I don’t know about you, but I’ve been on the Universal Studios Hollywood tram tour enough times to almost recite the tour script verbatim. If you know me, this is not a surprise. One of the first things you learn is that Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle wanted all his movies to have the ability to make people laugh, cry, and sit on the edge of their seat. In short – to pull you into the story, and to give you one of those emotional roller-coaster deals. To be honest, not many movies can pull that off. I will tell you that Guardians of the Galaxy absolutely does.
The original team of Guardians of the Galaxy were first published in 1969 by Marvel comics. They buzzed around the 31st century, saving all different aspects of the galaxy. The original team members were Martinex T’Naga, a crystalline being from Pluto, Captain Charlie-27, a soldier from Jupiter, Yondu Udonta, a blue-skinned warrior from Centauri-IV, and Major Vance Astro – a human astronaut from the 20th century who spends a thousand years in cryo-sleep to travel to Alpha Centauri.
The publication bounced around a bit, but was reimagined and re-launched in 2008. This time the team included Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Quasar, Adam Warlock, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, and Groot. Captain Marvel, Moondragon, Adam Warlock, and Iron Man have also been members.
The Guardians have made brief appearances in the recent animated Marvel shows as they are ready made for cartoon action. Here they are in the brilliant Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes series (this is streaming on Netflix - watch both seasons now).
Since the Marvel Phase 1 movies were so successful, and the conclusion of Phase 1 – The Avengers – saw the heroes teaming up to deal with an extraterrestrial threat, it made sense to start looking to some of Marvel’s more cosmic titles for one of the Phase 2 hits. Guardians of the Galaxy was relatively unknown, and the Marvel Cinematic heads knew they could turn it into something rare and special if they assembled (pun intended) the right group of actors and crew. Director Peter Gunn had previously done the terribly entertaining Slither, and the sort-of superhero movie Super. He was well-known for having a quirky sense of humor, and entertaining personality. He was the perfect person to put together the Guardians.
The story begins as a young Peter Quill is an 8 year old on earth in 1988. He is listening to his beloved Sony Walkman and the cassette tape “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” that his mother made for him so that he has an appreciation of some of the music she loved. His mother is dying of cancer (let’s assume cancer, but we’re never really told). She gives Peter a gift, tells him he is just like his father, who was “pure light”, and then passes away with her family surrounding her hospital bed (bring tissues, this scene really brought me to tears because it is so well done). Peter, overwhelmed with grief, runs out of the hospital and collapses in the grass, where he is promptly abducted by aliens.
Fast forward 26 years later, and we encounter a fully grown Peter Quill who has established himself as “Star-Lord”, and is cruising around the galaxy as a ‘ravager’ (or thief). He still has his Walkman, and many of the gadgets on board his space ship (named the Milano for his childhood crush – Alyssa) are from the 80s. Incidentally – the opening credits roll as he dances through an alien planet landscape – brilliant and hilarious. The tone is set right there. He steals an orb, with the intention of collecting the bounty before his ravager mentor Yondu can do it, but almost gets captured by Korath – who mentions that Ronan wants it.
We get an introduction to Ronan, who states that he is a Kree fanatic, and is out to eliminate the Xandar empire, for some ancient slights. The Kree empire has signed a peace treaty, but will not help the Xandarians and the Nova Corps stop Ronan. We learn that Ronan is trying to get the orb to give to Thanos (that dude at the end of the Avengers – who ‘courts death’) in exchange for Thanos destroying Xandar. One of Thanos’s two ‘daughters’ who is currently on work-loan to Ronan, Gamora, agrees to track down the orb. Meanwhile, Quill tries to sell it, but is denied once the buyer learns Ronan is after it. Gamora is there as Quill gets booted from the buyer’s office, steals the orb and fights off Peter. Rocket and Groot, two bounty hunters are also there attempting to capture and cash in on the reward posted by Yondu for Peter. After a lengthy but awesome brawl in downtown Nova, All four are captured by the Nova Corps and dumped in the Kiln.
There, 75 % of the inmates want to kill Gamora for her association with Ronan, even though she is trying to betray him and get away from him. They meet Drax, who is on a revenge quest since Ronan killed his wife and daughter. To break out of prison, and sell the orb, and defeat Ronan, and save the Xandarian empire, these five random lunatics have to work together. Hijinks ensue – but some of the best crafted and entertaining hijinks I have seen in a long time.
A comic-book movie will be a big draw if people are familiar with the characters – especially a Marvel movie. But the Marvel cinematic universe has also taken the steps of casting really great actors and finding really great directors. This franchise has unfamiliar characters – so how to you pull in the audience? With an amazing director, a phenomenal cast, and superb humor and storytelling.
- Chris Pratt has been stealing every episode of Parks and Rec he has been in since it first began airing. It has been my favorite comedy on TV for the last couple of years, and if you haven’t seen it – rent it now. He’s exception on that show as the sidekick, but who knew he could pull of leading man? He is fantastic as Star-Lord, and excels in this movie. He has just the right blend of relatable every-day guy-ness, but still has the action ability to buy him as a superhero – or, maybe just hero. He is hilarious when he needs to be, but also genuinely touching when it’s called for as well. And yes, the abs…
- Zoe Saldana has played her fair share of aliens at this point, and between this, Avatar, and Star Trek, she currently owns space. Gamora is what she has been made to be, and that is a ruthless assassin. She varies from Saldana’s other space-chicks in that she is a little less sure of herself, and a little more reckless. She’s closest to the character from Columbiana – you should rent that if you haven’t seen it.
- For me, the best of the live action starts was Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. This is easily a character that could have been written off as the ‘big, dumb guy’, but Dave gives him a lovable soul, and a real personality. If you only know Dave from the WWE, bear in mind, this is a man who auditioned over and over for this role and broke down and cried when he finally got it. He worked really hard, and it pays off, because Drax is something really special. I especially love that he takes everything literally. That really plays into the humor. He could certainly become a genuine action star, those muscles are no lie, and the fights he gets are great. He was wonderful in the small scenes he got in Riddick and Man With The Iron Fists (rent that if you haven’t seen it). My favorite scenes are the scenes where Drax gets to talk to the others – and mention that metaphors will not go over his head, because his reflexes are too fast so he would catch them. Also – the moment between he and Rocket just after the final battle sequence made me tear up.
- For the two team members that are CGI, this is the first movie (and bear in mind, I haven’t seen either of the two newer Planet of the Apes movies – I think Serkis is a genius, but I have this fear of chimpanzees…) where I truly did not notice the CGI, and the characters were truly just characters.
- Rocket is voiced by Bradley Cooper, doing a bit of a Goodfellas Joe Pesci-type vibe. He’s loud, he’s arrogant, he’s angry, and when he’s drunk – he’s sad and lonely, and that also made me tear up. He’s beautifully acted, and beautifully rendered – and you will understand why James Gunn feels that Rocket is the heart of the team.
- My absolute favorite team member is Groot. Yes, he’s an 8 foot tree voiced by Vin Diesel who only says “I am Groot” in various ways as his communication method, but he’s stunning and fun and when he lets loose in the fight sequence, amazing. Because he can only repeat the three words over and over again, a lot of his personality is shown through his facial expressions and Vin Diesel’s varying emphasizes on the phrase. He does occasionally growl and whimper, which also help to get his point across. Yes, you’ve seen the bit in the trailer where he lights up a dark hallway by releasing little light particles, but it’s so beautiful when you see it in the movie there are almost no words for it. He is just stunning the entire way through.
- Of course, no great superhero movie would be nearly as good as it is without an amazing villain, and in this case, it’s Lee Pace as Ronan. Ronan is a fanatic to start with, but as he gets more powerful and more out of control as the story continues, he just becomes more and more fascinating.
- Michael Rooker plays Michael Rooker painted blue as Yondu Udonta. He is the ravager who abducted Quill when he was a boy – and pay attention, you do learn why at the end (that dude standing next to Yondu at that point is played by Sean Gunn, the director’s brother, who also did the mo-cap for Rocket). Rooker is the same as you’ve seen him be lately (blue Merle?), but honestly, that works pretty well in this movie. He’s got a pretty awesome arrow weapon (as a nod to the original comic 1969 Yondu, who was an archer) and the payoff with that weapon is awesome.
- Karen Gillan plays the ‘daughter’ of Thanos, Nebula. She is wicked and cybernetic, and blue. And her battle with Gamora is pretty fantastic. Also – she makes it through this movie, so I’m sure we will see her again.
- Djimon Hounsou plays Korath, who is trying to hunt down Quill for Ronan. He has very little to do, but his costume is great, and I loved the fight scenes with him.
- John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz play Nova Corpsman – and while that beloved lineup scene from the trailers isn’t quite in the movie, both of them get more scenes than I was expecting, and they are some pretty great scenes. John C. Reilly in particular helped to bring some heart to the final scenes, and Serafinowicz got some action while leading the awesome-looking Nova Corps ships.
- Glenn Close expands her already wide range as the Nova Prime, leader of the Nova Corps. She gets to be bossy and leader-y and have some really great hair.
- Benicio Del Toro plays the Collector, for just a bit longer than he played him in the post credits of Thor 2. He’s supremely weird and delightfully bizarre. Also – see this movie more than once just so you can spend the time looking in all the cases in his collection – there are some pretty awesome things in there! Including a dark elf from Thor 2 – a Chitari soldier from the Avengers – an Warlock-looking cocoon that is emptied at the end – and one well known Marvel character (but not well-liked, voiced by Seth Green – stay through the credits).
The music is very important to the movie, as much of the soundtrack is based on what Peter had on the Awesome Mix Vol. 1 homemade mix tape. It fit wonderfully, and made me nostalgic for my own mix tapes.
I cannot say enough about how much I loved this movie. I will say that if you read my Winter Soldier review, you know that I wanted a post credit sequence that would have led into a Black Panther movie (once again, I would cast Aldis Hodge). For this movie, I wanted a post-credit sequence with Mar-Vel, the Kree warrior who eventually helps turn Carol Danvers into Captain Marvel – because then we could get a Captain Marvel movie (I would cast Katee Sackoff). That being said, Marvel has once again nailed it. They simply were able to take a bunch of not-well-known characters and make a movie that will eventually connect to the other movies in their cinematic universe and also, make it funny, sweet, charming, action-packed, touching and hilarious. Go see it now – and see it in 3D. Then go see it again not in 3D. Then go see it again in 3D. Repeat.
11 out of 10 – the first movie to get an 11 since the Avengers. Tough call – because I really loved the Winter Soldier (I only gave that 10 out of 10) –but this is just so much unexpected wonderful I had no choice! Gained points for everything Drax said, gained points for Yondu’s arrow when he finally uses it. Gained points for the sequence at the beginning (how dare you start this movie off by making me cry!). Gained points for the epic space battles. Gained points for the very Brolin-y Thanos, that just made me want more of him. Gained points for the naked blue Lee Pace rising from his…bed, or ceremonial oil bath? Gained points for Rocket – gained more points for Groot – and Gained all the points for the little potted dancing Groot at the end, which is now the greatest source of joy in the galaxy – Dear Marvel, make that a thing we can buy, please!
Bonus Video 1: The Man With The Iron Fists – two hours of RZA-directed, Eli Roth-produced, enjoyable, violent, kung-fu nonsense.
Bonus Video 2: Look Around You. In case you weren’t aware of how awesome Peter Serafinowicz is (he was the Episode 1 voice of Darth Maul – a job Sam Witwer has now), there is this gem of a show.
Bonus Video 3: The SDCC Guardians Panel from 2013
Bonus Video 4: More Cast Interviews