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“I come from Earth, a planet of outlaws. My name is Peter Quill. There’s one other name you may know me by. Star Lord.”
As the superhero genre has taken off over the last decade and a half, there’s no denying at times as fun a the films can be, sometimes they can all feel very vanilla if they’re all telling origin stories. It’s a sad pitfall that many of the films fall into when they’re created on inception. It hasn’t stopped a lot of the films from being good, or even great, but it all starts to meld together. But leave it to James Gunn to shake the status quo and really shoot a shot of adrenaline into the genre, with his brilliant, fun, and rather dazzling new film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy. Set on outer edges of the Marvel’s cosmos, the film follows a ragtag group of scoundrels who must band together as a madman known as Ronan the Accuser threatens to destroy the universe, as he acquires a weapon of significant power that will make planets buckle at their knees, before ultimately destroying them. Faced with terrifying odds, Starlord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot must stand together, when they couldn’t be farther apart, as Ronan’s warpath begins to stampede across the galaxy.
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a really exciting, fun, and epic space opera film in the vein of Star Wars, and the fact that film achieves that is a testament to James Gunn, the film’s director. Gunn has been a popular director inside cinephile circles for a long time, with his script for the remake of Dawn of the Dead and his films Slither and Super getting a lot of acclaim. But he had never really broken out into big budget filmmaking until now, but with how he handles this film, you’d think he had been doing it all his life. For Gunn, this film was really a chance for him to be very creative, where he really got to set up a whole new side to the Marvel Universe we had never seen before. There’s so much to take in, as all the planets, people, aliens, and ships have such a unique feel to them, there’s really nothing quite like it. Gunn really uses his budget and his creativity to their full extent, creating a fully realized universe, that you just feel swept away in. It’s honestly the most visually breathtaking film in the entire Marvel universe, which really comes from Gunn and what he has created. There’s so many scenes that just take your breath away, with sweeping shots of space, planets, characters, and action that are so well shot, they just stay with you. Gunn’s action is so fun, and so well defined, you can’t help but feel swept up in it. The film doesn’t have any shaky cam, it’s all beautifully choreographed and put together, really giving you an all encompassing look at everything that’s happening. There’s a real beauty to the whole film, as grim and grimy as some of it may seem, but that comes from the fact that the film has a relative pulpy feel to it. It really lets the fun and excitement take center stage, making it feel very colorful and otherworldly, yet tangible and close to home.
Part of the massive appeal of Guardians of the Galaxy is in its cast, which features the likes of Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel, just in the lead roles. One of the biggest, and honestly most exciting parts of the film is the fact that the biggest stars in the film aren’t ever seen on screen, they’re voicing the two standout characters in the film, Rocket and Groot. In a way, Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon and Vin Diesel’s Groot are the new Han Solo and Chewbacca for this generation. There’s a real fun, bizarre, but sweet nature to their friendship, and the way the two characters play off each other is fantastic. These two absolutely steal the film, with Diesel’s Groot in particular being a very fun and lovable character. There’s a real innocence to the character that makes him so easy to root for, as he grins stupidly through the film, even when he’s fighting. But what’s so refreshing is seeing a film where the cast isn’t made up of A-List actors, really giving new faces a chance to shine, which is absolutely true of Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, also known as Starlord. For so long, Pratt was known as the guys from Parks and Recreation and a guy who would do bit parts in comedies like The Five Year Engagement. The fact that Gunn and Marvel took a chance to cast him as the lead in this film, something so different speaks to the film’s brilliance. Pratt is so good as Peter Quill, and he really makes the role his own. It’s so different than anything he’s done before, and that’s what makes it so fantastic. He owns the role of Quill in a way no other actor really could, and he may be the world’s most unconventional hero, but that’s why you root for him. There’s a real everyman quality to his character, which is part of why he is so likable, and it also makes him one of the best heroes in the entire Marvel Universe.
Zoe Saldana is a known actress, but her character of Gamora is different than any that she has played before. There’s a real elegance to her character, and a real pain underneath as well. She’s so fun to watch, and she gets some of the best action scenes in the entire film, really getting a chance to shine. But it’s really Dave Bautista who surprises as Drax the Destroyer. He’s so charismatic in the role, and he honestly holds his own against everyone else, and stands out many times. His action scenes are definitely some of the best in the film, because he gets to use what he already knows from wrestling, and use on screen. Drax comes off as intense, funny, and badass, and he’s just a blast on screen, and you can see why Gunn chose him. Karen Gillan’s Nebula, who is Ronan’s right hand, is great as well. She’s so fun to watch in the role, because it’s so different for her, and while she doesn’t get a ton to do, she still owns the role and makes it her own. Additionally, Lee Pace, who plays the film’s villain Ronan, is so terrifying to watch. There’s a real scary demeanor to the character, as he’s a extremist who believes what he’s doing is right by old traditions set forth by his people. He’s calm, intense, and commanding, and Pace plays the role eloquently. Many people complain about the lack of screen time or the way the villains have been handled in the Marvel films, but Gunn found a way to make one of the universes strongest, most ruthless villains. He works so well, especially in the context of the film.
A film like Guardians of the Galaxy usually doesn’t have such a cool and varied soundtrack, but music is actually a huge part of this film, as its actually Starlord’s last connection to Earth. His walkman, which is pretty much the heart of his character, features a mixtape that is the last thing that reminds him of home. The tape, which plays throughout the film, features some great music, and it’s so varied. It really gives the film some added character, really giving it personality. With things like Blues Swede’s Hooked on a Feeling or Cherry Bomb by The Runaways plays, it just feels right in the film. Any lesser filmmaker would have put the songs in, but it could have felt shoehorned in, but here, it feels like a natural part of the film. Gunn just makes magic on screen, in the music, with his actors, and in the action. It’s incredible what he was able to accomplish here. The only real bummer is the film is so much fun, it feels like it could be a bit longer. Nothing really feels shortchanged, but just to get the chance to spend more time in this world, with these characters, would be a great thing, and that really comes down to the fact that Gunn has just made a really excellent film.
Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the best summer blockbuster of the year. It’s fun, exciting, full of great characters and performances, and a fantastic soundtrack. Gunn has brought big budget space operas back in a big way, and it already feels like the second film already needs to be here. This is a roller coaster ride of a film that just fires on all cylinders, making it not just the one of the best summer blockbusters of the year, but one of the best Marvel Studios films period. This is the most complete, exciting, and fresh film they’ve made, and it really opens the door to a whole new side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we’ve never seen before. Films just don’t get much better than this.