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Guardians of the Galaxy
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by Brett Gallman

5 stars

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is the tenth entry in the Marvel franchise, a milestone few series manage to reach, and, when they do so, even fewer (if any) are hitting their stride. With “Guardians,” the cinematic House of Ideas isn’t just hitting it—they’re strutting right into it. Calling it a victory lap implies that this brand has already peaked (and I don’t think it has), but this is a film that has all the swagger and confidence of one.

That Marvel even has the temerity to approach it in this manner is astounding. With the exception timing (it’s a film that only feels possible after the Marvel brand has been well-burnished after years of success), nothing about “Guardians of the Galaxy” feels like a safe bet. Adapted from source material obscure enough to make any True Believer balk and helmed by Troma alumnus James Gunn, this is the studio’s strangest proposition to date—and this isn’t even considering that two-fifths of the main characters are a machine-gun toting raccoon and a sentient tree.

Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his companion Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are a couple of outlaw bounty hunters stationed on Xandar, a planet in the far-out reaches of the galaxy. As a genetically-engineered scoundrel always looking for a payday, Rocket is excited to stumble across fellow rogue Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an earthling that was abducted from his home planet twenty years ago. Now commanding a sizeable bounty after having come into the possession of a rare orb, Quill finds himself on the run from his handler (Michael Rooker) and an assassin (Zoe Salanda) that’s been dispatched by genocidal maniac Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Get all of that? Not only is this Marvel’s oddest offering to date, but it’s also the most frenetic: save for the relatively contemplative prologue depicting Peter’s abduction following his mother’s death, “Guardians of the Galaxy” dashes along with the sort of energy most origin stories are unable to muster. Rather than bog viewers down with leaden minutiae, Gunn hits the ground running and commits less than a fourth of the film to introducing and joining the characters together by weaving their union through a prison break, where they also join up with Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a blunt but loyal trooper looking to take revenge on Ronan.

By the time the Guardians escape and resume their cross-galaxy chase, each character is fully-realized—even Groot, who exudes a kind-hearted, childlike innocence despite only being able to utter three words (“I am Groot,” he says with varying inflections that Rocket’s able to read and translate as the Han Solo to Groot’s Chewbacca). While Gunn’s previous directorial efforts have been marked by wild premises and a gleeful rowdiness, they’ve endured because their indelible characters cut through and ground the insanity surrounding them. In this respect, “Guardians” is unmistakably a James Gunn picture: it’s way out there, even for the Marvel Universe and makes previous glimpses into Asgard feel like a quaint slice of the cosmic pie.

Whereas "Thor" remains tethered to Earth and a cast of humans, “Guardians” removes the training wheels and flings audiences out into deep space with worlds sprawling with bizarre creatures, each with their own mythos. Much of the Guardians’ appeal derives from their ragtag nature, and it’s as if Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have pulled together disparate corners of the universe that feel capable of sustaining their own films, from the hives of scum and villainy to the Nova Corps police force patrolling the more civilized sectors of the universe. This is grand space opera: weird, vibrant, spirited, and overflowing with fantastic characters.

It’s those characters that make the film sing, though. What good is an awesome sandbox if it’s not filled with something worthwhile to hurl around inside it? Gunn has assembled a cast of characters that pulls off in two hours what Phase One needed six films for: the Guardians make for a striking team with indomitable personalities whose energy feels different from Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. This isn’t just “The Avengers” in space, as Gunn and company commit to the rascally nature of these outlaws: leave it to Gunn to not only smuggle in the filthiest joke into a Disney-branded movie but also turn a raccoon mascot into an loveable, absolute badass.

Make no mistake: “Guardians” might be filtered through Quill, but Rocket is the show-stealing ringleader: in a universe full of Han Solo wannabes, he’s the real deal, a sarcastic, money-obsessed mercenary obsessed who comes to value more. I don’t know if you’d call him the heart of “Guardians” simply because the film has a ton of it, but he definitely represents its wiseass, devil-may-care soul. Pratt provides even more as Quill, the self-proclaimed “Star-Lord” who’s more Jack Burton than Solo, the goof with a heart of gold who stitches these rogue elements together. In a breakout performance, Pratt delivers the charisma demanded of Hollywood leading-men in spades, evolving from glib smart-ass to compassionate hero throughout the movie.

These gregarious scoundrels are counterbalanced by Salanda’s Gamora and Bautista’s Drax, a couple of comparatively noble, brooding warriors with tortured pasts. She’s actually the daughter of Thanos (cameoing here but mostly operating in the background like Palpatine in “The Empire Strikes back) and develops a sibling rivalry with Nebula (Karen Gillan), her more black-hearted sister who’s dispatched to retrieve the mysterious orb (again, this feels like it could exclusively belong in its own movie, and it’s a subplot here). Surprisingly, Bautista winds up being the secret weapon as the muscly, meat-headed Drax, an unflinchingly grave fighter incapable of processing anything figuratively. Some of the film’s best laughs—and there are many—arise from his oblivious interplay with his newfound companions. It’s the best Bautista has ever been inside or outside of the wrestling ring, and I’m sure many WWE fans will echo John Ford’s sentiments about John Wayne in discovering this big son of a bitch can act after all.

Because the Guardians themselves are so well established and charming, the rest of the film glides on their magnetism. The film’s skeleton isn’t markedly dissimilar from like-minded blockbusters (or even previous Marvel offerings): it still revolves around a megalomaniac looking to destroy a world (with all the computer-generated glitz, grit, and glamour that entails), and, if we’re being honest, Pace’s Ronan the Accuser feels almost interchangeable with Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith the Accursed. He’s serviceable but overshadowed, not only by the lingering Thanos but by just about everyone surrounding him. Like “Thor: The Dark World,” this film has more than enough personality to go around to compensate: Gillan’s Nebula actually makes for a more memorable villain that I’d love to see more from, while Rooker’s Yondu emerges as the film’s truly great antagonist, working in a grey area as Quill’s mentor and foe as the head of a guild of thieves and smugglers.

And then Benicio del Toro briefly wanders in as The Collector and goes so broad as to leave any doubt about what Gunn is aiming for here: big, silly, riotous pulp that feels culled from the dreams, fantasies, and nightmares of a kid who read one too many comic books before going to bed. Gunn has internalized so much that has come before and spit it back out with authority—it’s a film that feels too big, too crazy, and too damn cool to fail. The grown-up Quill is introduced swaggering to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” (the first of many great pop anthems to help give “Guardians” its swinging verve), a moment that doubles as the film’s mission statement. It doesn’t take long for audiences to see why the poster arrived in lobbies with the tagline “You’re Welcome.”

“Guardians of the Galaxy” feels like the gift you never knew you wanted but quickly becomes everything you’ve ever needed from this genre: a smart, funny, laser guns-blazing joyride with your new favorite team. Kudos to Marvel for handing its keys over to Gunn and trusting him with their most daring project yet; they’ve been rewarded with one of their most satisfying and assured productions yet.

How much confidence does this film show? Let’s just say that it doesn’t even wait until its credits are through to assure audiences that The Guardians of the Galaxy will return. Of course they will—we should have never doubted them in the first place.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25906&reviewer=429
originally posted: 07/31/14 20:33:13
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Marvel Characters: For more in the Marvel Characters series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell fun sweet exciting a intergalactic gem 5 stars
3/28/16 Aj wales Groot killing loads of baddies in one go then smiling. worth it alone. 4 stars
5/11/15 Christian Paulson An intergalactic delight! 5 stars
1/10/15 the rock pure garbage film 1 stars
12/27/14 Jenny Fantastic 5 stars
9/30/14 Dillon Gonzales Much better than I anticipated. 4 stars
9/04/14 mr.mike Corny but non stop sci-fi action. Saldana is a plus. 4 stars
8/19/14 christine sarkauskas Was an amazing movie! Loved it. 5 stars
8/06/14 Koitus I liked it. Unrealistic unprotected space-walk scene, though. 4 stars
8/05/14 Toni Peluso Fun Fun Fun Fun Fun AND Funny!!! 5 stars
8/05/14 Jay Extremely entertaining. A must see! 5 stars
8/04/14 Mishyana Was surprised by Peter's ranking, then noticed he liked Lee's Hulk. No longer surprised. 5 stars
8/04/14 KingNeutron Very pretty women, but I hope the next one is better- might be the next Firefly 3 stars
8/03/14 The rock terrible 1 stars
8/03/14 Charles Tatum Big fun. 4 stars
8/02/14 Oliver The modern Star Wars. What a refreshing joy to watch. 5 stars
8/01/14 Ruth Goaz Pauline Hickey aged 17 in 1985...WOW ! ! !. 5 stars
8/01/14 Darkstar Insanely awesome and funny! My new favorite Marvel movie. 5 stars
8/01/14 The king beyond awful 1 stars
8/01/14 Bob Dog Finally - - comedy returns to comic book movies! 5 stars
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  01-Aug-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Dec-2014


  DVD: 09-Dec-2014

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