Guardians of the Galaxy encompasses everything wonderful about Marvel Studios. It’s bold, creative, risky, and presents something unlike what most moviegoers have seen before, while still remaining undeniably true to a fantastically cohesive and terrifically detailed persistent universe.

Despite being based off of a rather obscure Marvel Comics series, albeit one that has been around since 1969, Marvel Studios has been giving a massive marketing push to their latest new brand. As a result, Guardians of the Galaxy has enjoyed tons of pre-release exposure, and has been hyped up almost monumentally. Clearly, Marvel and Disney have no shortage of confidence in what would seem like a very experimental project with plenty of potential to fail.


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Fortunately, any apprehension you may have about Guardians of the Galaxy as a left-field Marvel Studios movie can be put to rest. Guardians of the Galaxy lives up to the hype completely, and sometimes even exceeds it! It’s one of the most imaginative, memorable, cheeky, and flat-out cool Marvel Studios movies to come out since 2012’s The Avengers!

It’s debatable as to whether this or the equally stellar Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the better movie, since both are very different films with very different tones, themes and implications on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What can’t be argued however is that Guardians of the Galaxy is one of this Summer’s top blockbusters, and you absolutely cannot miss it!

CHARACTERS

Guardians of the Galaxy is very much an ensemble piece for both the heroes and the villains, and unfolds on a colossal scale. For the most part however, our protagonist is a regular old human scoundrel named Peter Quill (or, Star-Lord, as he likes to call himself), played both loveably and capably by Chris Pratt.

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Quill was abducted as a young child by aliens on the night of his mother’s death. From there, he’s raised among a group called the Ravagers, galactic junkers that seek out valuable space oddities, and sell them for money to make a living. Of course, this is all revealed in backstory, since, after the surprisingly emotional opening scene in what’s otherwise a very chipper movie, Guardians of the Galaxy immediately fast-forwards to a fully-grown Quill as a smooth-talking outlaw that has gone rogue, and is eluding his former employees and surrogate extra-terrestrial parents.

In fact, it’s Quill’s reputation as a troublemaker that inadvertently introduces him to his future allies, all fellow criminals themselves. These include: Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, a brutally efficient assassin and adopted daughter to the mad titan, Thanos, the most powerful being in the galaxy (whom you may recall being teased in the mid-credits scene of The Avengers), Rocket and Groot, an intelligent cybernetic raccoon and an unintelligent, but kind tree being, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively, who both act as bounty hunters, and Drax the Destroyer, played by former wrestler, Dave Bautista, a violent brute that is seeking revenge for the murder of his family by the movie’s main villain, Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace.

It’s no exaggeration to say that these are an even more ragtag and mismatched group than The Avengers before them, since, unlike The Avengers, none of these characters have any regard for the law. In a weird way though, that’s exactly what makes them such appealing leads. Despite being outwardly selfish, single-minded folks, the quintet of oddball characters go on an effective journey from being so-called ‘losers’ to being genuine heroes.

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It also helps that each of the five is incredibly likeable and very well-written however, all being very appealing for different reasons. Quill is a trickster with a knack for talking his way out of trouble, Gamora is an ass-kicking bruiser and tough girl, Rocket is a super-smart badass that steals the action scenes with his sly attitude especially, Groot is a simple, but sweet sidekick to Rocket, and Drax is a thick, simple-minded barbarian with a running gag that involves him never understanding metaphors.

Watching the five leads play off of each other is a huge part of what immediately makes the team loveable, and what immediately makes the movie loads of fun. Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt are playing to their usual strengths, as a strong female-ass kicker and goofy troublemaker respectively, though they’re still perfectly cast in their parts regardless.

Vin Diesel meanwhile displays the most emotional depth through Groot since his stint as the title character in The Iron Giant, despite constantly being limited to the same three lines, “I am Groot,” which is how the character conveys any thought whatsoever, using his expressions and not his words. He’s complemented nicely by Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket as well, with Cooper playing one of his most entertaining characters in a long while, completely stealing the action scenes in particular by giving Rocket a sly, undeniably imposing edge, despite the contrast of him voicing a walking, talking raccoon.

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If anyone is a surprise here though, it’s Dave Bautista. Bautista is the latest in a line of wrestlers that have pursued acting careers, with his turn as Drax being easily his most high-profile role to date. Despite this, Bautista displays a natural comfort in a blockbuster setting, perfectly capturing both the stoic strength and emotional heartache behind Drax’s character. He easily stands with the far more experienced character actors playing the other lead roles, and Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantastic display of his acting potential.

On the other side of things, we have several key villains, most of which are also entirely new faces. While anyone who stayed at least midway through the credits of Thor: The Dark World will recognize Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector, a spacefaring enthusiast of rare intergalactic species and objects that he traps in his, “Collection”, it’s Thanos that Marvel fans in particular will be very excited to fully see in the flesh for the first time. Josh Brolin is a natural fit for Thanos’ voice, despite the expected heavy voice alteration, but it amounts to little more than a tease, since Thanos’ screentime is predictably rather limited.

Instead, Ronan the Accuser fills the main bad guy role, an extremist of the alien Kree race, who have already been teased for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in TV’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Ronan wishes to eradicate the highly developed and populated planet of Xandar, and has entered an uneasy alliance with Thanos to achieve this end. It’s this alliance that puts him into conflict with Quill and his tag-alongs, since the movie is properly kicked off when Quill inadvertently steals an important artifact that Thanos wants to snatch for himself.

Ronan is a pretty straightforward antagonist, with his apparent political machinations lost under a thick layer of cartoon villainy. Still, Lee Pace plays him with plenty of presence, buried under a heap of make-up, and truly seeming dangerous and borderline unstoppable, particularly in the movie’s second half.

Working under Ronan are Djimon Hounsou’s Korath the Pursuer, whom you actually don’t see too much of unfortunately, and Karen Gillan’s Nebula, the other adopted daughter of Thanos, and unofficial sister to Gamora. Gillan is also buried under a bunch of make-up, but she effectively breaks away from her image as Amy Pond from Doctor Who, and is, frankly, a more interesting character than Ronan, which is why it’s a shame that she’s played here as a lackey. Her desire to be the superior daughter to Thanos, though not for the reasons that audiences may think, will no doubt make you wish that the movie paid more attention to her.

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Caught in the middle of all this are yet more personalities. Quill’s blue-skinned surrogate alien father, Yondu, played by Michael Rooker, is hunting Quill after he betrays and breaks away from The Ravagers, being a loose cannon with a sentient needle that’s as unpredictable as he is kooky. Meanwhile, the members of the Nova Corps over on Xandar, led by Glenn Close’s unfortunately-underutilized Nova Prime, desperately try to uphold the law in a twisted situation where they have to rely on criminals to protect them, and fight against power-mad villains wielding galaxy-threatening forces beyond anyone’s control.

As is no doubt apparent to you at this point, Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredibly busy movie that’s juggling a slew of characters at any given point. Amazingly though, it consistently manages to keep all of its balls in the air, only occasionally leaving some characters to feel shafted, and for the most part giving the cast the time they need to shine, even in a dense plot with a lot going on.

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Fortunately, those shining most also happen to be the title characters, who are all written and presented especially well. This is smart, as these are the characters that audiences are coming to see, and they’re bound to win over tons of new fans in their big screen incarnations.

It goes to show that a source material’s obscurity doesn’t matter when you realize even a massive ensemble cast of unknown characters correctly on the big screen!

PLOT

Guardians of the Galaxy is almost entirely disconnected from the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that came before, though it still shares a universe with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Avengers. With those characters all being very far away on Earth (or Asgard) however, Guardians of the Galaxy is free to open up an entirely new sector of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, breathing life into this very rich, previously unexplored cosmic landscape.

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Despite the story being almost entirely self-contained from the previous Marvel Studios movies though, the presence of The Collector and Thanos help to remind diligent viewers that the movie is still part of a much more massive saga. Some of the macguffins from movies like Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers are addressed again in Guardians of the Galaxy, and Marvel fans will get more of an idea than ever as to the proper stakes of where the movie universe template is headed with these seemingly unrelated and highly dangerous objects.

As with any great Marvel Studios movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is also very content to be a character piece. Despite being a lengthy and busy production, the movie can very simply be described as Quill stealing an object, then trying to keep it away from the bad guys with a bunch of people that won’t leave him alone. The experience then inspires the lot to be better people and perhaps realize potential that they didn’t know they had.

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Despite the simple sum-up I’ve just laid out however, there’s still a ton of character development, universe development and everything else in the movie, which is one of Marvel Studios’ most ambitious and finely-crafted movies yet! It’s difficult to discuss without spoilers, but the journey of the five leads is done incredibly well, making the transformation from outlaws to heroes feel organic, in a way that the universe hasn’t done quite this well since the original Iron Man.

Yes, the movie is undeniably weird, but that’s also part of the charm. Guardians of the Galaxy packs in a sense of adventure that’s unprecedented for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a huge new spacefaring landscape opened up now, audiences can explore exotic new locations and increasingly surreal cultures, which feel fresh and new, but undeniably rooted in that special Marvel convention.

Even though this is the first story in a previously-untapped section of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, worlds like Xandar already feel incredibly rich in lore and history as the movie proceeds, making the plot of Guardians of the Galaxy incredibly easy to just get lost in. Not since the first portrayal of Asgard in Thor has there been such a rich sense of adventure behind Marvel Studios’ movies, making Guardians of the Galaxy go beyond being just a movie, feeling like a true adventure that audiences are along for as much as the characters are.

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Spoiler
Marvel Studios has already set a release date for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in Summer 2017, and predictably, they’ve left plenty of threads dangling for potential sequels, some of which are more clever than others. While Ronan the Accuser is eventually killed in a somewhat cheesy, but still mostly heartfelt way, Nebula just oddly exits the movie during the climax with no resolution, making it obvious that her character will no doubt show up again in the sequel.

Marvel fans can also easily piece together that the treasure stolen by Quill is, naturally, another Infinity Gem, which presents more evidence than ever that Thanos and The Collector are potentially in league to amass all of the gems, and then steal the Infinity Gauntlet from Asgard’s treasure vault. Of course, Ronan doesn’t seem to be aware of this, simply wanting to steal the one gem’s power for himself.

On this note, while the mid-credits scene from Thor: The Dark World already made it apparent that The Collector possesses The Aether from that movie, Guardians of the Galaxy also reveals that he has gotten ahold of The Tesseract as well. These are both Infinity Gems in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, revealed to have been created from the six singularities that spawned the universe.

In Marvel Studios tradition, Guardians of the Galaxy does have a post-credits scene, but it only has one this time, right at the very, very end. Still, while it isn’t the expected lead-in to The Avengers: Age of Ultron in any way, it’s nonetheless a gut-bustingly hilarious scene that incorporates the last Marvel character that anyone would expect to see on the big screen. The Marvel faithful will truly love it, even if anyone else may be left scratching their heads, though still likely chuckling in spite of that.

DIRECTION

James Gunn directs Guardians of the Galaxy, and also co-wrote the script alongside newcomer, Nicole Perlman. Despite Gunn’s checkered filmmaking history, he already has experience with superhero flicks, having written and directed cult superhero indie film, Super.

Despite Guardians of the Galaxy being on the polar opposite end of the superhero spectrum than the fully grounded Super, Gunn just takes this movie and runs with it, to outstanding effect! Rather than play these obscure, weird and largely unknown characters straight, which many directors would no doubt mistakenly do, Gunn instead exploits the opportunity of the title crew of characters being mostly unknown personalities, taking plenty of risks, and thus being a perfect fit for what’s already a very risky movie to make.

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With Gunn also contributing to the script, he’s really allowed to realize his incredible vision for the movie at every turn as well. Gunn has made a world that feels inviting and comically inverted, creating a superhero flick that feels like both a parody and a celebration of the genre, literally flipping the superhero playbook around, and playing with the idea of how audiences define superheroes.

This bold and kooky style of energetic and palpably giddy directing gives Guardians of the Galaxy an incredible style that feels like no other movie before it, Marvel-made or otherwise. Gunn obviously invokes beloved sci-fi film franchises like Star Wars here and there, though even then, he looks at these conventions through the eyes of a loveable mischief maker, seeing how he can overturn them and play with audiences’ expectations.

While this had the potential to lead to an overly manic and juvenile mess, Gunn displays just enough competence and professionalism to align every bit of his mad vision perfectly. Despite all of the zippy humour and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, Gunn still perfectly sells the more emotional and dramatic moments, which are placed very carefully so as not to disturb the rest of the movie’s incredible sense of whimsical adventure.

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Gunn also directs the incredibly flashy and chaotic action scenes with aplomb as well. While many hand-to-hand fights take place between the lead characters and a slew of grunts for both the Nova Corps and the villains, Gunn really displays a panache for amazing action during the dogfight-heavy climax, which puts all of Xandar in its sights in a truly massive and awe-inspiring conflict between the Guardians and Ronan’s crew.

Despite Gunn being yet another off-the-wall director choice for Marvel Studios, he once again proves to be perfect for this particular movie. His courageous deviation from the established superhero movie playbook is very commendable, and it’s all the more so when you see throughout the movie how often he makes the outstanding final result look easy.

MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK

As much as Gunn is having fun messing with traditional superhero movie convention, it’s perhaps the movie’s suite of music that best displays his mad brilliance.

The soundtrack almost entirely consists of 80’s pop songs, which was even evidenced by the movie’s trailers. There’s still a fun and adventurous orchestral score composed by Tyler Bates, but it’s the 80’s pop that will really stick out in audiences’ minds. Songs like “Hooked on a Feeling”, “Cherry Bomb” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” would seem to feel oddly mismatched, given the forward-thinking, envelope-pushing nature throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, but these songs not only work to help the movie stand apart, but also to service the narrative, being Quill’s key link and the audience’s reminder to our lead character’s heritage on Earth.

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If you have the means to see Guardians of the Galaxy in enhanced presentation like IMAX, UltraAVX or Dolby Atmos, you’ll definitely want to do so as well. The world and action throughout Guardians of the Galaxy sounds incredibly powerful and immersive in these special theatres, with the space combat in particular being an amazing delight to experience with super-powered speakers.

Yes, this may be a cheeky adventure, but it still has all of the power and punch behind any worthy blockbuster!

VISUAL EFFECTS

Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most colourful and unique-looking sci-fi/superhero movies to date, boasting an incredible style that makes it immediately striking and memorable to look at.

As much as Marvel Cinematic Universe locations like Asgard have evoked a similar sense of wonder, nothing in the former Marvel Studios movie canon will draw audiences in quite like this new cosmic world that Guardians of the Galaxy features. Everything is very bright and exotic-looking, with tons of detail and imaginative atmospheric touches, making for a movie that is consistently an incredible treat for the eyes, and easily one of 2014’s visual standouts.

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Given the lacklustre 3D jobs in Marvel Studios’ other Phase Two movies that followed The Avengers, it’s also a pleasant surprise to see that the 3D presentation in Guardians of the Galaxy is very well-done. I went all out and saw an early screening of the IMAX 3D cut, and I was very glad I did, because Guardians of the Galaxy is likely the only movie that I’ve seen in IMAX 3D all year that really felt like it was worth springing for that super-enhanced cut.

Even just in standard digital 3D, Guardians of the Galaxy really leaps off of the screen. The infinite stretches of space and the movie’s many exotic planets are especially immersive and cool to view with the potent 3D presentation. Likewise, the action scenes feel especially intense and flashy when viewed in 3D, helping to jolt and engage audiences just as the characters are knocked and blown around themselves.

The surprisingly effective conversion to IMAX 3D only makes everything seem bigger as well. Of the numerous Marvel Studios movies made to date, Guardians of the Galaxy makes the most sense when it comes to an IMAX 3D cut, and it’s great to see that the IMAX screen and projector really do up the immersion and punch of the movie even further. Watching characters fly and shoot through space is a true joy in IMAX 3D especially, and the way that Gunn effectively accommodates these enhanced presentations with sprawling camera pans and lots of far, wide shooting gives the impression that he is naturally skilled and comfortable with shooting for IMAX and 3D, even if not natively.

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Thus, I’d really recommend an IMAX 3D ticket if you have the means, but if not, a regular 3D ticket is the bare minimum for the full effect, since a considerable amount of atmosphere and action-packed immersion is lost if you just watch the movie flat in 2D.

Even in 2D though, Guardians of the Galaxy has no shortage of visual splendour. It’s easily the most eye-catching and visually exciting Marvel Studios movie to date!

THE VERDICT

Guardians of the Galaxy had so much potential to spectacularly go wrong, but not only does it sidestep its potential pitfalls, it joyfully dances around them. It’s a massive testament to the potential rewards of risky creative experimentation in film, and the result is one of the most fresh, exciting, fun, stylish and just generally amazing Marvel Studios movies yet!

It’s a tricky debate to decide whether this or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe entry from this past April, is truly the better movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a smart, chillingly grounded and evocative political thriller that shook the foundations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and delivered one of the most powerful real-world commentaries since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Guardians of the Galaxy meanwhile exists on the complete opposite end of the storytelling spectrum, being a carefree and devilishly fun escapade that is extremely far removed from reality, but presents something highly unexpected, unprecedented, and something that resets the bar for superhero flicks in an entirely different way.

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The better movie is thus, up to you to decide. Both are stellar movies however, and both are absolute must-sees by any audience, regardless of your prior Marvel pedigree.

Guardians of the Galaxy may have come from obscurity, but its days as an obscure Marvel brand are over, thanks to this excellent movie that deserves every bit of its massive hype. Its title characters may have begun as a bunch of losers, but they’re officially the coolest new Marvel heroes on the block, and I doubt I’m alone when I say that I can’t wait to see more of them!

Guardians of the Galaxy Review
Guardians of the Galaxy is a wonderfully creative and enormously fun new Marvel Studios entry that stands as yet another highlight movie for the Marvel Cinematic Universe!
CHARACTERS95%
PLOT95%
DIRECTION100%
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK90%
VISUAL EFFECTS95%
THE GOOD STUFF
  • Awesome title heroes
  • Excellent visuals and 3D
  • Fantastic action throughout
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
  • Some underutilized characters
95%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)
100%

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