When I’m wrong, I try to be the first to admit it. And in this case, was I ever wrong.
A couple years back when Marvel announced that their summer 2014 film was going to be Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought they were insane. Here they were on this incredible hot streak of box-office success, and they were going to take a gamble on a property obscure even by Marvel fanboy standards? And with two fully animated lead characters at that?
Jump ahead to the present, when director James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is not only the number-one movie in the world, and the biggest August opener in film history, but also the best reviewed Marvel Studios film yet, and it’s easy to forget just what a risky move this was for Marvel. A big-budget space-opera with unfamiliar characters and largely unfamiliar actors (at least by the standards of your average summer blockbuster), with very little connections to the long run of previous Marvel releases, and set almost entirely in deep space. And here we are, with what might be my favorite Marvel Studios release yet.
James Gunn deserves all the praise and acclaim that’s coming his way, not just for his clever, funny script or directorial choices, but just as much for the casting. This is a career-making performance for Chris Pratt, no two ways about it. From the first moments we see him dancing his way across an alien landscape to “Come and Get Your Love,” there’s no doubt he’s a movie star now. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora has more depth and humor here than we saw from her in either STAR TREK or AVATAR, and Dave Bautista is the surprise of the film here with his hilarious and haunted performance as Drax the Destroyer. As for the two animated Guardians, I never once heard Bradley Cooper in Rocket Raccoon’s voice, which is the best compliment you can give to a celebrity voice-over gig, and while Vin Diesel only technically has one line over and over as Groot, what he does with it is pretty remarkable, often hearing the different meanings in the same three words. It’s reminiscent of his great performance in THE IRON GIANT, and I daresay it’s the kind of subtlety a lot of actors couldn’t pull off.
Much has been made about Gunn’s use of ’70s pop music in the film, and he deserves all the credit he’s getting there as well. Not only are the songs so well integrated into the story that they serve real narrative purpose, but they also give the audience a much-needed touchstone in the midst of so much unfamiliar territory.
And even though GUARDIANS is primarily its own tale, it does move the larger Marvel Studios narrative forward a bit with the full introduction of Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, who already looks to be the perfect choice. I can’t tell how much of that performance was motion-capture and how much was practical, but the little taste of the Mad Titan we’re getting here has me very excited for the eventual AVENGERS 3.
So, to sum up: great visuals, laugh-out-loud funny, strong performances, good action and a surprising amount of heart. Hard to argue with that.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see it again.