It’s been a long time since Hollywood trusted audiences to go beyond the stars for a fantasy film, and Guardians of the Galaxy delivers on almost every level possible.
If you don’t know the story already, watch this teaser trailer for a rough idea, which is really all you need (and all you should see before going).
Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty, The LEGO Movie) gives a great performance as Peter Quill, alias Star-Lord, a Terran (Earthling) who is brash, smug and utterly charming, but he also embodies the necessary quality of pain and longing, what with Quill having been abducted as a child by a rogue group of bounty hunters led by the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker, The Walking Dead).
The last time I saw an athlete give a great performance in film, it was Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in 2010’s The A-Team. Four long years have passed, and Dave Bautista, a UFC fighter turned actor, is absolutely wondrous as Drax, a grey-skinned, red-tatooed warrior who speaks like a dictionary and can’t grasp the concept of metaphors. Sounds a lot like me. I like him a lot.
Equally wondrous is the vocal force of nature, Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) as Rocket, the noted raccoon of the story, whose anger at life belies his friendship with his comrades. In this reviewer’s eyes, Cooper portrays Rocket as equal parts Calvin (as in, and Hobbes) and Gene Wilder in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother – quick to berate others for their shortcomings and mistakes, but ashamed of his own way of life.
Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Into Darkness) is as bold and smooth as dark roast coffee with extra half-and-half as Gamora, a master-class assassin who betrays her father and her employer in her search for freedom. Last and certainly the least* is Vin Diesel (Riddick) as the gentle green giant, Groot. With three-plus lines, Diesel makes the most of what he can with his work, and because of it, I’ve never wanted to hug a tree more than now.
Not all the performances are great, mind. Certainly they all shine, but they don’t gleam in unison. While he is commanding in his role of Ronan, Lee Pace brings a bit too much of Thranduil, his character from The Hobbit trilogy, into the blue-skinned xenocidal maniac — he’s basically a dark Thranduil, albeit with different origins. Speaking of blue people, Michael Rooker is basically doing an R. Lee Ermey impersonation as Yondu — usually yelling his lines, though at the appropriate moments. The problem is that he is given so much angry material, it’s hard to appreciate his performance. He does, however, have one hell of a gag involving whistling.
Easily the weakest links in the film are Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) as Ronan’s military advisor, Korath, and Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) as Gamora’s sister, Nebula. As far as I could tell, Hounsou plays a lackey to Ronan with a gun and a mechanical eye. Gillan, yet another blue addition to the main cast, plays the one-note villain method; she is pissed throughout most of the film, and never exhibits humility at moments that could need it.
Of course, the real star of the show is director and co-writer James Gunn (Slither), who establishes both a cosmic level to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and his own identity in mainstream film. Let’s face it, it has been a long time since Hollywood studios have allowed a new space fantasy film (i.e.: not Trek or the Wars) out into the wild, and Gunn hauls out all that he can muster to the film — classic space battles, characters (mostly) with humility and depth, pitch-perfect use of the IMAX aspect ratio and the requisite nostalgia in bringing a film of this caliber back to life. Despite a set of villains that falter in quality compared to the heroes, Guardians is a gorgeous force to be reckoned with. If you’re one of the twenty people in the world who has not yet seen this movie, please log off and do that right now!
*just kidding, Vin