Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) (PG-13)

I've never been a fan of the Marvel-verse and often have criticized it. I like a good superhero movie as much as the next person (well, sometimes); yet something about the movie making machine that is Marvel turns me off. It could be the quick releases, the morality vs death issue, the "character development", obvious cliches, lack of natural dialogue, or a plethora of other reasons. With "Guardians of the Galaxy", I was not looking forward to anything spectacular and this is one case that I'll gladly eat my words.
Let me say this first of all: "Guardians of the Galaxy" is not high cinema. It's not a perfect movie and there are obvious errors within it, mostly when the film is trying to be sentimental. But what we are delivered for the rest of the film is a two-hour joy ride that trumps anything Marvel has done in the past. This is their high-water mark.
The movie's beginning is a little weak; but once the characters have been introduced, the general idea of the bad guy is grounded, and the kinks worked out, "Guardians" has a perfectly smooth ride until its disco/retro ending.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted by aliens right after the traumatic experience of his mother's death in 1988. Twenty six years later (that's present day for those keeping count), we catch up to Peter as he's merrily skipping along an alien planet, looking know...stuff. Finding the object he is looking for, a sphere—movies recently have loved this elusive powerful bauble...we saw it in "Transformers" and we saw it in "The Avengers"—Peter is almost stopped by a small army of bad guys, led by Korath (Djimon Hounsou again proving that his name is losing the power it once held). The guys try to take the orb from Peter, who now realizes that he holds in his hands one of the most important relics of the universe...yeah, like really.
Meanwhile, the evil barbarian Ronan (Lee Pace) has taken it upon himself to rekindle a recently pacified war between two races. He vows to destroy the home planet know, all the good guys, and wreck havoc on the universe....bad guy stuff.
Ronan is working for Thanos, "the most powerful being in the universe" and has two of Thanos' daughters working for him. Confused yet? Hold on, it gets easier. Sending Gamora (Zoe Saldana), one of the daughters, after Peter and the orb, Ronan rests easily, knowing that one day soon he will have the power to exact the oddest sense of revenge over his enemies.
Meanwhile again, we are introduced to a pair of bounty hunters named Rocket and Groot. A genetically and mechanically altered pair of misfits, this raccoon and walking tree notice Peter's arrival as he returns to civilization to attempt to sell the orb. They seize the opportunity to make a quick buck on Peter's bounty (he is now a wanted criminal) and soon all three story lines intersect. Gamora appears to take the orb and the bounty hunters want Peter. So they all converge together and chaos ensues...they all get sent to prison where they meet the highly literal Drax (Dave Bautista), a warrior whose wife and child were killed by Ronan. He wants to exact his revenge upon Gamora for being a pawn of Ronan.
But the mysteries that the orb contains may change the entire dynamic of the group and leave us wondering if somethings are better left undiscovered.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" is the first mainstream smash hit from director James Gunn, whose previous work includes such travesties as "Movie 43". It's a level-headed work, solid throughout and provides the viewer with some spectacular sequences. This is sure to be a high stepping stone for Gunn's career.
The obvious movie to liken "Guardians" to is "Star Wars". The similarities are just too obvious not to point out. But one movie made a genre and one movie is playing off years of cliches of the genre...guess which one is which?
By far and above what makes "Guardians of the Galaxy" so above the rest of Marvel's work is because of its script. It's the zaniest, the crassest, the ballsiest, the most self-referential, and the most compelling of anything in the superhero genre in a long time. While it doesn't have the darkness and brooding contemplative pace of Nolan's Batman movies, "Guardians of the Galaxy" does expect its viewer to keep up with the rapid amount of information it throws at you in such a short time.
The introduction to the characters never feels like an introduction. The superheroes don't feel like superheroes and we bridge the gap between comic-book and sci-fi...the result is a smashing and hilarious film.
The huge cast is rounded out by such names as Josh Brolin, Glenn Close, Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, and Benicio Del Toro.
As great as Chris Pratt is in the movie, I find the best character to be Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket make up the most empathetic of the cast of characters, though the movie does dissolve sometimes into Peter's back story to make us feel something for him...usually, it doesn't work.
Outrageous in its own right, every facet of "Guardians" works better than the previous. It's CGI is the best in recent action movies, and James Gunn makes the right decision by both letting us see the explosive action close up and far off. Take a huge spaceship getting blown up. We don't get the J. J. Abrams effect of seeing every pore of the ship explode, we stand back a few miles off and see it make great black clouds of ash and fire...much more effective.
The action is the best of any superhero movie thus far because it never feels like a video-game. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the rebirth of the Marvel and the one I've been waiting for. Now again, the movie has its major faults, but those are small fries in comparison with the chic-hipster-placating-rock-n-roll-campy orgy of all your favorite things that is "Guardians of the Galaxy". It's SNL witty, "Die Hard" cool, and "Godzilla" awesome.
It's as if the movie plucks the best aspects from its predecessors and makes its own movie. I'm so happy right now. "Guardians of the Galaxy" is hopefully not an anomaly and will improve itself with its sequel, which is inevitable and already in the making.
In comparison with "The Avengers" (which, coincidentally, is a pointless comparison), "Guardians of the Galaxy" trumps on every count—plot, emotion, laughs, villain, and sheer fun.
This is the perfect summer block-buster and one of the year's most delightful movies.
It's a mega-tastical-uber-wonderful-funny piece of awesome pie.

Score: ★★★★

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