Every couple of years or so, I end up falling in love with a completely brilliant film that almost no one ends up seeing. It started back with Serenity in 2005, but the tradition continued with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Cabin in the Woods, and Pacific Rim. I know the staying power of movies isn’t all based on box office sales, but it can be kind of frustrating when you know people should be seeing a particular film and they’re just… not.
I had a similar worry for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. When Phase 2 was announced at San Diego Comic Con a few years back, I was curious about the property, but I remember most of the reaction being somewhere between derision and confusion. It’s a risky property for sure since not a lot of people really know about Cosmic Marvel as a whole, let alone the Guardians. Hell, I’d probably be ignoring Cosmic Marvel too if it wasn’t for the fact my favorite superhero is half-Kree by way of a scientific wishing machine.
Still, the more the film ramped up, with Slither writer and director James Gunn being brought on board and Chris Pratt being announced as Star-Lord as season 5 of Parks and Recreation was coming to a close, the more I was looking forward to the film. I think the phrase ‘frothing at the mouth’ is appropriate. I couldn’t help but wonder though if it was going to go the way of Pacific Rim though. After Edgar Wright walked from Ant-Man over creative differences allegedly over Marvel not wanting to take another risk so soon, I couldn’t help but wonder if Marvel even had faith in either film in the first place.
Well, that media machine worked because Guardians of the Galaxy has brought the summer box office out with a bang with a $94 million opening weekend. Which is $20 million ahead of the original projection.
Is the film any good though?
At the time I’m writing this, I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy three times already. It’s Monday, August 4th. It opened on August 1st. I’m already planning on seeing it again at some point(s) before it leaves theaters and I bought the soundtrack off of iTunes after I watched it the first time. I think that tells you a lot about my own personal enjoyment of the film. (And if you want to berate me for spending money on one film three times: 1.) I only paid out of my own pocket once, and 2.) It’s my life and money, jackass.)
Guardians of the Galaxy is a lot like those cheesy 70s and 80s adventure movies we all love so much mixed with a few beloved sci-fi TV shows. I don’t know how a film can be the spiritual successor to both Star Wars AND Firefly, but dammit, it some how does it. This is definitely in part to the sharp writing from Gunn and Nicole Perlman, who is the first woman to be credited with writing a Marvel film (Maurissa Tancharoen did some re-writes to The Avengers script along with Jed Whedon, but neither were credited). I can’t tell you how many lines I missed on my first view because I was laughing so hard at the line before it. Well, me and the rest of the theater. It’s instantly quotable and moves with a great pace that never drags, but never feels too rushed either. Not to mention when it gets sad, it gets sad.
Of course, any good script isn’t much if you don’t have a great cast to act it out. And oh boy, does Guardians have it in spades. Chris Pratt is charming, goofy and surprisingly emotional at some points as Peter Quill aka Star-Lord. I knew he had charming and goofy down pat thanks to Parks and Recreation, but he evolves from dumb sweet puppy dog to lovable rogue right in front of my eyes. It’s astounding and even though I had faith in Pratt the entire time, he still managed to exceed my high expectations.The most surprising performance for me though was Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer. Wrestlers can be hit or miss in films sometimes, but Bautista was a definite hit as the extremely literal alien searching for vengeance for his wife and daughter. I really didn’t expect to become so emotionally connected with him by the end of the film, but yet there I was, cooing over a man who could easily rip my spine out. I also became rather fond of Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta. I really don’t know why, but maybe it’s because I could see where Star-Lord got his roguish charm from.
I think it goes without saying that the two runaway characters of the film were Rocket and Groot. Part performance capture, part CG, and part voice acting, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel (with a lot of help from Sean Gunn on set for Rocket) managed to create characters with a lot of heart and a significant amount of attitude. Don’t believe you’ll be crying over a sentient tree who can only say “I am Groot” and a fast-talking raccoon who loves guns and alcohol? You will be. Oh, you will be.
The only complaint I really have about this film is the treatment a lot of the female characters receive. Gamora is probably one of the most interesting and most competent characters in the film, but so much of her story gets pushed aside for Peter’s and I don’t really understand why Drax had to call her a “green whore” after he established they were friends (though he calls Groot “dumb tree” as well, so I don’t know what his deal is there). The same goes for Nebula and every freaking conversation she and Gamora had boiled down to either Thanos or Ronan. We also could have used WAY more Nova Prime Rael than we got. You have Glenn freakin’ Close. USE HER. Hopefully for the sequel, this will improve. Maybe we can even get a Phyla-Vell by then? Oh, who am I kidding? We can’t even get a Carol Danvers or a Black Widow movie because Kevin Feige won’t move his ass on a female led superhero movie.Still, even with that gripe, I still love this film way too much. It’s smart, fun, and completely uncynical. It may be the spiritual successor to Star Wars and Firefly, but it’s totally spiritual bros with Pacific Rim as well and maybe a bit of a spiritual rival for how colorful they are. They’re the movies our inner kids need and deserve. I’m glad that Guardians of the Galaxy is getting the success it deserves because we need more films like it in the world. Ones that spark the imagination, can bring a smile to our faces, and an extra pep to our steps because we can’t get ‘Come and Get Your Love’ out of our heads.
Oh yeah, you might want to get the soundtrack too. It’s all 70s pop and it just works in that very perfect Tarentino-esque way. I’ve pretty much had it on repeat all week, especially the middle part of the soundtrack that starts with ‘I Want You Back.’ You’ll know why.