There’s an idea that in order to have a good time at the cinema you need to check your brain. That’s not entirely the case when it comes to James Gunn. The surprise hit of the Summer (well coming from Marvel and Gunn success is probably not a surprise) Guardians of the Galaxy is highly entertaining and works as both a film and a comic book movie; it’s just a great time at the cinema. Some have claimed, mostly because of the marketing department, that this could be the next Star Wars. Even at the time this review is being written, in the midst of the white-hot hype surrounding the movie that’s not even out yet, it very likely could be.
What James Gunn does best of all in his first true comic-book film (The Specials and Super were original stories remember), and again you have to thank the marketing team for this, is that he got us familiar with the characters before we even got into the theater. The absolute joy, and maybe that’s the endorphins talking, of experiencing this in the cinema (even more so in 3D which is stunning!) makes “love” too small of a word to encompass how you’ll feel after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy. For two swift hours the film clips along at a perfect pace. It blends comedy, action, sarcasm/snide humor, and nonchalantly shrugs the multiple threats and insults from enemies and frenemies and anyone else who thinks this five person outfit are a bunch of a-holes.
As unlikely as these characters are to work on screen, and thanks to Marvel’s creative team and James Gunn, it works brilliantly! It seems like an anomaly that not only are unfamiliar characters so easily taken to but there’s no hesitation buying into the succeeding insanity and irreverence that happens nearly every step of the way. Lee Pace as the pensively over the top villain Ronan, to Michael Rooker as Yondu, to Vin Diesel as Groot, this is wild and inventive sci-fi at its finest. What probably helps sell this so well is the amazingly impressive production design. Practical effects go a long way and the sets just look fantastic. They are so incredibly detailed you think there were a team of Guillermo del Toro clones designing and crafting even the smallest contour of every ship, space port, outfit, character, etc. It honestly rivals the intricacy of films like Hellboy II and Pacific Rim.
As the story jumps around and intercuts the multiple characters and multiple simultaneous action scenes humor is let loose in such a way that finds the film actually taking itself seriously for five, maybe ten minutes. The rest of it plays like a movie written by 12 year olds, whose first language is sarcasm, with no respect for anyone but themselves. But they’re smart 12 year olds. Writers James Gunn and Nicole Perlman found that magic that keeps things interesting and not pretentious or off-putting. Same story with the oddball cast.
Whether you got to know Quill and company from the comics, what makes the members of this diverse team work so well, both apart and together, is that aside from their odd names and odder looks they’re all familiar archetypes. You have the brash leader Star Lord, the gentle giant Groot, the wisecracking diminutive weapons expert Rocket, the beautifully deadly Gamora, and the noble bruiser Drax. You’ve seen these kinds of characters before and can size them up before the even open their mouths. But once their mouths are open they become interesting endearing with rich and colorful back stories to compliment their unique quirks.
You also have to laugh at a movie that is so self aware it’s almost sentient. Beyond that, with a sort of Luc Besson type flair (a la The Fifth Element), these eccentric and futuristic worlds becomes very tangible. James Gunn and company went all in which is to say they (meaning Marvel) stacked their chips to the ceiling hoping this would work. You know what? It worked too well. That means that every Marvel movie from this point on will have to meet or, as impossible as it may seem, exceed the success, fun, and expand the mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pretty sure at this point every future Marvel writer and director hates Gunn right now for putting them in such a position.
It’s possible however that as the Guardians play by their own rules so too might this film and its inevitable follow ups. No one ever said it had to play as nicely as Thor or Iron Man right? One huge bit of final praise that needs to be thrown in goes the music on the soundtrack. Taken out of context the “awesome mix” playlist plays like the most overused and groan-inducingly stereotypical film songs mostly because they’ve become the most overused trailer songs. But hearing them placed and used in the film, not sure what kind of alchemy or sorcery James Gunn wove on them, but they work perfectly in the film. Every. Single. One.
The scariest thing about this is that for as great and satisfying as Guardians is, it is still just a taste of what’s to come in the MCU and another lead-in to the Avengers based storyline. Hmm, suddenly a Frank Sinatra song comes to mind. Well, ever since his last two forays into comics/superhero projects, James Gunn seems too be batting a thousand. While we’re heading into the dog days of summer it seems that August has a trick up its sleeve. So see Guardians once to fall in love with it. See it thrice to see what you missed because you were laughing so hard the first two times and like Peter Quill (who never gets tired of the same mix tape) enjoy this on repeat viewings.