By Jared Jones
It’s rather fitting that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy would be the first film I’d review for Screen Junkies, as it’s a movie that seems damn near impossible to critique. Sure, Guardians adheres to many of the conventions we’ve come to expect from a comic book movie (dead parents, cryptically-introduced characters who speak entirely in exposition, etc.), and betrays most of its plot conventions before they are even established, but its absolute refusal to take itself seriously doesn’t exactly open the door for criticism.
Of course, then you see a wisecracking racoon unleash a barrage of machine gun fire while riding on the back of a talking treebeast, and you nearly pass out from the deluge of blood that rushes from your head to your nerd boner.
Guardians of the Galaxy can best be described as a two-hour montage set to a 1970’s Jock Jams mixtape, complete with some of the most intense and plain beautiful CGI your puny eyes may ever gaze upon. It’s the kind of movie Pete Hammond would describe as an “uproarious, fun-filled thrill ride!” while sucking on the taint of whatever PR firm had hired him to write it. For once, his blatant hyperbole would be accurate.
The story is a rather familiar one in terms of comic book adaptations: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is abducted by a gang of intergalactic mercenaries (led by the always delightful Michael Rooker) after watching his mother succumb to cancer, and twenty some-odd years later, he is roaming the galaxy as a common, if wickedly inventive thief. That is, until he stumbles upon the Infinity Stone capable of destroying entire civilizations (DUN-DUN-DUN!) and is forced to band together with a crew of misfits and miscreants in order to save the galaxy. Yadda yadda yadda hijinks ensue.
But yes, back to the CGI. As someone who has always preferred his world-building to take place in our actual world, even I must admit that Guardians was able to create the kind of exceptionally detailed, fully realized CGI-scapes that make paying the extra $10 for 3D glasses worth it. Not that I have to, being a fancy film critic that I am now and all (*spins bow tie*). The post-opening credits scene, which sees Quill a.k.a “Star Lord” shimmy his way across a barren planet to steal the Casket of Ancient Winters/Tesseract/whatever, was the highlight for me in that regard. The whole sequence plays out like a steampunk take on the 1912 Utah opening from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and if you can’t get into that, the door is right over there.
That said, the inevitable success of Guardians will ultimately (and rightfully) be attributed to its cast and the witty repartee they develop. Marvel movies — and really, any comic book adaptation — only shine when they opt for the absurdist route, in my opinion, and director James Gunn‘s script never once pauses to talk about “destiny” or “fate” or whatever hackneyed cliches often punctuate comic book faire. A gravel-voiced Christian Bale speaking in platitudes about the moral weight that comes with being a cape-wearing crime fighter? I fart in your general direction, sir. A gravel-voiced Dave Bautista discussing his inability to understand metaphor? I’ll take two, please.
*Every* character in Guardians is the comic relief, Zoe Saldana‘s somewhat flat Gamora excluded, and that’s what makes the movie such a fun, effortless experience to watch. That, and the breakneck pace at which the film itself moves, because good God, does this flick hustle information past you like an irritated flight attendant on a frat bro-filled plane to Spring Break, Cancun. But on top of it all, Guardians of the Galaxy is just funny, plain and simple. Who would’ve guessed that a WWE star not named The Rock has legitimate comedic timing, or that Vin Diesel repeating the same line of dialogue over and over and over again would never not be hilarious? Spoiler alert: Bautista kills it, and I want a baby Groot-sized potted plant on my desk ASAP.
If I could lob one legitimate criticism at Guardians, it would be that of its villains. As I’ve noticed in more and more blockbuster action movies to come out in recent years, Guardians in the Galaxy would like you to believe that its bad guys — mainly, the Vader-esque Ronan — are all-powerful, menacing, genocidal killers, yet it never really commits to that narrative or establishes what exactly is motivating them (other than the classic standby of “world destruction”). Ronan and his cronies are merely blips on the radar who pop up when needed to cause a little mayhem, but they never really give the impression that they possess the destructive power that warrants the fear they instill.
Guardians’ PG-13 rating is most likely to blame for the movie’s lack of any real stakes or sense of impending doom, and I guess that’s forgivable. But just once, I’d like to see a quote unquote “popcorn flick” have the balls to actually commit to decisions it makes. If you’re going to kill off a character, kill off a character. If you’re going to have one character betray another, maybe establish a relationship between the two that last more than 30 seconds to give said betrayal some actual gravitas.
It’s a minor complaint in an otherwise glowing review, but something Marvel should maybe consider when developing Guardians of the Galaxy 2-8. Oh, did you not know that this movie is going to a box office juggernaut greenlit for a sequel by night’s end? Or that Chris Pratt is probably the next king of the box office? Because yeah, that’s all about to happen.