With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel makes a bold move by taking a cast of characters that not a lot of people are familiar with and gives them the big screen treatment. While at this point any film within the Marvel Universe might seem too big to fail (The Avengers $1.5 billion worldwide, Captain America: The Winter Soldier $713 million worldwide), Guardians will be a proving ground of sorts for them. Should Guardians flop it could signal that smaller comic properties might not work. Should it prove to be as successful as the other Marvel Universe films, Marvel can start printing their own money because then they will be able to turn nearly any character or property into a new franchise.
I am here to tell you though that Marvel has nothing to worry about.
Guardians of the Galaxy marks Marvel’s first foray into outer space. While we got to see some of that in The Avengers, Guardians wholly takes the action off of Earth. It centers around a ragtag group of unlikely alien outlaws that come together to stop an evil psychopath from destroying peaceful civilizations. Though it does sound kind of out there, it’s got Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel to give you some sense of familiarity.
One of my biggest concerns going into the film was that I’ve always felt space based or cosmic characters really have their work cut out for them. With nothing to ground them here on Earth, how are audiences supposed to relate to characters that have nothing to do with us? Guardians gives us relatability straight off the bat with the origin story of our protagonist Peter Quill. Even before the film’s title is shown we see the circumstances around Peter’s abduction from Earth as a kid. Even though in the very next sequence we see Peter all grown up as the dashing and good looking Starlord, there is a sense that probably deep down inside of him, being away from his family is something he probably thinks about from time to time.
A lost child far from home and taken away from his family; that’s a fear that any parent can tell you they’ve thought about at some point in their parenting careers. With that in mind, it gives the audience an instant connection to Quill and a way to buy in to the movie.
While we get an instant connection to Quill in the first ten minutes of the film, both as a kid and as an adult, the rest of the team doesn’t get as much definition character-wise. Unlike The Avengers, Guardians doesn’t have the luxury of films building up characters and leading into the team-up. In this film, we meet each of the Guardians for the first time and everything we find out about them is built up through their actions and conversations in the film.
From the trailer we are told that Starlord is a thief, Gamora is an assassin, Drax is a maniac, and Rocket and Groot are thugs; they shed these labels fairly quickly after their introductions. Once the Guardians come together and start working with one another; that’s when the film really starts to become fun. We get to see how each of them think, how they carry themselves in a fight, and their vulnerabilities as well.
Quill is easily the character that’s most relatable to us since his is the lone human in the film. Out of all the characters though, it’s Rocket and Groot that I enjoyed the most. With CGI characters, it’s sometimes a gamble because what you’re seeing isn’t a real raccoon or a tree that’s a living being. Since we know they’re fake, how do believe them as characters? Guardians answers this by making them nuanced and very well defined. The way Rocket talks, what he says, and how he acts and reacts in situations makes him a smart and savvy guy who people underestimate not only because of his size, but because they perceive him as a rodent as well. Rocket overcomes this by proving his worth in a number of situations in the film that allow him to showcase his smarts and make him more than a raccoon bent on destruction.
Groot meanwhile, he doesn’t say that much, in fact he only says one line (repeatedly) throughout the film: “I am Groot.” It’s the way he says it and his mannerisms that tell us about him. He is the straight man to Rocket’s wild man. Probably what I loved most about him is that everyone seems to understand exactly what he’s saying even though to the audience he’s only saying one line. It’s like he has his own language that only people in the movie understand while we in the audience have to decipher it–which isn’t too challenging because the context of each scene informs us pretty well as to how he’s responding.
What helps these two CGI characters to be even more believable is that Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel change their voices ever so slightly that they’re not readily identifiable by them. Sometimes when you have a prominent star playing an animated or CGI character, having them use their regular voice takes you out of the film as you see the star behind the voice and not the character they’re trying to portray. That’s not the case here. Never once did I see Cooper or Vin, just Rocket and Groot. With great character building and solid voice work, these two characters blend so well into the fabric of the film that after a certain point I believed they were real.
Gamora and Drax on the other hand I felt could have used a little more development. While we sort of find out Gamora’s background, her motivations for becoming a Guardian aren’t all that clear. Same sort of thing goes for Drax. Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora meet up with Drax while in prison and then he joins the party pretty willingly when he has a big ax to grind with Gamora. One thing I really liked about Drax though is that they made his character very learned and matched it with the way he spoke. From what little knowledge I have of his character from the comics, I thought he wasn’t as smart as they made him in the film. The way he spoke blew me away as I really wasn’t expecting that and it also provided some hilarious situations as well.
While overall I liked the characters and the way they interacted with one another, my biggest quibble with the film (and it’s a minor one at best) is the way the Guardians came together. I felt that they banded together a bit too easily. It probably has a lot to do with how the motivations of Gamora and Drax aren’t fully made clear, so when a team up is suggested it doesn’t feel fully authentic. It was as if they shed their initial reservations about the others too willingly. I know this is Guardians of the Galaxy, so at some point they were ultimately going to join forces, but unlike The Avengers where we knew where each of them were coming from, since this film is doing a lot more, some plot elements don’t get their due–character motivations and setup being two of them.
Once the film gets past this hurdle and the Guardians do come together, that’s when the film really starts to take off and live up to the exuberance that you feel from the trailers. Each of the characters plays to their strengths and you see how they work well together. Groot and Drax are their heavy hitters for sure. Gamora can hold her own, but her inside information is what really helps the team. And while Rocket sort of feels like savviest Guardian among them, Quill’s cunning tempers Rocket’s negligence. That is why Quill makes a great leader for them. While everyone else sort of only sees their goals for the mission, Quill uses his wit to focus their individual motivations and bring them together. That’s why he’s Starlord man!
With each Marvel film contributing to the makeup of the overall Marvel Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy does its fair share of world building. While I won’t give away any of the easter eggs or reveals from the film, it did make me wonder if some of this extra universe building was really necessary.
In the last Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is a major universe changing event that happens that will definitely affect all Earth based Avenger films that come afterward. Back then I wondered whether this world building was at the expense of telling Cap’s story similarly to how the Stark/Iron Man story was sidelined by all the SHIELD stuff in Iron Man 2.
Ultimately, the universe building in Guardians isn’t on the level of The Winter Soldier or even Iron Man 2, but I did still feel that the underlying storyline that they added in was a little hamfisted and should have either been left out of the film or integrated better. They could have even saved something like that for the post movie credit scenes that they so love to include.
One of the fun things about Guardians is its soundtrack. Unlike almost all of the other Marvel films that predominantly only have a film score (instrumental music), Guardians of the Galaxy utilizes a soundtrack that not only adds some fun and nostalgia to the film, but gives the audience another connection back to Earth as well. I would venture to guess that anyone over the age of 25 will have heard most of the tunes in the film like Blue Suede’s Hooked on a Feeling or Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love among others. Subtly though, the soundtrack is another way that connects the audience back to Earth. Because we know these songs and we know that these are Quill’s jams, that gives us relatability to his character and gets us to buy into the film that much more.
Overall Guardians of the Galaxy is a solid film and I don’t perceive Marvel having a flop anytime soon. With another great superhero team on their hands who knows what Marvel will be able to do next. Do they bring out lesser known Avengers to feed into this universe? It’s totally possible, they can’t keep the core group of Avengers indefinitely so phasing the older guys out but keep making Avengers movies with new Avengers definitely makes sense. Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded into outer space, the sky isn’t the limit anymore. The Guardians of the Galaxy have made sure of that.
Cinematic Scene: Guardian Battle Planning
While there are many fun and action packed scenes in the film, it’s a quieter one that enjoyed the most. It comes just a bit before a big battle in the film while the Guardians are talking with one another and trying to strategize. I would say that it’s in this scene in the film where we can finally call them a team. No longer are they worried about the smaller things that they were concerned with when we are first introduced to them at the beginning of the film. In this scene they are all finally on the same page, opening up to one another, and are thinking as a single unit. Of course they banter and jest as well, and that definitely is part of their team dynamic, but it’s this one moment that stands out because finally, they do become the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy is now playing in theaters everywhere.
4/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 2hr 2min