Guardians of the GalaxyTitle: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Director: James Gunn
Runtime: 121 minutes

I honestly know next to nothing about this portion of the Marvel comic universe. I’m more into X-Men and have a vague idea about the Avengers and Spider-Man. I have seen them head off and deal with different space issues before, but that was nothing like this at all.  Guardians of the Galaxy manages to not only deliver great characters, but it also develops each member of the main ensemble, plus actual villain development, lots of action, some amazing effects, and then tops it all off with tongue-in-cheek humor that lets you know this is a much lighter take on the material than we’ve seen in the past in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while still tying into it for the long term. The pacing is good, the selection of older pop music is great along with the actual score for the film, and it makes the whole experience of going to the movies fun (even if my local theater was doing its best to ruin it for everyone who didn’t pay for the 3D ticket).

Guardians of the Galaxy has a lot of ground to cover in its two hour runtime, so you do end up getting a lot of material thrown at you early and often, but they manage to do it in a way that keeps up with the breakneck action sequences, as well as giving each character their moments. Each of the Guardians are losers, as Star-Lord says, people who have lost something, and each of them, aside from Groot, gets to bare that all as they finally come together as a functioning team to stop the big bad that is after their pay day. Groot has his own moments to shine, and he and Rocket pretty much steal the show in every scene they’re in. While Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt, and Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, are the two they choose to focus on, Rocket and Groot, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, are the glue that keep this whole thing going. The one that pleasantly surprised me was Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, who is also well handled in the film. I shouldn’t say that I’m all that surprised with Drax as Bautista was decent in Riddick with his character there, but I’m more surprised with what they ended up doing to flesh him out to make him more than just the muscle-bound guy who is looking to hurt some people.

While the good guys get their moments to shine, the villains of the film are only so-so. Josh Brolin as Thanos works well for the brief moments he’s in the film, and anyone who’s seen The Avengers and stayed for the post-credits teaser knows that big guy is up to something, so it’s ok to let him build up. Gamora’s adopted sister, Nebula, played by Karen Gillian, probably has the most backstory of all of them, and after Chris pointed it out to me, would have made for a much more interesting lead after a certain point in the film. There are enough fleeting moments for her that you can feel some definite weight behind the character, much like the Guardians themselves. Where the film fails to deliver is Lee Pace’s character, Ronan the Accuser, who ends up being the main villain of the film. While we know what his ultimate goal is, some of the details behind it, and that he’s more than a physical match for a few of the Guardians, he never really resonates as they don’t give the audience much to go on. I don’t know if that’s because Thanos was supposed to be the only main villain and Ronan got added later – at least according to a few sources I’ve read – and then Ronan wasn’t ever really given his due afterwards, or if they’re simply relying on the meta information to give the characters their needed weight. Pace does add some gravitas to the role and definitely feels menacing, but where just about every other major player gets a little extra to help the audience out, it’s simply missing with Ronan, which is a shame.  Even Michael Rooker as Yondu and Djimon Hounsou as Korath had more weight to them in their screen time. Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro do a great job with their scenes, but almost feel wasted in a film like this where they’re important, but aren’t given all that much to do.

Which brings me to the plot. Even if you’ve pieced together what Thanos is doing between The Avengers and this film, and his history in the comics and what they’re apparently working towards in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they don’t give you much time to breathe with this film, let alone figure out the paper thin plot. It really does feel like two films, one being a heist gone wrong and the other one where you have to stop the bad guy to save the world. The little in-between we get bridging the two works for the most part, and the characters carry the film, but it’s definitely a “by the seat of their pants” way to deliver an action film. So basically, Guardians of the Galaxy is just like a summer blockbuster. Transformers: Age of Extinction has the same basic problem. There’s a lot going on, and you’re never given time to digest any of it as the film takes off at a breakneck pace.

This isn’t to say Guardians of the Galaxy is bad. Far from it. I meant it when I said it was one of my favorite movie-going experiences this summer. My initial reaction was that the film would get a full four stars, but then Chris and I talked a bit, and I realized the film has some pretty big flaws that it manages to overcome, but it doesn’t quite make it to that perfect status. But at the end of it all the theater was packed, the jokes were well timed, the visuals were jaw dropping, and it had character and fun to spare. If you’re going in there looking for answers and plot, you’ll be sorely disappointed. I can see the comparison to Star Wars, but the real fact of the matter is that all the characters within the film are actually older than Star Wars, but it’s that same pulpy feel. Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun action flick set in the outer reaches of the Marvel universe with a motley group of characters that would get along great with Han Solo and Chewbacca before they met Luke. You’re in for a treat.

three_and_a_half_stars

Ashe Collins
Film Critic at Cinefessions

Born the same year as Star Wars, it seems Ashe was destined to be into films with big impacts, explosions, and laser swords. With a love for sci-fi and horror, Ashe has a thing for games of both the tabletop and video variety. He is living a charmed, married life of sixteen years, along with several cats, a dog, and a bearded dragon. Ashe currently writes for Diehard Gamefan, covering video and tabletop games since 2008. Starting with Cinefessions just a few years ago, he has decided to tackle one of his original passions: film.