Marvel’s riskiest venture may be the most rewarding
Guardians of the Galaxy is a very atypical movie from Marvel Studios. While it still follows the same blueprint that have made the other movies successful (see: inclusion of a MacGuffin, talented lead, action galore) it moves at a different beat all thanks to James Gunn, who has joined the studio’s cool kids table and will see his status rocket to prime-time player. He, like what Shane Black did with Iron Man Three, is going from cult hits (Black did Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, while Gunn did both Slither and Super) to the big time.
Even with Marvel’s backing, this project was still risky. Here we have a motley crew – no, not the one with Vince Neil and Tommy Lee – that have character traits that were among those mentioned in a classic line by Grace to Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller Day’s Off when she describes Bueller’s popularity among the high school class.
Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.
Righteous, indeed. Or you go further back from John Hughes High to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and step into the Mos Eisley Cantina and find Han Solo shooting first (always), but in the corner booth would be some guy drinking a Pepsi (“The Choice of a New Generation”) with a side of Ding Dongs as he listens to an Awesome Mix Tape on his Walkman.
That somebody would be Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), legendary outlaw and scavenger, and he’s your antihero for the duration of the movie. Star-Lord is an alias for Peter Quill, an Earthling who was abducted as a child in 1988 and raised among his captors, themselves scavengers trying to make a dishonest buck.
The opening is a throwback to Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. But instead of donning a leather jacket, whip and fedora, Star-Lord has specially equipped armor, an element gun and crunchy tunes blaring into his eardrums as he makes his way into a tomb.
But this time he got more than he bargained for when he snatched an orb that is wanted by multiple parties. In less time than it takes to listen to 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love,” which is one of the songs that comprises the movie’s Awesome Mix Tape/soundtrack, Quill will meet Gamora, Drax, Rocket and Groot. No, that’s not an intergalactic law firm that handles small claims for spaceship fender benders. These four are a bunch of misfits that are thrown together by circumstance and misfortune. As curious as they may be there are darker forces that want the orb, who aren’t looking to make a quick buck.
Whereas The Avengers was a coming together of characters already established (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury) Guardians of the Galaxy basically surveys the scene of the Mos Eisley Cantina and picks from an assemblage of oddballs. A green alien chick? Check. A talking raccoon that sounds a lot like Bradley Cooper? Check. A giant walking houseplant that only says three words? Check. A guy named Drax who is also a Destroyer? Check and check.
In watching Guardians I was reminded how the twelve-year-old me would have reacted had I seen this in 1993, the same summer Steven Spielberg made dinosaurs come to life in Jurassic Park. That was one year before entering my teen years and already pop culture was a part of my life. So to see a hero who shares in his mother’s love of ‘70s/’80s pop tunes from the likes of Redbone (“Come and Get Your Love”), Blue Swede (“Hooked on a Feeling”), and David Bowie (“Moonage Daydream”), I was ready to build the mix tape of my youth.
Guardians is a galactic adventure yarn that plays a lot like Flash Gordon if Flash was a snot-nosed kid with a Walkman grown accustomed to the stars and a galaxy around him, instead of being a New York Jets quarterback who relies on football smarts and lunkhead likeability.
Even if the locations are foreign to us – a planet named Xandar, a mining colony called Knowhere – it’s just a backdrop where the galaxy’s unlikeliest heroes (screw being the mightiest) meet, fight amongst each other, and ultimately forge a genuine friendship. This is where The Avengers failed. Their alliance was aided in having Agent Coulson be a martyr, or so they thought, and having them avenge the planet. Give us the sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads. Give us characters that are primed for kids who need some rebelliousness in their heroes.
Chris Pratt, who has slowly made the transition from Parks & Recreation to the big screen, should be thankful he didn’t get the part of Captain Kirk in the revamped Star Trek. He is perfect as the thirty-something Star-Lord, a cocky hero who is a combination of Ferris Bueller and Buckaroo Bonzai. He’s also quick with the one-liners. A joke involving a black light and Jackson Pollock will sail over the heads of young viewers, but those who are astute to what he’s referencing will totally love the humor. Plus he’s got great taste in music thanks to mom.
Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is a fun foil to Star-Lord, immune to his womanizing ways. Always steely and determined, she kicks ass her green skin be damned. The tandem of Rocket and Groot are a great odd couple – seriously they could have their own galactic road trip comedy a la Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Bradley Cooper is Mr. Sarcasm as Rocket, while Vin Diesel’s Groot proves that just because he’s been found guilty for his wooden acting, Diesel making like a tree will have audiences wanting to do anything but leave.
The biggest surprise in the group may be wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax. He gets little play in the trailers, but his deadpan wit and timing is great in Guardians. That could be all thanks to James Gunn’s writing or it could be Bautista pulling a Channing Tatum showing the world that he knows how to generate laughs. Seriously, you’ll leave the theater quoting lines from the movie.
As far as baddies go, the gang has to deal with Nebula (Karen Gillian), Gamora’s sister and loyal lieutenant to primary baddie, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). Ronan works to retrieve the mysterious orb for powerful alien warlord Thanos, who previously made a cameo appearance at the end of The Avengers. Star-Lord’s acting father figure, Yondu (Michael Rooker), the blue-skinned leader of the Ravagers, is also in need of the orb. Just don’t test him. He’s got a magical arrow trick that shows he’s no Prince of Thieves.
Guardians of the Galaxy hits all the right notes. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and writer/director Gunn doesn’t feel like he has to spend much time outlining the set-up or supporting parties. He knows the audience will figure out the Nova Corps when they make their presence known in the movie. What I love is that while it gives us small details of what’s to come (Thanos, the orb’s importance, et al.) it’s not like what we got in Iron Man 2 where half the movie felt like a prelude to The Avengers. Early on Star-Lord even refers to the MacGuffin orb as the film’s Maltese Falcon – not as in a breaking the fourth wall, just as a passing observation.
For a guy who early in his career penned screenplays for Scooby-Doo, its sequel and Zack Synder’s Dawn of the Dead remake, it’s rewarding that Marvel allowed Gunn to tap into his own eccentricities (just watch Slither and Super and you’ll know what I mean) and present them in a big-budget production that will surely be viewed by millions of eyes. Such freedom has allowed him to make a movie about me, a child of the ‘80s, grown up to be a smartackley hero that’s hooked on a feeling.
Excuse me while I go make a mix tape.
Director: James Gunn Writer(s): James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, based on “Guardians of the Galaxy” by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning Notable Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!