Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Review #1,065

Director:  James Gunn
Cast:  Chris PrattVin DieselBradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, John C. Reilly 
Plot:  In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.

Genre:  Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Comedy
Awards:  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup & Hairstyling
Runtime:  121min
Rating:  PG13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

“Why would you want to save the galaxy?”
“Because I'm one of the idiots who live there!”

Wacky, zany and fun, the critics have been saying.  And yes, it is true.  Guardians of the Galaxy is this summer’s finest blockbuster and a fantastic Marvel movie.  At the moment, I personally think this is Marvel’s greatest triumph, but of course they are welcome to push the boundaries of their collective creative and technical talents even further.  As they say, the sky is the limit, but for Marvel, it is the galaxy.  So let us rejoice and behold this wonderful effort. 

I’m sure many like myself have not heard of Guardians until the studio decided to bankroll it and make it a tentpole release.  It is at a risky project, ambitious in launching a new franchise alongside The Avengers (2012).  Few are acquainted with the characters – Star-Lord, Rocket, Gamora, Drax and Groot, and the universe in which these characters operate have to be clearly and interestingly communicated to the casual moviegoer.

Marvel succeeds beyond expectations, from storytelling to characterizations to the handling of tone, Guardians sees the studio having fun with themselves and with their fans.  This is not an exaggeration, but I think a few years down the road, many will point to Guardians as a watershed moment for Marvel.  At the peak of their powers, they have decided to do something else, while retaining their sense of credibility and clout.  Now they have put another egg in another basket. 

Directed and co-written by James Gunn, who made Slither (2006) and Super (2010), films that I guess not many know about, Guardians surprises us with his wit and vision.  The ensemble cast of acting and voice talents also combine to superb effect, particularly their comic timing.  They keep a straight face throughout, while we laugh at the seeming absurdity of it all.  Accompanied by a generous dose of 1970s songs that adds a gleeful layer of retro-charm, Guardians is probably something Tarantino would have made if he delivered a PG13 superhero movie.

When I left the theater, I overheard someone saying that Guardians is the ‘Star Wars’ of the 21st century.  That is an astute observation, which also means J.J. Abrams has his work cut out for Episode VII (2015).  Gunn’s film is full of homage, a postmodern and thoughtful re-imagination of what we have come to accept as the Hollywood blockbuster. 

There’s a meta-filmic quality that subtly prods you.  In the opening sequence after the prologue, we see Star-Lord stealing an orb, an object that starts the movie running in high but economical gear, reminding us of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).  And for much of Guardians, it feels like that kind of movie.  Star-Lord is Indiana Jones and Han Solo, Groot is Chewbacca, Rocket is an Ewok.  And when you add Kevin Bacon in the mix, it is a brilliant concoction of style, substance, reference, reverence and collage.

Verdict:  This summer’s finest blockbuster that succeeds in every way from storytelling, characterizations and handling of tone, and just maybe something Tarantino would have made if he delivered a PG13 superhero movie.


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