It’s hard to put into words exactly what kind of moviegoing experience “Guardians of the Galaxy” is. The movie is undoubtedly exuberant, full of incredible amounts of joy and fun. It can also be surprisingly resonant, filled with more emotion than you would expect from it, or from any other Marvel property for that matter. On the flip side of the coin, however, are elements which seem to push the film firmly in the direction of the majority of Marvel’s recent cinematic work.
The film’s focus is on a group of ragtag citizens of the galaxy who fight to protect it from any man – or alien –seeking to destroy it. Leading this team is Peter Quill, a human who is much more Han Solo than Luke Skywalker. The plot zigs and zags from here, but the premise itself is fairly basic. If that analysis seems a bit reductive, it’s because this is a film much more concerned with tone than story.
The actual guardians are largely responsible for this tone, and they are truly the best reason to see the film. There’s a talking tree in this movie, and I don’t hate it. Even though the character speaks only three words – “I am Groot” – Vin Diesel gives him a striking level of emotion. Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista are excellent as Gamora and Draxx, respectively, ensuring their characters are never forgotten. Special praise, however, must be reserved for Chris Pratt as the charismatic Star Lord, and for Bradley Cooper, who lends his voice to the character of Rocket Raccoon. Pratt gives Peter Quill a narcissistic warmth which works alongside a sense of impulse and silliness, producing an effect both disarming and intoxicating. Cooper is even better as Rocket, creating a character who feels as real as he looks, stealing the show in the process. He provides the movie’s best surprise – a character who offers delight after delight. For the most part, the remainder of the cast is forgettable. Lee Pace plays Ronan, whose motivations are pretty much summed up in four words: “Because I am evil.” John C. Reilly is also present but doesn’t get much to do, mostly disappearing behind the charisma of the film’s core team.
Director James Gunn gives as much pure joy to the visuals as the core characters do to the dialogue, showing us that spectacle does not always have to be unrelentingly grim. It’s a wonderful film to look at, one that uses its large budget effectively to deliver stunning visuals. These positive qualities are weighed down only somewhat by the screenplay’s adherence to the Marvel formula. Here again are the fake-out deaths, the incredible power source which serves as a McGuffin, and a giant spaceship which crashes into and destroys a city. At its core, the movie is fairly standard issue, but it works within that formula in a way that makes it seem more unpredictable than it actually is. The film tricks you, and it works. It surprises you on the level of unexpected character reactions, with moments of high tension followed by dialogue that alleviates it almost immediately. This shields the film from melodrama but comes at the loss of some of the weight the film could have had if it wasn’t so concerned with relieving the audience.
Still, the film feels fresh and fun, even though your brain keeps reminding you that it isn’t really all that fresh. That’s where the magic lies, in making what is the same feel different.
Effectively, the film works as a brain overwrite, using its considerable resources to make you think it’s unique. I’d be more upset about it if I wasn’t so busy enjoying myself. So what if it’s not that different?
Turn your brain down, and enjoy the ride.
Allen is a member of the class of 2017.