tl;dr: Guardians of the Galaxy was easily the most fun I have had at the movies this year. You should go see it. I mean, right now, stop whatever you are doing and go see this movie.By the way, the fuzzy stuff is for spoilers, don’t click on it unless you want to have stuff spoiled (or have seen it already)
While it took most of my social circle quite a while before they got excited about Guardians of the Galaxy, I was an early boarder of the hype train, starting to get excited and do research as soon as I heard that this film was announced. Having been introduced to superheroes through films (I was 11 when X-Men came out in 2000, and I never really had a comic store near me growing up) I had to do some research to really get a grasp on who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, which made me even more excited.
As with all my reviews that I’ve done this one is going to be pretty much a stream of consciousness and I will mark any spoilers.
origin stories – aka bringing the team together
Like in The Avengers, Guardians is a film about a team, rather than just one individual character. Whenever you have a story about a team there is always the challenge of getting them all together. In The Avengers there had been previous films that had established the characters, the characters had their own arcs, their own demons, their own franchises, and The Avengers was about taking those characters and bringing them together to fight a threat none of them could handle alone.
So, how do you do that? In the case of The Avengers Marvel Studios decided to use S.H.I.E.L.D. as the driving force behind the Avengers assembling. In Avengers it works, but in the case of Guardians not really an option.
Origin stories are also hard, and are usually the biggest struggle and the weakest part in most superhero films. (That’s why, in my opinion, Winter Soldier is a much better film than the first Captain America film, the origin story roadblock wasn’t there to screw with the pacing. Similar story with the Thor films.) In Guardians, I think they did a really good job at solving this problem, they skipped it. They don’t spend half the movie introducing us to the characters, telling us their back-stories, they instead get into the action of showing us how they meet, how they grow to stand one another, and they do it by doing things. There is a scene at the beginning that shows us Peter Quill leaving earth, there is a silly dance number and then BOOM, almost non-stop action at that point. They show us Peter’s origins, and then they leave us to divine the rest from context and from dialogue, they don’t spell it out for us, which is the right way to do it. (This is related to a point I’m going to make a little further down about respecting the audiences intelligence, I’ll get to that in a minute.)Near the end, when Peter gives his big “people who’ve lost stuff” motivational speech we, as an audience fully understand the pain that each of the characters have experienced. We understand because we’ve gotten to know these characters, we’ve seen it, and they didn’t have to spend enormous amounts of time showing us what it was like for Gamora growing up as Thanos’s favourite daughter, they didn’t have to show how Rocket was tortured and created, or have a scene of Drax weeping in rage over the bodies of his wife and daughter. We know about all that, we can identify with all that, and we don’t need to be taken on that journey, because those aren’t the journeys the film is about.
As far as the team getting together, I think they handled it excellently. No S.H.I.E.L.D., no heavy handed fate or anything, it just flows, it just works.
respecting the audience’s intelligence
This is, to me a very important point, far too many films and video games and other media seem to not respect the intelligence of the audience. There are many that feel the need to explain things to a ridiculous degree, as if the audience won’t appreciate a plot point or an aspect of the world without it being explained to them. (A good example of this unfortunate trend being Star Wars Episode I and the lame-ass Midichlorians explanation. It’s THE FORCE, we don’t need to know how it works.)
A good example of this in Guardians of the Galaxy is the character of Yondu. Yondu has an arrow that he keeps in a holster thing on his side, and he is able to control it, make it fly, etc., by whistling. The film does not take the time at all to explain this, no character feels the need in unnecessary dialogue to mention Yondu’s sound-sensitive arrow, he just uses it, and we, the audience understand intuitively that he controls the arrow by whistling.This is especially the case when he uses the arrow to kill a bunch of Ronan’s troops. The second he opened his coat I could understand and get excited for what was about to happen. It was an epic moment, and it wasn’t one that I had to be explained.
If you were a fan of the comics (or, like me, had researched the characters beforehand) you may have already known about Yondu and his ability to control his arrows with sound, which would add to your appreciation of the character. However, even if you weren’t aware of this, you are able to understand it because it is shown happening. This is what I mean by the film respects your intelligence, it doesn’t feel the need to give you explanations about things like that.
Rocket and Groot were by far my favourite characters in the film. They were hilarious, they were charming, they were heartwarming. Rocket, the result of illegal genetic and cybernetic experimentation on a raccoon-like creature, has a bad attitude and a love of advanced weaponry and is voiced by Bradley Cooper. Groot, the talking tree creature who is only capable of saying “I am Groot!”, who is a tough brawler but is deep down just a bit softy, voiced by Vin Diesel.
While all the characters of the film are great, are well written and well acted, I especially wanted to mention these two, because in a lot of ways they are really the heart of the movie. They had, to me, a similar vibe as C-3PO and R2D2 did in the original Star Wars. Groot, as previously mentioned, is only able to say “I am Groot”, constrained to those three words in that exact order, however, for whatever reason, Rocket is able to understand exactly what he means. Because of this we get scenes where Rocket plays as Groot’s voice, and others where Rocket and Groot banter back and forth while we only hear one side. The exchange and dynamic between these two is really funny, and at the same time, really heartwarming. I just about broke out in tears when Rocket begs Groot not to sacrifice himself for everyone else near the end of the film.
Unlike R2D2 and C-3PO, however, these two are also bad-asses. Groot is just a tank, while Rocket is an ace pilot and a sharpshooter.
Actually, that brings up another good point. None of the characters ever had a moment in the film where they were useless. The team had a really good dynamic, even Starlord, who is for the most part a smooth talker, had his moments of action where he got heavily involved in the fighting.
Rocket is also, in my mind, my favourite character. While his dynamic with Groot makes him a very interesting and fun character, on his own he stands as one of my favourite characters who has ever been on the silver screen. He is angry, full of pain, witty, wise-cracking, and in many instances the voice of reason. At the start of the film he only has Groot. There is nothing else in the Galaxy like him, and it is something that pains him and gives him depth. In a drunken rage fight against Drax, he breaks down, weeping “I didn’t ask to be made. I didn’t ask to be taken apart and put back together again over, and over, and over.” That moment made me feel attached to the character, gave me a glimpse into the pain and loneliness of Rocket. By the end of the film Rocket, and all the others, finally have one another, finally have a family, and a place to belong.
When Guardians was first announced I knew people that were skeptical about a movie with a talking raccoon. In the end, I am so glad that they did.Additionally, tiny dancing Groot during the credits was freaking hilarious.
Guardians of the Galaxy was one of my favourite movies of the past few years, and easily the most fun I have had at the movies this year. It’s fun, full of action, really well paced, has a good mix of funny and dark/serious, and is overall a wonderful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
To finish off, here are a few other favourite moments from the film:
- Finally getting a good look at Thanos and hearing his voice. Gave me chills and made me really excited to see more from the Mad Titan in upcoming films (Avengers 3, maybe?).
- The prison escape.
- Drax’s complete inability to understand metaphors.
- The way the characters meet, by beating the shit out of eachother.
- Just about every scene with Yondu.
- “Where did you learn to do that?” “I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘I am Groot’.”
- The final showdown with Ronan. I loved the fact that Ronan is the one who first called them the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the sequence where they collectively master and use the Power Stone was epic.
- Nebula. I didn’t talk about her at all up above, but Nebula is a really interesting character.
- The Howard the Duck cameo at the end, I just about laughed up a lung.