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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy Review: Misses Marvel's Bigger Picture

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy takes too many liberties and makes too much fun to be truly great.

Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead

Walk up to anyone on the street and ask them if they're planning to see Guardians of the Galaxy, and you'll get the litany of responses. In fact, it's one of those films that either brings joy to one's face or crinkles of concern as to its premise. Who could blame the naysayers: the idea of a talking raccoon and a giant tree as major characters is bold to be sure Perhaps the riskiest movie from Marvel Studios to date - and one of the riskiest of the year - Guardians is a hefty helping of explosions, cheap one-liners, and pretty moments. And while many of those moments are pretty and pretty funny, it misses a great chance to properly introduce a universe teaming with heroes (and villains) far stronger than The Avengers.

Terran Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a roguish sort who's been snatched from Earth and has lived most of his life amongst the stars, foraging with the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker). But when a seemingly simple smash-and-grab operation turns the adventurer into a wanted fugitive, he learns that the orb he has found is wanted by powerful forces, including the deadly Kree Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and none other than Thanos (Josh Brolin). Starlord is forced into an uneasy alliance with a team of misfits including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and duo Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the talking tree Groot (voiced by Vin Deisel). Together, these Guardians of the Galaxy must travel to the far reaches of the universe to stop Ronan's plans to destroy The Nova Corps and their planet Xandar, while also keeping Thanos and his robotic daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan) from seizing control of the orb's contents.

Let's assume that we put aside the comic history of Guardians, Thanos, Ronan, and the rest of the MCosmicU and focus on the details of the story. Doing that leaves us with a fun, wiz-bang movie with lots of new characters and places. Ideas of friendship, loss, and irreconcilable rage are explored throughout, leaving us no choice but to fall in love with The Guardians. Rocket is a sympathetically angry alien, tired of being shunned by people who would rather fear than know or appreciate him. Groot's deep eyes and generous nature tell of a life that only future movies can explore, and Drax's inability to deal with Starlord's obscure references is genuinely hilarious. The CGI is outstanding and perhaps the best since Iron Man, although only add IMAX to your shortlist of premium experiences. These Guardians go to a lot of places, and luckily many of them feel fairly complete, from the well-worn Knowhere and Kyln to the immaculate Xandar.

But that is where any love for Gunn's script ends - the rest is as empty as the space between galaxies. Thanos is reduced to an angry villain without a plan to deal with Ronan, and whose desires to secure the orb and the Infinity Stone inside it is never fully explained in the first place . Again, remember we are stripping the comic history away to analyze the film. The Accuser - a powerful being who's been known to dabble on both sides of a conflict - is painted in such broad strokes that any real reasons for his hatred of Xandar are entirely missing. Such a piercing performance leads to a comeuppance that isn't very satisfying. The Collector (Benicio del Toro) - who also wants the orb, again for unknown reasons - is also misused, relegated to two scenes of which one is exposition to explain the origin of The Infinity Stones. His early exit - and the lack of a meaningful end credits scene - makes him look like a sadistic dealer of universal trash than an Elder of the Universe. Others - like Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, and Djimon Hounsou - are lightly sketched and feel unnecessary to the story.

With so many introductions to make, I worried that a 121-minute runtime wouldn't be nearly enough to do this justice, and for the most part I was sadly correct. Sure, the script is filled with plenty of cultural references and lots of good times, as well as songs we grew up with but haven't heard in awhile. But that sort of goodwill sometimes gets in the way of the telling the story, which reminds me of Thor: The Dark World. Guy steals weapon, Person must stop guy before guy destroys everyone, People are engaged in moments of levity throughout, leading to hilarity and a neatly wrapped-up ending. Perform some character replacement and you have Guardians. Imagine a Thanos who could have played both sides of the middle to secure the Stone (which we're not even told which one this is), then disappears in an effort to secure more for diabolical reasons. That sort of deepness is totally lacking here, with good and evil being drawn with very thick lines.

When one places the comic filter back on, the issues become even greater. But that's a rant for another time. Guardians of the Galaxy represents a new and exciting chapter to expand the Marvel property, setting up a perfect Guardians/Earth team-up for Avengers 3. However, the thin baddies represent a ton of missed opportunities to start this adventure on solid ground, making it feel more like a reused adventure than a part of the MCosmicU. For now, such issues won't phase moviegoers and early euphoria should translate into box office gold, as such chances to expand on this interesting universe is a critical play for Marvel Studios going forward. I just hope that Gunn will have enough to produce a sequel - one's already been announced - once the hype and novelty over these characters has ebbed.

Guardians of the Galaxy is Rated PG-13 and has a runtime of 121 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.


Anonymous July 31, 2014 at 5:12 PM  

Really? Come on man

Matt Cummings August 2, 2014 at 8:02 PM  

Yup, I'm mean like that...

Andres Micheal March 1, 2016 at 2:19 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.

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