It shouldn’t work. It doesn’t have the standard issue super heroes on display. It starts off in pain and continues to mine said subtext throughout while adding a healthy dose of irreverent humor. There’s a questionable villain with what appears to be a religious fervor mentality to his plotting and terrorizing. Most tellingly, one of the main features is a diminutive raccoon with a sassy, salty mouth.
So how did James Gunn do it? How did he manage to make what is arguably one of the Summer of 2014’s best films? Easy: he followed his own amazing muse, and Guardians of the Galaxy is the result. Spinning several fringe Marvel characters into a cohesive whole is one thing, but to do it without the mandatory pre-Avengers origins films is another. To make something that rivals Joss Whedon’s billion dollar baby is proof of the talent both in front of and behind the lens.
Instead of offering a traditional review, we figured we’d go a little rogue and deal with the movie’s many endearing elements. We could mention Zoe Saldana’s sexiness under a glorious green disguise, but she already mastered that in Avatar (where the color du jour was blue). And, so as not to be chauvinistic, we will also mention that Dave Bautista is one helluva hunk under his unusual tribal scar tattoo make-up job.
We could comment on the ancillary cast (Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Szymon Serafinowicz) or the various cameos, but instead, we’ll just focus on the big stuff, the ten main reasons why you will absolutely love this film (minor spoilers ahead). Granted, that may seem like unnecessary hyperbole, but when you’ve sat through three months of dour doom and gloom, a little levity goes a long way.
While the vast majority of the Marvel movies are grounded in a kind of extended reality (our world, just pushed to certain limits to allow superheroes to exist within), Guardians of the Galaxy gives us a completely alien universe, and it’s a wonder to behold. From the various factions and their visual make-up to the little details in the corners (both flora and fauna), we are enveloped in something that not even George Lucas and his ILM mavericks could create. Every frame is filled with wonder and optical awe, a space opera fantasy that constantly leaves you wondering what it’s like to live in it every single minute you are there.
Again, it’s sometimes hard to get to the heart of a superhero’s personal issues. Bruce Banner is badgered by his shape-shifting Hulk alter-ego, but for the most part, it’s a problem, not a psychological scar. Here, all the Guardians are given over to moments of grief and dark reflection. Peter Quill lost his mother to cancer, while Gamora is the daughter of an evil space overlord with destruction on his mind. Drax lost his family while genetic anomalies Groot and Rocket are the only friends each other has. Brought together, they become a band of “losers”, in that they have each lost something. It makes for moving, memorable characterizations.
This Avatar-like extraterrestrial with a wicked Southern drawl and a mind focused with laser-like intensity on his various nefarious missions might just be Guardians of the Galaxy‘s secret weapon. Granted, he himself is holding a undisclosed truth about Quill, but he’s not allowing that to get in the way of his otherwise questionable business. And then there’s the issue of his weapon of choice, a deadly arrow which reacts exclusively to his whistles and hoots, leading to a last act moment of destruction which is simply amazing to behold. Director James Gunn has said he wrote the role with Rooker in mind, and it shows. Both men are having a blast with it.
He’s been a fixture on TV since his guest shot as Ann’s slacker ex-boyfriend on Parks and Recreation turned into a regular gig. He’s also been seen in films like Zero Dark Thirty and Moneyball. But 2014 was truly the year for this 35-year-old. After starring as the voice of Emmet Brickowski in the brilliant Lego Movie, he adds to his ascending stardom with his turn here as Peter Quill. Funny, dorky, and capable of playing both champion and chump, he’s the truly human center of a situation that surrounds him with out of this world allies. Even his dopey dance moves are adorable.
As a character, he’s a living tree with the ability to alter his shape to attack/defend his enemy/position at will. When it comes to vocabulary, however, all he can say is “I am Groot”. That’s it. Yet director Gunn makes it very clear that, once you get to know the walking lumber yard, those three words take on a whole different dynamic. Toward the end, when it looks like the odds are against our heroes and all is lost, Groot utters his by now familiar line and we too begin to see the nuances in the deceptively simple statement. Never before has one phrase meant so much.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.