Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Directed by James Gunn
For the way it defies the norms set forth by “Avengers” feeder franchises like “Thor,” “Captain America,” and “Iron Man,” I’d deem 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” something like Marvel’s pet project. Or its step-child. But that’s why it’s so refreshingly entertaining.
Two decades after being abducted from Earth, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, “Parks and Recreation”) works as a bounty hunter for his captor/savior Yondu (Michael Rooker, Daryl’s brother on “The Walking Dead”). But when he comes across a powerful weapon wanted by thugs from all walks of life—an assassin (Zoe Saldana), a vengeful brute (Dave Bautista), a mutant raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and his humanoid tree friend Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)—Quill will have to team up with his competitors to keep the powerful weapon out of the hands of an all-powerful, villainous ruler (Lee Pace)…for the good of the galaxy.
So much hype had already been built up for “Guardians” that I came away somewhat disappointed. But while it’s not quite the best Marvel movie of all time, it’s certainly its most enjoyable of the past few years. It got a lot right. First, it made use of an eclectic mix of acting talents. Pratt steps out of his shell and becomes a charismatic leading man. No more supporting roles for him. Saldana’s graceful fighting style, showcased before in movies like “Colombiana,” is a marvel to watch, especially beside Bautista’s pro wrestling muscle. Two totally different fighting techniques, both endlessly entertaining to watch in action. Saldana also shows a little of the intense emotion she perfected in “Avatar.” But the real stars are the CGI masterpieces Rocket and Groot. Bradley Cooper’s attitude is the perfect match for the feisty rodent, and though Groot is a tree that only says four different words the whole movie, he may just be Vin Diesel’s most well-rounded character ever. Like Han Solo and Chewbacca, Rocket and Groot are a fun pair.
Where “Guardians” loses focus is its overly complicated plot. With multiple villains antagonizing several different protagonists, you begin to lose track of who’s fighting whom. And, like many Marvel movies recently (unfortunately), you don’t see much characterization in the villains—they remain flat, all-bad, bland. Not like, say, the Green Goblin, who gets almost as much characterization as Peter Parker.
But superhero excitement rarely comes as hilarious and seriously sentimental as “Guardians.” Unlike most Marvel movies, which tend to recycle their generally non-specific jokes, “Guardians” brings out some real comedic gusto. Quill is an ‘80s Earthling transplanted to space, so we get some hilarious cultural references and a pitch-perfect soundtrack of pop hits. I never thought “Hooked on a Feeling” would make for good accompaniment for space fights, but “Guardians” proved me wrong. But as funny as it is, “Guardians” is also full of emotion. Even without learning much about their characters, you feel emotionally invested in this good vs. evil story. You’ll be reeling when it seems that hope is lost.
It’s not perfect, but if “Guardians” is what new Marvel looks like, you can count me in.