My computer was in my backpack while I was at Pritzger Pavilion in Chicago watching This Is Spinal Tap when a thunderstorm came along. Bye bye laptop. Bye bye early chance to write my review. I was very much down in the dumps and told my woes to the various friends in my group as we waited in line for Guardians of the Galaxy. Lucky for me I was about to be treated to an awe-inspiring good time at the movies. Later to be followed up by a lucky find on Craigslist which allowed me to come into possession of a used Korean MacBook relatively cheaply so that I can be here writing this now. Even if it did mean I was secretly followed by the kid’s father while we made our transaction. I’m not sure he understands spying very well.
Let me tell you, I’m in a good mood. I’ve been down on the Marvel movies as of late. The first Iron Man and X2: X-men United are amazing. The Avengers, the Thors, the Captain Americas, the Wolverines are at best fun and at worst pretty bad. The Fantastic Fours and the two sets of Spider-Man… holy cats Marvel is a busy company.
The ship has been righted. Guardians of the Galaxy is a wildly entertaining, modern, off-kilter, touching, funny, and rousing space epic of a super hero film. While the über comic fans of the world are already familiar, for the rest of us it’s refreshing to see a super hero film of completely unfamiliar friends and foes, including a talking raccoon and a walking tree man who only ever says “I am Groot.”
To say the movie is complicated and accomplishes a lot in its running time is an understatement; it almost bursts at its own stuffed seams, but smart writing by Nicole Perlman keeps this whole thing together in a cohesive manner just letting a few tiny details get confusing in all the activity. That and Bradley Cooper’s “good” but not “fantastic” voice acting are the only complaints I have. Let’s not dwell.
Guardians follows the convergence of outlaw Peter Quill, green female assassin Gamora, cybernetic raccoon Rocket, his sidekick tree creature Groot, and de facto prisoner leader Drax. Quill has stolen a magical orb that the evil powers of the world really want and the rest of our anti-heroes are trying to get back for themselves. Some for the reward – others for more secretive reasons. Regardless, this orb is important to people (green or robotic or otherwise). Gamora was sent by evil doer Ronan, who sleeps in an anger concentrating hole in the ground and wants the orb to make a deal with Thanos to destroy a planet. Who is Thanos? Well he’s Gamora’s adopted father/captor. Once you start getting into the sister of the roommate who once knew a guy territory, you know the plot is complex. The point is Ronan wants to destroy a whole planet and is willing to make a deal with the devil to accomplish his goal, and that orb is the currency everyone plays with.
Getting captured by the police, our band of heroes must team up to escape. It’s a fun way to smash people together who don’t really want to be together and it serves up loads (and I mean loads) of off beat humor, sarcasm, character revelation, and organic exposition. Little touches, like the constant derogatory references by everyone to the hyper intelligent raccoon as being a rodent, ground the proceedings in a sense of humanity. Cause Rocket don’t play that game. Or a moment where Groot starts eating flowers that grow out of his own shoulder, twists up the grossed out faces of his compatriots. Consider it like an interstellar Odd Couple.
Peter Quill never really stops being the selfish thief that he is even when his good intentions get the better of him. In a particularly harrowing and selfless act of caring, Peter saves Gamora’s life by potentially freezing to death in space only later to use it as an excuse to hit on her. Gamora had a rough life and finds being nice a hard task. She’s willing to kill you to meet her altruistic goals (she’s complex). Drax is a muscly ball of revenge and hubris. One of the best “how did the villains find us” moments comes when Drax’s ego mixes further with space alcohol and space gambling. The point being, you learn about these characters organically as they continuously get in each other’s way. And that works to heighten the danger. You learn to care about everyone and get a real sense that these super heroes are not that super and will probably die when facing their truly over-powering foes. That is a key difference with a movie like The Avengers. Watching Thor and Hulk beat each other up is funny but pointless because they never actually take damage. Not the case with Guardians. Ronan is very scary and quite deadly. You really don’t know what’s going to happen at any moment.
Logical but horrible choices plague the group, building the story from one near death or actual death to the next. We follow our gang from planet to planet, in an attempt to stay alive and save the universe. The best location being “Knowhere.” A criminal outpost inside a giant space creature’s head. It’s a great piece of design and optical effect that looks as amazing as it sounds creepy. They hope to store the orb safely there but not all goes as planned.
Guardians is all wildly inventive and makes sense within the world. I never felt cheated once. I never felt they made up something just for the sake of making it up. I smiled, I laughed, I winced, I got sad. And I want more.
Directory James Gunn and writer Nicole Perlman are the right people for the job. Neither being particularly famous, they bring a fresh perspective to both how we want to understand our heroes and how to show that effectively. They have a deft sense of comedic timing and biting dialogue. Bring them back for the sequel.
At 121 minutes Guardians of the Galaxy feels more like 30. Go see this.