"Guardians of the Galaxy" Is the Delicious Gateway Drug to a Larger Marvel Universe Review

To put it simply, Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel Studios betting that it’s built up enough of a reputation for crowd-pleasing romps of heroism that they can cash in their chips and take a risk on a franchise that doesn’t boast Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, or Chris Evans as Captain America. They’re willing to wager that you’ve come to trust the Marvel brand just enough that a space opera about a 70s hits grooving space pirate (played by first-time leading man Chris Pratt), a green-skinned assassin (Zoe Saldana), a blue-skinned maniac (Dave Bautista), a walking tree thing (Vin Diesel), and a gun-toting talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper) will be just within the limits of plausibility for audiences who can’t claim to have ever heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy to still give it a shot. If audiences do, they’ll more than likely be wildly entertained and probably a little surprised that they ever doubted a talking raccoon could make an endearing hero.

Guardians of the Galaxy shines from start to finish visually and comically, even if a few hiccups bubble up here and there as it leans heavily on its undeniable crutch of its soundtrack. When the credits roll, Guardians of the Galaxy will have accomplished its goal to entertain you and give you a taste of what's to come.

The story doesn’t waste time setting up the premise of this ramshackle team of outlaws, with a grieving, adolescent Peter Quill abducted immediately after the cancer-induced passing of his mother, we’re skipped ahead 26 years where Peter (Pratt), who insists people call him “Star Lord”, has joined up with the very pirate band that abducted him. After stealing a highly sought after relic and getting a bounty on his head in the process, he soon makes “friends” with an odd bunch: Gamora (Saldana), the adopted daughter of puppetmaster villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), sent to retrieve the relic by Ronan (Lee Pace); Rocket (Cooper), a cybernetically enhanced raccoon with a knack for scrabbling together weapons and bombs from stuff lying around; and Rocket’s partner Groot (Diesel), a tree person who can only utter “I am Groot” and bounces amusingly between tenderness and brutality as the situation requires. A squabble lands all four of them in jail and into the presence of their 5th companion, Drax (Bautista), who breaks out with them under the condition they help him catch up to Ronan, who killed his family and who also wants the mysterious relic for evil, world destroying purposes.

James Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s script does a fairly excellent job setting up the characters, packaging the mandatory exposition of each character’s motivation for initially going along with the increasingly crazy plans they concoct with an expert blend of comedy that tends to come from all corners of the team. It makes that initial 30 minutes where we meet everybody and learn what they hope to gain from their plan to thwart Ronan’s crusade all the more palatable. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s padded out with a soundtrack that’s hard not to love, especially considering the characters actively respond to it thanks to it emanating from one of Peter Quill’s most cherished Earthly possessions: his walkman with a mixtape created by his mom.

It opens up a lot of funny conversational doors throughout the film, but it could also be argued that it grants the film some emotional resonance that it doesn’t earn honestly with its script, rather stealing that depth from music it hopes you already associate with certain moods, tones, etc. That being said, it’s an easy sin to forgive considering how well the musical cues work into the action (with an opening dance number by Quill torturing some lizard rats acting as a great introduction to the movie’s goofy sensibility). Soundtrack or no soundtrack, Guardians of the Galaxy oozes fun from start to finish.

So much so, that the big showdown with Ronan feels overshadowed and just very, very short. If you’re expecting some huge climactic battle where the Guardians each go head to head with Ronan, jettison that going in and you’ll likely find the way the ending plays out a bit more satisfying. Even then though, it’s hardly resolute. Many aspects of the finale feel like an intentional loose thread left hanging to be tied up or continued in the already announced sequel. That lack of closure on a number of counts will undoubtedly irritate some, but Guardians offsets it for the most part by having enough other really cool stuff going on that the third of the storylines that don’t wrap up aren’t terribly upsetting for most. In fact, it delivers in so many other excellent ways (like the final reveal of just how awesome Yondu’s arrow is) that when a character just walks off with the clear intention they’ll appear in the sequel or an obvious “to be continued” thread gets revealed, it’s met more with an anticipation-tinged sigh than heartfelt annoyance.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first step into a much larger world for Marvel, and they’ve clearly taken it with the intention of not overwhelming newcomers with a lot of heavy Sci-Fi or too much mythology about all the McGuffins we’ve seen previously. They offer just enough information to help audiences who’ve seen Avengers and Thor: The Dark World understand where the franchise is going and how it relates to Guardians, but they don’t spend too much time on it this time around for fear that it will weigh down a story that already has its hands full introducing five heroes and a few villains. To compensate, it overdelivers on the comedy and entertainment to the point where the story falls to the side as spectacle takes over.

The take away point here is that if you can accept this first entry of Guardians of the Galaxy as the metaphorical spoonful of sugar to help these new, broader Sci-Fi elements of the Marvel universe go down for an audience that isn’t used to that particular flavor from Marvel, then you’ll have a blast.

Also, the end credit scene on Guardians of the Galaxy might win the distinction for being the best call back to one of Marvel's most ill-treated and obscure characters. It doesn't advance the story or hint at something grand, but its randomness and strangeness feel perfectly at home following the movie you just watched.

"Guardians of the Galaxy" opens August 1, 2014 and is rated PG13. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi. Directed by James Gunn. Written by James Gunn, Nicole Perlman. Starring Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Vin Diesel, Zoë Saldana.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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