By Ryan Diminick / Staff Writer
The Golden Age of superhero films is upon us. It seems that everywhere we turn, we are reminded of the further adventures of a certain spandex-wearing, web-slinging teen outcast, or an armor-clad, billionaire playboy. Whoever it may be, one thing is for certain: superheroes are here to stay. Marvel Studios knows this, and has secured itself with another massive hit, Guardians of the Galaxy.
Following pre-release critical acclaim, Guardians opened to instant success on August 1. It’s easy to understand why. The film has Marvel Studios’ trademark all over it. From its exceptional cast to its stellar effects, the film holds its own when compared to previous entries in what is known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In Guardians, viewers are introduced to a new set of characters. The eponymous group of unlikely heroes is made up of 5 strangers. There’s Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord. The film’s prologue focuses on his abduction from Earth as a child, an event that sets up his intergalactic destiny. Picking up 26 years later, Quill, now a tactful space pirate, finds himself on a mission surrounding a mysterious orb.
Upon his arrival on Xandar, a world introduced in this film, conflict ensues between Quill and Gamora, an assassin sent to retrieve the orb. The two are taken prisoner, along with the criminal duo comprised of Groot, a humanoid tree, and Rocket Raccoon, a genetically engineered raccoon who happens to be a bounty hunter. The four are joined by Drax, a hardened warrior with a personal vendetta against the film’s antagonist, Ronan. The unique quintet find themselves on a mission to keep the mysterious orb out of the wrong hands. The stakes are huge, with the fate of an entire world hanging in the balance.
The cast is led by the exceptional Chris Pratt, who brings a layered performance to the role of Quill. He brings a charismatic confidence to the role, while also delivering the softer, more sensitive emotion that is required in rounding out the character’s demons. This is especially evident in the film’s ending, in a moment that brings Quill’s journey full circle.
Pratt is joined by Zoe Saldana, who brings an intensity to the role of Gamora, the assassin-turned-hero. The character’s sense of righteousness, as well as her connection with Quill, prove to be integral to the film’s plot, and Saldana delivers on every aspect.
Dave Bautista, aside from his intimidating presence, proves he can bring a certain comedic flair in the role of Drax. It’s a very well-done performance, given the darkness that fills the character’s heart as he tries to fulfill his quest for vengeance. Filling out the two remaining Guardians are Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper, who provide their voices for Groot and Rocket Raccoon, respectively. Together, the two have a comedic energy that adds to the film’s dimensions. Not to mention, they are fan favorites of children.
The film is helmed by director James Gunn, whose vision results in a cinematic experience that stuns the senses and also pulls on the heartstrings. The foundation for this is a script that tells an engaging story while also delivering the human moments that we’ve come to appreciate. These alone help Guardians of the Galaxy stand as one of the greater entries in the franchise.
This is not to say the film is without its weaknesses. While there are few, they are worth mentioning. The film’s antagonist, Ronan, is not as memorable as others in the Marvel Universe. That honor no doubt belongs to Loki, of the Thor films and The Avengers. While the actor who portrays him, Lee Pace, delivers the ruthlessness and evil energy that is required, the character is only secondary. He is the force that is needed to bring these heroes together. In addition, his scenes almost do nothing more than provide more of a glimpse into the villain Thanos, portrayed by Josh Brolin.
One other weakness worth mentioning, although it’s forgiving, is Guardians of the Galaxy’s place as an origin film. It’s can’t be helped. After all, the purpose of an origin film lies in its description: to introduce. That’s not the issue. What is, however, is the familiar structure of the film’s plot and progression over the course of its 2 hours. While this doesn’t take away from the film’s enjoyment factor, one can’t help going into the film knowing the basics of how everything’s going to turn out. It’s a very small matter, and not one that’s going to depreciate the film’s value.
One final note worth mentioning is the film’s place within Marvel continuity. With Guardians, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken an additional step in proving that it is, in fact, a universe. The story and characters within it are set on the other side of the galaxy, away from the familiar faces of Tony Stark, Thor, and Captain America. This helps to give the franchise a breath of fresh air, by making a statement. This franchise isn’t just about a fixed group of characters, as we’ve come to expect in the last few years. Instead, it is proving to be expansive, covering multiple realms and galaxies. This will prove to be pivotal for the franchise’s survival in the future, as the contracts of certain actors will ultimately run their courses.
Although the film may be set apart from previous entries in this respect, it does add to the continuing storyline in at least two ways. The quest for the orb provides another piece to the puzzle involving the “Infinity Stones,” powerful gems that, when combined, can wield the holder unlimited power. This storyline was explored in prior films, and looks to be the focus of the franchise for years to come. In fleshing out this story, Guardians also devotes screen time, albeit limited, to the character Thanos. Known as one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Comics, this character, first introduced in The Avengers, appears to be what the end game is leading toward. Guardians does a fine job of setting up this infamous character even more without giving away too much.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios has proven how successful lesser-known properties can be. With a slate of films expected to be released through at least 2020, Marvel holds the gauntlet for blockbuster entertainment. With its expansions into television, with ABC’s Agents of SHIELD and forthcoming Agent Carter, as well as its future Netflix collaborations, Marvel looks to be looking into a bright future. And thanks to Guardians, that future is even brighter.