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Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) movie poster Guardians of the Galaxy

Theatrical Release: August 1, 2014 / Running Time: 122 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: James Gunn / Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman (screenplay); Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning (comic book)

Cast: Chris Pratt (Peter Quill/Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Vin Diesel (voice of Groot), Bradley Cooper (voice of Rocket), Lee Pace (Ronan), Michael Rooker (Yondu Udonta), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), John C. Reilly (Corpsman Dey), Glenn Close (Nova Prime), Benicio Del Toro (The Collector), Laura Haddock (Meredith Quill), Sean Gunn (Kraglin, On Set Rocket), Peter Serafinowicz (Denarian Saal), Christopher Fairbank (The Broker), Krystian Godlewski (On Set Groot), Wyatt Oleff (Young Peter Quill), Gregg Henry (Grandpa)

Guardians of the Galaxy is coming to home video on December 9th. Read the press release.
Preorder from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first Marvel Studios film since 2011 that is not a sequel, a reboot, or a crossover. That distinction is integral to its appeal.

We open in 1988 on Earth, a planet on which we spend little time. Unexpectedly highly dramatic, this prologue sees a young boy having to say goodbye to his mother,
who is evidently near the end of a losing fight with cancer. Running out of the hospital as Mom flatlines, the boy encounters a giant alien spacecraft that apparently takes him aboard.

Jumping ahead to the present day, that boy, Peter Quill, is all grown up (now played by an uncharacteristically fit Chris Pratt) and enjoying life in this distant place where he still treasures his Walkman and his one-night stands could have skin any color of the rainbow. Upon acquiring a small orb of considerable power, Peter, who is trying hard to make his self-assigned nickname Star-Lord stick, is pursued by various parties. They include the green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana, hiding her looks far less than she did in Avatar) as well as cynical, genetically engineered raccoon bounty hunter Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, doing his best Baby Herman) and his tree-like protector of very few words, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).

All four of these wind up in a maximum security prison, where they are eyed shiftily by their fierce fellow inmates. Frequent prison escaper Rocket hatches a plan for the four of them, plus new ally Drax (Dave Bautista), a muscle-bound widower hell-bent on vengeance, to bust out of jail en route to a lucrative sale of that mysterious orb to a buyer Gamora has lined up. It's The Collector (Benicio Del Toro, in what amounts to little more screentime than his Captain America 2 end credits cameo). The deal goes awry when the orb's powers are revealed. Our fugitive heroes are endangered and lose that MacGuffin, only to conceive a plan to keep the device out of the hands of Ronan (Lee Pace), a powerful individual sure to use it for evil.

The Guardians of the Galaxy (Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, and Chris Pratt) marvel at the light generated by Groot.

Ah, original characters. We've gotten far too few of them from Marvel Studios the past three years. It's true there aren't many characters in Marvel films you can call completely original, including the ones in this film. But Guardians is based on a not terribly well-known line of comics that began in 2008. This is altogether different from bringing superheroes who have long been part of pop culture, like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man, to the big screen. That's a good thing for moviegoers, if not necessarily shareholders.

The bold and diverse personalities that comprise the titular team arrive with no baggage or discernible legacies. There are no iconic performances or interpretations for Guardians to be judged against. Though many comic book fans approach Marvel films with long-held appreciation and familiarity, that's almost impossible here, with very few moviegoers able to claim they grew up with these characters. Such a blank slate doesn't eliminate expectations altogether. The film still has to live up to the strong reputation of the thriving Marvel Studios brand. It also has to perform well enough at the box office to justify the $170 million production budget that's really quite steep for such an unknown property.

But everything works out in the favor of this film, easily one of the most enjoyable entries to the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe born out of Disney's purchase of the company.

Sharp-tongued genetically engineered raccoon bounty hunter Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) steals a number of scenes. Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned alien who raised Peter like a son and didn't let others eat him, now poses a threat to the Guardians.

Guardians succeeds more on personality than plot. These ragtag heroes are liberated by their lack of history and pre-existing admirers. They are complex, unconventional, and a great deal of fun.
Quill is basically the live-action version of Pratt's Lego Movie protagonist; not traditionally heroic, but able to fill a void. His likable everyman charm is agreeably upstaged by three eccentric colleagues: the sardonic badass belied by his cute furry exterior, the sentient tree man whose one statement ("I am Groot") comes to take different meanings, and the pale blue muscleman whose ignorance of metaphors gives the film some of its biggest laughs. In such company, Gamora makes for kind of an underwhelming leading lady, albeit an active one who eschews love interest status. The real weak link is Ronan, a feared villain who does almost nothing noteworthy the entire film. That could be problematic, but it isn't here, with minimal time and thought given the opposition.

Marvel films rely heavily on comedy, but Guardians seems to take it to another level with its humorous hijinks. This is a very funny movie and it sustains an atmosphere long enough to be classified as a comedy. In terms of sci-fi, it is perhaps most indebted to the original Star Wars. The humor seems directly descended from the cantina scene and from C-3PO and R2-D2's amusing banter. Here, though presented with stunning visuals, the hero-heroine-villain material isn't played so seriously or traditionally. Still, the story, thankfully not an origin one, engages sufficiently and stands up to scrutiny. Guardians also provides some genuine heart, no small feat amidst such a steady stream of laughs. Despite the prevalence of colorful alien characters, creatures, and locations, there's also plenty of humanity. Even if you question the realism of the extremely eclectic musical tastes Peter's mother shows in the "awesome" mix tape she made for him that functions as the film's soundtrack (it includes everything from Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling" to David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream" to The Five Stairsteps' "O-o-h Child"), you've got to appreciate the logic behind using popular pre-1988 tunes to score key sequences.

Contrary to what naysayers feared would come from a Disney-Marvel partnership, the film is perhaps a little less family-friendly than previous Marvel tentpoles. I can't remember hearing this much profanity in any of the Avengers' standalone movies or their behemothic team-up. Violence and scary moments are plentiful without exceeding current PG-13 limits. Most of the time, most of these characters are decidedly not role models, but friendless, anti-social outlaws and convicts. Even so, they unearth virtues and remain redeemable as they form a kind of dysfunctional family. There's far more complexity and ambiguity to this team than The Avengers and the viewer isn't able to remain so certain that all the good guys will end the film alive and victorious. Such unpredictability has been missing from the past several Marvel adventures.

Maximum security prison Klyn can't contain the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Needing long end credits to just narrowly surpass the two-hour mark, Guardians is brisk and diverting entertainment. The announcement out of last weekend's San Diego Comic-Con of a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel being in the cards for 2017 might have been met with some skepticism or trepidation. But the pre-emptive measure isn't merely a display of confidence.
There is no doubt that audiences are going to love these characters and want to spend more time with them. I know I do.

With this film, director James Gunn, also credited on the script alongside newbie Nicole Perlman, gives his career a huge shot in the arm, redeeming himself after his previous film, the dark superhero comedy indie Super starring Rainn Wilson, lost money, divided critics, and cast doubt over the promising critical reception given Gunn's acclaimed 2006 debut Slither.

No clip played at the end of the long end credits, to the disappointment of my screening audience, who knew enough to stick around. Supposedly that is something that will change from press screenings to today's general release. As is, the last two things I saw worth mentioning were the promise of the Guardians' return and a very funny tag involving two lead characters.

Preorder Guardians of the Galaxy from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Digital HD / Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 2: Captain America: The Winter Soldier Thor: The Dark World Iron Man 3
Chris Pratt: The Lego Movie Zero Dark Thirty Her | Zoe Saldana: Star Trek Into Darkness Avatar
Lee Pace: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug | Written and Directed by James Gunn: Movie 43 (segment "Beezel")
Summer 2014 Movies: X-Men: Days of Future Past Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Edge of Tomorrow Godzilla Maleficent
John Carter Oblivion Pacific Rim Rise of the Guardians

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Reviewed August 1, 2014.

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