Some trivia for you: in 1977, when STAR WARS arrived in theaters, Harrison Ford was 35-years-old. After that film, Ford went on to have one hell of a career that’s still going to this day. Why am I talking about Ford and STAR WARS? Because three-and-a-half decades later, the most ragtag group of misfits in the galaxy since Han Solo and company are on the scene and they’re lead by actor Chris Pratt… who just turned 35.
Coincidence? Oh, definitely — but Ford also teamed with Steven Spielberg on multiple projects and Pratt’s next film, 2015’s JURASSIC WORLD, will be produced by Spielberg. Yes, the stars are definitely aligning for Pratt and after seeing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, it’s very easy to see why.
Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, Groot… all comic book characters that most moviegoers never knew existed before that first trailer that left everyone chanting “oogachaka” for days. Marvel Studios has thousands upon thousands of characters in their cannon and out of all of them, they decided to follow their blockbuster IRON MAN, THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA and AVENGERS films with five characters that you’ve never heard of. Why not, though? Even though these characters may be absurd and they live in space, chances are, every single person out there will connect more with them than an armored billionaire, a God of Thunder, a super-soldier or a gamma-ray-mutated beast.
Directed by James Gunn (he’s also the co-writer), GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is absolute perfection. During the film’s 2-hour-long runtime, I smiled, cheered, cried and laughed… oh, did I laugh. Relatively unknown outside of his dedicated fan base, Gunn’s past films include the criminally-underrated comedy-horror SLITHER and the funny-yet-shocking superhero flick SUPER. He was also the screenwriter behind Zack Snyder’s DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. I’ve been a member of his fan base for years now and when I heard that Joss Whedon (director of THE AVENGERS) was talking Marvel Studios into getting Gunn for GUARDIANS, I was ecstatic. It looks like my enthusiasm paid off because Gunn has put together one of the most original and memorable comic-to-film adaptations out there.
Back to Pratt, it’s funny to think that there was a time when he wasn’t even going to audition for the role of Peter Quill/Star-Lord. After being rejected for both AVATAR and STAR TREK, he kind of gave up on that dream of being the lead in an epic space opera. The man was born for it, though. His comedic timing is spot-on and when it comes to over-the-top action sequences and quieter, more emotional scenes, he brings his A-game. I really bought his performance of Quill. The hardships and neglect that the character goes through were both disheartening and inspirational. While James Cameron and J.J. Abrams may’ve skipped out on Pratt, I’m happy that Gunn gave him the opportunity (though it apparently took much convincing). Keep an eye on Pratt. Actually, go back and watch his past performances so you can remember where he came from. This guy’s going to be huge.
Zoe Saldana’s no stranger to science fiction or action. Besides kicking butt in COLUMBIANA and THE LOSERS, she’s been Neytiri in AVATAR and Uhura in the new STAR TREK films (seems like she was destined to work with Pratt, wouldn’t you say?). Yeah, she’s come a long way from her days of being Britney Spears’ buddy in CROSSROADS. While Gamora may be her most-alien role yet, it strangely feels the most human. An orphan raised by her parents’ murderer, Gamora uses her strength and reputation to hide the fact that she’s truly a tortured soul. I was genuinely happy every time that she appeared on the screen. Her chemistry with Pratt was amazing. It makes me wish that he would’ve got those other roles so we could’ve seen the two of them together on-screen a lot sooner.
I remember watching Dave Bautista when he was a professional wrestler for the WWE. An absolute brute, Bautista (who back then went by the moniker of Batista) would destroy every opponent he went up against in the ring. When he was announced as Drax the Destroyer, I found it rather fitting, though I still questioned the choice. While he was a powerhouse in the ring, he was never really the greatest during the promo spots. He starred in RIDDICK as a brainless muscle-head and before that, he appeared in a string of bad straight-to-video B-movies. So while he had the look to be Drax, why would Marvel hire him for this $100-million blockbuster? Well, it’s because to be Drax, you have to be a brainless powerhouse, muscle-head and destroyer. This role was made for Bautista and you know what? He even upped his acting chops. I was pleasantly surprised with Bautista’s performance and it often left me laughing out loud — in a good way — at his portrayal of Drax.
When it came to Rocket and Groot, I was curious to how Gunn would tackle the team’s two non-humanoid characters. Rocket — who’s essentially a raccoon that was scientifically experimented on — and Groot — a seven-foot-tall walking tree — were going to be a tough sell with moviegoers who weren’t familiar with the comic books. At least that’s what I originally thought before seeing the film’s first trailer. After that, it was apparent that Rocket and Groot were going to be the highlights of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Not only were they brought to life using some of the best CGI that I’ve ever seen in a feature film, but they had superstar actors Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel help with their performances.
Cooper voices Rocket and brings him to life in such a glorious fashion (on set, Gunn’s brother, Sean, stood in for Cooper as Rocket). In fact, when Rocket first appears on screen, I couldn’t even tell that he was being voiced by Cooper. Rocket is such a fun character in the film. He has some of the funniest lines due to his cocky, sarcastic personality and I honestly can’t imagine anyone else as the character after seeing the film.
Diesel had a true challenge ahead of him as Groot. Unlike Cooper, he had to give Groot life by voice performance and motion capture and he had to do it all while only saying three simple words: “I Am Groot.” Yeah, Groot’s vocabulary is pretty limited, but that by no means made him less interesting than any of the other characters. When Diesel exclaims, “I Am Groot,” you can feel and understand the character’s emotions at that exact moment. It was honestly a pretty incredible performance.
The villains in the film stick by the Marvel formula of really just being there to cause all of the nastiness. The lead villain, Ronan the Accuser, is played by actor Lee Pace. Before GUARDIANS, I was completely unaware of Pace’s work, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Wow, though; while the character’s back story was pretty simple and to-the-point, he was sure damn menacing while on screen. I’ve read Marvel Comics for years and I’ve always known of Ronan, but I never really took him seriously as a “big bad”. Thanks to this film and Pace’s portrayal of the character, my way of thought has officially changed. Ronan is an absolute juggernaut. He demands attention in every scene that he’s in. He charges through the story and annihilates everything and everyone in his path. While the character could’ve been better fleshed-out, I’d still consider him one of the best villains that I’ve seen out of all of Marvel’s films.
Alongside Ronan in the film stand Djimon Hounsou as Korath and Karen Gillan as Nebula. Ronan’s lackeys are no laughing matter, though. Korath’s actually the first person that Star-Lord bumps into while on his adventure. Hounsou’s always been a great actor and while he doesn’t always choose the best films to appear in, I always appreciate and enjoy his performances. This film was no different.
Gillan was absolutely remarkable. I only knew of her from her days on DOCTOR WHO, so I unsure how she’d be as a stone-cold killer. In the end, though, she was easily my favorite villain in the entire film. She became someone completely different; I couldn’t even recognize her. Not only did Gillan shave her head for the role of Nebula, but she had to cover herself from head-to-toe in body paint, wear massive (and I’m sure incredibly uncomfortable) contact lenses and speak in a believable American accent (because nobody in space can be from Scotland). Being that Nebula’s the daughter of Thanos and the step-sister of Gamora, I can’t wait for her inevitable return to Marvel’s cinematic universe.
Speaking of Thanos, his two-minute scene in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was absolutely epic and while it was short-lived, the character’s presence was felt throughout the entire film. Played by Josh Brolin, Thanos was first teased during the end credits of THE AVENGERS (though actor Damion Poitier portrayed him in that particular scene). It’s great knowing that Thanos is slowly coming out of the shadows because his eventual battle with the Avengers is something that I’ve been so giddy about since that original tease. Brolin was a great choice for the Mad Titan, too. His facial structure and body build are a near-perfect match to that of Thanos. I just wish that Brolin could’ve played the character while in prosthetics rather than full-on CGI. Nevertheless, seeing a full shot of Thanos for the first time certainly brought out the inner child in me.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY easily has the largest supporting cast out of any Marvel film yet. On top of all of the actors that I’ve already mentioned, the film also features Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Rooker and so many more. It also features very small cameos from both Nathan Fillion and Seth Green. I won’t spoil who they show up as, though.
Besides the incredible visual effects, what really ties the film together is the even better music — the soundtrack and the score. The ‘70s/‘80s soundtrack by various artists fits the film to a T, helping each scene flow to that perfect desirable degree. When The Runaways’ CHERRY BOMB began to blast while the Guardians were getting geared up for war against Ronan, I got pumped. When Blue Suede came on, I lived up to their title track and I was ‘hooked on a feeling’. Then there was that little dance sequence that gathered the assistance of Jackson 5’s I WANT YOU BACK — I don’t think it’s possible to smile and laugh more than the audience did during that scene.
The film’s score is composed by Gunn’s longtime collaborator Tyler Bates. There’s moments where the score seems to borrow a lot of its sounds and melodies from Alan Silvestri’s score for THE AVENGERS. Whether that was intentional or not, it didn’t matter to me; it wholly suited the film and its scenes. Other moments in the score — during the scenes that revolved around the film’s antagonists — gave the film an eerie essence. Between Bates’ beautiful composition and Peter Quill’s “Awesome Mix Vol. 1,” GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY has hands down my favorite soundtrack out of any Marvel film yet.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY spent its opening weekend tearing up expectations and raking in an insane amount of cash. It also broke several box office records while it was at it. On top of that, critical response prior to the film’s release was so great, Marvel went ahead and announced GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 before the first even opened. As a film and comic book aficionado, I couldn’t be happier to see this kind of success for the film. It’s nice to see smaller comic characters succeeding with the general film public and it’s even nicer to see James Gunn finally gathering the recognition that he’s deserved for so long.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is now playing in theaters. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 arrives on July 28, 2017.