Never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy? Not sure you want to wade into another Marvel franchise? It’s understandable. It’s not that Marvel movies are bad—most of them are pretty good, including the first 2014 release, Captain America: The Winter Soldier—it’s just that there are so goddamn many of them.
What a joy—and not a little bit of a relief—it is that Guardians of the Galaxy may be the best Marvel movie, period. Fans of Iron Man, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers may disagree, but there’s isn’t a Marvel flick that nails each joke or action sequence with the skill that Guardians does. This movie is da greatest.
That is, if you can get past the first 20 minutes. No, the first chunk isn’t bad, but there’s so much plot galumping on, from the death of hero Peter’s mother (Peter is played as an adult by the dynamic and hilarious Chris Pratt), to Peter’s kidnapping to adult Peter’s theft of an orb that the entire galaxy is after, that your head may spin.
But the movie does find a groove, and it gets much better quickly. Those on the orb’s trail—and therefore Peter’s—are super bad guy Ronan (Lee Pace), his henchman Gamora (Zoe Saldana), her rotten sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), a blue redneck with a fantastically horrible stabbing weapon (Michael Rooker, wonderful as always), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a talking raccoon with a talking tree sidekick called Groot (Vin Diesel). Sound crowded? There’s also Drax, an enormous brute with no sense of humor or irony, played by former professional wrestler Dave Batista.
The orb contains something called an Infinity Stone, which of course can destroy entire planets. But does that matter? Guardians of the Galaxy exists to perpetuate the Marvel brand.
It just so happens that James Gunn, who also co-wrote the screenplay, directs this arm of the brand with skill. You may remember Gunn as the writer-director of Super, the movie in which Rainn Wilson plays an idiot crime fighter who hits people over the head with a wrench. It’s also the movie in which a character you’ve grown to love—Libby, played by Ellen Page—gets her face blown off in the climactic battle scene. Gunn is the kind of perverse talent a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy needs.
Forget about the story, which is fine and follows the standard superhero outline—hero introduced; hero does a thing; other characters become part of story and join forces; first major action scene; shit goes wrong; shit goes really wrong; more action; shit gets as bad as it can get; major, major action; ending one; ending two (because no movie can just end nowadays)—and concentrate on the actors. The cast is spectacular, and Gunn taps into each performer’s strengths.
For Pratt, that’s effortless humor and surprisingly deep humanity. Saldana: Intelligence, beauty and toughness. Cooper: Humor that’s borderline annoying without going over the edge (he has the single funniest line delivery in any 2014 movie so far after the gang’s first encounters the Infinity Stone). Batista: Believable earnestness. Rooker: Awesomeness at everythingness. And Gunn works in a few surprises you never see in action movies, and a couple of sex jokes that are ballsy for a movie that could conceivably be called family entertainment.
Guardians of the Galaxy is funny, thrilling, touching and ridiculous. It also has one of the best soundtracks ever (no hyperbole). When does the sequel come out?
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Directed by James Gunn
With Pratt, Saldana and Cooper
Regal Stadium 14