I think I'm jinxed. When we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier back in April, the movie was stopped for fifteen minutes because a tornado was reported on the ground in nearby Webster Groves. In early July, we attended a seventeen-minute free preview of Guardians of the Galaxy. We were hit by a storm so dangerous, we couldn't walk home from a bus stop three blocks away. Today, we saw the movie. All week, it's been sunny and warm--as it was when we left home that morning. We left the theater to very different weather conditions...again!
When Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced, I didn't think it was going to be something I'd want to see. A talking raccoon? A humanoid tree? A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away? (I couldn't resist the Star Wars comparison, since Disney also owns Lucasfilm and is producing #7 of the Star Wars saga.) I was ready to pass on it...until I saw some early trailers.
The movie more than lived up to the promise of the trailers...and I can't wait to see it again!
The film starts with young Peter Quill at a hospital on earth (to be a bit more precise, Missouri in 1988). His mother, Meredith, is dying. Cancer has ravaged her body; she's lost her hair. She wants to see her son, to give him a gift. He never opens it. Angry, scared and confused, as she passes away, he runs from her room, from the hospital. Outside, alone in the darkness, he is almost immediately abducted by a group of alien rednecks led by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker).
I questioned the timing of the abduction; it seemed contrived at first--but the explanation comes at the end of the movie.
Flash forward twenty-six years to another planet, to ruins in which one might expect to find Indiana Jones. An adult Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is dancing in the ruins, moving to the music on his Walkman, searching. The object of his search: a mystical orb (think of the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark--in fact, later in the movie, Quill makes a comparison to the Ark of the Covenant). He finds it, only to be confronted by the minions (no, not those Minions!) of Ronan (Lee Pace), a Kree radical who's supposedly in league with the mad titan Thanos.
Quill escapes, only to find himself the target of an assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thanos' adopted daughter (who has her own agenda) and two bounty hunters, Rocket (a genetically-engineered cybernetic raccoon with a bad attitude and an itchy trigger finger voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot, a humanoid tree who can only say three words: "I. Am. Groot." (Voiced by Vin Diesel.)
All four are apprehended by the Nova Corps, led by Corpsman Dey (John C. Reilly) and sent to the Kyln, a maximum-security prison. There, they, along with Drax (pro wrestler Dave Bautista), discover they must work together to escape--and prevent Ronan from using the orb to destroy the planet. This leads to a wildly funny prison escape led by Rocket, unquestionably the smartest member of the team (under different circumstances, Rocket could have been a major supervillain).
As with every Marvel Studios film since Iron Man, the casting is flawless. Pratt as Peter Quill portrays a boy in a man's body, a big kid who never got over the loss of his mother and the life they had on Earth. Saldana's Gamora is tough but also dealing with a loss: a family murdered by the monster who "adopted" her. Bautista's Drax is a tragic figure consumed by a need for revenge for the deaths of his wife and daughter. Rocket, behind the tough-guy facade, is surprisingly sensitive. "She called me a rodent. He called me vermin. Well, I didn't ask to be made!" (This, my friends, is what happens when man is arrogant enough to think he can improve on the original design. Just saying.) Groot is both a gentle soul and a fierce fighter, willing to sacrifice himself for his friends.
James Gunn's writing and direction gives us a Marvel film unlike any of its predecessors. Though the Avengers films give us healthy doses of humor and flawed, broken characters, they're still heroes, still good guys. The Guardians are criminals who find themselves unexpectedly thrust into their hero roles. Though starting the franchise with the group rather than individually, as was done with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, doesn't allow for as much in the way of character development, we get to see enough of each of the Guardians to understand and empathize with each of them. They start the film as orphans, loners by necessity, but by the end are a family of their own making.
One of my favorite scenes involves Quill going back for his Walkman as they're escaping the Kyln. He's willing to risk capture to get the one thing he has left of his life on Earth, and that speaks volumes about him. The other, well...it involves a message Quill sends to Corpsman Dey, identifying himself as "one of the A-holes" and indicating he's "not a total dick."
"Can we believe him?" Nova Prime (Glenn Close) asks.
Dey hesitates. "Well, I don't think anyone's a total dick...."
Guardians of the Galaxy is more of a comedy than Marvel's previous films. The jokes--good and bad--work. Drax and Gamora don't get earth humor and metaphors ("Don't ever call me a thesaurus again!" "Who put the sticks up their butts?") The CGI is so impressive, I forgot there were actors' voices behind Rocket and Groot. It's one of those movies that everyone, even a couch potato like myself, should see for the first time on the biggest screen available.
It's already far exceeded studio expectations--our theater had 22 showings yesterday, adding some of them after ticket demand necessitated it. Fandango reported sellouts in many theaters. And the sequel has already been scheduled. I'm counting the days....
My partner in crime, William Kendall, has also reviewed Guardians of the Galaxy. Check out his review at Speak of the Devil!