Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
By Edwin Davies
August 5, 2014
From that point on, Guardians of the Galaxy never lets up, and it becomes a breathless adventure that wonderfully captures the giddy thrill of tearing through a pulpy comic (even with all the new aliens and terminology, it's remarkably accessible - a bonus given how obscure the source material is compared to most Marvel properties) and it gets close to replicating the relentless storytelling of the films it most obviously emulates: Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark (a connection that is specifically referenced in the dialogue when Quill compares the orb to the Ark of the Covenant).
It also manages to add its own idiosyncrasies to a plot structure that is incredibly familiar at this point. Gunn colors inside the lines of the Marvel blueprint, right down to staging yet another climactic fight that threatens to destroy a large city (though, for once, a character expresses some sort of concern about protecting the civilians in that city) but in its playful tone and offbeat casting (which gives small roles to Peter Serafinowicz, Karen Gillan and Benicio Del Toro) it feels like a natural continuation of Gunn's previous work as the writer-director of the horror-comedy Slither. (Though it feels completely removed from Super, the dark superhero comedy that supposedly helped get him Guardians in the first place, though there are numerous references made to that film's villain, Kevin Bacon.)
The flippant tone proves problematic in the final moments as the film struggles to make the leap from snarky irreverence to actual sentiment. Pratt more or less handles that switch on his own, something that he's proved adept at while working on Parks & Recreation, which proves to be a godsend for the film because everyone around him seems a little flummoxed by the shift in tone. The entire final confrontation with Ronan hinges on his ability to inject silliness into a serious situation, and it's hard to imagine another actor doing it so well. His turn as Star-Lord is the glue that holds the film together since he embodies both its goofy heart and its wide-eyed sense of wonder. Even as he makes jokes about being a space lothario and a hardened scavenger, he puts across an openness that perfectly suits a man who was wrenched from everything he knew at a young age. It makes for an appealing kind of sensitive masculinity that you don't see much in blockbusters, and hopefully he'll continue to apply it as he makes the leap from sitcom MVP to cinematic megastar.
Even if it starts awkwardly and half-fumbles its ending, Guardians of the Galaxy never loses sight of the idea that a big summer blockbuster should be fun, and there's a solid hour and a half of its running time that is hugely enjoyable. It winds up feeling closer in spirit to some of Star Wars' funkier derivatives: It has the reluctantly noble outlaw spirit of Firefly (and seems to crib whole scenes and compositions from that film's cinematic spin-off, Serenity), the alien culture clash comedy and wild design of Farscape (Ronan, in particular, has a real Scorpius vibe to him), and the sleek futurism of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot. Both Quill and the film around him comport themselves with a winning mix of arrogance and self-deprecation, and by the end there is a sense that they are genuinely heroic, rather than merely pretending to be. Like The Avengers, it will probably reward repeat viewings that iron out the flaws, and it feels like Marvel's first real hang-out movie. It just so happens that you're hanging out with a talking raccoon and a tree with a limited vocabulary.