Guardians of the Galaxy
Actors: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou and the voices of Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Josh Brolin
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn & Nicole Perlman
Studio: Marvel Studios
It didn’t disappoint.
To say I was looking forward to this movie is an understatement. Like many comics fans, Guardians of the Galaxy held a special place in my heart because it was a major movie release featuring something other than household names in terms of comics characters. As such, I did something last night I never do: I went to an opening-night showing. The plotting here is by the numbers, but the cast and dialogue really help this movie stand out. It’s a safe bet it’ll be an eternal favorite, the kind of flick that one would eagerly sit for multiple viewings.
Outraged by a newly signed peace treaty between his people, the Kree, and the peaceful Xandarians, Ronan the Accuser sets out to destroy Xandar by obtaining a little known object of limitless power. Circumstances bring a band of criminals together, led by Earth-born thief Peter Quill, AKA Star-Lord, to oppose Ronan’s cosmic rampage.
Something I noticed more with this flick than just about any other I’ve seen is how much material was crafted and filmed specifically for the marketing effort. There were a number of scenes and bits of dialogue I saw in trailers and commercials for Guardians that was nowhere to be found in the movie itself. And we’re not talking about stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor. There were things in the ads that were clearly (now) designed for that purpose, such as John C. Reilly’s “They call themselves the Guardians of the Galaxy” line we saw in so much of promotional material.
One thing that struck me about this Marvel movie was the use of A-list actors in roles that offered them little and really didn’t require big stars. Reilly is completely miscast as the Nova Corps member with whom Quill interacts, and Gunn makes surprisingly little use of Glenn Close. Their presences in the movie distract from the story rather than add to it. Djimon Hounsou’s character Korath is completely redundant in the movie, and nothing is done to explain his character — what motivates him, what his abilities are, nothing. Ultimately, I think he’s here only to give the Drax character something to do in the climactic third act.
Zoe Saldana’s natural charm and grace come through quite well throughout the movie despite the green skin and forehead prostheses, and she plays an obviously pivotal role in the story. Unfortunately, while her performance was solid (though not as engrossing as her Uhura in the Star Trek franchise), her character arc isn’t written all that well. She’s built up as the deadliest woman in the galaxy, but she seems dispatched by supposedly lesser warriors several times. Her sister, who’s cybernetically enhanced like her, seems practically unkillable. Gamora kicks ass when the plot calls for it and she becomes the damsel in distress when the men need someone to save. Gamora’s portrayal is inconsistent, but those inconsistencies really didn’t jump out at me until after the movie was over.
I realize the tone of this review might seem negative, but honestly, I thought this was a terrific movie. The plot isn’t all that remarkable, but the experience really isn’t about the plot. The emphasis throughout the flick, even though there are some melancholy character-driven moments, is on fun. The performances and dialogue keep one smiling from beginning to end.
Bradley Cooper as Rocket absolutely steals the movie, and that’s saying something when you consider he only has his voice to convey his performance and that the central hero is portrayed by the wonderfully charming and funny Chris Pratt. Surprisingly, the most touching and personal moments come from Rocket as well. Comparably, there’s little that allows Vin Diesel’s performance to make as much of an impact. The strength in Groot’s performance stems (heh) from I’ve been telling friends that once this movie was released, Rocket and Groot would become a couple of biggest pop-culture icons, on par with Chewbacca and R2D2, and I remain confident that will prove to be the case.
Considering his background is in professional wrestling, Dave Bautista fares well in the role of Drax. Fortunately, he’s written in a way that any awkward or stilted aspects of the performance can easily be attributed to the characterization. He’s angrily and intensely playful in a weird way that’s quite entertaining. Of the core cast, it’s only Gamora who provides little in the way of comic relief.
Josh Brolin is lost in the Thanos CGI, but the visual is striking. Lee Pace’s performance of the nihilistic Ronan hits all the right but stereotypical notes, but Karen Gillan definitely brings something special to her role of Nebula. Her anger and envy really shine through in her intensity, and the makeup job makes for a striking look for the character, explaining by Gunn offers so much closeups of her. Speaking of villains’ looks, I’m stunned at how well Ronan’s design from the comics was translated to a live-action portrayal.
I saw Guardians opening night, and as such, I only had a 3D viewing as an option. As usual, I found the 3D distracting, and so much detail is lost through that experience. Nevertheless, it’s a great looking movie. The sets are convincing, and I like how these characters’ corner of space is portrayed as rough and filthy (contrasted nicely with the pristine nature of the scenes set in the Utopian society of Xandar). The Dark Aster, Ronan’s ship, looks as though it might have been designed by some of the same people who had a hand in the Dark Elves elements from Thor: The Dark World. And Knowhere, when it’s revealed, is absolutely breathtaking in its horror and wonder, and it, more than anything else, demonstrates just how much inspiration the filmmakers drew from the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning comics featuring these characters.
Again, the performances and dialogue are what make Guardians a must-see movie. Overall, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but what it does prove is that given the right actors and writers, even obscure, weird characters from the world of comics can make an easy transition to other media. Guardians will definitely cement Marvel Studios reputation in the entertainment business without any caveat that its offerings are popular simply because they feature icons of the super-hero genre. This movie shows its approach to filmmaking and not widespread familiarity with its properties is its true strength. I’m definitely going to see it in the theatres again (hopefully this time in 2D). 8/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.