Guardians of the Galaxy ★★★★

A sleek, futuristic spaceship zips towards the surface of a stormy, desolate, abandoned planet, consisting of seemingly nothing but barren rocks and turbulent geysers, and, as the ship lands, a humanoid figure, its face obscured by the ominous red eyes of its metal facemask, departs, and begins trudging through the hellish scene. The figure, with the aid of some nifty space technology, eventually finds its way to what appears to be a massive, ancient alien temple, and as the foreboding strings swell on the film's score, the whole thing is beginning to feel as serious and creepy as something like Alien, until, the figure deactivates his facemask, revealing himself to be an ordinary human man, and reaches down for a pair of... old-school Walkman headphones, playing Redbone's infectious 1974 classic "Come And Get Your Love", as he carelessly, joyously dances his way through the temple, all to the beat of the music.

This is James Gunn's Guardians Of The Galaxy, and this early scene is what sets the tone for the rest of the film, and perfectly captures the unique approach and appeal of it; the contrasting of serious, straight-faced space/Marvel movie cliches with a joyfully irreverant attitude and a sweet 70's soundtrack is what helped set Guardians apart from an ever-growing glut of entries in the "MCU", and made it such an unexpected success upon its release three years ago. And, when considering the impending release of Vol. 2 upon the world, I can't say I'm 100% positive it will live up to the original (I was never one to set myself up for disappointment with upcoming releases by overhyping myself for them), if the sequel manages to recapture just one percent of the original film's spirit, then it will be worth seeing regardless.

Guardians, of course, has a story (of sorts), some generic, MacGuffin-driven nonsense about some humorless fanatic working for Thanos named Ronan who's trying to capture another random Infinity Stone so he can create yet another planet-threatening danger for the big climax and blahblahblabbityblah who cares anymore? Mr. Gunn sure knows we don't, which is why the generic elements of GotG mostly just serve as window dressing in favor of the film's real appeal, which are the Guardians, the central ragtag misifts themselves. Chris Pratt puts in a, er, star-making role as "Star Lord", a lovable, self-promoting goofball who's perfect for mocking the relative seriousness of the superhero genre in general, while Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and a voice-only Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel round out the rest of the Guardians as the deadly alien assassin Gamora, the war-hungry Drax, the cybernetic talking racoon (yes, you read that right) Rocket, and the giant tree monster "Groot", who's entire vocabulary consists solely of "'I' and 'am' and 'Groot', exclusively in that order".

The fractured, uneasy bonds that form between the (literally) colorful cast over the course of the film, and grows into a true, genuine friendship by its end is what gives the film its greatest strength, as we come to care about every character equally, even if two of their actors are buried underneath alien makeup, while another two are entirely computer-generated. The movie pulls off the miraculous trick of being more light-hearted and irreverent than any other MCU film to date, while simultaneously also having more heart and substance at the same time as well, as Gunn genuinely cares about exploring every character's feelings, and doesn't just use them as a clothesline to hang a bunch of CGI action and pop culture references upon; to paraphrase the tagline of the granddaddy of all modern superhero movies, you will believe a man... can care about the fate of a talking tree.

It is this sense of soul that enables Guardians to walk the tightrope between being serious enough to make us care about what's going on in it, while still using its overall light-heartedness to keep it from becoming some generic drag of a Marvel film. The plot and action are almost always moving as fast as the speed of light, and are almost an afterthought next to the strong character dynamics and the film's overall sense of humor and incredible creativity, and, like I said before, if Vol. 2 is just anywhere near as enjoyable as this one was, then at least one branch of the ever-expanding Marvel Universe has a very, VERY bright future ahead of it.

Andrew liked this review