There’s never been a question mark, as far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes, as large and looming as this week’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It’s the story of a bunch of outcasts, losers, killers and thieves, brought together by fate and the long arm of the law, to rescue the galaxy from a nefarious threat. By comparison “Thor,” about a Norse God who lives on another planet and comes to earth to romance a comely astrophysicist, seems positively boilerplate.
And yet there seems to be a buzz building to cacophonous levels — at San Diego Comic Con, the nerd ground zero, it was everywhere and even those who aren’t familiar with the relatively obscure comic book characters are jazzed about the movie, possibly because one of the main characters is a talking, gun-toting raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and another is a sentient tree creature who only has three lines of dialogue, repeated endlessly (voiced by Vin Diesel).
Where will you fall on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” spectrum, though? Is this something you can rally behind or just “too weird”? Read our “Guardians of the Galaxy” review to find out!
1. It’s Really Funny
The first thing that you’re going to notice about “Guardians of the Galaxy” is that it has a distinct attitude. This is not your usual, self-serious superhero romp. Yes, millions of lives are at stake (why are millions of lives always at stake?), but there’s a certain lightheartedness that’s even applied to the overwhelming sense of apocalyptic gloom. One of the characters, at one point, gives the finger to the camera, and you can feel the filmmakers giving the entire, post-“Dark Knight” superhero landscape the finger at the same time. Writer/director James Gunn realizes that “Guardians of the Galaxy” was based on a comic book, and maximizes that potential gamely.
2. The Soundtrack Is Great
If you’ve seen the trailers for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which memorably utilize Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” then you know that the soundtrack is another way in which the movie is not at all keeping with the comic book canon from which it originates. And the music is actually an incredibly important part of the movie, tethering Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) to the human world, which he left behind back in 1988. It also gives the movie an even grander sense of awe; when there’s a yellow and blue spaceship gliding through the head of an ancient celestial being, set to the tune of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream,” your jaw can’t help but swing open. About 15 seconds after we had left the screening, the soundtrack was already on our iTunes.
3. Chris Pratt Is Now Officially a Movie Star…
Chris Pratt, better known as the lovable, chubby Andy on “Parks and Recreation,” lost the weight, got in fighting shape, and absolutely stuns in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He is a steam-powered charisma machine, able to handle comedy and the more romantic elements with equal aplomb, and equipping himself well in the movie’s complex action sequences. He’s just as good chasing down a mystical orb as he is dancing or explaining the plot of “Footloose” to a green-skinned alien warrior (Zoe Saldana). This is the kind of movie that makes somebody a movie star. And that somebody is Chris Pratt. He’s wonderful. And everything he’s done before — from “Parks and Recreation” to “Zero Dark Thirty” – feels like it’s been headed towards this single moment. Welcome to the big leagues, Chris Pratt.
4. …And the Rest of the Cast Is Aces Too
And while Pratt’s performance is certainly the most magnetic (and his role the showiest), the supporting cast is really, really great too. Saldana is a wonderful warrior who is also sensitive and has shifting allegiances, and Dave Bautista, as a muscle-bound strongman named Drax the Destroyer, shows a surprising amount of depth. There are a number of notable, even-smaller performances by people like John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro. It’s not apparent why any of these people are in this movie, but they seem to be having the time of your life, and you will too, just watching them. Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, in their vocal performances, knock it out of the park. (More on that in a minute.)
5. There Are Moments of Genuine Wonder
Most Marvel movies these days are “been there, destroyed that,” but there are a handful of moments in “Guardians of the Galaxy” that, thanks to their visual inventiveness and bravado, fill the viewer with genuine wonder. From a zero-G prison escape sequence to a scene that takes place in the planetary equivalent of the Mos Eisley cantina, these moments are profound on a visual and, in some cases, emotional level. Your eyes might be popping out of your head, in fact, while they also well up with tears. And that’s the most special special effect of the all.
6. The Plot Is Insanely Convoluted
One of the bigger bummers of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” though, is how unnecessarily convoluted the plot is. Why anything is happening in this universe is never really explained (and no one thinks to ask). So we have some evil guy trying to destroy the galaxy and Infinity Stones and spaceships zinging around and scavengers and some outer space police force and… Well… It’s a lot. If the narrative had been cleaner, the movie would have been even more fun.
7. It Could Have Used Better Villains
But the “weakest element of an otherwise fabulous movie” award definitely goes to Lee Pace, who plays Ronan, a scary space warlord who I could not have cared any less about. He wants to destroy a peaceful, pastel-infused planet for reasons that are never truly articulated, and, for a guy who has blue skin, is probably the least colorful member of the entire cast. There’s just nothing there. And his hench-woman, Nebula (Karen Gillan) is totally wasted, too, even though she is similarly striking (on a visual level). Michael Rooker plays a redneck space outlaw, who has considerably more fun, but when your main characters are ostensibly “bad guys,” you should have upped the terrifying power of the foes they go up against.
8. Rocket Is Your New Favorite Marvel Character
As the old saying goes, a well-placed talking raccoon can heal all wounds. And that is certainly the case with Rocket. This grumpy, trigger-happy mammal is the result of countless medical and robotic experiments, and one of the more touching moments is when Quill notices all of the electrodes and scars that cover Rocket’s body. (It’s these little moments, really, that set the movie apart from the rest.) If the movie has an emotional center, aside from Quill and his abduction, it’s the moment when Rocket yells at the other guardians for making fun of him. “I didn’t ask to be made!” he says, almost crying. Later, he kills a lot of people. So all around, he’s just the awesomest. There will be countless plush toys sold of this character. He’s your new favorite Marvel character.
9. There Are Stingers
Our press screening didn’t have them, but there are definitely stingers in the credits for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Some early online reports suggest the resurrection of another beloved, off-the-beaten-path Marvel character. We shall see…
10. They Will Return
The first words in the credits are: “The Guardians of the Galaxy will return.” This might have been because the movie is so weird that people were probably worried that they would ever be back, but more likely it was intentionally timed to the San Diego Comic Con announcement that the sequel would be coming out on July 28, 2017. It’s also a subtle nod to the James Bond movies. So, so good.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” weirds its way into theaters August 1.