The first thing I should say about “Guardians” is a confession of just how wrong I was about its chances at success. I like the characters, I love Chris Pratt and thought the idea of putting director James Gunn with this amazing collection of space weirdoes could be a lot of fun — which it is. But I also worried that no one would go see it — that the characters were too obscure and strange, that the cosmic part of the Marvel universe is the part that tend to translate least successfully to the screen (the alien invaders are the least interesting part of “The Avengers”), and that ultimately a talking raccoon(*) would be dismissed just like a foul-mouthed duck(**) so many years before. Obviously, I underestimated the power of the Marvel brand with audiences at this point, not to mention how well the film was marketed. The trailers all put the comedy out front — in a way that still left many of the film’s best jokes a surprise for the audience — along with enough cool action and strange visuals to make this into something people wanted to see, even if they, like Djimon Hounsou, had never heard of Star-Lord before.
(*) This is the point where I remind you that Rocket Racoon’s creator, Bill Mantlo, faces enormous ongoing medical bills, and if the film version of Rocket pleased you as much as me, you might want to throw a couple of bucks his way as a simple thank you.
(**) I’d hoped that the end-of-credits scene might prepare us for the introduction of a movie version of the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel (preferably played by Katee Sackhoff), but throwing in Howard the Duck as a nod to the last time someone tried to make such an insane Marvel property work in live action was pretty nice.
It can’t be overstated how great Pratt is as Star-Lord, and how well Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s script deals with his emotional arc, up to and including the explanation for why he’s attached to such a stupid name. He’s a Peter Pan who was doubly robbed of his childhood — first by his mother’s death, then through his abduction by Yondu(***) — and his fixation on his mom’s mix tape and ’80s pop culture (“Footloose”) simultaneously drove the comedy and the characterization. And as we know from both “Parks and Rec” and his smaller roles in things like “Zero Dark Thirty,” Pratt can shift effortlessly from goofball to hero. I’m so pleased that an audience this big is getting to see him in a role that he was practically born to play.
(***) I hope the sequel brings Peter back to Earth at some point, if only because I feel awful for his grandfather, who lost a daughter and a grandson within minutes of each other.
The movie does well by all five of the Guardians, actually — so well that I can overlook how forgettable the villains are, how wasted Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close and John C. Reilly are, and how it’s yet another Marvel Studios movie where the heroes and villains are both chasing a cosmic doohickey — and makes them into a surrogate family group I’ll be happy to see in at least one more film. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora isn’t quite as dangerous as she is in the comics, but she has a strong character arc of her own and isn’t just there to facilitate Star-Lord’s heroic journey. (She is not another victim of Trinity Syndrome.) Of the other three, I wouldn’t have expected Drax to be the funniest, but Gunn and company do wonders with Dave Bautista’s deadpan delivery and the idea of this hulking killing machine who takes everything literally. Rocket definitely has his own comical moments, but he’s most effective when he’s grappling with the loneliness that comes from being a singular creature who didn’t ask to be made this way. And everyone involved in Groot — Gunn, Perlman, Vin Diesel (back in “Iron Giant” mode), the special effects team, and even Marvel editor Bill Rosemann (who rescued Groot from Marvel’s back catalog and came up with the idea for Star-Lord to team up with him and Rocket in the first place) — deserves a round of applause. Just a perfectly-realized CGI character who feels as real and multi-faceted as the ones made of flesh and blood.
Because the movie is opening up this corner of the universe more or less from scratch (other than Thanos, who appeared for all of 10 seconds in “The Avengers” credits), it’s probably more over-stuffed than it needs to be, and the underuse of the Collector in particular is a waste. But the five Guardians are such a treat, and at least some of the supporting characters like Yondu (who bears almost no resemblance to the comic book version, but is so well conceived, and played by Michael Rooker, that it doesn’t matter) come to vivid life, that the movie was tremendously satisfying, and one I look forward to watching many more times in the future.
What did everybody else think? If you’re a fan of the comics, did the movie live up to them? If this was your first encounter to Star-Lord, the Nova Corps and everyone else, did the movie play like gibberish? And what songs are you most hoping to hear in the sequel?
Written by Alan Sepinwall
–Courtesy of Hitfix