Galaxy of stars
Stellar performances make a good movie great
By Ian Murphy 08/07/2014
Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
2 hr. 1 min.
We live in the golden age of comic book movies. Rarely has there existed the combination of talented writers, on-point special effects and respect for the source material necessary to execute the subject matter with such success. From The Dark Knight to The Avengers, nine out of 10 movies adapted from graphic novels are both commercially viable and critically acclaimed. When Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, however, it was as if Hollywood had finally run out of titles and was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The movie seemed doomed to failure. And that couldn’t have been more wrong.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a young child in the late 1980s when his mother passes away from cancer. As he leaves the hospital, he is abducted by an enormous spaceship that would make Spielberg jealous. Twenty-six years later he has become an outlaw, cruising the galaxy, stealing treasures and selling them to the highest bidder. When he takes a mysterious orb, he draws the attention of a menacing religious zealot named Ronan (Lee Pace) who will stop at nothing to get the artifact, as it holds the key to ruling the Universe. Quill befriends a misfit group of anti-heroes and together they try to stop Ronan from going through with his nefarious plan.
This film was almost destined to be a throwaway piece. No spoilers here, but given various appearances by certain characters who will feature prominently in upcoming Marvel movies, Guardians seemed to be nothing more than a catalyst for future franchises. And the obvious elements from Firefly and The Fifth Element are almost too obvious not to be considered borderline rip-offs. But putting that minor complaint aside, the rest of the fundamentals of this incredibly engaging film are a real joy to watch.
The script by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman is action-packed and jammed with actual witty dialog, not just smarmy one-liners. The way the different personalities are developed is refreshing as well. Many times back stories are crammed into films with either clumsy exposition or lazy flashbacks, but not here. We learn all about the five main characters with subtle quips and, believe it or not, a few touching moments that come out of nowhere, making for perfectly timed breaks between the intense action sequences that leave the audience white-knuckling their arm rests. The only way this is possible is if the audience cares about the characters, and director James Gunn accomplishes this in spades.
Comic enthusiasts always voice concern over casting. When Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker the Internet lit up with antagonistic remarks. We all saw how that turned out with a brilliant and, sadly, final performance and well-deserved Oscar. And while none of the cast in this picture will receive an Oscar nomination, they still deserve to be recognized as a wonderful ensemble. Bradley Cooper as Rocket is top-notch, and Zoe Saldana gives a rare performance in which a very good-looking woman also comes off as a legitimate bad ass. But it is Chris Pratt who steals the show. He is Han Solo, Mal Reynolds and Ash Williams all rolled into one. His swagger, quips and charisma make him one awesome space cowboy. And the soundtrack to the film (an integral part of the plot) is one of the best in years. If you only see one movie this summer, you should see more movies, but if it’s only one, Guardians is the blockbuster not to miss.