“Guardians of the Galaxy,” the second to last film in phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is their riskiest venture to date. Granted, when you’re discussing Marvel, risky is a very loose term — each film the studio makes is seemingly a license to print money. For 6 years Marvel has built its cinematic empire on its most recognizable characters, ranging from Captain America to Iron Man. With Guardians, though, the studio is digging deeper into its treasure chest and showcasing lesser-known characters. Further, it’s leaving the storytelling confines of Earth and expanding its universe into fantasy-like elements, including the severed head of a Celestial (you’ll understand once you see the film). It’s these elements that make the film riskier, as audiences are now asked to accept the weirder concepts of their comics, (see: a genetically altered talking raccoon /a tree that speaks only one line of dialog). With that in mind, how does it stack up against the other Marvel films? Apart from a few minor issues, it’s easily one of the best Marvel films to date.
The basic concept: 5 outlaws come together to save a planet from utter destruction. Unless you’re a Marvel aficionado, the film might be a little confusing; it features a myriad of different races and jumps from planet to planet, but by the end it all comes together. There are connective links to the other films in the Marvel universe, but director James Gunn is more interested in this story’s main protagonist. Each character is given ample screen time and none of their backstory feels forced. From CGI characters (Rocket and Groot, voiced perfectly by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel) to live actors that include Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista, the group’s chemistry is pitch perfect. The story falters a bit when it comes to Ronan, Guardians’ villain. While his actions have purpose, his motivations are underdeveloped and he comes across as a tangential to the story itself. Honestly, though, it doesn’t fatally impact the film as the central point of this installment is the Guardians themselves. This is their film, and Gunn is smart enough to know it!
He has only 3 theatrical directing credits to his name — one of them being the under appreciated horror film “Slither” — but Gunn has proven masterful at finding the correct tone. Guardians is an incredible balancing act, whether a set action piece or a heartwarming dramatic moment or the film’s comedic elements, Gunn is able to fit all of these in without it becoming a train wreck. He’s clearly a huge fan of the 80’s, as Guardians seemingly references the tone of low budget films of that decade such as “The Ice Pirates” and “My Science Project.” Whatever his influences, no Marvel movie balances tone better than Guardians.
Guardians also shines on a technical level. Seizing the opportunity presented by a storyline that jumps from a prison in space to the head of a Celestial and so on, Gunn has done a wonderful job of giving every scene a different look and feel. While the action can be somewhat chaotic at times, his fast-paced editing keeps the geography of the frame intact. If you’re interested in the 3D, it’s probably one of the best conversions to date. With tone firmly planted in the action/comedy genre, Gunn is allowed to play with screen convergence and have objects poke beyond it without things feeling out of place. When it comes to the score, this is the best score that composer Tyler Bates has ever written. His Guardians’ theme ranks up there with Marvel’s best, and his dramatic cues ably accentuate the visuals without overpowering them.
There is one final aspect of Guardians that makes it one of this summer’s better films: it’s simply a lot of fun to watch! You’ll be smiling from ear to ear as you watch a band of misfits join together for a bigger purpose. The film offers thrills, laughs, drama and ultimately is a blast to watch.
OVERALL RATING: 92/100