I just want to take a moment to offer up a small utterance of thanks to James Gunn and Vin Diesel along the visual effects team of Guardians. I've never been so captivated by a walking tree that could only utter "I am Groot!" in my life. Diesel, a rather stout oak of a man himself, delivers those lines in various intonations with a silky dulcet that imbues the completely digital creation with a life rarely seen outside of the mastery of Andy Serkis. These and other such surprising things await us in Marvel's latest effort, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Summer tentpole releases to advance the MCU forward are now an institution of movie-going and Marvel Studios has a formula so damned effective that even the most uneven of efforts can usually turn a hefty profit. The machine keeps whirring and audiences are left salivating for the next big step towards the master plan. Thanos, so it seems, is at the end of this cosmic bridge to corporate/cinematic synergy though we don't get much of him here. More of a tease really. The film is, instead, anchored by a motley crew of adventurers that embark on a journey of epic proportions.
James Gunn crafted a film that not only stands apart from the already crowded field of good to great Marvel flicks but can count itself among even greater company like films such as Ghostbusters or Back to the Future. High praise I know but, frankly, Gunn's balancing act of pulling off crude yet smart comedy that just works along with gut-wrenching moments of emotion peppered into superlative action sequences is a sight to behold. Blockbusters of this caliber are a rare things these days and I found myself wanting to hop back into line again to re-watch it immediately after. That feeling hasn't gone away in the subsequent days since and, in fact, has only grown stronger.
Chris Pratt was not only a wise choice but, really, the best choice for Peter Quill/Star-Lord. His initial claim to fame was his stint on Parks & Rec as Andy or maybe even as Emmett in the astounding LEGO movie. Now he can add action hero to the list. He is every bit of Han Solo in the MCU as we're going to get and that is what a rollicking space-opera needs. Things just aren't as fun in outer space without someone who wants to shakedown powerful people, make some money and possibly steal all the ladies. Star-Lord is that and then some with a heavy dose of goofiness that is Pratt's signature. His self-assured demeanor and swagger manages to get him through a whole hell of a lot. He is not without his darker edges, though, and a man who (as the only actual human in the movie -- story-wise)) is far more than just bravado.
Zoe Saldana brings an edge to her role as Gamora that is necessary for a character that has known only death and destruction. She, along the way, begins to explore the idea that maybe life without constant murder and awful things isn't a far-fetched thing but there's work to be done. Saldana, sporting green skin here instead of the blues of Cameron's Avatar is gorgeous, deadly and a worthy addition to the team.
Drax the Destroyer is the sort that speaks in Shakespearian flourishes while never grasping a single bit of the metaphor that the rest of the cast tosses his way. He is, without a doubt, the least experienced actor of the bunch but that actually works to his advantage as the humorless brute ends up becoming rather funny in his own right. Less is more I suppose. Bautista did a great job of holding his own in this ensemble cast and, frankly, felt more natural than I could have ever expected for the role.
The dynamic duo of Rocket and Groot aren't just marvelous to look at -- the CGI is top-notch along with the mo-cap work -- but Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel absolutely breathe life into what could have been just cute sidekicks. Vin Diesel, as mentioned prior, accomplishes so much with only the use of three words throughout . Cooper gives one heck of a performance as Rocket and what was, initially, a character I could have cared less about wound up nearly stealing the show for me. Small touches throughout by the visual FX team made it all the better. Rocket waking up in the prison scene with bed fur or Groot gasping in shock and covering his mouth were such human moments given to such artificial creations. The trickery at play worked like a charm and I never found myself thinking, "That's just a CGI raccoon with a gun." I was on board from moment one.
Oh Lee Pace. You tried so hard to give us a villain worthy of our affections. This is where the script stumbled a bit. The machinations of Ronan, the Kree dictator bent on making the opposing Xandar empire pay for their "crimes", are well enunciated and pushed forth with such strength that one might think he were trying to murder puppies. He suffers, however, from the same fate as so many other villains in the other studio joints. If it isn't Loki it just doesn't seem to work as well. Hopefully Thanos doesn't disappoint us in the end.
The rest of the cast, featuring big names such as Benicio del Toro as the Collector, Glenn Close as Nova Prime and even Karen Gillan as Nebula don't really get to shine as much as they probably could. It isn't a bother though as, thankfully, the misfit heroes safeguarding the galaxy are so well worth the price of admission that you're willing to overlook a few misused characters here and there. The best of all is, without a doubt, Michael Rooker as Yondou. The blue-skinned mercenary chewed every bit of scenery he could and we're ever so grateful for it. Even the notorious Marvel movie villain problem isn't so big of one considering just how well Gunn pulled off the whole space-opera bit so well.
This is a movie that features vistas looking as though they were ripped right out of a Moebius wet dream. There is a bit of a painted concept art feel to the deeper portions of space while the more immediate foreground shots are lovingly realized and, actually, despite it being done post-production the 3D was actually a good addition. The spacecraft, densely populated cities and people all have a sense of presence to them that often most movies gloss over. These locations felt lived in and legitimate and, though I could have used maybe more universe-building I found the first step into the wider Marvel universe to be a damn good one.
The soundtrack of 70's pop and rock anthems going into the early 80's was sufficiently catchy and even cheesy at times. That cheese, in a lesser film, could have seriously dampened the entire project whereas, much like Tarantino expertly selecting tracks to meld with his framed scenes, here it works so damned well. These are all songs we know and --maybe don't admit to it-- love. Gunn's particular usage of "Hooked on a Feeling" during an unexpected part of the early going works so well that it actually surprised me. The music is actually crucial to the story as well as it gives us, despite all the crazy cosmic shenanigans, a link back to Earth. That's the only bit of "grounding" the film employees or needs for that matter.
Gunn deserves a lot of praise for making an adventure movie that stands out from the rest of the summer blockbusters as one that lives up to the promises given to us. The hype did not overstate it as this flick is worth seeing again and again.
FINAL WORD: Guardians of the Galaxy is a space-opera adventure that fires on all cylinders. Pratt is a perfect Star-Lord, Saldana and Bautista deliver as Gamora and Drax and the stole is nearly stolen over and over again by Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper). Gunn's indie comedic sensibilities mesh so well with the big bombast of Marvel-style filmmaking that I was blown away with just how much fun I had. It is gorgeous, deftly directed, hilarious and wrenching at times and, even better, a damn fun flick. Hands down one of the best to come out of the Marvel pipeline and a summer blockbuster that delivers fully on its potential. GO SEE THIS THEN GO SEE IT AGAIN. You will want to. I guarantee it.
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