For a company that is so self-conscious of its image, the last thing one would expect from Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy is a deliciously sly sex joke referencing the works of Jackson Pollock. Marvel may be selling Guardians as their first true family friendly film, complete with an adorable but feisty talking animal, however this film has James Gunn’s stamp all over it. What makes Gunn’s films such a treat is the way he repurposes familiar tropes into something inherently fun.
Just as Chris Pratt’s chiseled character holds his “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” collection of tunes close to his heart, Gunn’s directorial efforts often feel like a hip mixtape of their own.
Films such as Slither and, to a slightly darker extent, Super work because Gunn continually finds a way to make them feel unique despite his numerous nods to the works of others. It is this fine line that he walks with Guardians of the Galaxy as well. For all of its entertaining moments, Gunn manages to advert our eyes to the fact that we have seen a lot of it before. Just in different packaging.
This is not a bad thing per say, in fact it is a smart move on Marvel’s part. When introducing such an unproven and relatively unknown commodity as Guardians, it makes sense to have it feel like something we already know. This is the same philosophy that was employed when Blade, then unknown by the general population, sunk its fangs into the big screen years earlier. So it should not come as a big surprise that Guardians of the Galaxy often feels like it has cribbed some of the elements that made both Star Wars and Star Trek so entertaining.
The premise is relatively straightforward as a band of criminal outcast must put aside their differences and unite to save the galaxy from destruction. At the centre of this ragtag group is Peter “Starlord” Quill, an intergalactic Indian Jones type bandit who is on the hunt for a mysterious orb. Discovering the orb on the planet of Morag, and outwitting Korath (Djimon Hounsou), Quill decides to double-cross his partner Yondu (Michael Rooker) and sell the orb on his own. Unbeknownst to Quill, Korath works for the villainous Kree warrior Ronan (Lee Pace).
Ronan promised Thanos (Josh Brolin) that he would acquire the orb for him and, in return, Thanos would help Ronan overthrow the Nova Corps homeworld Xandar. Seeing an opportunity to escape her forced service of both Thanos and Ronan, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) volunteers to find Quill and recover the orb. Gamora is not the only one searching for Quill; a gun-totting raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his Tree-like muscle Groot (Vin Diesel) are hoping to cash in on the bounty that Yondu has placed on the scoundrels head.
Through a series of events, Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot eventually agree to team up in hopes of selling the orb and sharing the profits. With the assistance of Drax (Dave Bautista), who joins the group to fulfill his own personal vendetta against Ronan, the team set their plan in motion. However, their plans are thrown for a loop when they uncover the real power that the orb has been hiding.
Like a perfect summer mixtape, Guardians of the Galaxy is a hodgepodge of bouncy and breezy scenes that entertain without ever lingering longer than it needs to. Similar to a popsicle on a hot summer day, the film feels refreshing despite not having any real nutritional value to speak of. Outside of its touching opening sequence, and a moment near the end involving Rocket and Groot, there is little for us to truly get attached to emotionally in the film.
As a result, we are simply left to marvel at the colorful spectacle occurring on-screen. Not that this is a bad thing mind you. In some ways it is nice to see a Marvel Studios film that does not take itself so seriously. The all-star cast, which includes the likes of Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro and John C. Reilly in minor roles, clearly embraces the carefree nature of the film. Bradley Cooper’s voice work is especially effective in bring Rocket to life.
Some are already hailing Guardians of the Galaxy as Marvel’s best film to date. However, this might be more of a kneejerk reaction to the pitiful blockbuster offerings this summer rather than an honest assessment of Marvel Studios’ canon to date. The film does not create the same lasting impression like Iron Man, The Avengers, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Regardless, like a summer mixtape that is guaranteed to get the party started, there is no denying that Guardians of the Galaxy is one hell of a good time.
Good review. It’s the best time I’ve had with a Marvel movie since the Avengers.
I had a blast with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but this film does have an Avengers vibe to it in regards to pure entertainment.
“When introducing such an unproven and relatively unknown commodity as Guardians, it makes sense to have it feel like something we already know.”
Obviously a savvy business move, no doubt, but should we be looking at films like we look at a consumer product – almost as if it’s a new menu item at McDonald’s? Sometimes I just find it kind of depressing to think about a film as anything other than creativity and artistry. But the commerce is so heavily baked into Marvel films that it’s almost impossible to ignore. Ugh.
I agree it is depressing to think of the commerce side of film, but the truth is cinema has always been a business first. There have been many creative and artistic works over the years that impact us deeply. However, at the end of the day, our wallets help to govern the types of films we see in our local theatres. Since comic book films have become big business, Marvel and DC are especially careful about how their brand is perceived.
I’d still place The Avengers first among the Marvel movies, but this one is right there behind it with the original Iron Man film. For em, The Winter Soldier was too much of an obvious transitional film to get to the next Avengers and to set up their TV show’s change of direction. It gave short shrift to the title character. Other than the scene with the older Peggy he really didn’t get much to do on his own. I still liked the film, but not as much as the first Captain America.
I know that at some point these different Universes are going to combine, I’d be happy if they didn’t. This feels like a separate standing franchise and the characters can carry a story on their own. I’d be willing to bet 80% of the audience did not get the Jackson Pollack joke.
The Jackson Pollack joke definitely slipped by most people which only added to its overall charm.
I have a feeling that the Universe will be cross-pollinating in a few years as well. My only fear is that they will stuff too many characters into one film. I do not mind if a character from Guardians ends up on an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or if Iron Man makes a cameo in the next Thor film. However, I think it would be hard to juggle all those characters in a The Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy team up film. Of course, Marvel has shown that anything can be achieved if you have the right people behind the camera.
Chip Lary – I think your ranking is more in step with the order most would place them. I preferred the 70s spy thriller tone of The Winter Soldier to this film, but that is a minor quibble. I also did not mind the team up aspect of that film either. It felt more in tune with the Captain America comics where he is constantly working with a combination of S.H.I.E.L.D, Falcon, Black Widow, etc. in most issues.
I really liked the addition of the Falcon character and was a little disappointed when it appeared he might be a one and done character. And Johannson is always great to look at kicking butt.
I already wanted to see this. Now I want to even more. Great work!
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