REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy

3 08 2014

When I sat down and thought about it, most of the praises I could lavish on James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” are really backhanded compliments that slap the Marvel universe in the process.

For example, I don’t really think Kevin Feige and the Marvel brain trust really deserve a great deal of lauding for creating a film that can stand on its own with a self-contained narrative.  The majority of movies already just do that anyways.  Those movies also just have well-developed characters with internal lives given as an assumption, not as a point of commendation.

But if you want to grade James Gunn’s take on a lesser-known Marvel property against their hopelessly generic and shamelessly commercial films of better known characters like Captain America, it’s going to look like a masterstroke.  “Guardians of the Galaxy” has two attributes that probably make executives at Marvel cower in fear: a unique creative vision and a good sense of humor.  It’s a playful film that often feels like fan fiction uncovered from a child of the ’80s raised on a steady diet of Lucas and Spielberg.

To achieve this adolescent fantasy of a film, Gunn assembles a very game group that becomes akin to Marvel’s version of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players.”  The film stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (or Star-Lord, as he’d have you call him), a profit-motivated intergalactic thief who might be the most morally ambiguous blockbuster hero since Jack Sparrow.  On an average commission to retrieve an orb, Quill gets pulled into a gigantic power struggle that endangers both he and his precious Walkman.


Quill teams up with quite a few rivals to protect the orb from falling into the hands of the malevolent Ronan and Thanos, your garden variety Marvel evil folks with strange names.  On the more serious side, there’s Zoe Saldana as Gamora, a warrior princess who might as well be a green version of her Neytiri from “Avatar,” and Dave Bautista as the muscled over-literalist Drax.

Thankfully, to keep things light, there’s also Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon with one heck of a Napoleonic complex.  Cooper channels quite a bit of his Oscar-nominated role as Richie DiMaso from “American Hustle” into the wisecracking character, which might explain why I got such a kick out of the character.  (Seeing as how unlikely a sequel to David O. Russell’s film is, I’ll settle for this.)  And always at Rocket’s side is Vin Diesel’s Groot, a humanoid tree equipped with a limited vocabulary but a full range of feelings.

There’s plenty of fun in two hours hanging this ragtag gang of “losers,” as Quill calls them.  Gunn always finds an opportunity to get in an odd laugh, be it in a prison break or at the film’s action-packed climax.  He also finds the occasional moment for profundity, be it over a nice reminder of music’s remarkable cross-cultural impact or a tender emotional scene.

Yet his “Guardians of the Galaxy” still bears the Marvel stamp, and it assumes a certain level of trademark formulaic over-plotting and third act urban destruction by association.  Gunn finds ways to improve upon the sad state of the comic book movie, though he never reaches a point of such brilliance where he can transcend the studio’s apparent limitations for the genre.  B2halfstars



6 responses

4 08 2014
The Pumpkin's Head (Betty J. Ogburn)

…The genre has “apparent limitations”???…Care to elaborate on why you feel that is???…

I personally enjoyed it, though the humor mostly missed the mark with me…

4 08 2014

Well, I wanted to avoid dropping the N-word … and by that, I mean, Nolan. I guess “genre” isn’t the right word, more like the Marvel subgenre is what I’m referring to. Unless they want to abandon their cliched one-size-fits-all story arcs and their “blow everything up!” conclusions, they’ll never reach Nolan/”The Dark Knight” levels of brilliance. I think that’s what all comic books – or really, all movies – ought to be aspiring to.

4 08 2014
The Pumpkin's Head (Betty J. Ogburn)

…Meh, I find both fun in their own senses–and they’re polar opposites in tone and mood, so you can’t compare them TOO much, I feel…

4 08 2014

Here’s a few articles that maybe serve to further highlight some of my issues with GOTG and the Marvel universe as a whole. Again, not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I feel like I have to use whatever small soapbox this blog gives me to speak out against complacency and conformity in filmmaking and filmgoing.

4 08 2014
The Pumpkin's Head (Betty J. Ogburn)

…More power to you–I always love these cinematic discussions, :-)!!…

4 08 2014

I just had so much fun with it. Also not to mention that it surprised me by being the best Marvel movie since the Avengers. Good review Marshall.

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