“Guardians of the Galaxy” Movie Review

     “Guardians of the Galaxy” brings Marvel into uncharted territory, as it is completely different from any of their previous comic book adaptations in both tone and genre.  The characters who populate “Guardians” are not superheroes.  They instead share the same traits which made characters like Indiana Jones, Peter Venkman, Marty McFly, and the entire cast of the original “Star Wars” trilogy so popular decades ago.  This shouldn’t come as any surprise since the film’s main character, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), was an 1980s child on Earth before being abducted by aliens and becoming a futuristic treasure hunter when we see him again some 26 years later.  To watch “Guardians” immediately conjures images of the kind of B movie science fiction films I grew up watching.  The kind where there was always a central human character and everyone else was an otherworldly creature portrayed by an actor wearing a mask.  “Guardians” combines the best elements of films like “The Last Starfighter” and “Battle Beyond the Stars” with a story that benefits from a character who has modeled himself after the characters in the films he saw as a child.  This results in a number of hilarious 80s pop culture references throughout, all the while the film maintains its own sense of originality.

     With credits as both a screenwriter (“Scooby-Doo”, “Dawn of the Dead”) and director (“Slither”, “Super”), James Gunn handles both the writing and directing chores for “Guardians” and has delivered the kind of solid entertainment that has clearly laid the foundation for a new and highly lucrative franchise for Disney and Marvel.  For those old enough to appreciate the kinds of films I referred to above, “Guardians” will satisfy because upon watching it you will realize up until now these types of films aren’t made anymore.  For those who have never experienced characters like Richard Thomas’ “Shad” and his battle against John Saxon’s evil “Sador” in Roger Corman’s cult classic “Battle Beyond the Stars”, you now have your own modernized and updated version of basically the same thing.  Thirty years ago, films like “Guardians” were all the rage because of the phenomenon that is “Star Wars”, but at some point, Hollywood stopped making them, instead favoring adaptations of famous comic book heroes like Batman and Superman.  What Gunn and his team have done with “Guardians” is they have successfully pulled together two generations of movie goers and given them something they can both relate to and cheer for.

     Gunn opens the film in true indie style, depicting an emotional scene in which a young Peter Quill witnesses the death of his mother as she fights for her life in a hospital cancer ward.  As he runs outside to grieve, he is suddenly beamed up to a hovering spacecraft and whisked away from Earth.  As the film jumps ahead 26 years, we meet Peter again.  Now a treasure hunter of sorts, he arrives on a planet to look for a mysterious orb which he knows will fetch a massive amount of money from a buyer he already has lined up.  I couldn’t help but to notice the parallels of this scene with the opening sequence in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as Peter enters a room where the orb is floating on a pedestal in the center, similar to the Idol Indiana Jones had sought after.  Like Indiana, he first tests the room for booby traps and then makes his way to the orb where he successfully acquires it.  Of course, there are competitors looking for the orb as well and Peter must use his ingenuity to escape.  At one point in the film, Peter even asks another character with knowledge of the orb’s power if we are talking “Ark of the Covenant” when trying to understand what exactly they are dealing with.  That is just one example of many how Gunn has effectively loaded the story with well thought out 80s movie references.  It’s as if Peter’s decision making process is based mostly on the films he watched as a child combined with the technology he now has at his fingertips.  Talk about living the dream.

     The film’s namesake is comprised of a group who find themselves basically fighting the same enemy, each for different reasons.  The film’s antagonist, Ronan (Lee Pace) initially sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana trading in her “Avatar” blue for some “Guardians” green), a deadly assassin, to find the orb and kill Peter in the process.  In addition, a substantial bounty on Peter’s head brings into the mix two additional bounty hunters named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a small maniacal raccoon, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a large half human half tree truck being.  As Peter arrives on the planet Xandar to sell the orb, everyone converges on him and the group ultimately ends up in prison.  There they meet the person who will become the final member of the “Guardians of the Galaxy”, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who joins via a personal vendetta he has against Ronan.  Together, they form the most unlikely band of cut throat misfits you may ever see, but the events which occur throughout the second and third acts of the film clearly establish why they work so well together.

     Gunn’s screenplay gives each character numerous moments to shine throughout what becomes quite a complex story.  The banter between characters, especially Drax and Rocket supplies each scene with plenty of humor and even a few genuinely touching moments.  I think Dave Bautista has definitely found his signature role as Drax, combining the expected physicality with a number of well timed and well delivered lines that are sure to be memorable to every viewer.  Same goes for Chris Pratt in his first significant lead film role, as he successfully keeps the film grounded with his very human character amongst the majority of characters who hail from a different world.  Smaller supporting roles featuring Glenn Close, Josh Brolin, Djimon Hounsou, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker, and John C. Reilly are all solid and allow the cast to boast a significant amount of star wattage outside of the main players.  It certainly appears, based on the on screen results, that everyone involved had a great time portraying these characters.

     For Marvel, this has to be a crowning achievement, since they are selling a brand new property based on characters few are familiar with.  Having successfully brought “Ironman”, “Thor”, “Captain America”, and “The Avengers” to the big screen showed Marvel had a well defined vision, but the success and quality of “Guardians of the Galaxy” means they are also fully capable of expanding the universe they have created in way in which there are clearly no boundaries. The irony of all of this being Disney owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm, meaning J.J. Abrams now has his work cut out for him with the latest “Star War” film just 16 months away.  As if the pressures of reviving the most popular film franchise isn’t already enough, Abrams will now have to contend with a well made and well received competing franchise that effectively brings back the magical tone of the original “Star Wars” trilogy in a way that hasn’t been done since in over 30 years.  GRADE: A-