Infinite thanks to whoever realized James Gunn was one of the only filmmakers certifiably insane enough to make Guardians Of The Galaxy work – and I mean that as the highest compliment. Gunn was raised learning the art of schlock from Troma’s elite, taking those teachings to the next level on his cult classic creature feature Slither, which then lead to Gunn creating one of the most underrated “superhero” movies of the decade in Super. With every film you could tell Gunn’s confidence was snowballing, along with a brazenly psychotic voice blending über-violence with surprisingly dignified storytelling, yet some nonbelievers scoffed at the B-Movie veteran’s overseeing of Marvel’s most zany assembling of heroes. Me? Oh, I rejoiced for days, knowing Marvel picked the perfect creative mind to bring a talking raccoon and lumbering plant creature to life – and Gunn delivered even beyond MY wildest dreams.
Let me first get all my critical gushing out of the way so I can truly analyze Guardians Of The Galaxy without sounding like a nerdy Gunn fanboy, as this rouge band of misfit saviors did the unthinkable by cutting down Captain America’s reign of Marvel movie supremacy after only a few short months. It’s warranted too, because Gunn outdoes the Russo brothers every step of the way. I totally dig the grand spectacle that is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but Guardians Of The Galaxy ups the ante with universally epic set pieces, an even grander celestial scale, a sweetly inviting sense of heart, and explosive comic book action around every corner.
Instead of adapting source comics with a more grounded, “realistic” feel, Gunn does the impossible by actually recreating a comic book on screen, mirroring the pitch-perfect humor and creative freedoms of a colorful medium so full of life, adventure, and suspended realism. Guardians Of The Galaxy is the funky, fun-loving birth-child of Heavy Metal and Star Wars, sporting the swagger of a musical space opera mixed with one of the grandest sci-fi spectacles of all time. It’s been said already, but Gunn has created the best Marvel movie to date, almost certainly the greatest summer blockbuster of the year, and there’s no doubt Guardians Of The Galaxy will go down as 2014’s wildest cinematic ride – and most memorable.
The Guardians themselves are a bit of a ragtag compilation of actors, as (arguably) the two most notable names are only present as voices – Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel – Zoe Saldana finds herself completely transformed, Chris Pratt tries his hand at being a true leading man, and they’re all rounded out by a WWE superstar in Dave Bautista. Of course, in true Gunn fashion, each member is cleverly assembled with specific intentions in mind, and the smattering of talents ends up forming a cohesive unit bubbling over with contrasting chemistry, making for quite possibly the most interesting gathering of superheros yet. Keep your Norse God and US Propaganda – I’ll take a gun-obsessed raccoon and his Ent chum any day.
Pratt shines as Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, shedding his goofy sidekick stereotype as a muscle-bound hero with a mischievous skip in his step. As the film opens and we struggle to figure out Gunn’s overall tone, a brilliantly comedic title credits sequence kicks in that shows Quill dancing about and kicking aggressive little aliens while in route to whatever treasure he’s looking to loot. Star-Lord is a bit like a woman-chasing college kid, powered by brazen confidence while simply not caring about anything, but this is where Pratt’s charms flourish. Gradually evolving as the Guardians find their groove, Star-Lord is the linchpin keeping everyone from flying in different directions, and it’s an uproarious role that defines Pratt’s status as the new “It” man in Hollywood.
Saldana and Bautista play the most grounded roles throughout the film, despite being oddly colored aliens, as Saldana’s turn as Gamora makes deft use of action skills she acquired over time in movies like The Losers and Columbiana. Swift and deadly, Saldana disappears under the layers of lizard-green skin, yet it’s never been so easy to be smitten by an extraterrestrial. Bautista, on the other hand, walked on set with an established set of wresting moves, and his Hulk-like nature screams Drax the Destroyer. Honestly, I thought his character would be the weakest role, but armed with a ridiculously lovable misunderstanding of metaphors (“Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are unmatched…”), Drax remains the brutishly powerful warrior he’s meant to be.
Then there’s Groot (Diesel) and Rocket (Cooper), my favorite buddy comedy duo of the year. You can have your Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum bromance, because the genuine love struck between a CGI raccoon wearing a space suit and a meandering collection of roots is a bit of unmatched cinematic magic. The unlikeliest of friends, Rocket and Groot depend on each other, both being obvious outcasts. Cooper and Diesel bring life to their characters instead of simply lending their voices, as Cooper understands the mindset of his science experiment form while Diesel explores every possibly way of saying the words “I am Groot” in different tones, speeds, and emotions. Again, there’s an obvious silliness to both characters, but Gunn’s reckless abandon embraces the outcasts, oddlings, and absurd – propelling Rocket and Groot into Marvel infamy. Plus, Goot’s ending scene could be the most gif-able moment of 2014, a crowning achievement in today’s cat meme obsessed world.
Guardians Of The Galaxy is everything we go to the movies for, as Gunn is able to build an intricate intergalactic world full of multiple races, lush scenery, and maximum escapism through action, romance, comedy, and interstellar drama. All our emotions come into play as Ronan (Lee Pace) attempts to eviscerate entire populations, Yondu (Michael Rooker) hunts the boy he “saved” in Star-Lord, and Nebula (Karen Gillan) battles against her sister Gamora while planets hang in the balance, which are all valued side plots of the Guardian’s ongoing underdog story.
Gunn’s imagination has grown into a pulsating being in itself, creating worlds and technology only found in the hardest, most advanced sci-fi material – balanced with an almost frathouse mentality. References to classic movies like The Maltese Falcon, cameos by legends like Lloyd Kaufman, immature jokes about blacklights – Guardians Of The Galaxy has an appreciated geeky cheekiness that keeps savvy watchers constantly engaged and entertained by even the subtlest line of dialogue or flash of a crowd. Gunn refuses to waste a single moment, whether it be one of Quill’s lusty one-night-stands he’d forgotten about or a perfectly placed classic rock tune (you could write an essay based on the exquisite song selection alone), there’s so much more liveliness compared to what’s becoming a typical Marvel movie blueprint.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier provides comic fans with some of the most gratuitously enjoyable Marvel action to date, especially Cap’s high-flying climax aboard hovering aircraft carriers, but Gunn’s action elements are far superior – including an even LARGER superhero throwdown come the Guardian’s climax. A monstrous space station and interlocking vessels tussle in mid-air while fighter crafts race about engaging in speedy dogfights, all while Quill and his team dispatch of Ronan’s henchman. Rocket brandishes modified weaponry, Drax smashes, Peter blasts, Gamora slices, and Groot uses his extendable limbs to challenge Hulk’s rag-doll treatment of Loki in an equally hilarious and violent display of strength – all with a smile.
Gunn puts EVERYTHING he’s got into Guardians Of The Galaxy, giving these unsung heroes the epic adventure they so deserve. I have to commend Marvel a bit for letting him get away with his constantly gaggy nature, but once Gunn hits you with all the feels as well, you realize how unimaginably balanced of a story he and Nicole Perlman achieve. I don’t say this very often, but there’s absolutely nothing else I could possibly want from my favorite superhero movie of all time. Guardians Of The Galaxy redefines comic movie logic by embracing every weird illustrated quirk, opting for craziness over Earthly appearances, as only Gunn could make me so emotionally invested in a talking tree whose dialogue is restricted to three measly words. That cheerful smile, his pet-like mentality, those random protective outbursts? If not for Rocket Raccoon, Groot would easily be my favorite Marvel universe character – but there’s just something about Cooper’s animal maniac that’s too unexpectedly human not to love.
Sorry, I’m rambling uncontrollably right now. Guardians Of The Galaxy is the MUST SEE movie event of the summer. Sit down, strap in, and soak up every glorious minute as James Gunn kicks out the comic-book-inspired jams. What can I say, I’m hooked on a feeling…
Iron What? Captain Who? The Guardians of the Galaxy are here to stay thanks to a Troma-bred filmmaker crazy enough to make the movie that such a fantastical comic deserves.