Guardians of the Galaxy, directed by James Gunn, takes five misfit antiheroes and throws them headlong into a conflict of galactic proportions. The movie manages to flesh out each character while still making time for heart-pounding action and a ton of great comedic moments. Guardians is best when we just see the five leads bounce off each other. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as the immature human leader of the gang. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) as the wisecracking raccoon/mechanic/bounty-hunter. Groot (Vin Diesel) as a giant sentient tree. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) as a living weapon and traitor to the godlike Thanos. And Drax (Dave Batista) as the humorless, vengeful warrior. Everyone has interesting friendships that grow over the course of the movie.
The movie begins with some backstory for Peter Quill, a.k.a. Starlord. His mother died of cancer when he was very young and immediately afterward he was picked up by a group of space thieves called the Ravagers. Cut to the present where Quill has struck out on his own and has scavenged a strange artifact called the sphere.
Meanwhile, a peace treaty between two races leads the zealot terrorist Ronan to declare war on the peaceful Xandarians. He seeks the sphere to use as a weapon, and sends Gamora to retrieve it from Quill. Gamora, the servant of Thanos, is being lent out to Ronan as part of a complex deal. This deal that will end with Thanos using the sphere to destroy Xandar, but keeping it for himself afterwards.
While Gamora tries to steal the sphere, Rocket and Groot see a bounty on Quills head. This leads to an exciting chase where everyone is trying to capture or escape from someone else. However, they all end up captured and sent to a high tech prison. There they meet Drax, whose family had been murdered by Ronan. Because she serves Ronan, Drax tries to kill Gamora. Luckily, Quill steps in to stop him. Gamora also reveals she planned to betray Ronan and Thanos to sell the orb herself.
This plan intrigues Quill, Rocket, and Groot, who want a cut of the profits, and even Drax joins them in an attempt to seek revenge. They all bust out of prison in an intense action sequence and they make their way to meet their dealer, the Collector. The Collector reveals the sphere contains an infinity stone that could destroy the galaxy so the group decides to take it to the authorities. Unfortunately, Ronan swoops in and takes the sphere, which he plans to use himself to destroy Xandar.
The group rallies one more time despite how grim it all seems. They make a plan to bust in to Ronan’s ship with the help of the Ravagers and the Nova Core (the Xandarian army). While they do manage to crash the ship, they can’t destroy Ronan while he has the infinity stone’s power. So Starlord takes the stone, which would destroy a normal human, and through the power of friendship, the Guardians of the Galaxy use its power to destroy Ronan.
This movie seems to come straight out of a 1980’s sci-fi world. The aliens, while all mostly human-like, have a lot of nice practical effects to make them look interesting. The vehicles all have a unique but classic look from the Kree’s decaying mummy ships, to the Ravager’s winged bird ships, to the Nova Core’s star-shaped ships. The designs would not feel out of place in Star Trek or some other classic sci-fi show.
All of the effects are bright and colorful, but also crisp and realistic. Rocket and Groot are perfect examples on how to make CGI look real but still have life and energy to their movements. The movie is incredible to look at.
While the plot is nothing really new, the presentation is incredibly unique. The comedic aspects as well as the bonds between the characters are the focus while the quest to save the macguffin almost feels like a side-note. This is a story about five misfits becoming friends, not really about five criminals becoming heroes.
That being said, the plot is probably the least interesting part of the movie. The villain is a one-dimensional and uninteresting because he’s not the focus. The macguffin is pointless except to set up the Thanos plotline in later Marvel movies. The villain should have been goofy and insane to match the tone, like the Collector, but instead Ronan is stiff and humorless.
Still, the story is tight and fast-paced with plenty of character development and comedy squeezed in. The character arcs are well thought-out and executed. So, the villain is easy to ignore while still having a blast.
The dialogue in Guardians is exceptional with tons of funny in-jokes and 80s references strewn about. Instead of the usual one-liners associated with action-comedies, most of the comedy is derived from character interaction and routines, much like an actual comedic film. The tone reminds me a lot of Archer, the wise-cracking animated spy show, and that’s definitely a compliment.
The tender moments are also well-written. In a fast-paced movie like this, it’s hard to make tragic backstories fit in with the tone. Guardians allows plenty of time for characters to breathe and argue and reflect on their shortcomings. Each character gets to show their softer side, despite the fact that all are hardened criminals.
Much of the credit for this has to go to the actors. Pratt and Cooper are the comedic center of the group and their deliveries are absolutely hilarious. Still, both have their own tragic pasts to deal with and the actors perform the dramatic scenes with gusto as well. Batista and Zaldana provide more seriousness to their roles, but also aren’t afraid t crack jokes with the rest of them. Vin Diesel plays one of his best roles since the Iron Giant, with plenty of heart and humor packed in his one repeated line, “I am Groot.”
Guardians of the Galaxy surpasses even The Avengers in terms of comedy, action, and characters. Even though the story is a bit played out, the bonds between the characters are so entertaining to watch, it doesn’t spoil the experience in any way. The fact that such a strong connection can be created using characters we haven’t seen and back-stories audiences are unfamiliar with gives me more confidence in movies like Ant-Man that will try to do the same thing in the future. All-in-all, a must see for fans of superheroes, fans of space westerns, fans of comedy, fans of action, and just fans of blockbusters in general.