There’s no doubt that Marvel Studios has another great franchise on their hands with Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians themselves are extremely likable and the film is tons of fun. However, some of the elements around them keep the film from being king of the Marvel hill.
Most moviegoers are unfamiliar with the members of the Guardians—as are many comic book readers. The team is led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), or Star Lord, as he likes to be known as. Quill was kidnapped from Earth 26 years ago and is now an intergalactic thief and lothario. When he’s not entertaining the color spectrum of space ladies, he’s ducking the man who abducted and raised him, Yondu (Michael Rooker). Both are after a mysterious orb, as is the big bad, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a religious zealot who’s out for revenge. Quill also runs afoul of a trio of aliens: the beautiful assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and a team of bounty hunters, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), who also happen to be a talking raccoon and a living tree, respectively. All three, along with Quill, end up in the Kyln, a high-security prison out in space. There they meet Drax (Dave Bautista), a powerhouse with a mad-on for Ronan. The five decide to work together to stop Ronan and in the process, may find what each of them is missing in their lives.
If that sounds like a jumbled mess, it is—at least at the start. Everything in the first 20 minutes or so feels very compressed and a lot is thrown at the audience all at once. I’m a regular fan of sci-fi and comic book films and even I was a little loopy after the start of this one. I was happy to learn in an interview with Co-Writer/Director James Gunn, that there will be about 10-15 minutes of deleted scenes on the home release that will hopefully allow the characters to breathe a bit more and build up the plot instead of just launching it right into the audience’s faces. However, the flipside of this is that audiences get a very detailed and well-thought-out world. It just would have been nice to ease into it a little bit more. One thing I didn’t understand about the world, though, was the prevalence of Earth lingo amongst all the aliens. It’s not a major issue, but it took me out of the film at times.
Another issue for me, as has been the case with quite a few Marvel films, is the lack of strong villains. Ronan could have used a little more shading to develop his end of things. He says that his father, and his father before him were killed in the warring between the Kree and the people of Xandar, home of the Nova Corps, but I would have liked a little more detail to make him more compelling. He just comes across as one note here. The biggest problem that Marvel has as a studio, is that their two best villains—Magneto and Dr. Doom—are stuck over at Fox, so quite a few of them have come across as flat. I’m expecting big things from Ultron in Avengers 2, though. For me, the most compelling villain was Ronan’s subordinate, Korath (Djimon Hounsou), simply because he has a history with Quill that the audience actually gets to witness. It makes their meeting later in the film all the more fun. Nebula (Karen Gillan), while cool from a sci-fi point of view, is played way too hammy and over the top. Gillan basically resorts to just screaming at people. Rooker is good as Yondu, but he’s more of a thorn in Quill’s side as opposed to an actual villain. There is another villain who will be a problem for the Guardians down the road, but he only puts in a cameo—those who have been following the film online know to whom I am referring.
All of this is made up for by the Guardians themselves. The team is a lot of fun, in keeping with the light tone of the film. Quill likes to joke around and is a generally goofy guy. This does lead to some clashing of tones when the film actually has to get serious and I felt the comedy worked better in some parts than in others, but overall it’s a success. Like in Avengers, it’s great to see these individuals jell as a team, but unlike the Avengers, it’s better to see them all become friends. Rocket and Groot easily steal the show, but arguments could also be made for Drax and Quill. Gamora was the one Guardian who didn’t completely work for me. I don’t want to spoil much of anything, but I will say that her motivations could have been teased out a little more to make her more interesting. Also, some of Saldana’s line deliveries felt really off to me. Bautista as Drax was clearly hired more for his physique than his acting chops, but I loved the earnestness he brought to the role. Pratt is really likable as Quill and it was great to see him finally step into a leading man part after playing support roles for so long. Rocket and Groot are clearly the main attractions here, though, and with them, Gunn hits a homerun with the two riskiest characters in the film. Most will point to Rocket as the breakout star, and he is certainly fantastic, but I was really drawn to Groot. I like characters with gentle souls and Groot is that, one hundred percent. He can definitely throw down in a fight, but there is a childlike curiosity to him that I absolutely loved. Major kudos to both Cooper and Diesel for their voice work. Cooper perfectly captured Rocket’s brash nature, while Diesel made a compelling character out of a tree who can only say three words.
The rest of the cast is very good, for the most part. I liked Pace as Ronan, but like Gillan, he had some really over the top and hammy moments. John C. Reilly puts in a nice cameo as Nova Corps member Dey as does Glenn Close as Nova Prime. I liked Benicio Del Toro as The Collector, but was really disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of him. Since he was in the stinger at the end of Thor 2, I was expecting a much larger role for him in this film than he got.
Overall, while it is on a much grander scale than any of the others, Guardians of the Galaxy basically boils down to a standard Marvel franchise launcher. There is heavy development of the heroes with a plot and villains that could have been a bit more compelling. However, it also leaves you wanting a sequel right now. This is a great collection of characters that I’m really looking forward to seeing again soon. It’s probably the most fun you’ll have at the theater this summer, so go see it now.