A year and change before this generation gets their Star Wars this generation has sort of gotten their Star Wars. Granted it’s Star Wars as filtered through the Marvel Studios lens but it’s as close to a legitimate Star Wars movie as theaters have seen seen around 1983. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is a pulpy playful space romp that carries all the keystones that made George Lucas a billionaire. There’s wacky creatures, charming rogues, tough-minded women, kinetic space battles, and a delicious mixture of action and comedy. In short, it’s possibly the sneakiest sure thing in recent memory. It’s fun for all ages but the most vulgar film in Marvel’s pantheon. It’s epic but intimate. It’s an 80’s genre romp but packed with all the wattage modern technology can provide. It has no right existing, let alone be a part of the biggest juggernaut in the film industry this side of Pixar. But exist it does and entertain it does and with a little luck it’ll be a gateway film for people not already in the Marvel fold and a catalyst for the studio to embrace more offbeat fare from the comic book publisher’s extensive catalog.
The film gets off to a somewhat shaky start in a clunky introduction that introduces Chris Pratt’s Star Lord character as a boy who is taken by a spacecraft shortly after his mother passes away from cancer. It also introduces his mix tape, which ends up being a character in the story and the engine for Gunn to toss a lot of fun [this makes me feel old] classic music music into the film. We next meet him as he searches for an artifact, employing a wide array of gadgetry as he rocks out to his mix tape. It’s a great introduction and it sets up the film’s plot in a unique and engaging way. The artifact is a very powerful one and his banter with the people attempt to capture him establishes the anti-authority bent permeating through the characters who ultimately become the titular group of heroes.
Ronan the Accuser is portrayed by Lee Pace from the phenomenal AMC show Halt and Catch Fire and though he serves as the film’s principal adversary the real wattage comes from small moments from Avengers enemy Thanos [voiced by Josh Brolin in preparation for Joss Whedon’s pending sequel] and Benicio Del Toro’s colorful oddity The Collector. Ronan feels like a secondary villain from a Thor movie and though he has one-note motivation and very little depth Pace gives it his all and a scene late in the movie helps justify his participation. Ronan and his motivation to destroy worlds is familiar though his grudging alliance with Thanos makes for some interesting material. The one genre trend the Marvel movies have as a whole balked at is in making the villains more colorful and exciting than the heroes. Part of their success is in great casting and in putting the emphasis on the characters with their name on the cover and Gunn’s film is no exception. This film is all about the Guardians and each character’s little way of making the movie broadly appealing but with attitude.
Chris Pratt anchors the film perfectly. There’s not a bad decision in his entire performance. He’s funny, sexy, effective as an action lead, and effective in at times being nothing but hot air. A great melding of Indiana Jones and Han Solo, actually. Zoe Saldana comes off as the generic tough female but ends up being a great addition and her character provides much-needed connective tissue. Dave Bautista as Drax got very little play in the trailers but ends up being one of the best parts of the movie through great dialogue and actions that lead to interesting places. A couple of the best moments in the movie originate with Drax. Groot and Rocket are the big wild card. They easily could have derailed the entire effort: two CGI characters with tons of dialogue and many complex and integral scenes. Voiced by Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper they singlehandedly take a very good film and make it something larger. A true crossover. They’re funny, great additions to the team and surprisingly soulful. Kids are going to eat them up.
Though Star Wars is the tuning fork for a lot of what makes this movie such a delight the real heart of it is James Gunn’s distillation of what makes up the bedrock of this high moment for genre films. He’s a product of the 70’s and 80’s and the comics, toys, and limitations therein. He’s made a movie for today that’s also a reward for yesterday. This will be someone’s Ghostbusters. It’ll be their Star Wars. It’ll be that magic transportive film that entertains the absolute right way. It’s not cheap. It’s mainstream through the back door, choosing smarts and sass over bombastics and tropes. It doesn’t hurt that Gunn stalwart Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Peter Serafinowicz, and Djimon Hounsou show up to enliven things. It’s a film that will have children loving every minute while their parents grin ear to ear.
This is an all-out blast and the best 3-D experience in a long time. Pay the extra tariff and watch it as big and loud as you can.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars