Sometimes the best reason to see a movie is for its attitude. When the story, characters and overall production come across as sort of “been there, done that,” it’s the filmmakers’ approach to the material that determines the movie’s success, and in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, they employ a lot of sass and charm. The result is a droll and irreverent superhero movie that’s not at all shy about subverting the classic qualities of the genre for the sake of humor and maintaining momentum.
Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
By Matthew Huntley
August 5, 2014
And momentum and energy are exactly what’s needed, because this is yet another adaptation of a Marvel Comics property, albeit a lesser known one. Though the “Guardians” comics debuted in the late 1960s, born from the minds of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, as a movie, the franchise fits right in among contemporary science fiction, fantasy and superhero films, including the heavy-hitters like Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings and The Avengers, not to mention TV shows like “Firefly.” Its story and endless parade of colorful characters are sort of an amalgamation of all these series, and on this level, it’s enjoyable but also familiar, even derivative. What makes it stand out is the way it continually undermines the hand it’s been dealt.
We can easily imagine “Guardians” as a straightforward and traditional adaptation, in which we learn the origins of the heroes and their enemies and then watch as the story goes from point A to point B until it reaches the standard climax. This method probably would have appeased fans of the source material, but director James Gunn and his writing partner, Nicole Perlman, have opted for a more offhand approach. Just about every time we think the movie is headed in a usual direction, it goes somewhere unexpected, and though its overall destination remains the same, by choosing witty and unconventional means of getting there, it keeps us on our toes.
Just how much like other science fiction/fantasy/superhero movies is it? Well, consider the main hero is written as sort of a younger version of Han Solo (in fact, the two of them could be brothers), and like Solo, he’s a loner with selfish motivations. He goes by the moniker Star-Lord, though one of the running jokes is that nobody really takes him or his label seriously. His real name is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and following the death of his mother, he was abducted from Earth in 1988 by a group of pirates called the Ravagers. Twenty-six years later, Peter is flying around space in his dirty and beaten down ship looking for various goods and artifacts to steal, all while listening to pop hits from the '60s and '70s like “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone on a mixed cassette tape (yes, a cassette tape).
The latest object Peter comes across is a mysterious orb from the planet Morag. He isn’t exactly sure what the orb does, but once he discovers just how many people and aliens are after it, he assumes its contents are important and wield a lot of power. He would be correct, which is exactly why the evil Ronan (Lee Pace), who rules with a giant war hammer under the Titan Thanos, wants it in his possession. Ronan craves revenge against the government body Nova Corps. Oh, and he also wants to rule the entire galaxy (of course). To retrieve the orb from Peter, he sends his green-skinned and slinky assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), but her loyalty lies elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker), head of the Ravagers, places a bounty on Peter. Word of this reaches a couple oddball hunters: Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered raccoon with a busy mouth and feisty personality, and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), a walking tree whose mouth is anything but busy (he only speaks three words). Groot is gentle, but you don’t want to get on his bad side.
When a public fight breaks out between Peter, Gamora, Rocket and Groot, they’re all arrested and sent to prison, where they meet the last member of this soon-to-be “Guardians” group, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a once-human, muscle-bound being who’s mentally thick but physically powerful. His motivation to join the team is revenge against Ronan for killing his wife and daughter.
Initially, these diverse individuals ban together to merely sell the orb for a hefty sum to The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), but as the story goes, their alliance turns more altruistic when they realize it’s for the greater good to thwart Ronan and Thanos. All this leads to a giant battle not unlike the Death Star sequence from A New Hope or the ending from Independence Day.
As far as action is concerned, this holds our attention, but what keeps Guardians of the Galaxy moving is its flippant attitude and inclination to be fun and jolly over serious and emotional. Yes, its underlying plot and structure are conventional, but it’s the interplay of the characters that make the movie fresh, funny and cheeky. There are several moments when we think the story is going to adjust itself and become just another superhero movie, but then it breaks the mold again. To give you an idea, just as Ronan is delivering his typical villain monologue, complete with his intentions to kill and rule innocent people, Peter…well, Peter thinks of a way to distract him. I won’t give anything away, but it goes back to a conversation he had earlier with Gamora about Kevin Bacon and Footloose.
It’s these scenes that make Guardians of the Galaxy special and memorable, and they’re enough to sustain it…for now anyway. When it comes to the sequels (the closing credits promise at least one), I would encourage the filmmakers to combine their attitude with more depth. As amusing and appealing as the characters are, I’d personally like to see them in a more original story - one with a greater purpose. It’d be great if the filmmakers could retain the movie’s current wit and audacity but expand upon the substance. Then we’d have more than one reason to see the movie. The more, the better.