Now this is a team of strange characters that deserves a bit of explanation. They were created back in the ‘60s as a futuristic group of space heroes, each the last of their kind. They traveled through space and time, battling evil lizard aliens and fighting alongside other Marvel superheroes. Now scrap that, because in 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning forged a new team that was created out of a “Dirty Dozen” style line up of old Marvel space characters, most of which hadn’t seen print in twenty or more years. Wonderful relics from the likes of Jim Starlin, Steve Englehart, Bill Mantlo, and Chris Claremont.
This eclectic band of rejects and has-beens is the focus of the movie adaptation, pitting them in an epic space opera struggle against an evil menace. Add a healthy dash of irreverence, ‘70s pop hits, and let the good times roll.
The story is about as straight forward and simple as you might expect from the latest Marvel movie, following a practiced formula that’s worked a few times already. I mean it, this is quite literally the same basic plot of “Captain America”, “Thor: The Dark World”, and even “The Avengers”. In case you’ve forgotten, allow me to summarize: Evil guy seeks magic thing to do evil things. Heroes thwart him. The end.
It begins with some clunky expository dialogue from every villain to appear, but that said, where this movie excels is in everything that supplements the basic narrative, namely the heroes. They’re led by the roguish adventurer Star-Lord, played with charismatic ease by Chris Pratt. He settles into the role of leading man effortlessly, creating a seamless balance between rouge hero and comical goof. Zoe Saldana is Gamora, a troubled assassin seeking redemption. This is a basic character type, but Zoe Saldana gives her a lot more personality, something that shines through mostly during her scenes with Chris Pratt.
The two CGI characters, Rocket Raccoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively), are very likeable for what they are. One’s a wise guy in a rodent body and the other is a simple-minded monster who can only say, “I am Groot”. They’re given just enough personality to stand on their own as characters, something James Gunn does admirably given the strangeness of the cast and their own distinct personalities. One of the breakout characters has got to be Drax the Destroyer (Dave Batista), a blunt, incredibly honest murderer who takes almost everything literally. Where else but a comic would you see characters like this out to save the universe?
There are other name actors featured, including the likes of Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, and even Benicio Del Toro, but their roles are so small that they almost don’t warrant a mention. It’s a shame, too, because why bother with such talent if they’re only there to stand around? I bet it was fun for them to dress up in goofy outfits, though.
With such an odd group as the focus of the plot, you get a plethora of fun and often humorous moments, the best of them being when it’s simply the heroes talking. One of the more memorable scenes is just them planning their attack, which looks to them like a suicide run. Writer/Director James Gunn smartly keeps the story balanced around the five of them, making sure each one has a moment to do something noteworthy and memorable.
The same cannot be said for the villains, unfortunately. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are both very cool looking characters. One’s got a hammer, the other is a cyborg. They’re blue and covered from head to toe in make-up, making the actor beneath completely unrecognizable, but the make-up is about as deep as they get. They serve as threatening villains, but there’s little else to make them interesting. In the end, the movie is only about the heroes, but that’s where its greatest strength lies.
Another strong feature is the visuals, and a great deal of the movie employs large detailed sets for the actors to move around in. It makes for a nice change compared to most all green screen locales in science fiction. The look stands out as something apart from the usual “Blade Runner” noir grime or the super sleek and shiny future of the “Star Trek” movies. Instead, it retains a dirty and meticulous level of detail, but keeps everything full of color and life. There’s a fantastic sense of vibrancy from not only the alien planets, but empty space as well.
From the space prison to the giant floating head that’s been converted into a mining colony, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is packed so full of crazy locales and aliens it feels more like a living comic world than any of the previous Marvel films. There’s a sense of freedom to play around with the more fantastic elements of the comics, rather than keep things grounded with a sense of reality. It’s also a breath of fresh air to see how well it stands completely apart from the rest, with only vague and distant plot points sure to become important in future movies. Everything here feels relevant and confined to this story, not something else that we won’t know about until years down the road.
Though safely tucked in by the Marvel story formula, “Guardians of the Galaxy” has enough of its own character and personality to stand apart as something new and fun. It’s entertaining as hell and with enough charm and comic book imagination to be something memorable.