, or genuine sweetness. Rocket is a sad, tortured smart-ass little raccoon with some anger issues. He’s the result of illegal biological enhancement experiments. I particularly enjoyed that the film provides one moment where we’re allowed to see the world from Rocket’s perspective. It’s a little sad, and really kind of touching. If I have one gripe with the film, it’s that I wish we had just one more moment that touched on how Rocket came to be a talking raccoon and how it affects his path as a character. But that’s just nitpicking. The real surprise though is Michael Rooker’s performance as Quill’s not-quite-maybe-sort-of father figure Yondu, the leader of a group of space-pirates who call themselves The Ravagers. He’s blue, has a super cool weapon, and adds just a bit more depth to Quill’s backstory. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a blast to watch hamming it up on screen, too. Overall, each of these unique, and fleshed out characters work so well together, first as comedic adversaries, then later as a love-able scrappy team of misfit space friends, that when the moment comes along for the team to unite as one unit, it makes sense, feels earned and is entertaining as hell.
The visuals in the movie are some of the most gorgeous, top-tier, best-of-the-best blockbuster type shit I’ve seen in a while. Every inch of every frame pops with color and life. Guardians of the Galaxy contains some of the best looking sequences from any Marvel movie to date. It’s just so rich and vibrant, I’m already waiting for the sequel just so I can spend more time in this world. And the music, ooooohhhh the music. The soundtrack is mostly generated by Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mix Tape” cassette, and is used to ground this zany outer-space world with something familiar to the audience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of 70’s pop music used to such great effect during a final show-down with a super-villain. The music, and the visuals give the film so much swagger and personality, it would take the coldest-of-hearts to resist succumbing to its charms. All of those variables add up to one great piece of world-building.
Between the colorful visuals, lovable characters, fantastic script (full of great setup and callback jokes), and its surprising amount of emotion and heart, I can’t imagine why Guardians wouldn’t become a cultural touch-stone. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an entire theater laugh so hard throughout a movie, and applaud so much at the end. The DNA of some of the best 80’s adventure films lives inside Guardians, yet the film feels like a completely fresh and unique take on those classic movies. If you go to the multiplex this weekend, and you don’t see Guardians of the Galaxy, then you’re doing movies wrong. It’s everything that’s great about a summer blockbuster, but with a healthy dose of confidence, personality, intelligence and heart. Go see this movie in the theater, and on the biggest screen you can find. You won’t regret it.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Reviewed by AJ Meadows