If there’s a cinematic printing press right now, it’s being held by the folks at Marvel Studios. Following a shaky start with films like Daredevil, Elektra, The Fantastic Four, and Hulk which didn’t get the supervision they needed, the folks at Marvel organized themselves and managed to create a cohesive vision for their comic book properties. Of course, that’s only the stuff that Paramount is helping out with. Let’s just ignore the mistakes still being made by Sony and Fox with Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four for right now.
Well, after a string of origin movies that led to being able to pull off The Avengers, now Marvel is moving through their cinematic phases and key to the future of their slate is the newly released Guardians of the Galaxy. What? You’re not familiar with this franchise? Don’t fret, you’re not alone. Even as a Marvel comic book fan back in the day, my only exposure to this group was in its previous incarnation … which involved an entirely different group of heroes … and a very different version of one character that actually made it into the film.
For those of you not into the nitty gritty details, just know that if Marvel is playing their cards right, the foundation for a huge, ginormous, mega, large, grand, ridiculous, and potentially awesome cross-over event truly begins with Guardians of the Galaxy. They’re a group of anti-heroes, criminals with good hearts basically, who band together by circumstance and find that their collaboration is a win-win. If you want the details, there’s this thing called the Internet. Use it.
Anywho, the basic plot here is that this rag-tag group of outcasts band together to oppose the potential destruction of a planet with roughly 12 billion people on it. Along the way there will be oodles of hand-to-hand combat, futuristic weapons, witty one-liners, and a soundtrack stuffed with recognizable and catchy tunes (I found the use of The Runaways’ Cherry Bomb quite effective).
Key to the film’s success is Chris Pratt is in his highest profile role to date. With his humor and the ability for audiences to relate to him, he’s perfectly cast and is the glue that binds together the team. Zoe Saldana and Bautista make for good warriors so that made sense for the roles that they portray coming off their respective work in Colombiana and the WWE/F. Perhaps the oddest thing is that the two most recognizable names in the cast (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel) provide voice work for CGI characters. Now, they do a fine enough job but you could have cast just about any good voice-over artist to do the same thing. I suppose it helps your marketing and makes the producers feel better about the $150 million dollar budget in getting them on-board so it is what it is. Not much of a issue for me really, just funny.
So is there a bigger downside than unnecessary voice-over casting? Actually, not really. People hold The Avengers up as the gold standard for Marvel movies and I’d generally agree with that. Despite the many, many elements that made no sense, at least it had Joss Whedon at the helm to maintain the right tone, actually understand the characters, and bring his own brand of storytelling to the table. Pretty much all the stand-alone movies are cookie cutter, paint by number jobs devoid of any real personality (unless Robert Downey Jr. or Tom Hiddleston are actually on-screen).
What Guardians of the Galaxy has going for it is director/co-writer James Gunn. While his work has largely been outside the mainstream, those who know it have appreciated his perspective and ability to blend humor in with other genres. Case in point is the fantastic Super, which I likened to a far more realistic version of Kick-Ass if I remember my own review well enough. Being familiar with his work, I was excited to see what he’d bring to the table and my expectations were met and exceeded.
Combining his script, direction, and the playful yet appropriate casting, Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be the very best Marvel has cranked out yet. It’s packed with action, plants its tongue firmly in cheek, and doesn’t bog down the pace of things with clunky attempts to add pathos. Gunn is able to tell essentially five origin stories while still pushing the plot forward and even setting the groundwork for the future Marvel movies that will likely tie into events set in motion with The Avengers and continued here.
What solidifies the movie as the best of the bunch is that it should appeal to both comic book fans and those who know nothing about the books. Hell, most comic book fans don’t know the majority of these characters either. As much fun as I had watching Lucy the other week, Guardians of the Galaxy really is the king of the summer movies (sorry, Godzilla). Anyone who’s been wanting a 2014 summer spectacle movie that will justify the ticket price and demand a big tub of popcorn be purchased along the way has finally gotten what they’ve been waiting for.
One note I should make is that there was no big reveal at the end of the credits on the print that I was able to watch but who knows if something will be added later. And just remember that you can skip the extra costs and forgo the 3D, it was nothing special and that money is better spent on concessions.
Oh, and seriously. If there’s one soundtrack you want to own this year, it’s this one. I’m not even sure loss of hearing is a good enough reason to dislike it.
Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.