Gunn preserves his wacky indie sensibilities in this oddball sci-fi action-adventure featuring D-list superheroes. Unabashedly silly fun.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Most people–hell, most comic book readers–have little to no knowledge of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a team of misfit, cosmic Marvel superheroes introduced in print in 1969. James Gunn, the director of Marvel Studios’ film adaptation of the D-list franchise, has a similar level of notoriety, with his work (Slither, Super) mostly only familiar to indie and indie-horror geeks. Why would Marvel take such a risk, dumping millions of dollars into producing a movie with minimal name recognition?
Well, let’s look at it from this angle: What if all of the scumbag bounty hunters, smugglers, and monstrous brutes from Star Wars got their own movie? What if you infused it with the attitudinal, irreverent humor from the first Iron Man movie, cranked up to 11? And what if you slapped on a bitchin’ ’70s soundtrack on top of it all, just for the hell of it? That’s Gunn’s film in a nutshell, and it’s totally awesome, off-the-wall, sci-fi fun. Marvel knew they had a gem on their hands, and with Guardians of the Galaxy they’ve unleashed on us a hell of a good time at the movies. And a talking tree. And a talking raccoon. And Chris Pratt’s abs.
Pratt plays Peter Quill, an earthling abducted as a child in the ’80s who now thieves, gets laid, and causes a general ruckus across the galaxy in his spaceship, the Milano (named after Gunn’s childhood crush, Alyssa Milano). We meet Quill (or Star-Lord, a self-appointed moniker he desperately hopes will catch on) in treasure-hunter mode, looking to loot a mysterious sphere from a tomb on a seemingly deserted, dusty alien planet. He navigates the rocky terrain with some clumsy of rocket shoes, a bug-like space mask, and his trusty Walkman, which cues Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”, the first of the film’s many retro-tastic tunes only Gunn has the cajones to blanket a multi-million dollar movie in. In an homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Quill steals the sphere, eludes laser-toting baddies, hops back into the Milano, where he’s startled by a drowsy one-night-stand he forgot spent the night. Whoops.
Quill bands together with all manner of galactic riffraff to protect the sphere from warmonger Ronan the Accuser, the film’s dark, creepy big-bad played by an imposing Lee Pace who has evil intentions of using the thing to destroy the planet Xandar. Quill’s band of outcasts are Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned, badass daughter of Thanos, the biggest villain in the galaxy; Drax the Destroyer (hulking WWE alumni Dave Bautista), who’s hellbent on avenging the death of his family at the hands of Ronan; Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered talking Raccoon with a heavy-artillery fetish and a Joe Pesci temper, and his amiable tree-creature BFF, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).
Pratt is the absolute right man for the job, with the film’s subversive, witty material playing precisely to his strengths. Fans of his work in Parks and Recreation are guaranteed Guardians ticket-buyers, and they won’t be disappointed. Diesel and Cooper (with great help from the talented visual effects team) make Rocket and Groot an irresistibly lovable on-screen duo, and almost steal the show altogether. Bautista surprisingly hangs right in there with his more experienced cast mates, drawing just as many laughs with Drax’s lack of capacity for sarcasm and metaphor. Saldana often gets lost in the noise, as the other Guardians’ unique, colorful personalities make the more conventionally sketched Gomora feel a little stale.
Guardians is refreshingly detached from Marvel’s flood of Avengers movies (though it does technically exist in the same universe), offering up an edgier, funnier brand of superhero action. The film feels even more like Star Wars than J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot did, delivering big-time adventure while being thoughtful enough to highlight the well-written core-character relationships above all else. The action is sufficiently epic and more brutal than any Marvel movie before, with even the good-natured Groot doling out heaping helpings of bone-crushing violence. (A scene in which the gentle giant pulverizes a group of hapless grunts mirrors Hulk smashing up Loki in Avengers, but gets an even bigger laugh.)
Gunn does a great job of preserving his wacky indie sensibilities and incorporating them seamlessly into a giant, crowd-pleasing blockbuster film, a feat that takes more finesse than his Troma-boy resume may lead you to believe he’s capable of. While it isn’t as out-there as Slither or Super, Guardians feels like a Gunn film through and through.
The film hits a few tonal stumbles along the way, with the heavier dramatic scenes between the core characters feeling slightly out of place. (A tortured existential outburst by Rocket feels the most awkward, though it’s effectively acted by Cooper and the animators.) The myriad supporting characters–Glenn Close as the leader of Nova Corps, Xandar’s police force; John C. Reilly as a Nova Corps officer; Benicio Del Toro, in a brief appearance as the Liberace-like Collector–are good fun, though they’re too great in number for any to make a lasting impression. Michael Rooker’s Yondu, Quill’s venomous abductor and adopted father figure, sticks out amongst the supporters with his wicked volitility.
Visually, Gunn and DP Ben Davis use every color of the rainbow to give Guardians a distinctive sci-fi look, with each detailed environment looking more imaginative than the last. This is an oddball movie that’s as funny as Galaxy Quest and as thrilling as any Marvel movie that’s come before, and it’s cause for excitement for the futures of both Marvel Studios and Gunn’s career.