In the years since Iron Man kicked off phase one of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe superhero Marvel movies have become full-on event films, gaining legions of new fans for the comics giant’s characters and presumably filling the coffers to bursting at HQ on a regular basis. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, in theaters August 1, is the latest addition to the MCU, but it’s not like any Marvel movie you’ve ever seen before. Yes, Thor and Loki have had some fun times in space and The Avengers features a frequently at-odds team and plenty of humor, but Guardians of the Galaxy takes those elements much further and dares to get a bit weird.
Moviegoers may not have known the detailed mythology associated with Steve Rodgers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Thor Odinson when they hit theaters, but these names at least were familiar. For most, Guardians of the Galaxy is a wholly unknown quantity. Starlord and his pals are not your average Marvel heroes. They are, however, a breath of fresh air. That’s not to say that the spangly outfits and acts of out and out heroism aren’t still working - they absolutely are - but there’s something special about this ragtag group of outlaws.
For the uninitiated, the Guardians of the Galaxy are Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star Lord), Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket Raccoon. This being their first big screen adventure, the film is more or less an origin story, albeit with some events that are sure to ring through Avengers: Age of Ultron and Phase 3 of the MCU. The feature is more or less concerned with how the group comes together. Largely due to some disparate motivations concerning an orb holding some powerful hardware and a quest for vengeance or two. Needless to say, our heroes aren’t exactly besties at first sight. The group ends up tossed in prison rather rapidly and find themselves forced to work together or sit in the space gulag. And then the fun really begins.
There is next to nothing that Guardians gets wrong, but from beginning to end its greatest strength lies in its character work. From Gunn’s unique brand of writing to the spot-on execution of the main ensemble and the chemistry that crackles between all of them, the performances in the film are a delight to watch. The host of supporting characters, including Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser, Michael Rooker’s Yondu and John C. Reilly’s Corpsman Dey all feel as fully realized as the Guardians themselves. The result is an immersive viewing experience where the mythology of the story is rich and palpable. The spirit of the film feels like Marvel meets Firefly with a hint of Star Wars sensibility and a heaping scoop of culture-infused humor, wit and some wicked 70s jams.
Ultimately, Guardians of the Galaxy affirms that Marvel can take even its titles that are not obviously blockbuster, mass-appeal plots and find tremendous success transitioning them to the screen. Star Lord, Rocket, Groot, Gamora and Drax have given us what is far and away the best film of the summer and one of the best Marvel Studios films to date. This reviewer, for one, left the theater saying, “I can’t wait to see it again.”