Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Believe it or not, this is actually a really good movie. I feel I have to say that right off the bat because from the trailers and other promotional material it's easy to assume that this is some kind of half-baked attempt to cash in on the Marvel brand without any real effort. If that's how you're feeling let me tell you right now, you have nothing to worry about with this movie. It's not some farcical placeholder until the better films in the series are released. This is the real deal, and though I had this one ranked high on my most anticipated list of 2014, I'm just as pleasantly surprised as everyone else who's seen Guardians of the Galaxy. This was easily Disney's biggest risk with the Marvel franchise, and possibly of any film they've ever released. Even comic book fans have to do a little research to remember who this rag-tag band of misfits is, and the studio has invested upwards of $170 million in this property. Luckily, they've had such success with the previous films that they must have felt they could afford a bomb. Even more luckily is that Guardians not only surpasses expectations, but it may be one of the best Marvel films to date.

Peter Quill was abducted from Earth as a child in the year 1988, taking nothing with him but his backpack and his Walkman into the far reaches of space. Twenty-six years later, Quill travels to a hostile planet in his attempt to retrieve a mysterious orb for an enormous reward. Before he can get away with the relic, however, he's intercepted by a group of Kree warriors, led by the cybernetically-enhanced Korath. Quill barely manages to escape and heads to the planet Xandar to claim his reward. But before he can do so his benefactor suddenly backs out of the deal, claiming that a dangerous being called Ronan is also after the valuable antiquity. What neither of them realize is that the orb contains a powerful object that could bring about the galaxy's ultimate destruction in the wrong hands.

I don't want to go too much further into the plot, because it's actually kind of complicated in a very clever way. James Gunn was a somewhat unusual choice to write and direct this movie, as his credits are more or less limited to quirky, low-budget fare. However, with the angle they've chosen to approach this obscure property he's actually one of the only directors I can think of who could have pulled it off. One thing that will probably be mentioned by anyone who sees this movie is that it's freaking hilarious. I have to say that it bugs me when each person in a movie has the exact same snarky sense of humor (like Iron Man 3, and even The Avengers to a certain extent). In Guardians of the Galaxy, however, every character has a distinct personality and contributes to the overall humor of the group. Sometimes the comedy can be a little forced in films like this, but Gunn has a knack for inserting the comedic moments in scenes that desperately need them in order to maintain a consistent tone. Much of that tone is set by the music, primarily consisting of oldie hits that most people already enjoy. This kind of thing can sometimes get on my nerves, but here there's actually a story reason for the music being in this film, and it gives us a constant connection with our lead character.

This story is really well told, especially when considering the more light-hearted approach they've taken with it. There are serious moments, courtesy of the incredibly frightening Ronan and the looming presence of the mad titan Thanos, but Gunn does a great job of keeping this movie perfectly balanced. Each of the guardians are given a pretty strong character arc, especially the leader of the group, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord, though no one really calls him that). Most of the film is devoted to telling his story, and the emotional journey the character takes is really satisfying to see. It definitely helps that Chris Pratt is perfectly cast to bring an instant likeability and relatability to this lesser-known character. His every movement, either when dodging laser blasts or breaking out some retro '80s dance moves, Pratt completely nails this performance. His presence may be one of the best things about the film, and definitely helps get people invested in the conflict who might not otherwise care about a distant, intergalactic conflict.

I really enjoyed all of the guardians, from Groot's sweet, simple demeanor, to Drax's overly proper and serious personality, they each bring something different to the table that really complement the other members of the team. Having said that, one of the huge scene-stealers is also the smallest - Rocket Racoon. Voiced by an unrecognizable Bradley Cooper, Rocket is a gruff, short-tempered creature with a troubled past and an affinity for assembling extremely dangerous weaponry. His interplay with Quill and especially his Han Solo-like ability to communicate with the otherwise incomprehensible Groot make him an incredibly enjoyable character to watch, regardless of his CGI animal form.

That brings me to another thing I should probably mention. I'm usually a big proponent of 2D for theatrical viewings, but for this film I actually think the 3D might bring some extra visual flare that the 2D version may have lacked. All of the CGI was extremely convincing and I still really enjoyed it in 2D, I just think the action scenes might have popped a little more with the extra layer of 3D. Again, this isn't something I typically recommend, but I think it might actually be worth a look in that format.

Bottom line, Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the funnest (and funniest) movie of the year. You'll be quoting this film for days after seeing it, and it provides an intriguing look at some of the rarely-seen corners of the Marvel universe. Stay after the credits (of course), but if you don't understand what you saw then simply look up the first movie that Marvel has ever produced. That should give you some interesting backstory on what probably seems like a pretty off-the-wall stinger to most movie-goers. This film wasn't without its flaws, but I still think it's one of the better Marvel films to date, and definitely the most risky one so far. I give Guardians of the Galaxy a very solid three and a half stars. Go see it!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language

**Are you excited for Guardians of the Galaxy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!**