Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a stellar blast, expanding Marvel cinematic universe into the cosmos with comedic fun

in Disney, Marvel, Movies, Reviews

Today, Marvel Studios is bringing a lesser known group of superheroes to the screen, the Guardians of the Galaxy.

An action-packed, epic space adventure, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe into outer space, where brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe.

To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits — Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand— with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.

The all-star cast includes Chris Pratt (“Zero Dark Thirty,” “Moneyball”) as Peter Quill, Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” “Avatar”) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (“Riddick”) as Drax the Destroyer, featuring Vin Diesel (“Fast and Furious”) as Groot, two-time Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper (“American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) as Rocket, Lee Pace (“The Hobbit,” “Lincoln”) as Ronan the Accuser, Michael Rooker (AMC’s “The Walking Dead”) as Yondu, Karen Gillan (BBC TV’s “Doctor Who”) as Nebula, two-time Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou (“Amistad,” “Gladiator”) as Korath, with Academy Award nominee John C. Reilly (“Chicago”) as Rhomann Dey, six-time Academy Award nominee Glenn Close (“Albert Nobbs,” “Fatal Attraction”) as Nova Prime, and Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro (“Traffic”) as The Collector.

It’s quite an assorted line-up of actors that doesn’t exactly scream box office smash. But it will be just that.

When I first heard about “Guardians,” I was a scoffer. I didn’t understand how it would work. It didn’t sound like it could exist in the same universe as Iron Man and Captain America. The first trailer didn’t quite excite me. And the idea of a talking tree and raccoon really made me nervous. I feared that Kevin Fiege and his team had finally gone off the rails, reaching too far into obscure Marvel character territory.

But something happened I can’t quite explain. The marketing machine at Disney managed to get me excited for this film. Going into an early press screening, I was stoked to see this odd space film with talking trees and racoons, classic pop songs, and Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation. And you know what? Marvel nailed it.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is pure fun from beginning to end. The action, comedy, and sci-fi is perfectly blended with a strong emotional center that makes me care.

The once-concerning talking tree and raccoon ended up being two of my favorite characters. Rocket and Groot have a Han and Chewie vibe about them that is delightful. They steal every scene and the audience learns to love them both.

The stand out performance is most definitely Chris Pratt who plays Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord. He’s officially a movie star now. It’s no wonder he’s leading the cast of “Jurassic World,” due out next year. I was nervous that he’d only be able to do “funny.” Wrong. He can do it all. He gets us to care.

Star-Lord’s “awesome mix tape” plays a major role in the backstory and the songs (mostly pop songs from the ’70s) play throughout the film. At a press conference that followed the early screening of the film at the Walt Disney Studios a few weeks ago, director, James Gunn, as well as most of the primary cast weighed in on the movie’s meaning. It was Pratt’s first press conference, which he was nervous about – but still managed to act super cool, much like his character.

Video: Guardians of the Galaxy press conference highlights

Gunn remarked, “The McGuffin of the film is this orb that everyone’s chasing after, the emotional center is this Walkman. And so it was just a natural part of the screen writing process. All those songs that you see in the movie, Hooked on a Feeling… Come and Get Your Love… were all written into the film. They’re all part of the screenplay. So they were there from the ground floor up.”

Vin Diesel, the voice of Groot, joked that “this is the closet Marvel will ever get to a musical.”

Much more recently at a screening in Orlando, Djimon Hounsou talked about his time on set, returning to the sci-fi genre after appearing in “Stargate” twenty years ago:

(Photos by Michael Gavin)

“Guardians” is surprisingly crass at times, both in language and gestures that are not appropriate for young kids – though most of the jokes will go right over their heads. (Unless they have fast reflexes, like Drax…)

I wouldn’t say “Guardians of the Galaxy” is Marvel’s best film. I’d still reserve that title for the original “Iron Man” or “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” But “Guardians” is definitely a solid third place behind those two.

Don’t expect a perfect movie with all the logic worked out. The comedy and action are the biggest priority over story logic. However this movie is such a thrilling and funny ride that I didn’t care.

Buzz for this film has been high with early screenings producing rave reviews. Marvel knows they have a hit on their hands. They’ve already announced a second “Guardians” film for 2017. And there is still a lot of mystery to unravel, including that of Thanos – the intimidating intergalactic character that appeared at the end of “The Avengers” and again in “Guardians” still without learning too much about him. (Comic book fans certainly know who he is and what he’s capable of, but the average movie goer leaves quite curious.)

“Guardians of the Galaxy” opens in theaters today. Go see it. I know I will again and again. I can’t wait to see how they further tie in Guardians into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

(And don’t forget to stay until the end of the credits for a fun surprise bonus, as with every Marvel film.)

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