Review by JJ Mortimer
The most fulfilling, entertaining, and surprisingly good films of this year so far have both been the two Avengers-universe Marvel movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy.
For weeks I've been commenting on how bad this summer has been, not just in terms of quality of film, but in the lack of spectacle and sheer "box office blockbuster" appeal that we usually get this time of year. I have been saying that Guardians of the Galaxy will be our savior: Not only did I want it to be our savior, but I think we NEEDED it to be our savior. And you know what? Not only was the film exactly what I wanted, but it was exactly the film that we needed to redeem this shit-filled toilet of a summer. Fun, funny, fast, heartfelt, and with just the right amount of pleasing moments that make movies go from good to great - and also highly re-watchable.
Guardians of the Galaxy fits right in with the Avengers universe, and plays like a genre shoot-off that some of the other films in the franchise have been spreading into. This year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a politically-driven action film, while Thor: The Dark World was a fantasy, Homer-like epic. Guardians plays more like a Star Wars / Star Trek mash-up with a science fiction theme, and it works in almost every aspect of that theme.
What made the film a big, fun surprise to me, even despite my lofty expectations, was it's wittiness and energy. The film's ability to keep the story driving forward, and pretty successfully compact a lot of story in a dense, action-packed two hours is a success in storytelling and direction all in its own. Director James Gunn proved naysayers wrong by showing that he was the right choice to balance all five of the main characters and give each one of them something important to do. The biggest surprise to me was the level of humor that was milked from unexpected places, like the ability to make WWE star Dave Bautista's character, Drax the Destroyer, become the funniest character in the film with his dry, literal delivery of every line (because his race of people don't understand metaphors or jokes).
I was also happy to see how well Groot (a giant bodyguard tree) and Rocket Racoon (voiced energetically and enthusiastically by Bradley Cooper) really worked in this film. When I first saw that this film was going into production, I was concerned as to how a talking raccoon would fit in the same universe as Tony Stark, but alas, it totally makes sense after everything we've seen in Thor.
What's going to be more interesting in the future is to see where all these Guardians characters fit into the Avengers films, and if there will be any crossover into the other realms. Despite being an epic space-opera, Guardians of the Galaxy presents us with villains and other secondary characters that have appeared (or been hinted at) in films such as the original Avengers and Thor. Thanos and the Infinity Gems (for you comic book fans) are main focuses of the film, and are being set up for much bigger things in the future of the Marvel franchise of films. The ability for the producers to ground all ten (so far) of these films into the same universe, all with crossover timelines, story lines, and characters, and all with a mind on the building of the future films lays down the groundwork to one of the most epic of movie phenomenons in film history. Never in film history has there essentially been this many films of such large, box-office scale, that have connected to each other so closely, all with an eye to the future of adapting some of the most beloved of comic book characters in history and a story that is going to smash the living hell out of our imaginations.
Guardians of the Galaxy, as a stand-alone film, is a highly accessible film even if you don't know who many of the smaller characters are or what the hell an Infinity Gem is. The movie has an 80s feel to it, given that Peter Quill's character was abducted from Earth in 1988 with only his Walkman and a cassette of his "Awesome Mix" of music, with songs that play over the course of the film to remind us of the connection to our world and that the Guardians universe isn't too far away from every other Marvel movie we've seen so far. The visual effects are masterful (a sure shoe-in for an Oscar nomination) as well as action that is geographically easy to interpret and understand, all under the crafty eye of cinematographer Ben Davis. The movie will also win the Oscar for Best Make-Up, being that it was refreshing to see so many characters that were not CGI-infested, motion capture nightmares and instead opted to act underneath layers of prosthetics that are all diverse and creative.
It has been stated that director James Gunn considered this film to be the next generation of the Avengers film, taking over the "cosmic phase" of where the original Iron Man ignited the entire series. Where that film laid the ground work to superheroes existing in our real world, Guardians of the Galaxy takes a character in Chris Pratt's "Star Lord" Peter Quill from Earth and brings him into space. The genius of this is that, from here on out, we are beginning to feel this genuine, organic nature to all the films that, despite where they take place and in what genre they inhabit, we can still place ourselves imaginatively into each one of them. Of all of Marvel's Avengers-universe films, Guardians of the Galaxy is probably the most fulfilling and entertaining of them all.
P.S. Stay for the end credits. I don't know where the hell you've been if you don't know by now that Marvel puts scenes at the end of the credits. I won't ruin the moment, but there's a throwback to the 80s that many of you will enjoy (or possibly groan at once you realize that YES it was a Marvel property).
The movie is rated PG-13 for some typical comic book sci-fi violence that is not dangerous for kids to see. If they've seen The Avengers, they can see this. The movie also has good morals, teaching acceptance and team work, while displaying that creativity and a good-humored and self-sacrificing nature can win against all forms of evil and oppression.