Marvel is tangentially moving their Cinematic Universe deep into the cosmos with Guardians of the Galaxy, and director James Gunn has definitely created something that seems wholly separate from The Avengers franchise of movies, but different doesn’t mean better. In fact, boredom set in early and only a few chuckles here and there sustained me for the duration.
I never felt a tinge of excitement. The story is nothing more than a “to do” list as we bounce across the galaxy, meeting this person and that being, moving from Xandar to Knowhere, for the first hour or so before we finally realize that’s all this is, a means of establishing a few characters, acquiring a MacGuffin and preparing for the next inevitable step in the story. Worst of all, this is a movie about waiting around to see what happens next, because it isn’t long before you know what’s going to happen, and what I saw did little for me.
While 99% of the movie takes place beyond Earth’s solar system, the opening is set on our blue marble. It’s 1988 and a young Peter Quill stands by his mother’s hospital bed as life leaves her body. He screams and runs outside only to be abducted by an alien spacecraft. Flash forward 26 years later, Quill (Chris Pratt), now a “ravager”, is on a desolate planet, listening to an audio cassette on his Walkman and dancing to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love“. And so it begins…
Quill is searching for a mysterious orb, for which he will be paid handsomely, but just after acquiring the object he’s confronted by a man named Korath (Djimon Hounsou) and his minions. Before they can take Quill into custody he manages to escape, with the orb, and flees the planet in his ship unharmed.
Enter Yondu (Michael Rooker), a fellow ravager and the man responsible for abducting Quill as a child. Quill has gone rogue, searching for the orb on his own in an attempt to collect 100% of the reward and Yondu is none-too-pleased. Meanwhile, the bad guy, Ronan (Lee Pace), wants the orb so he can destroy a planet and sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana), adopted daughter of Thanos (Josh Brolin), to get Quill and the orb while Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s sister, sits on the sidelines biding her time.
Next we learn, Yondu has placed a bounty on Quill’s head, which brings the sentient tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and his partner, the genetically altered raccoon Rocket (unrecognizably voiced by Bradley Cooper), into the picture as they attempt to capture Quill and collect. That gets messed up when Gamora enters the picture (her motives apparently not all they originally seem) and the whole group ends up in intergalactic prison.
You with me so far? Because this is just the beginning. I have yet to mention Drax (Dave Bautista) and how Quill, Gamora, Groot, Rocket and Drax eventually team up to save the galaxy from Ronan’s plan to carry out whatever other bad things come to mind. Oh yeah, and Benicio del Toro shows up for about two minutes, playing The Collector, while John C. Reilly and Glenn Close play Xandar military officials. However, we’re not meant to care or even really know any of these characters other than the central five so I won’t bore you with any more of their story.
As for the central five, Pratt did nothing for me as Quill, whose constant sarcasm is so routine there’s rarely any comedy in it and the role just doesn’t fit him, which I can’t tell is as a result of the tonal imbalance every scene encounters or the fact he’s just not intergalactic leading man material. Oh, and there’s a big “mystery” surrounding who Quill really is and when I say “mystery” I mean, once again, you know who he is and we’ll just have to wait and see it all play out in the sequel.
The casting of Saldana seems too on-the-nose following Star Trek and Avatar, as she mechanically sleepwalks through each and every scene as if very little she’s doing interests her, and Bautista as Drax is a nightmare with about as little charisma as an actor can exhibit.
Things improve, however, with both Groot and Rocket. It’s an unlikely duo and Groot’s vocabulary involves saying, “I am Groot”, which, depending on Groot’s inflection, Rocket can interpret whatever Groot is “saying”. Rocket, on the other hand, is a fireball of anger and frustration and most of the time rather funny. These two are not only the movie’s comic relief, they are the only reason the entirety of the movie’s two hours are worth watching. I would get in line to watch a movie starring only Rocket and Groot, but I never have the intention of watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.
To be fair, I should add that I enjoyed scenes involving Gillan as Nebula. While Ronan is clearly nothing but a super-duper “kill everyone” bad guy and Nebula’s sister, Gamora, the orphaned child turning against her adoptive father, Nebula seems to have a little something more to her and perhaps that’s because we only get glimpses of what that may be. It also doesn’t hurt Gillan gives a better performance in a limited amount of screen time. Her character is definitely evil, but you almost cheer and feel sorry for her at the same time.
Beyond that, the special effects are fantastic, the work done on Groot and Rocket is top notch and the overall visuals are impeccable. Alternatively, I absolutely couldn’t stand the musical choices as they never felt relevant to the story, instead as kitschy pieces meant to serve as winks to the audience rather than actual artistic choices as if to say, “We’re going to make this a little sillier so you know not to take any of this too seriously and just have fun with it.” I can appreciate the sentiment, but it didn’t add to my enjoyment, it only added to my annoyance, especially considering the two most ridiculous aspects of the movie — the talking tree and raccoon — were the very best parts, silly or otherwise.
Guardians of the Galaxy is bland, holding absolutely zero surprises. The only questions being which song from the ’70s will be used next and when will the showdown with Ronan take place so the credits can roll? I, however, know I am on the outside looking in when it comes to this opinion. As bored as I was, laughing only periodically at something Rocket said or Groot did, my audience was fully enraptured, clapping at scenes in the middle of the movie and wholly caught up in the entire thing. Different strokes for different folks I suppose, and I do hope audiences get more enjoyment out of it I did.