In recent months, I have been quite critical of the Disney film side of Marvel. With the recent firing of master filmmaker Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, I have realized that the biggest problem with Marvel is that all of these movies seem to feature the same tone and general safety. Disney Marvel may have a better critical track record than recent DC but at the same time I don’t think Marvel will ever be able to make something like The Dark Knight trilogy because they often play way too close to the center of the box. I don’t think they make terrible movies (with the exception of Thor: The Dark World which is garbage) but not since Iron Man have they made a movie that has necessarily blown me away.
Moving on to the situation at hand, Guardians of the Galaxy has plenty of the clichés of the other movies of the franchise and of action today as a whole, yet there is so much energy, excitement, style and fun to be found here that it all comes off as extremely charming so much that the moves stands as my 2nd favorite Disney Marvel film to Iron Man.
A thief named Star Lord (Peter Quill) finds an orb that could be used to destroy the whole world and he must team up with a group of misfits including a talking raccoon named Rocket Raccoon and a talking tree named Groot as well as a strong madman named Drax and an assassin named Gamora to keep the orb in the right hands.
The first great choice the film makes is in the fantastic cast. Chris Pratt gives an exceptional action lead performance. Like Iron Man, Star Lord has a lot of humor in the character and Chris Pratt has enough charisma as an actor to be able to give energy to the comedic requirements. Also like Iron Man, the character still manages to be dark and human and Chris Pratt did both things extremely well whether he was making a joke or doing a serious line. Star Lord never came off as obnoxiously loud and upbeat but he never came off as dull and uninspired like so many action protagonists I’ve seen this year. Zoe Saldana did a good job of playing the female assassin Gamora and she played well off of the antics of the other actors. I don’t think that she is as good in this as she was in say either Star Trek or Avatar but she serves the purpose of the character fine and she never felt like dead weight. Dave Bautista was loud and intense enough to play the insane alien Drax in a role that feels like it was built around the actor himself. All of the human characters have great actors who did fine for the parts and Chris Pratt continues to show us why he is one of the more interesting comedy actors working today.
I do have to conclude that the best characters of the movie are in fact the CGI ones. Rocket Raccoon and Groot are two of the most interesting characters to come out of blockbusters all year and they alone deserve to give the film a nomination for best visual effects. Rocket is brilliantly voiced by Bradley Cooper and he does so well that it never feels distracting that he is played by such a huge actor. The character also got some of the best lines of the movie and managed to be really compelling in the more dramatic scenes especially as the film went into the 2nd act. Groot does not have many lines in the film beyond constantly saying I am Groot (while being voiced by Vin Diesel) yet all the same Vin Diesel makes the character very poignant and sympathetic with the few lines he is given. Also because of fantastic visual effects, Groot is given a ton of emotions while saying very little because of the detail and the texture done by the team behind the creation of him. Groot is layered, funny, and compassionate and the best character in the entire film.
The 2nd great thing that this film did was hiring director James Gunn. I have not seen anything this director has done but by the first shot it becomes clear that they did not hire a hack to make this film. He adds as much personality and style as you can with these movies. He gives the film a fantastic soundtrack filled such great music and the way that he adds the soundtrack to the story is done really well and leads to an amazing scene near the end. I have a soft spot for the usage of older music in modern movies (American Hustle, Django Unchained, and Seven Psychopaths) and the way this film used that sort of thing was more than impressive. Needless to say, the visual effects are the best I’ve seen of any movie this year built in with the amazing cinematography. The movie hits a lot of things that I look for in visual effects. They use the effects to create unique characters, the world they built is detailed and the design has a focus on originality and beauty. I get impressed by things like Transformers and Godzilla but it takes true craft to create such an ambitious and visually stunning setting as they have done here. Unlike Thor, this movie is colorful and built on a grand and gripping place that is hard to find in most other movies today. This is by far the most well directed of any of the movies Disney Marvel has released to date and the creative range that they gave everyone working on this movie definitely shows.
I said above that the movie is very clichéd. Don’t get me wrong on all the praise I’ve given it, this movie has a ton of problems. Most of the musical score that isn’t the soundtrack is very normal and the characters have a lot of stereotypes. The death of Star Lord’s mother isn’t done with a particular nuance that makes the age old idea feel inventive and the movie features one sided villains, a speech that brings the team back together again and a story that is quite predictable. This movie features just as much story problems as Captain America, Thor or The Avengers but here is the difference. The best example I can relate to is the recent Doctor Who series. That show features a trope filled storyline yet the characters are so interesting and fun to watch and the world they create is so fascinating and layered that not only is it really entertaining but in its own way it becomes surprisingly touching by the end of it all. Yeah it’s got problems, but there is a lot of confidence in the performances and in the director and it’s all being done with such a high level of talent and competence that you can’t help but get invested in the adrenaline of it all up to a point where I got goose bumps at a few points near the end.
This film is extremely problematic and I have no doubt that this franchise will eventually get run into the ground and the charm of the film will be lost by Disney. Yet, I walked away from this movie rather happy for many reasons. This is the most visually ambitious film I’ve seen from Disney Marvel and all of the acting and comedy is fantastic. You will get dragged into this movie because of the high level of energy that comes from every aspect. Guardians of the Galaxy is a nice, refreshing piece of entertainment through and through.
Release Date: 4/4/2014
Directed by: James Gunn
Screenplay by: James Gunn