In what could be the biggest review series in the history of Obsessive Viewer, I’m committing myself to reviewing all the movies and shows in Marvel Studios’ Cinematic Universe. You can find an index of my MCU reviews here and check out The Obsessive Viewer Podcast here. Now, here’s my review of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
On paper, Guardians of the Galaxy looked to be a case of Marvel Studios getting really cocky. They were following up a movie that drastically changed the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a movie that stepped away from S.H.I.E.L.D. and introduced audiences to a whole new cast of characters, planets, and intergalactic politics. Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t a popular or widely read comic book franchise and it featured a talking Raccoon and a walking tree that could only say three words. In addition to that, they hired James Gunn, who made a name for himself making Troma films and some low budget cerebral movies, to direct and cast Chris Pratt, who was most notable as goofball Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation as the star.
The odds were stacked against Marvel but Guardians of the Galaxy ended up being one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s most enjoyable entries yet and the most fun blockbuster to come out of the 2014 summer movie season.
The guardians are “Star-Lord” Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). After stealing a mysterious orb, Quill becomes the subject of a manhunt. The movie brings this unlikely group of misfits together in a plot that threatens to destroy the galaxy. Threatening the galaxy is Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) a Kree who is upset about a peace treaty between his people at the people of Xandar.
However, that’s not all there is to Ronan’s plot. He’s actually Guardians‘ version of Loki. Thanos employs him to retrieve the orb for him. So, once again, we have a Marvel Studios movie where the villain is a placeholder for Thanos’ eventual villainy. In the shared universe’s eleventh movie Marvel Studios has finally given us a glimpse at Thanos (Josh Brolin, uncredited) and it doesn’t really do anything for me.
Marvel has done a very good job of making comic book lore accessible to mass audiences who aren’t familiar with their canon. However when it comes to Thanos, it’s grating that Marvel isn’t making any effort to establish just how dangerous he is. He has popped up in the MCU a couple of times but it’s 100% comic fan service. They’re treating him to cameos that play more like Easter eggs when they should be establishing that he is the MCU’s “big bad” and will be a massive threat in Avengers: Infinity War. We haven’t seen any of that yet and it’s bothersome.
Aside from a weak villain, however, Guardians is a blast. The team building that occurs throughout the movie leads to a very satisfying climax playing up the strengths of each individual character to present a united front. Each Guardian also gets their spotlight and their moment. Rocket is tormented by the genetic testing that created him. Gamora is the scorned adopted daughter of Thanos out to betray him. Drax is on a mission to avenge his family. Groot is…a tree.
Most notably is the story of Star-Lord. Peter Quill is the likeable outlaw, Han Solo type of the cast. Chris Pratt embodies the role perfectly. Quill, a misfit from Earth, clings to a mix tape his mother gave him before she died. Throughout the movie there’s a subtle tinge of Peter ostensibly being afraid of growing up and taking responsibility. The emotional arc is a little overshadowed by a script that dilutes it with an onslaught of quips and exposition. But it’s there and gives Peter more depth.
The dialogue is a riot as well. Pratt is no stranger to comedy, so his timing and body language is on point throughout the movie. What is most satisfying about the comic relief in Guardians, however, is that none and all of the characters are the “funny” one. They each bring a unique personality to the table. It’s those personalities that make Guardians’ big “team-up” moments such a joy to watch. The chemistry amongst the group is remarkable.
Although the plot feels a lot like “Space Avengers” (credit to Honest Trailers for that sadly apt description), Guardians of the Galaxy is built on the emotional arcs and chemistry of its titular group of outlaws and misfits. It also opens up the MCU to a wealth of new and interesting story paths by introducing Marvel audiences to this cosmic universe. Guardians is a flashy, silly, and surprisingly heartfelt team-up movie that borrows from what’s worked for Marvel but, comes away with its own unique voice and identity.
Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel Studios’ “Star Wars“, and it’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark“. It’s a breath of fresh amidst the S.H.I.E.L.D. and Asgard focused MCU entries preceding it. And it’s just so much damn fun.
Buy it Full Price – Worthy of purchase regardless of price. But you’ll want to see it first, just to make sure you want it in your collection.