GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Must we really wait until 2017 for the sequel?
Film Review © 2014 by Trip Reynolds
Directed by James Gunn; Screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Comic Book story created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. Produced by Kevin Feige. Co-produced by David J. Grant and Janathan Schwartz. Executive produced by Vicoria Alonso, Louis D'Esposito, Alan Fine, Nikolas Korda, Jeremy Latcham, and Stan Lee.
Starring: Chris Pratt (as a Peter Quill, Star-Lord), Zoe Saldana (as Gamora), Dave Bautista (as Drax); the voice of Vin Diesel (as Groot), the voice of Bradley Cooper (as Rocket), Lee Pace (as Ronan the Accuser); Michael Rooker (as fellow UYondu 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), Laura Haddock (as Meredith Quill), Josh Brolin (uncredited as Thanos), Stan Lee (as Xandarian Ladies Man), Seth Green (uncredited as Howard the Duck), and a host of others.
One of the major reasons Disney bought Marvel Comics in 2009 is because Marvel, founded in 1939, has one of the largest creative libraries in the publishing world. Although Marvel Studios has achieved great success with Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men, Captain American, and The Avengers, keep in mind, these characters represent only a very small fraction of thousands and thousands of characters in the Marvel Universe. The Marvel Wiki currently has 129,482 pages dedicated to defining the character and scope of the Marvel Universe. What is the Marvel Universe?
Existence in the "Marvel Universe" requires characters to have clearly defined and validated skills, knowledge and proficiencies. Yes, it's all make-believe, but for us to suspend our doubts and actually believe in each character - every aspect (scientific, mystical, emotional, political, etc.) of every character, group, or relationship must be anchored with consistent context or the Marvel Universe will appear vague and unrealistic. The Marvel Universe is highly anchored in science fiction and especially science fact, and Marvel's fan base requires serious science-based reasons that validate the performance of each character.
Unfortunately, Marvel's films do a terrible job of being compliant with some of the standards established by the Marvel Universe. For example, as indicated by the pictures at right and below, the "comic book" Guardians of the Galaxy has a rotating roster of members, which happens to be true for the Avengers also, but the film has initially deviated from this standard. Do these differences matter? Yes, absolutely!
All images © Marvel Comics THE COMIC BOOK THE MOVIE
As stated in my recent review of "X-Men: Days of Future Past," not everyone reads comics, and those who do might not read the Guardians of the Galaxy (GOTG) and don't know: (1) who they are individually; and (2) what are their powers or abilities? As a former comic book reader with a collection of over 30,000 books, I'm very familiar with both the Marvel and DC universes. So, instead of forcing you to go to the Marvel Universe Wiki to find out who's who, and what's what, I'll do what the film didn't do and introduce the Guardians to you now:
DRAX THE DESTROYER* MANTIS COSMO THE SPACE DOG MARTYR
STAR-LORD ROCKET RACOON GROOT ADAM WARLOCK MAJOR VICTORY NOVA MOONDRAGON
Weight: 1,050 lbs.
Powers: Nearly invulnerable to all forms of physical injury. Able to harness his cosmic energy to project it through his arms as concussive blasts.
Abilities: Able to fly by harnessing his cosmic energy.
* In his most powerful body.
Weight: 115 lbs.
Powers: Communicates telepathically, and interdimensionally, and can fire energy blasts. Can achieve a meditative state and become largely immune to physical, mental, or spiritual harm.
Abilities: Has total control over her entire body, mentally and physically. An empathic, and a supreme martial artist.
Height: 23" (at withers)
Weight: 70 lbs.
Powers: Cosmo is a high-level telephath with the added abilities to create defensive shields wide enough to block a corridor, strong enough to deflect energy blasts, and to project powerful mind blasts of tremendous force.
Abilities: Has the heightened senses of a dog, and he can talk.
Weight: 103 lbs.
Powers: Superhuman strength, can fire energy blasts, can fly, and can absorb any energy attacks directed at her and return them as energy blasts.
Abilities: Has Cosmic Awareness and is a proficient fighter.
Weight: 175 lbs.
Powers: Wears a cybernetic ostume that enables him to survive in space, cybernetic left eye, allows him to see all energy spectra, and a memory chip that gives him 100% total recall.
Abilities: A skilled marksman and expert in hand-to-hand combat. Has a cybernetic relationship with his Ship, which he considers his partner and would-be lover.
Weapons: An element gun that generates and manipulates four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.
Weight: 55 lbs.
Abilities: Same as a normal raccoon,
heightened sense of smell and sight
as compared to a human.
Powers: Extremely powerful and resilient, with the ability of regeneration.
Abilities: Able to communicate telephathically with other trees and command them.
Weight: 240 lbs.
Powers: Superhuman strength, energy blasts, flight, and uses cosmic energy to locate and enter natural space-warps in order to traverse interstellar space. Can project cosmic energy from his hands as concussive force.
Abilities: Has Cosmic Awareness and is a proficient fighter.
Weapons: The Soul Gem, an Infinity gem endows the user with the power to draws soul into a dimension contained within the gem.
Weight: 250 lbs.
Powers: A mutant with the psionic power of psychokinesis, the ability to affect matter with his mind, to project concussive force blasts.
Abilities: An above average athlete with a basic knowledge of unarmed combat.
Weight: 190 lbs.
Powers: Flight, enhanced strength, speed and durability.
Abilities: Nova derives his powers from an energy source called the Nova-Force, which all Nova Centurions wield.
Weapons: Wears a standard Xandarian StarCorps uniform, with built-in life support and and advanced technologies, designed to accommodate his powers without being damaged by them.
Weight: 150 lbs.
Powers: Psionic powers include telepathy, mind control, personality alteration, memory modification, illusion casting, levitation and force blasts.
Abilities: A Shao-Lom martial arts master with near-total control over her entire mind and body.
Weapons: None. Previously wore the "Mind Gem" that made her the most powerful psychic in the universe.
Weight: 170 lbs.
Abilities: Highly accomplished athlete, gymnast, and expert in hand-to-hand combat.
Weapons: Uses a Godslayer dagger, of unkown composition, capable of slaying even vastly powerful beings.
So, GOTG has a very robust backstory. Of course, it's a common practice when converting stories from books to the big screen to exercise some creative license, which happended. However, it's extremely important for Marvel's feature films to be faithful to the standards established by the Marvel Universe or these films become nothing more than TV-movies, pathetic caricatures. Case in point, compare web-swinging and special effects in the 1977 television series "The Amazing Spider-Man" starring Nicholas Hammond versuses the 2002 "Spider-Man" feature film and sequels starring Tobey Maguire. Or compare "The Incredible Hulk" 1978 television series with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno versuses the 2003 "Hulk" feature film starring Eric Bana. Simply put, given the cinematic technologies that exist now, it's a major mistake to dummy-down characters from the Marvel Universe.
In summary, film begins with Star-Lord, primarily known as a rogue, mercenary and thief, attempting to seal a powerful orb. A brief battle ensues, he escapes, then other rogues (Gamora, Rocket Racoon, and Groot) attempt to steal the orb from him. Eventually everyone is caught and imprisoned. In prison Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Racoon, and Groot team-up with Drax and they plan and execute their escape. Concurrent with their escape, evil Ronan the Accuser is simultaneously pursuing his quest to obtain the orb for the evil demi-God, Thanos.
For the most part, the film mirrors the comic, and the actors did a great job of giving "life" to their characters. The major exception here is Drax, played by WWE superstar Dave Bautista. It's not Bautista's fault, but his screen character is a frail, castrated version of the actual comic character, because the film dummied-down Drax. Drax is supposed to have a ruthless, maniacal obsession to destroy anything or kill anyone who prevents him from killing Thanos, the murderer of his wife and children. In the comic book, Drax has "Hulk-like" strength and invulnerability. Drax is extremely durable, and rises from every attempt to kill him. Instead, the film presents Drax as nothing more than a humanoid with more muscles than most men and he's absolutely no challenge to Thanos' agent, Ronan. Again, he's Drax "the Destroyer," so he destroys things, but not in this film. Bautista's Drax was lobotomized. Bummer.
RONAN THE ACCUSER
Weight: 480 lbs.
Abilities: Can adapt his body to survive any hostile environment, wears strength enhancing armor, and can render himself invisible.
Weapons: Can disintegrate, transmute, and/or rearrange matter, absorb/project energy blasts, create time-motion displacement fields, and teleportation with his universal weapon.
Weight: 985 lbs.
Powers: Superhuman physiology and strength, invulnerability to all known forms of physical or psychic attack, and projects psionic blast of plasma/cosmic energy with eyes or hands. Can survive indefinitely without food or water.
Abilities: Master strategist, adept in sciences and technologies beyond human comprehension.
Acting is not by-the-numbers, but character development although successful, is definitely subordinate to the action sequences. Chris Pratt, as Star-Lord, is the driving force for the film, the center of all action. Pratt brought an aloofness to his character that was initially annoying, but as film progressed his aloofness was a dramatic strength for his character and for the film. Gamora, as portrayed by Zoe Saldana, didn't seem as imposing and threatening as the character should have been, which is disappointing because Saldana's fighting scenes in the 2011 film "Colombiana" outclass her work in this film. John C. Reilly as Corpsman Dey brought sarcasm to his performance that fit nicely with the rogueness of Star-Lord and his roguish companions. Although her role was brief, Glenn Close, as Nova Prime, had presence and was surprisingly effective as chief administrator over the planet in peril by Ronan the Accuser.
And what about the computed-based acting? We have the technology now to seamlessly merge imaginary computer-animated people, such as Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) with actual human beings and you'd never know the difference. The animation is just that good, and it's going to get even better and better! So, don't be surprised when (not if) one day John Wayne and other dead actors emerge in a slew of brand new feature films - and we won't be able to distinguish the "real" John Wayne from the computer-generated John Wayne. It's gonna happen! The special effects in GOTG are stunning, and if the FX in the sequel (announced for 2017) are elevated to accurately convey the presence and powers of Thanos, and other GOTB members such as Adam Warlock, the next-generation special effects are going to be phenomenal!
This is truly a Marvel Universe story, and the screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, and excellent direction by James Gunn is faithful to the universe. The best thing about GOTB is how wonderfully the film is produced, with a particular emphasis in how the film established a sense of realism, an on-screen reality that was maintained throughout the film. In this regard, complements definitely go to production design by Charles Wood, art direction supervised by Ray Chan, cinematography by Ben Davis, the special effects and visual effects teams, animation, costume and wardrobe, and sharp editing by Fred Raskin, Hughes Winborne, and Craig Wood. The sound securely compliments the look of this film, but the "look" of this film is exceptional. At 121 minutes, film could have continued for another 60 minutes and we'd still want more!
Recommendation: See this movie! It's exciting and very entertaining. Buy the BluRay/DVD when it becomes available.