Anime Reporter keeps the live-action train going and brings you my verdict on the latest venture from the Marvel cinematic universe: Guardians of the Galaxy. That’s right, I’m taking a swift detour away from Asian cinema and animation and going intergalactic for a bit. Needless to say, all of the images, characters, content or plot devices are the intellectual property of Marvel and I’ll keep my grubby hands off them, thank you very much.
As most people are all too well aware, Marvel has been doing a monstrously large job of creating a cohesive, unified universe with which to fill its grandest and most successful heroes, causing comic book fans across the world to squueeee with pleasure. Since 2008’s Iron Man, the superhero film boom has taken off to a whole other level and it’s largely due to Marvel’s newfound policy on making people feel like they’re watching smaller pieces of a bigger tale. Guardians of the Galaxy breaks away from the existing story, with just a few nods and winks letting us know that it is a part of the greater scheme of things and is one of the few Marvel films of the last few years that you could watch without knowing any of the predecessors and still enjoy to the fullest.
Now, as this is an entirely new release, it is my solemn duty to attach a spoiler alert and warn that you’re venturing further at the cost of plot points. If you want the final verdict without any of the details, feels free to scroll down to the bottom of the page for GotG’s final score.
Our story begins with Peter Quill (played by Chris Pratt whom audiences will likely recognise most from Parks and Recreation and the Lego Movie). Peter is a young man, an outlaw if you will, more than a few miles from his home planet. He likes to go by the name Star Lord, if he could only convince anyone else to call him the same. Not having seen Earth since 1988, Quill’s most treasured possession is his Walkman, with the mix tape Awesome Mix 1 serving as the pretty excellent soundtrack to his life. Quill is a ravager, part of a team of treasure hunters, though he’s not too much of a team player. When things get a little bit dicey, he makes a split for it with his most recent acquisition, known as “the orb”.
Quite a few people are after the orb and by extension, Quill, and so enters Gamora (played by Zoe Saldana, of Avatar and Star Trek fame). Gamora is a ruthless killer on the hunt for the orb, though it’s not clear which side she’s on. Her boss Ronan (love the name) the Accuser, (played rather deviously by Lee Pace of The Hobbit franchise), wants to present the orb to his boss, the even bigger and slightly hulk-ish galactic fear monger, Thanos. In exchange, Thanos has promised to wipe an entire planet off the galactic map. Gamora’s on the hunt for Quill and the orb, but perhaps not so keen to sign off on genocide.
Things become more complicated as Quill’s own ravager compatriots and a pair of CGI-rendered bounty hunters come into play. These man-hunters are Rocket, (portrayed in husky tones by Bradley Cooper from the A-Team, Limitless and Wedding Crashers), is a cybernetically and genetically enhanced raccoon with a mean streak and a nasty sense of humour and his partner Groot, (portrayed by Vin Diesel: forget the Fast and the Furious or XXX, this is Iron Giant style Vin Diesel), a versatile tree-being with an incredibly limited vocabulary and a smile that would make a puppy cry. When all four of them clash in public, they’re promptly carted off to a pretty crude prison-ship to serve out their sentences together. At first, things onboard the ship seem like they’re just going to be horrible, until it becomes clear that there are a few nasty characters who want revenge. Principally, there is Drax (played by the WWE star Dave Bautista who also appeared in Riddick and The Man with the Iron Fists). Drax is a nasty, nigh invulnerable warrior with a profoundly literal mindset.
The five eventually manage to put their differences aside for the sake of escaping and getting rich together/saving the day/killing their enemies on the outside. This partnership starts off on rocky territory and more or less continues in that vein but writers Nicole Perlman and James Gunn have really hit the nail on the head, creating a dysfunctional team dynamic that works far better than other films of its kind.
The special effects are excellent in that I didn’t notice them at all. When two principal characters in a live-action sci-fi space adventure are entirely CGI, this is about as high a compliment as I can give. My viewing experience was never interrupted by my eyes blurting out “That bit’s fake!” I was able to seamlessly enjoy the whole film which made use of a hell of a lot of computer effects but didn’t try to hold itself up by them. The soundtrack is excellent, with Quill’s Awesome Mix intervening every so often to inject a little light, old school charm into scenes.
While Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill is undeniably the star of the show, each of the characters is given enough focus and time to charm audiences in their own unique ways. Quill and Cooper stand out for their charm and comic timing, while Saldana, Bautista and Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan deserve praise for their excellent intimidating character portrayals and action scenes. Vin Diesel deserves a hell of a lot of praise just for managing to make “I am Groot” sound like a meaningful expression in a variety of scenes.
Guardians of the Galaxy is layered with action, soul and comedy and manages to introduce five new main characters in the same flick as they give you a whole new side to the universe without ever coming close to heavy exposition or bland characterisation. Each of the GotG team is given purpose and soul and more than a little humour. One-liners abound, but they’re also largely terrific. It’s also a film which is very much aware that it’s hardly the first Space-Cowboy adventure and it pokes fun at itself and the genre in the way audiences have been for some time. It’s a delicate balance between humour, emotion and action but the exquisite script and spot-on character portrayals mean that GotG isn’t an action movie, or an adventure movie, or a comedy or even a hero movie. It’s a bloody great movie that incorporates all of these things and looks damned good doing it.
Guardians of the Galaxy is currently in cinemas and if it’s not the greatest thing to come from Marvel Studios, it’s incredibly close. Do not wait for the DVD release.
Check out the trailer and our final score below and stick with us here at Anime Reporter for more reviews and updates.
Likeable Characters: 9
92% – “Game-Changer!”– Guardians of the Galaxy reinvigorates Marvel’s cinematic universe, moving away from the superhero-heavy franchise. Superb acting, great effects, a wonderful soundtrack and a top-notch script combine seamlessly. This film might just stand the test of time, even after most people have forgotten what the Marvel Cinematic universe was.