Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
From the studio that brought us Iron Man, Captain America, Thor & The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy arrives as Marvel Studios’ biggest gamble to date for it’s a relatively unknown entity when compared to the other films this studio has churned out since its inception & it doesn’t even share the very same cinematic universe that has so far connected every other Marvel movie. And yet, despite having all the odds against it plus its standalone premise very much looking like a recipe for disaster, the risk that Marvel took with this space opera pays off tremendously well as this intensely crazy mixture of an oddball cast & an eccentric crew not only strikes gold for the studio in both critical & commercial departments but also succeeds as an immensely enjoyable, extremely entertaining & most satisfying Marvel piece since The Avengers.
Set in a galaxy far far away, Guardian of the Galaxy concerns a notorious scavenger named Peter Quill who was abducted from Earth 26 years ago by a band of space pirates and now finds himself as the main target of a manhunt after stealing a mysterious orb which has been coveted by many, including the radical Kree fanatic named Ronan who wants it in order to destroy the entire Xandarian civilisation & sends his assassin, Gamora, to retrieve the artefact for him. Ambushed while trying to sell the orb, a fight ensues between Peter & Gamora which attracts the attention of a pair of bounty hunters but the four are eventually imprisoned together where they encounter a powerful inmate named Drax. As an uneasy alliance form between these five extra-terrestrial misfits, they eventually learn to work together as a team when a greater threat arises in the form of Ronan & try to save the planet of Xandar from complete annihilation.
To be honest, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be the high quality entertainment it turned out to be & I’m still pretty stunned by how effectively it managed to pull off every single one of its aspects. I was all set to skip it until the glowing reviews from critics & viewers started pouring in which made me a little curious & I’ve to say that checking it out on the big screen was worth every penny. There is so much in here that could’ve so easily gone wrong and there’s no denying that many eyebrows were raised when James Gunn was brought in to direct this high-budget space epic. And to say that Gunn’s direction is pretty good here would be a severe understatement for he has crafted this picture with such precision craftsmanship that it feels like a work of an auteur & the remarkable use of humour he infused into its blockbuster elements only makes the experience all the more amusing, enriching & delightfully engaging.
Coming to its technical aspects, every single filmmaking department works in near-perfect harmony with the other in a manner that only elevates its overall story & characters to new heights. Set pieces are very impressive to look at, make-up adds a dimension of its own to the plethora of characters inhabiting this feature & its homage to space epics of the past, especially Star Wars, is tastefully carried out. Cinematography makes dynamic use of the camera without ever getting carried away as even the slow-motion shots are present when the moment is right & isn’t overdone. Editing definitely is one of its strongest aspects for the entire picture has a smooth flow to it and each character is properly introduced & gets their moments to shine in their limited screen time. And even though Tyler Bates’ score wonderfully integrates with the film’s events, it’s the eclectic yet excellent choices made in incorporating the songs from 60s & 70s that adds a distinct flavour of its own to the whole narrative, in a positive way of course.
The Visual Effects team also deserves a mention for their major contribution in bringing its universe to life on the silver screen as from the moment this space epic was envisioned, it was destined to rely on this specific department by a great deal and just like the film’s other expertly carried out aspects, VFX leaves nothing much to complain about. The film is CGI heavy for the majority of its runtime yet it never overshadows the ongoing drama in any way & only makes it all more immersive for the viewers. The cast is as eccentric & diverse as the characters present in the film with the role of Guardians being played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel & Bradley Cooper while the supporting cast comprises of Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian & Djimon Hounsou but that’s not where it ends as even Benicio del Toro & John C. Reilly are part of the picture & have brief roles to play.
At first, the decision to cast Chris Pratt in the leading role seemed as crazy as the decision to let James Gunn direct this big budget extravaganza. However, just like everything else with Guardians of the Galaxy has been nothing but a pleasant surprise, Pratt’s work here turns out to be so good that on looking back, it’s quite difficult to imagine someone else in the role of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord as the actor gives his all to deliver a performance that’s winning on all levels. Zoe Saldana is in as Gamora; an alien warrior who’s as lethal as she’s alluring but also has a sense of righteousness, and although similarities will be made with a similar character Saldana played in James Cameron’s Avatar, she still makes Gamora work nicely in favour of this film. Dave Bautista, well-known for his stint with WWE, plays Drax the Destroyer; a brute looking for vengeance against the one responsible for killing his family, and this role very much suited Bautista for it demanded a physical performance that this former wrestler was able to deliver without much hassle.
Yet the ones who leave the most lasting impression amongst all for me are the two entirely computer-generated characters we have in Groot & Rocket; a pair of bounty hunters voiced by Vin Diesel & Bradley Cooper respectively. While Groot is a tree-like humanoid who’s as deadly as he’s innocent, his accomplice Rocket is a fast-talking, sarcastic, genetically engineered raccoon with a mastery in weapons & battle tactics, and the near flawless chemistry these two characters exhibit here not only is an indication of how much fun both Diesel & Cooper had with their respective characters but also provides the films its most memorable & funniest moments in addition to the heart & warmth their presence radiated throughout its runtime. Lee Pace plays the film’s main antagonist, Ronan the Accuser; a Kree radical who covets the orb in order to destroy the Xandarians. And the performances by Gillian as Nebula; Gamora’s sister, Rooker as Yondu; Quill’s paternal figure, Hounsou as Korath; Ronan’s ally, del Toro as an avid interstellar relics collector & Reilly as a corpsman are no slouch either.
On an overall scale, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most exquisitely balanced cinematic offerings of 2014 that promises a lot of fun from the very beginning to the very end and seamlessly delivers it in an endlessly entertaining & immensely rewarding manner. The summer of 2014 has already seen few behemoths in Godzilla, Edge of Tomorrow, X-Men: Days of Future Past, How to Train Your Dragon 2 & Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now Guardians of the Galaxy is another impressive addition to the list & is arguably the finest blockbuster of the year, so far. Ingeniously directed by James Gunn in what is certainly his finest directional effort to date, making remarkable use of light-hearted humour throughout its runtime, carefully integrating the cleverly selected songs into its premise and also benefitting very much from its fluid camerawork, skilled editing, dazzling visuals & splendid performances, Guardians of the Galaxy is the ballsiest big-budget production since Avatar.