Reviewed by Danny Sarnowski
Let me start by saying I have no affinity, nor deep-seated childhood love for the Guardians of the Galaxy. Be wary of anyone who claims that they do. While there must be someone out there who has been buying and reading the comic books these characters are based upon for the last several decades, you don't know any of them. Anyone who tells you that they have always loved these characters or has read all of the comics or that they almost got a tattoo of Groot the walking, fighting, barely-talking anthropomorphic tree is lying. Also, as a disclaimer, while this movie is based upon comic characters and released by Marvel Studios, it is not a superhero movie. It is, as writer-director James Gunn would call it, a space opera. And while that term is incredibly annoying, it is closer to what you'll get with this movie than not.
I have enjoyed most of the movies released by Marvel Studios (you can read my review of their last release Captain America: The Winter Soldier here). I have also recently watched Slither, James Gunn's directorial debut (The Spoiler Alert Podcast recently released the episode on that movie here). So I came into this movie very interested in what one part Marvel and one part Gunn would add up to. The trailers had sold me on a silly, loose, less-comic-book-canon-reliant space adventure. The movie, which certainly has its issues, delivers just that.
The story is pretty standard sci-fi MacGuffin fare. A mysterious relic is being sought by some extremely sinister people which may or may not contain fantastic powers and planet-destroying energy. We are introduced to a ragtag group of strangers who meet each other by happenstance and who, almost immediately, band together for various stated reasons to retrieve the item (the real reason, for all of them, is that they are secretly very good people. Or plants. Or genetically altered, gun-toting animals.) Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord, a thief and rogue with a quick wit and an excess of charm. Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, supposedly the deadliest woman in the galaxy. Dave Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer, a large, tattooed, grief-stricken badass. The team is completed by two CGI-created characters. Bradley Cooper voices Rocket, a tortured soul in a raccoon's body while Vin Diesel voices Groot, the aforementioned tree. (Also, can we admit that we have officially bottomed out in the celebrity stunt voice casting arena? Diesel famously teased his participation in this movie and the opening credits give him a "featuring Vin Diesel" credit. He says four words. Four. Words. Robin Williams as The Genie this ain't.)
The five of them band together, escape a space prison, and set about retrieving, then losing, then retrieving the MacGuffin. It is desired by Thanos, the biggest, baddest, most powerful evil doer in the Universe. Thanos is also the purple guy you may have seen if you stuck around through the very end credits of The Avengers. Before Thanos can get it, it is stolen by Ronan The Accuser played with deep malice by Lee Pace. Ronan is the kind of villain that is really, really evil and you know he is evil without really knowing or caring why he is so evil. Just understand that he is really, really evil. And scary. But mainly evil.
The quintet of heroes put their personal problems and quarrels aside in order to band together to save an entire planet of innocent lives. The movie devolves, as most Marvel movies seem to do, in its third act into a large CGI-created battle scene (see the last acts of Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor 2: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Solider). Much of this is noisier and busier and more generic than you need it to be. The villain is dispatched in pretty underwhelming fashion and the day is saved. So, the plot, set up, villains, and third act are all pretty standard sci-fi, comic book movie fare. The characters themselves, and Gunn's tone? Not at all.
The five heroes are, unlike the other Marvel heroes you've come to love, losers. They are misfits and criminals. This movie is like Goonies in space (complete with Josh Brolin!). These outcasts and unloved space orhpans form an unlikely family and pool their damaged goods into one loud, raucous, unruly, silly team. The chemistry is actually pretty good. Pratt is very funny, as you'd expect, and has good heat with Saldana. Bautista is wooden and stilted until you realize he is supposed to be wooden and stilted. He is best in quiet scenes and tosses out some pretty funny throw away lines. Cooper uses a strage accent with Rocket, which takes time to get past. Once you do, you realize that the combination of his voice, the CGI-artistry, and the script help make Rocket the stand out character. It is obvious that he is Gunn's favorite in the group.
The movie's tone is a double-edged sword. This movie is funny. It is silly. The humor is ironic and jarring at times. Unfortunately it also makes it difficult to really take the picture seriously. The fate of entire planets, nay the Galaxy is on the line, but its hard to care because Bradley Cooper's character is making silly comments and teasing Groot. There is a running joke that Rocket can understand Groot, which despite being used a few times made me laugh every time. The use of 1970s/1980s pop music is also a bit jarring. As are references to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Michael Jackson, and Kevin Bacon's portrayal in Footloose. While explained in the story, it is so odd to have them included. I had a good time seeing this movie but I am not as confident that this will be as mainstream a success as Marvel has enjoyed thus far.
- The pair of Rocket and Groot. I thought I would like them the least but ended up digging them.
- Pratt as comedic adventurer.
- Visuals. The movie is beautifully shot. All of the visuals and effects are very well done.
What didn't work:
- The generic villains. Karen Gillan's character is especially bland. Disappointing for such a unique looking character played by a talented actress.
- Thanos. I don't really get, nor do I care, who Thanos is. I know he is the entry point to bring the Guardians into the broader Marvel universe and someday have a giant Guardians/Avengers crossover film. But I just don't care.
- Michael Rooker is also in this film.
- As a Marvel comic book franchise launching film: C+
- As a silly, fun, space adventure: B+
PS - Don't bother sticking around through the end of the credits. This movie boasts the worst post-credits tag in any Marvel movie. Really. Worse than Thor 2.