Following successful runs with Captain America, Spider-Man, and the X-Men, Marvel’s fourth comic-book movie of 2014 features the lesser-known Guardians of the Galaxy. While the film’s characters aren’t iconic like the other heroes featured this year, their relative (un)popularity and distinct setting (outer space!) were assets to the director and writers of the Guardians of the Galaxy film. They weren’t trapped by decades of history and millions of fanboys, weren’t limited by the quaint setting of Earth, and were free to create a movie that’s much more fun than its sister titles. While it’s certainly not the best Marvel movie of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy is arguably the most entertaining.
To maximize your enjoyment of Guardians of the Galaxy, there are a few things you need to realize going into it. First and foremost, it’s much more of a sci-fi space-opera than a superhero flick. It has more in common with Star Wars and Star Trek than it does The Avengers and Iron Man. If you’re a fan of the source material (this iteration of the Guardians was made popular by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, and currently penned by Brian Michael Bendis) then you’ll notice a lot of changes. Some of them are small (and seemingly unnecessary), while others are a huge departure from the comics. If you’re unfamiliar with the source material then you’ll like enjoy the movie on its own, but if you love the comics then some of the changes will bother you.
While there were many things I loved about Guardians of the Galaxy, there were a few things that bugged me. Here are some binary thoughts on Marvel’s summer space opera. [Turn your spoiler shields on, please!]
Fantastic Pacing (Good): Guardians of the Galaxy has a runtime of 122 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like a two hour movie. Director James Gunn did a superior job of mixing action, comedy, and characterization, while maintaining a zippy flow. The pace is brisk and unlike some fast-paced movies, doesn’t cause viewer fatigue.
Non-Threatening Gamora (Bad): In the comics, Gamora is often referred to as “the most dangerous woman in the universe.” While she’s certainly fierce in the movie, she doesn’t quite live up to that lofty title. The movie version of Gamora is too vulnerable and pigeonholed as a “damsel in distress” in a few scenes. Her sister, Nebula, comes off as more of a bad-ass.
Incredible Special Effects (Good): While the spaceship and alien locations were expectedly dazzling, I was floored by the CG used for Groot and Rocket. They looked appropriately otherworldly, while still being believable in the context of the movie. Physically, the characters never felt forced. Oddly enough, some of Glenn Close’s scenes felt jarring because her character looked out of place.
(On a side note, I was half-expecting a cameo by Mike Myers. In my head, Austin Powers comes out, grabs Glenn Close’s hair, and exclaims, “It’s a man, baby!”)
Redneck Yondu (Bad): Man, I hated this version of Yondu. I’ve always been a fan of the character ever since I encountered the original Guardians of the Galaxy in “The Korvac Saga” storyline of The Avengers. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, Yondu is kind of like an outer-space Native American. He’s spiritual and mystic (and yes, he wears a loin cloth and shoots arrows in deep space). Save for controlling a magical arrow, movie Yondu is nothing like comics Yondu. Movie Yondu is an outer-space redneck scavenger. I would totally hate the movie version of the character, but the awesome Michael Rooker plays him. You gotta give it up for anyone that was part of Mallrats.
Excellent Soundtrack (Good): Guardians of the Galaxy makes stellar use of ’70s pop songs. Blue Swede, David Bowie, The Runaways, The Five Stairsteps, and more are heard throughout the film. The songs add to the movie’s fun vibe. More than any other Marvel movie, the soundtrack for Guardians of the Galaxy will sell.
Rewritten Origin (Bad): I didn’t care for Peter Quill’s origin story in the movie. Having his mother die in a hospital (movie) isn’t nearly as powerful as having her slaughtered by aliens (comics). While the hospital death sets up a sappy scene towards the end of the film, it detracts from Quill’s tragedy. In the comics, his mother is killed by aliens that want revenge on Peter’s dad, J’Son of Spartax. It sets the tone for what a bastard J’Son is and gives the comics a recurring theme (Quill’s daddy-abandonment issues). While Quill’s dad is mentioned in passing, it looks like the sequels won’t have this important launching point to play off of (unless they write that J’Son infected Meredith Quill with space cancer or something stupid like that).
Wrong About Quill (Good): One of my fears going into the movie was that Chris Pratt would be too goofy to play Peter Quill. In the trailers, he seems more comedic than anything else — kind of like Han Solo’s far less competent younger brother. I was relieved that Pratt didn’t go too far with the comedy in the movie. Yes, he has his funny moments, but he also kicks ass, gets the ladies, and is cool. He definitely fits into that “scoundrel” mold established by Harrison Ford.
Ronan the Dickhead (Bad): Sometimes a hero and sometimes a villain (depending on your point of view), Ronan the Accuser is a complex and layered character in the comics. He can be unrelentingly brutal, but he has a nobility about him and an undeniable love for the Kree people. Movie Ronan is just a dick. He’s a radical extremist that’s 100-percent villain. His characterization in the movie was lazy and shallow.
Batista Didn’t Suck! (Shockingly Good): As many of you know, I loathe WWE Batista. He’s mediocre in the ring and terrible on the mic. To my surprise, Dave Bautista the actor was entertaining in Guardians of the Galaxy. His portrayal of Drax the Destroyer was shockingly good. Obviously, he excelled in the physical scenes, but his deadpan humor was fantastic. While I didn’t like the rewritten origin of movie Drax, Dave Bautista’s performance was surprisingly strong — so much so that I’m going to have to think of him as two different people. I will always hate WWE Batista, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Dave Bautista in more roles that combine physicality and comedy.
Bottom Line: I was very much entertained by Guardians of the Galaxy. Objectively comparing it to the other Marvel 2014 movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a much better film. Subjectively, Guardians of the Galaxy was way more fun. Even though some of the changes from the source material bothered me, I know that I’ll watch this movie again and again in the future. When it comes down to the cable TV test, I can see myself watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier a handful of times over the next five years. In that same five-year period, I’m certain that I’ll watch Guardians of the Galaxy dozens of times.