Movie Review: As if Marvel couldn’t improve on the foundation they’d already built for themselves, they bring James Gunn on to make a surprisingly energetic, original hit that infuses new juice into everything Marvel does after it. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, and others help bring in a new order to the MCU.
Upon revisiting, I may at points in this re-review of “Guardians of the Galaxy” argue that this film is the most important MCU property to the juggernaut franchise that’s dominated over a decade of filmmaking – not necessarily the best, but the most important. Sure, some will say that “Iron Man” birthed the rest of the universe and that all of this has been its offspring ever since, or that “The Avengers” cemented the expanded group of spandex-wearing and metal-plated heroes in the history books of this medium we call “film,” but perhaps it was “Guardians of the Galaxy” that allowed this (at the time) gargantuan story to go further and further – intergalactic, you may say.
Yes, Thor is from the mythical lands of Asgard, and Hulk doesn’t commit to the bit of being a normal civilian, but the Guardians allow us to see different depths of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the same depths that would be explored by the inevitable conquering foe of Thanos and his squadron of Kree folk, one of which serves as the “Guardians of the Galaxy” big bad in Ronan the Accuser (more like Ronan the Crony that serves zero interesting qualities besides being the lazy glue that introduces the Infinity Stones front and center). It’s not a perfect movie, but I’m glad that these imperfections are the casualty of not trying to follow the MCU formula, even if it indirectly helps write the new way of telling these stories: the heightened sense of visual mishmash, prioritizing goofiness over substance, and needing to inject Chris Pratt into your daily film digestion.
Yet even with some of these issues that I have with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and even more so “Vol. 2” (that I’m hoping are mostly eased on rewatch), it completely wins you over by the third act. Because at the time, and especially now after “Ant-Man: Quantumania” attempts to do the same thing to lesser effect, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a worthy reimagining of the “Star Wars” formula – to fill every frame with characters, settings, and detail that you’re curious about and want to see more of.
Xander is the capital of the Nova Empire in this story, a city that serves as the financial hub for Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill. Quill is a ravager selling valuables and living life on the margins listening to old mixtapes left behind by his mother after her passing. We meet him stealing an orb from an abandoned planet, but the orb is revealed to be housing one of the few Infinity Stones that Ronan the Accuser and Thanos are tracking to commit the destruction of entire planets.
Along the journey, we meet the feisty raccoon Rocket (voiced by the surprisingly stunning talent of Bradley Cooper), the tree-humanoid Groot (the less challenging role by Vin Diesel), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista; the second coming of Flanderization), and Thanos’ daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldaña). And thus, we have our Guardians.
Directing this ragtag team of superheroes is James Gunn, a filmmaker who’s made a career off this formula since with three volumes of this team and one with “The Suicide Squad” that was largely successful. He’s also overseeing operation of the newly reformed DC Expanded Universe that’s also being pulled together by heroes and stories less familiar to wider audiences. His style is very charming and the care and love that he has for his own stories translates excellently to the big screen. You truly get a sense of sentimentality and affection for his movies that I struggle finding in other MCU movies. He’s not being hired to do this job because of name recognition and because he wants to get a different project of his financed – he loves making blockbuster superhero movies. Can you blame him? He’s good at it.
And I much prefer this to the muddy, boots on the ground iterations of Marvel that feel like cheap, wonky spins of “Mission Impossible” and “James Bond” with the central figure wielding an America-themed shield or a lightning hammer (Mjolnir, I’m sorry). This has a heightened sense of visual spectacle that I enjoy more, even if it looks goopy when moving. I’ve always felt Marvel works best when intertwining these two visual styles and competing effects strategies (i.e., trying to build practical sets and stunts in a fictional galaxy set lightyears away). At the end of the day, they’re mostly shot on soundstages. Why not make the soundstage work fun?! I admit, maybe I’m one of the causes for the aforementioned tragedy of “Quantumania.”
But like I said in the opening monologue, there’s an argument that “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the biggest heel turn in the MCU. The stakes somehow felt smaller back in the day, but “Guardians of the Galaxy” introduced a realm of possibility in which Thanos would come crashing in entries from now and leave his giant fingerprint on the movie industry forever. “Guardians of the Galaxy” made it possible, and I have to give it props for that.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is now available to stream on Disney+
“Guardians of the Galaxy” Cast and Credits
Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Zoe Saldaña as Gamora
Dave Bautista as Drax
Vin Diesel as Groot
Bradley Cooper as Rocket
Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser
Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta
Karen Gillan as Nebula
Djimon Hounsou as Korath
John C. Reilly as Corpsman Dey
Glenn Close as Nova Prime
Benicio del Toro as The Collector
Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Editors: Craig Wood, Hughes Winborne, Fred Raskin
Composer: Tyler Bates