I’ll be honest, I was not expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did. The trailer is still cheesy to me, and honestly, had YOU ever heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before this movie?? Probably not, and that’s because they’re not in the Marvel A-list team that Spider-Man and Captain America occupy. So how do you make a movie about unknowns like this work? Marketing the trailer and poster frequently to establish familiarity, give a heavy dose of 80’s nostalgia, and then create a super-funny script that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still continues to deliver “wow” moments. Given that I was a late 80’s baby, the nostalgia fell flat for me, but the 80’s soundtrack still worked perfectly to set the tone, and I still appreciated references to Kevin Bacon. By far, however, was the successful formula of the guardians themselves.
The core team was strong, drawing a comparison to The Avengers. However, while everyone loves the Avengers together, one of my drawbacks with that movie was how contrived their immature conflicts were before they finally worked together. The Guardians’ bonding feels more believable and is more fun to watch. They go from joining together out of necessity/rewards (which makes sense for outlaws/mercenaries) to willing to sacrifice for each other after seeing who they really are. To top it off, they’re all pretty dang likable.
Chris Pratt as Star Lord/Peter Quill had to have gotten his inspiration from Nathan Fillion in Firefly and Han Solo, and while I still like those original characters more overall, I think he nailed the part. Picture him as the jerk version of those two individuals. Dave Bautista was the biggest surprise to me. I was afraid he was going to be a Rock-wanna-be as another wrestler dabbling with acting, but instead he nailed the balance between dangerous and earnestly hilarious (“Nothing ever goes over my head- my reflexes are too fast and I would catch it.”). Bradley Cooper as Rocket the raccoon was another stellar choice, and neither he nor Groot (Vin Diesel) got in the way as CGI characters. Their interaction with each other were the highlights. And Gamora was solid too, but was unquestionably the least interesting to me. This is probably due to Zoe Saldana playing basically the same take-no-crap kick-butt woman in each film she’s in, which is fine, but doesn’t do anything to make this particular role stand out for me.
The villains were largely peripheral, which was probably the best move for this first film. The team needed time to form. Also, while Ronan (Lee Pace) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) were both threatening enough, essentially they were the weakest characters in the film. Ronan simply wasn’t memorable in any way, and while Nebula was definitely more interesting, it was simply impossible to get a grip on what her motivation was. She’s with Thanos, than screw Thanos for Ronan, than she hates Ronan after nearly sacrificing herself for her, and now she’s going off by herself- not to mention she has a really big, unexplained hatred for her sister. These unexpected changes combined with her fury made me think the writer was thinking about an ex when scripting her.
So all in all, we have a movie that never took itself too seriously and focused on the fun. This was a great choice, because honestly, how can you play a talking raccoon and tree with purple people with a straight face? It’s an odd little movie. At the same time, underneath all the gags and special effects, the writers still had time to explore the characters’ relationships with each other and their own motivations. I’d put it up there with some of the best Marvel movies to date. Not bad for a movie about The Giving Tree and his hamster.