After a string of "just okay" Marvel releases (Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, included), Guardians of the Galaxy (opening today, as if you weren't aware) is a total return to form for the Marvel Studios franchise of comic-book-based films. It's quite simply, the reason people go to and love the movies.
Continuing the locomotive along until we arrive at next Summer's Avengers 2: The Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy finally expands the cosmic Marvel Universe in ways previous films only hinted at. Those that know the story (from the comic books), know that The Avengers' fight on Earth (from the last film) is eventually going to turn to the sky...and beyond. If we were teased in the past with stinger-end-credit-scenes featuring characters such as The Collector and the arch-villain, Thanos, this new Marvel film gives us another few nibbles as we try to satiate our collective palates as we impatiently wait for next year to come.
Guardians of the Galaxy features a rag-tag group of outlaws who find themselves wrapped up in an inter-stellar entanglement. The "leader" is the human, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who calls himself "StarLord" even if nobody else does. As a child, he witnesses his mother die after a long battle (with, presumably, cancer) and when he exits the hospital in despair, he is promptly abducted by an alien spacecraft. His only treasure from his past life is an unwrapped gift given to him by his mother shortly before her death, and a Walkman containing a cassette labeled "Awesome Mix Tape, Vol 1." Awesome it is, as it acts as the soundtrack for the film, grounding this space opera with a little Earthy flavor.
Of course, Quill grows up to be StarLord, a wanted thief across the galaxies and he lands in possession of a powerful orb that contains yet another Infinity Stone (there are six total and we've now been introduced to three of them...comic-book fans of course know their importance, but let's just say that Thanos seeks to collect them all). He is tracked by the original aliens who abducted him, led by the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker) as well as the local authorities. A wise-cracking, talking raccoon known as Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his tree-alien companion, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) are Han Solo and Chewbacca inspired outlaws themselves and they aim to score the large reward that is currently being offered for taking StarLord in.
Also in pursuit is a dark, evil Kree villain by the name of Ronan (Lee Pace). He, at first, is working under the hand of Thanos to acquire this new-found Infinity Stone. Thanos's daughters work with Ronan, although one of them, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is not loyal to her evil overlords.
Truncating much of what happens next, these reluctant heroes - StarLord, Rocket, Groot and Gamora (along with prison-mate, Drax the Destroyer (WWE star, Dave Bautista), who is on a mission of revenge) - form together to try to stop Ronan from acquiring the Infinity Stone and from allowing them to destroy planets along the way.
The good news is, none of this plot is all that important, nor is it a point of strength for the film. The real strength of Guardians of the Galaxy is in the enthusiastic direction by James Gunn. All of this other-worldly stuff can get stuffy, hokey, cheesy. He remembers to infuse the film with a great deal of humor, excitement and wonderment...something the first Thor film hit on but the sequel failed to recall. Every time something "serious" happens, there is an instantaneous moment of levity. It creates a joyous experience.
You wouldn't think that a talking raccoon, a CG tree creature and a WWE meathead would combine for good cinema, but the characters of Rocket, Groot and Drax make the film. By the end, each in the group have established their own personalities and their unique brand of comedy. The introduction of this group - StarLord and Gamora included - is the best thing to happen to the Marvel Universe in quite a while. It's no surprise then, that the biggest reaction at my screening was an outburst of applause when the film ended with the words "The Guardians of the Galaxy will return."
Speaking of the ending, be sure to stay, per norm, for a cameo of a long-forgotten Marvel character that you may not have even realized was a Marvel character.
Guardians of the Galaxy is cool and confident and sci-fi/comic book nerdiness all rolled into one. It's one of the funniest Marvel films ever and maybe one of the funniest films of this year. It also has heart, intensity and excitement standing on its own, even though its true purpose is to propel us towards something supposedly greater. They will have to aim real high, because The Avengers now share their Universe with a team of super-heroes that we may care about more.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Run Time: 2 hours 1 minute, Rated PG-13
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro
Directed by James Gunn (Super)
Opens locally on Friday, Aug 1, 2014 (check for show times).
Be sure to watch Tom Santilli on TV! Check your local listings for “Movie Show Plus” for Tom’s weekly movie review segment.
How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"
- 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
- 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
- 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
- 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
- 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time