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Guardians of the Galaxy •••1/2

GOTG-posterStarring: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper
Director: James Gunn
Screenplay: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: August 1, 2014

Guardians: Ensemble, N-P Moral, Pro (Redeemed Episodic Military Heroes)

Quill: Single, N-N Moral, Ant (Untransformed Mastermind Villain)


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Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s next big franchise.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Seems like it’s an ever-expanding Marvel-ous universe. Let’s recap.

We’re introduced to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) (who likes to call himself Star Lord). He’s an outer space pirate aligned with the Ravagers. He’s stolen an orb and wants to sell it on the black market. He no sooner escapes with his treasure when he is accosted by green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who is aligned with the evil Ronan. But bounty hunters Rocket (a genetically engineered racoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (a tree-like humanoid voiced by Vin Diesel) interfere with Gamora as they try to capture Quill. The lot of them are thrown into prison when the Nova Corps (the intergalactic police) get involved. It is in prison that they meet the very literal Drax (Dave Bautista) and our team of misfit guardians is complete.

The Guardians are charged with the task of preventing the orb from falling into the hands of the evil Ronin, who will no doubt use the orb’s powers to conquer the galaxy. Ronin eventually attacks the Guardians and steals the orb. When he unlocks the sphere, we see that it contains a beautiful infinity stone. Ronin absorbs the stone into his warhammer thereby acquiring the powers to destroy the galaxy. The remainder of the movie shows us how the Guardians are able to work together to re-acquire the infinity stone, thus saving the galaxy from destruction.

This was a fun addition to the Marvel universe. The opening scene was a little too reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark for me. Quill makes his way into a cave to steal an orb which is immediately stolen by other thieves. Quill even makes an off-handed remark about Indiana Jones later on. The alien characters all seemed to be mere humanoids differentiated by their brightly colored skins. The beautiful Karen GiIlan shaved her long red trusses for this film. She looked good as a blue-skinned gal, but sadly she really showed off her lack of acting chops.

As a hero group, I classify this merry band as a military ensemble lead by Quill. Quill has a lot of the qualities we see in hero characters. He’s an orphan in a strange world. He has to prove his abilities to those who follow him. His team-mates are solid hero fare as well. Each has an edge to them, but they are all out to do the right thing. And they’re funny, which adds a great twist to a hero’s journey. The light air of this film really sets it apart from some of the other Marvel films we’ve seen. There’s always a sense of urgency, but Quill and friends make everything look funny.

Greg, my admiration for Marvel keeps growing. Guardians of the Galaxy is the fourth, count’em, fourth Marvel feature film released in 2014. We’ve seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and now this quirky ensemble of galaxy-saving guardians. Despite the possibility that Guardians may be the weakest of the four Marvel entries this year, it’s still an impressive achievement on several levels.

First, I found the always-strong CGI effects to be particularly extraordinary. The sets, production values, costuming, and character visuals are off-the-charts stunning. Second, this film’s character development has Marvel’s more than capable fingerprints all over it. For the most part, these characters are impressively constructed and also quite memorable, from Rocket the rambunctious Raccoon to Groot the shapeshifting tree. One complaint I have is that Peter Quill, our main hero, lacks the kind of charisma and magnetism that I would want to see in a lead character. Still, Guardians is a fun and, at times, thrilling roller coaster ride of a movie.

Yes, the CGI was great and nobody builds a universe the way Marvel does. Which does remind me of one problem I had with the film. It seemed to me that too many pains were taken to merge the universes of Thor, the Avengers, and Guardians together. The bit about the evil overlord Thanos and the infinity stones is a plot line that I think they are trying to weave into all the movies.

And speaking of villains, the villains in this story were really lacking. Thanos is the mastermind controlling his minions and having them do his dirty work – there’s no real dimension there. Ronan as the henchman was painted equally evil without much character. Gillan’s Nebula was Ronan’s daughter with an attitude who hated her siblings for reasons we don’t know. Of all the Marvel films we saw this year, Guardians had the weakest villains for our heroes to play against.

I completely agree with your assessment of the villains here, Greg. Marvel movies usually go to great lengths to craft villains of depth and nuance, but Thanos and Ronan are flat, uni-dimensional brutes. There were silly attempts to call many of the dark features of this movie “Necro” this or “Thanos” that, as if these death-related prefixes would somehow magnify the menacing factor. They didn’t.

Still, I managed to enjoy the movie because even Marvel operating at three-fourths its usual effectiveness is better than most films. As you pointed out, Greg, there is plenty of joy and humor throughout the Guardians, as when it pokes fun of John Stamos or Kevin Bacon, or when it pulls out a clever pun worthy of evoking a good groan or two. Strangely, there is considerable violence in Guardians, more than it needed to retain its sense of danger and adventure. Still, I left the theater fairly satisfied.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a worthy addition to the Marvel tableau of superhero movies. I was thoroughly entertained by the origin story and the through-line of the infinity stone. The CGI mixed with real-world effect made for a visual feast that was worth the price of admission. Despite the fact that there were a lot of characters in this story, everyone got ample screen time. Guardians was a lot of fun. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes were pretty standard fare. I was happy to see Gamora played out as very tough and independent, and no-one’s love interest. Quill has no superpowers to speak of (yet) so we identify with him as a human character we can all aspire to be. Rocket Raccoon was something I’ve never seen before in a picture, at least I’ve never seen a raccoon as an action figure. And who would have thought a tree with regenerating limbs could be a superhero? It was an unlikely ensemble, to be sure. I’m struggling with this score, but I’m afraid I have to give them just 3 out of 5 Heroes.

And as we discussed, contrary to villains in other Marvel films, the villains in Guardians are broadly painted with little dimension. And in some cases, given little in the way of villainy to actually carry out. I give them just 2 out of 5 Villains.

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Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another marvelous Marvel product that brings together five unlikely creatures whose job is to save the galaxy. Despite being noticeably less enjoyable than the three other Marvel movies this year, Guardians of the Galaxy is nevertheless a fun, pleasurable jaunt, especially if you’re willing to turn your brain off and simply enjoy brilliant CGI effects, clever dialogue, and memorable characters. I happily give Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Reels out of 5.

The primary strength of the movie is the military-like ensemble of five Guardians. These characters are a diverse collection of misfits who formed a whole greater than the sum of their parts. Drax, Groot, and Rocket are memorable characters whereas Peter Quill, our main hero, is a disappointment. As a group, these Fab Five follow the classic hero’s journey and emerge forever transformed by their experiences. Overall, I’ll generously award them 4 Heroes out of 5.

The villains are a sad collection of monolithically evil megalomaniacs who are as forgettable as a slice of Wonder Bread. Marvel must have decided that this film didn’t deserve an interesting villain, which is a shame because the depth of the villains is a notable strength in every other Marvel offering this year. I can only give a rating of 1 Villain out of 5 here.

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1 Comment

  1. Lora says:

    I left the theatre wishing I had waited for the DVD……,but I LOVE, Love, love the soundtrack

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