Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

As fun as costume construction is, at this point near the very end it can be nice to fit in a few breaks from the sewing, painting, and continuous battles with the hot glue gun. There are few better respites from nerdy crafting, or just from the daily grind, than the latest cinematic offering from Marvel.  
Yeah, I heard Guardians of the Galaxy was completely crazy. Is it actually as nuts as people say it is?

Definitely, but in the best possible way (if that even makes sense). Guardians of the Galaxy is fundamentally insane, completely absurd, and a raucously good time filled with plenty of moments that will likely have you laughing out loud. It’s so entirely out there in both the premise and the execution that you can’t help but admire Marvel for actually making it happen. In a world where major studios balk at the idea of making a superhero movie with a female lead because it’s ‘too tricky’, Marvel looked through its roster, saw a property starring an anthropomorphic raccoon and tree, and said, ‘why not?’ You can almost picture Marvel looking over at DC with a smirk that says, “Look at all the fun they’re having; see how much they love this. Good luck with your faux-Nolan unrelenting grimness thing.”

And having fun is definitely the end-goal with Guardians. To use the same description I ascribed to Pacific Rim, it’s what Saturday morning cartoons wish they would grow up to be. To that effect, your best bet is to go into the theater with the expectation that Guardians will be all the best parts of popcorn fodder: explosions, extended combat sequences, stunning backdrops, high-speed chases, and snarky one-liners by the bucket load.
Given that description, you can probably garner that Guardians isn’t exactly masterful in the realms of exposition or logical consistency. A significant part of that is due to the labyrinth that is the source material, specifically the long and often convoluted backstory of Star-Lord/Peter Quill. It can be difficult to distill a comic narrative that features a large ensemble cast and spans forty-five years down into something that can be readily consumed in a scant two hours. This shows in the threadbare introductions that we get to some of the characters and locations. Additionally, the frantic pace of the film forces a number of ‘convenient’ outcomes, occurrences, and conclusions in order to maintain momentum. While these are numerous, they definitely don’t detract from the overall experience and are no more egregious than what you’d expect in a summer blockbuster. There’s also at least one instance where this works in the film’s favor, leaving the audience to be as suspicious of the character Gamora as her new compatriots initially find her to be.

The story is drawn from the 2008 relaunch of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic arc, but adds in a handful of characters from earlier editions and other incarnations of the series. It boils down to a standard ‘hero finds powerful ancient artifact; villains want said artifact; the fate of the universe lies with the outcome of the resulting conflict.’ Nothing revolutionary in terms of narrative, but the tale is maybe a tertiary consideration when you’re watching the movie. Maybe. The cast and the chemistry between them more than atone for any lapses in the telling of their adventures. Also, despite the lackluster exposition, the audience finally gets a cursory education in the Infinity Gems (Stones in the movie), which we've seen a lot of throughout the cinematic Marvelverse but haven't been any definitive clues as to what they are. The fact that Guardians manages to provide effective cliff notes for a concept as complex as the Infinity Gems and how they tie in to the other Marvel movies is a small feat in itself.

The characters themselves are all well portrayed by the actors that play them, but some roles have noticeably more substance than others. Chris Pratt is, effectively, Peter-Quill-Trying-To-Be-Star-Lord. His effortless brand of devil-may-care charm makes him immediately likeable and a spot on match for his two-dimensional counterpart. More than one outlet makes the comparison between Quill and a certain other smuggler with a heart of gold. Those comparisons are not far from the mark.
Do not mess with a raccoon and his Groot

The two computer-generated Guardians, ostensibly the hardest sells of the cast, are both beautifully rendered and surprisingly robust. Rocket Raccoon’s fur is lush and his swagger is amusingly detailed while the space Ent Groot alternates between Wookie-esque ferocity and moments of tenderness that will draw sighs of empathy from the audience (which the film knowingly exploits for excellent comic effect). Groot may have but a single line of dialogue, but he does more with that one declaration than other characters have emoted through entire movies. It’s no surprise that cottage industries based entirely on the creation of miniature Groots have already popped up all over the internet.

David Bautista capably provides both the physical and emotional heft behind Drax the Destroyer, but the character, as it’s written in the film, ends up being largely shunted to the background. His comic counterpart is almost larger than life, famous for single-handedly taking down Thanos (literally), but movie Drax is a taciturn second-string tank. Since a sequel has already been green-lit and is slated to hit theaters in 2017, perhaps we can see more comic-style Drax in the successor volume.

Akin to Drax, Gamora gets glossed over in the character development department. We see that she’s an adroit assassin with martial skills to spare and we’re given her direct tie to the Titanian Eternal Thanos, but as Guardians moves into its second and third acts she rapidly loses dimension. This is a woman who is purported to be the most lethal in the galaxy and who not only seduced Tony Stark, but gave him cause to doubt his abilities as a lothario. We get almost none of that in Guardians. Moreover, the Gamora in the film consistently makes numerous tactical errors that would be unheard of for her comic counterpart. It’s not a complete deal breaker, so to speak, just a bit on the disappointing side. As with Drax, we may get a more rounded Gamora in the sequel.

The supporting cast is stocked with a stunning number of big names. You may find yourself going, “Wait, isn’t that…” Yes, yes it is. It is Glenn Close/Djmon Hounsou /John Reilly/ Benicio del Toro, all of whom do not disappoint. Karen Gillian nearly steals the title of lead villain from Lee Pace with her ferocious take on Nebula. Though her delivery borders on shrieky a couple of times, Nebula comes across as the more menacing and threatening force of darkness in the film.
It took 4.5 hours to apply this makeup to Karen Gillian
The visuals are rich with color, a fever dream from the Hubble telescope, which lends a distinctly surreal, comic-style backdrop for the action. Drinking it all in via the big screen is a veritable feast for the eyes. Add to that a solid vintage soundtrack that will elicit instant nostalgia and make even the surliest Zen Whoberi want to sway to the beat.

It all speaks to the skills of director James Gunn, who managed to make this ungainly property an improbably consumable, laugh-inducing good time and it assuredly leaves us wanting more of what Marvel can dish out. Bonus: so so so many easter eggs.

Overall Grade: A-


  1. Two thoughts:

    1) "explosions, extended combat sequences, stunning backdrops, high-speed chases, and snarky one-liners by the bucket load." This pretty well sums up my 20's.

    2) The review is spot on.

    I'd love to see a Gamora v Nebula movie, and I'd love to see a Rocket 'n Groot movie. The latter *might* happen, but I'm not holding my breath.

  2. 1) Man, you had some seriously interesting (and hopefully awesome) adventures in your 20s.

    2) Thank you!

    As for Rocket 'n Root, we may see lots more of them in the animated series that Marvel has already confirmed as being in the works. I can't imagine that Marvel would just ignore how insanely popular they are.