As far as the continuity-driven properties of the Marvel Cinematic Universe go, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is making the biggest leap yet. It’s tasked with rocketing the franchise into the deep reaches of space and introducing a slew of new characters and ideas, all within a two-hour period. I’d be lying if I said that the transition is seamless, but then a talking raccoon and a super-strong tree monster started tag-teaming aliens in a space prison and I stopped caring.
Marvel’s least organic yet most accessible film to date, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is an embarrassingly good time of a movie, action-packed and surprisingly sentimental and proof positive that the MCU’s possibilities truly are limitless. Nobody makes ’em like this anymore.
This is also Marvel’s lightest and most breezy movie since “The Avengers,” a fast and loose introductory course on the expansive space-faring side of the MCU. So goes the story of Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), an Earth-born, planet-hopping thief with a heart of gold who unearths an artifact of immense power from an alien pyramid.
Naturally, the orb is a hot commodity across the galaxy, attracting the attention of Gamora (Zoë Saldana), a green-skinned alien warrior and adopted daughter of Thanos, foul-mouthed bounty hunter Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and his tree monster partner Groot (Vin Diesel), and berserker maniac Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista). After a fight over the orb on planet Xandar sends them to prison and they recognize they all serve as means to their respective ends, the five renegades team up to keep the orb out of the hands of Ronan The Accuser, an alien ruler bent on destroying Xandar, home of the Nova Corp police force, and into the hands of The Collector (Benicio del Toro), a man who collects oddities from across the galaxy and who we already met at the end of “Thor: The Dark World.”
You’d think with all these plates and more spinning at once, Marvel would be bending over backwards just to tie all the loose ends, but they don’t have to this time. “Guardians” is moving at too fast of a pace with too much ground to cover to be invested in details. I was excited to see more of not only the Nova Corp (short answer, they’re like the Green Lanterns), including Glenn Close as their leader Nova Prime and John C. Riley as head officer Rhomann Dey, but Thanos’ other lethal weapon of a daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kree henchman Korath The Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) and blue-skinned scavenger Yondu (Michael Rooker) as well, but they’ve all been relegated to supporting roles. This won’t be the last we see of these characters I’m sure, but I was left wanting more of them than I got in this outing.
There’s an entire encyclopedia’s worth of new locations, characters, and story ideas at work here, but co-writer/director James Gunn focuses all of his time and Saturday morning cartoon energy on the stellar screenplay, co-written by Nicole Pearlman, and high-octane action beats. The dialogue snaps, particularly between the five Guardians. Chris Pratt’s natural charisma and acting chops shine through in the role of a bruised soul hermetically sealed in his own childhood. Saldana’s Gamora is yet another welcome edition to the 2014 catalog of ass-kicking action heroine for the ages, and Cooper and Diesel make for a great double act as Rocket and Groot.
But the real surprise here is Bautista as Drax, who lives up to all the potential he showed in “Riddick” last year, nothing short of captivating as a well-spoken death machine. Their interactions, coupled with the stunning action, compliment the film’s overall tone, a cross-breeding of “Star Wars” by way of “Firefly” with a little “Ice Pirates” thrown in for good measure. There’s also emotional heft behind Quill’s origins, as a child whisked away from Earth at a young age that added a sharp emotional resonance that ties the whole affair together. “Guardians” as a property is so obscure, yet the humor, brisk storytelling, and visuals are so appealing, that anyone with a sense of fun can get behind this adventure. That’s what makes Marvel movies so special; they work just as well on their own as they do as part of a shared continuity.
Is the movie overstuffed? I’d call it expansive. At two hours and change, is the movie long? There’s barely any story beyond the bare bones set-up, so two hours feels like an hour and twenty minutes. Is it all so much fireworks punctuated by humorous character beats? Yea. It’s based on a comic book made up of nothing but fireworks punctuated by humorous character beats.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” isn’t so much a thread dangling off the side of its franchise as it is a live wire waiting to be plugged in, a hot bed of space-faring action comedy and surprising emotional sentiment whose genuine creative output and Saturday morning cartoon energy supersedes the dangling story threads. I can’t rightly say that I know where the MCU is headed from this point on, but I’m hooked on a feeling regardless.
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