This evening’s advance screening of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was notable for two things: 1 – it is, undeniably, the movie of the summer and 2 – in attendance was a very beautiful, very green young woman who, as I listened, filled her boyfriend in on the complete history of Gamora. After the movie, I asked what she thought and, yes, Guardians of the Galaxy is Gamora approved.
Guardians of the Galaxy opens with a heartbreaking sequence in which Peter Quill, age 8, suffers a great loss before being spirited away by an alien spacecraft. Cut to twenty-five years later and a swashbuckling figure in a curious mask and brown leather duster is finding a strangely carved globe.
It is, of course, the grown Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). The object has incurred the interest of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who has sent his right-hand man, Korath (Djimon Hounsou) to fetch it for him. A brief flurry of action ensues and Quill flees with the globe.
When Ronan hears of Korath’s failure, he sends his favorite daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after it. A sequence of events finds her, Quill, the sentient raccoon-like Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the tree-like Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) in a supermax prison called the Kyln, where they meet Drax (Dave Bautista).
It turns out that the globe contains an Infinity Stone and Ronan’s boss – who turns out to be Thanos (Josh Brolin) from the end credits tag of The Avengers – wants it. In return, he has promised to destroy the planet Xandar – home of the Nova Corps – for Ronan.
From there it gets complicated. Don’t worry – it will all make sense as you watch it unfold.
Going into the theater, I had high hopes for Guardians. It’s co-writer (with Nicole Perlman)/director James Gunn wrote and directed at least two small budget genre gems (Slither and Super) and penned a couple more (the superhero spoof The Specials and Zack Snyder’s reboot of Dawn of the Dead).
Guardians lived up to my expectations. It’s a fast-paced space opera that fits comfortably on a level with the original Star Wars Trilogy and Joss Whedon’s Serenity. It also fits, however weirdly, into the Marvel Universe – even though it takes place in a whole ‘nother galaxy.
Gunn loves to bend things, so a group of antiheroes is a natural for him to work with. Quill, AKA Star-Lord, is a thief and con man; Gamora is not only a highly trained assassin, she’s also (as noted above) the (adopted) daughter of Thanos; Rocket is the result of illegal and highly improbable scientific experiments which may be why he so loves shooting stuff or blowing it up; Groot is a perambulated planet with a limited vocabulary in the range of sound we can perceive, and Drax saw Ronan kill his wife and daughter.
Oddly enough, where The Avengers are a group of people who should never be in a room together, these five people really need to be in a room together. As Quill is quick to point out, they are losers – in the sense that they’ve each lost something dear to them. Their coming together is what will allow them to get past their respective losses and grief – and if they happen to save the galaxy, well, so much the better.
Even some of the villains have motivations that we can relate to even as we despise them: Ronan seeks vengeance on Xandar because his family was killed in a Kree-Xandar war; Thanos’ other adoptive daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan) suffers from not-the-favorite-daughter issues and Yondu (Michael Rooker) feels betrayed by Quill – mostly because he has been. (And don’t worry, you’ll definitely know who those last two are – and what their issues are. The movie fills in their details beautifully.)
Guardians works because it’s well written and because it is perfectly cast – and because Gunn does a splendid job of balancing heart, humor, drama and action. While you might laugh more (and harder) than usual than at the usual Marvel movie, you’ll also mist over and balance precariously on the edge of your seat at least as much as you’ll laugh.
Guardians has more weight, physically, than most blockbusters, too. Huge practical sets were built for it (the area around the site holding the globe is real, as are the first three floors of the prison – just as two examples) and that added substance makes the excursions into CG more believable. The 3D conversion is pretty spectacular, too. Also, the music is incredible – and placed extremely well.
Rocket is the next level of photo-real CG – as it Groot. And both Cooper and Diesel are superb (what Diesel does with three words is impressively expressive).
Bautista is a real find as Drax – he captures the extremes of Drax’s emotions well, without ever coming across as the former WWE star that he was. No, Bautista has done some work here and he is very, very good.
Saldana has shown that she can handle any kind of role and, in Guardians, she gets under Gamora’s skin and lets us see her rage, her pain and, briefly, her vulnerability. She also kicks much @$$ (maybe not quite as much as Bautista, but very close).
The other real find here is Pratt. Yes, he’s been superb as likeable meatballs in Everwood and Parks and Recreation (among others) and his brief dramatic scenes in Zero Dark Thirty were very effective – but leading a big budget, Marvel Universe movie that requires him to be a bit Han Solo, a bit Luke Skywalker and a bit Peter Pan? Plus drama? Plus swashbuckling panache?
Whatever Marvel paid him for Guardians, it was not nearly enough. Not only did he do all those things, he made it look easy!
At Comic-Con 2014, Marvel announced the Guardians sequel for 2017 – and that Gunn had been asked to come back for it. From the trailers (some of the best of the year), I had a hunch this would be a good call. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I can say that it definitely was. After all, it’s Gamora approved.
It even killed on the Big Drink scale. Despite being really thirsty, I still had over a third of my humongous diet cola left when the credits began to roll. My one gripe: once again, Marvel didn’t trust the advance screening audience not to spoil the end credits tag – but I’ve already got my ticket for IMAX on Friday, so they’ll get my money – but they’ve got to stop doing that, they’re really pissing off a lot of people. It’s not enough to damage the movie’s grade, but was it really necessary to disappoint what will be thousands of people across the continent?
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Photos courtesy of Marvel Entertainment