Studio: Marvel Studios
Director: James Gunn
Writer: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Producer: Kevin Feige
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro
A misfit group of intergalactic outlaws bands together to stop a dangerous warlord from acquiring a legendary stone.
So what if Fox has the film rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four? Who cares if Sony is in charge of cinematic Spider-Man? With “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Disney proves that they can mint superhero money just as easily using C-list misfits the mainstream has never heard of.
Fortuitous circumstances tie together five would-be heroes, ranging in disparate backgrounds from wayward youth to bounty hunting rogue, to lead a rebellion against a power mad warmonger bent on genocidal extermination and defying his even eviler overlord. Don’t forget parents missing under unidentified circumstances for the prime hero, an infiltration of a planet-destroying warship, and a mid-movie side trip to a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Sound familiar?
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a next generation incarnation of the best that “Star Wars” had to offer four decades earlier. Taking their template straight from George Lucas’ seminal space saga, director James Gunn and his co-writer Nicole Perlman filter out Luke’s coming-of-age grousing and Obi-Wan’s religious ramblings, leaving only high adventure, spacefaring action, and a smart sense of humor to snakecharm their audience into submission.
Instead of Skywalker and Kenobi, “Guardians of the Galaxy” pairs its Han Solo and Chewbacca with a second incarnation of the smirking smuggler and his wookiee companion, effectively doubling the scene-stealing screen presence the Millennium Falcon copilots always brought to the Dejarik table. Star-Lord Peter Quill may be on Luke’s arc of displaced self-discovery, but he has Han’s mirthful charm of cocksure confidence tempered by sarcastic cynicism. Peter’s money-lusting anthropomorphic raccoon companion Rocket fills in the affable mercenary contingent of Solo’s personality with his long list of criminal connections and underworld familiarity.
Chewie also sees his archetype split into two. Drax the Destroyer covers fearsome brute and reliable-in-a-pinch brawn as handily as any walking carpet ever could. He doesn’t need to have the warm hart either, when sentient tree and humanoid of few words Groot evens out the gentle giant quotient. Meanwhile, Gamora stands in for an even fiercer Princess Leia, still the offspring of the galaxy’s most feared villain, but relinquishing any possession over a fakeout love triangle featuring a twin brother (though there is a sibling rivalry with her sister Nebula).
As the ragtag rebels’ chief adversary, Ronan the Accuser isn’t half of the enigmatic evil entity Darth Vader was, but that fact barely ranks on the list of vital components making “Guardians of the Galaxy” work so well. There’s also some brief political hullaballoo about a busted peace treaty, but nothing on the boredom scale of embargoes, tariffs, trade routes, or intergalactic senate hearings. All of the ancillary characters, subplots, and even the main story about juggled possession of a MacGuffin orb are paving stones for the true draw: basking in the camaraderie, confrontations, and manic energy of the movie’s core quintet.
Bookended by a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” prelude and a bad guy showdown finale daring to feature a dance-off to The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child,” James Gunn and company channel everything that makes moviegoing fashionable escapist entertainment. From tension-heightening trumpets bleating on the orchestral score to touchstone classics accompanying the soundtrack, every audio/visual detail employs a throwback sensibility to what made adventure epics of the seventies and eighties so much fun. If such a practice had not become so tragically unhip in the contemporary era of iTunes and hipster derision, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack would be echoing in dormitory hallways throughout America in the same way that the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack did in the 1990s.
Throwing down an infinity gauntlet at DC’s filmic feet, Marvel Studios has challenged its Distinguished Competition to upright their own A-list and start evening the pace. They’ve also issued a mic drop reminder that when comic book characters stop being so serious, their sci-fi serial superheroics start being infinitely more entertaining. Who needs a mutant or an Avenger when a CGI raccoon and a semi-sentient tree can infuse this much personality into a movie already bursting at the seams with it?
Review Score: 90