Friday, March 27, 2015

Movie – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Let me be honest right up front: I thought this was going to be the film that would break Marvel's winning streak.  A movie about a bunch of strange beings, including a talking raccoon, based on comic book characters that even someone like me, who at one time had read comics for years, knew almost nothing about?  Not a chance.  Marvel had finally reached too far.  Man was I wrong.  Not only was this a massive box office hit for them, it is a hugely entertaining film and it’s my pick for the best movie of 2014.

Marvel, like Pixar in the early days, continues to show that if you hire talented, creative people then that's all that matters.  Director and co-writer James Gunn had already made two winners with low budget films Slither (2006) and Super (2010).  This time around he got a huge budget to work with.  The CGI is seamless in this.  It has to be with two of the five main characters being completely computer generated.  And anyone who has seen a Gunn film knows he puts humor in them even though they are not comedies.  This one is no exception. The audience was laughing loudly and at length during some scenes.

The film opens with an eight year old Peter Quill having his mother die on him and then getting kidnapped by aliens.  Yes, that sounds weird, but just go with it.  About twenty years later we see the now grown up Quill (Chris Pratt) land on a planet and go all Indiana Jones in retrieving a strange metal orb.  He’s confronted by some men, but manages to get away.

We then see him trying to sell the object on the very civilized planet of Nova.  Two bounty hunters, Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), a genetically and cybernetically altered raccoon, and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), a sentient plant/tree, spot him and the reward that is posted for him.  They try to capture him, but all of a sudden another person inserts herself into the mix.  She is Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of bad guy Thanos (voice of Josh Brolin).  Thanos is the character who had a cameo at the end of The Avengers (2012).  He’s going to be very important in the third and fourth Avengers movies.

Gamora is trying to retrieve the same metal orb, but not for Thanos.  She hates him because he killed her family.  She wants to try to use the orb to hurt him.  Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora all get arrested by the Nova Corps and sent to prison.  Glenn Close has a small role as Nova Prime (essentially the president of the planet), as does John C. Reilly as a Nova Corp member.

Whatever this orb is or does, there are others after it, too.  The men that confronted Quill on the planet where he first retrieved it (led by Djimon Hounsou) report back to Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).  He is a member of the Kree race and he hates the people of Nova with every fiber of his being.  Even though there is peace between Nova and Kree, he wants to kill them all.  He plans to use the orb to do that.  He sends Gamora’s adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) after all of them.  Despite the fact that Thanos also killed her family, Nebula is still loyal to him.

And it doesn’t end there.  Another interested party is Yondu and his crew.  He is the one who originally kidnapped Quill, and he sent him after the orb to retrieve it for him.  Quill decided to steal it for himself.

“So who are the Guardians of the Galaxy?” you might be asking.  When Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora get sent to prison they meet up with another alien named Drax the Destroyer, or just Drax for short (Dave Bautista).  He hates Thanos because Drax’s entire family was killed by him.  (Are we seeing a pattern here with Thanos?)  Drax knows Gamora is Thanos’ adopted daughter, so he intends to kill her.  I won’t spoil how, but all five end up breaking out of prison together.  It’s a great scene.  These five become the title characters.

Of course, there’s all kinds of action and events still to come with all these people after the orb.  Benicio Del Toro has a small role as The Collector, a character we met in the end credits of the second Thor movie.  He is the one who finally reveals to the audience why the orb is so important.

As I said at the top, the tone of the movie is humorous where it can be, but it’s not an out and out comedy.  I went in with big doubts, but the film won me over in the early scene where Quill first lands on the planet to retrieve the orb.  He catches a small creature that tries to attack him, and then uses it as a microphone to sing along to a song he is playing on an ancient Walkman.

A huge component of the tone of the film is the soundtrack.  Quill’s mother had made him an “Awesome Mix Tape #1” before she died and he was listening to it when he was kidnapped.  It’s what he has to remember her by, so it is very important to him.  The songs on it were ones she would have liked when she was younger, so they are mostly from the 1970s.  For someone of my age, who was a child in the 70s, there were a bunch of “oh yeah, I remember that” moments.  For folks that are younger, you will hear a number of catchy songs.  The soundtrack for this movie became the first one in history to hit number one on the charts even though it consisted solely of previously released songs.

As much as there is humor in the film, there is also drama, especially towards the end of the film.  The stakes get very high, and not everyone makes it through to the end.  A couple of scenes are very touching.  And as always with a Marvel movie, stay through the credits to see additional scenes.

Chris Pratt is perfect as Peter Quill.  He brings the right level of “regular guy” goofiness, but also seriousness that the part needed.  Dave Bautista was a professional wrestler cast at least partially for his physique, but he more than held his own with the more experienced actors in the cast.  He also showed some good comic timing.

Zoe Saldana is great as Gamora.  She adds yet another science fiction franchise to her resume.  Some people started calling her “the Queen of Outer Space” after this film became a hit because she also plays Lt. Uhura in the Star Trek reboots, and she did the motion capture for the female alien in Avatar.  For good measure she was the helmswoman of the Black Pearl in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a kick-ass assassin in Columbiana (2011), and she even found time to seduce Mila Kunis in After Sex (2007).

Those were the three main characters that were really there.  Rocket and Groot were added through the magic of computers.  And for the first time that I have ever seen, fully CGI biological characters spent a great deal of time onscreen, interacted with real people, and it was seamless.  After a few minutes I simply forgot that they weren’t really there.  Other films have tried it, but there’s always a moment or two where the animators won’t get something quite right, or the real people won’t interact quite right, and it will jar you out of the film.  It will be an “Oh yeah, they’re not real” moment that takes away the suspension of disbelief for a little while.  That never happened for me in this movie.

If you want a tremendously fun time then this is the film to see.  It’s very funny in places, but touching in others.  It has lots of interesting characters.  It has some great action.  And it is hugely entertaining.  Don’t be put off by the fact that you’ve probably never heard of these Marvel characters; you should see this movie.  If I gave half star ratings this would be 4.5 stars.  I very highly recommend it.

Chip’s Rating:  4 out of 5 stars


  1. Look, I am a guy with very little patience for super hero movies and I liked this one although I thought I would not. The opening 5 minutes promises another and much better kind of movie, but once the disappointment that movie merely plays for fun and action settles it is actually a fun an entertaining movie. I think it is the tone of the movie that really saves it. It has just the right level of selfdepreciating irony to make it palatable. Had it taken itself more serious it would just have been stupid.

    1. It did walk a fine line between not being too serious, but also not being a parody. And it worked perfectly for the film.

  2. I liked G of the G, but wouldn't call it best film of the year. Yes, the CGI characters worked well and were believable alongside the humans. I also agree a huge component of the tone of the film is the music. I also felt that way about American Hustle (2013), which was improved by a great 70s soundtrack.

    1. You didn't state what you felt the best film was, but I see from your site that it's Boyhood. That was a four star film for me, just missing the Top 10. The fourth star was given out of respect for what went into the making of it.

      Of course, that's why we have our various sites - to share our opinions about the movies we like with others. And I see we agreed on the best film of 2013.

  3. Agreed. When I first saw the trailer for this, I said that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to either be the best damn comic book movie made or the biggest trainwreck possible. Either way, I wanted to see it--either to see a great movie or to enjoy the spectacle of something so massive crashing and burning.

    Happily, it was the former rather than the later. I enjoyed the hell out of this in the theater.

    1. This was going to be the first Marvel movie that I was thinking I might not see in the theater. I was already questioning the wisdom of making it, and it was opening in August - the time of year studios start to dump their movies that they figure can't compete during the May-July time frame.

      About a week before the opening I started hearing buzz that it was good. Then professional critics, a group not known for their love of superhero movies, started giving it good reviews. That made me curious and I actually ended up going to see it opening day. I was very glad I did, too.

      I just checked Rotten Tomatoes and the film is 91% fresh with critics and 93% fresh with audiences. The fact that both numbers are not only high, but also close, is telling. Usually there is a disconnect between the two groups. For instance, Best Picture Winner Birdman is 93% with critics, but only 80% with audiences.