By Vincent Abbatecola
Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been getting more exciting with each new film. Although it began with the disappointing “Iron Man 3,” it got better with the okay, but still entertaining “Thor: The Dark World,” which was then followed by the outright thrilling “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” We are now closer to the conclusion of Phase Two as we wait for the release of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in May 2015. Before we arrive there, however, there’s still the matter of mixing a few more characters into the MCU.
We’ve seen multiple movies with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, but the MCU is now ready for us to meet some new space-traveling heroes. In director James Gunn’s sci-fi adventure, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he introduces moviegoers to a quintet of gleefully brassy fighters. Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the recent “Captain America” sequel, it’s certainly up there with the best of the MCU films.
Twenty-six years after being abducted as a child by intergalactic thieves known as “Ravagers,” Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), has become a pro at snatching rare artifacts for his team of thugs. After finding an orb-like artifact that contains a mysterious power, he decides to sell the orb for himself on the planet Xandar, the home of the Nova Corps, who are an intergalactic military group. Upon realizing this, his fellow Ravagers put a bounty on him, while the sinister Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who has promised to retrieve the orb for the villainous titan Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin), sends out his assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), to get it back for him.
After Peter and Gamora confront each other over the orb on Xandar, the fight is brought to the attention of a bounty hunter named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), who is a genetically engineered raccoon, and his partner, a tree-like humanoid named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). After the four are sent to a prison know as the Kyln, they team up with inmate Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and escape with the orb in their possession. Once they’re free, the five will have to work together to find a way to defeat Ronan and prevent the artifact from falling into his grasp.
Chris Pratt is terrifically funny as the group’s leader. The first time we see him as an adult is when he arrives on the distant planet of Morag to retrieve the artifact, and he listens to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” on his Walkman as he dances his way to where the orb is hidden. This is a very fun and comically unconventional introduction to a superhero who exudes confidence. With his quick witticisms, devil-may-care attitude and playboy personality, Peter Quill is pretty much the Tony Stark of the Guardians.
As far as Zoe Saldana’s character goes, from when she meets Peter on Xandar, you easily get a sense of the slyness in her movements and attitude, easily striking an image of a sneaky assassin as she eyes her target.
A true surprise about the cast is how well professional wrestler Dave Bautista portrays Drax. Bautista displays terrific timing with the straight-face delivery of his dialogue, and his ability to become a part of the comedic dynamics within the group proves that he belongs in this film.
By having Vin Diesel voice Groot, he calls to mind his voice work for the robot in the animated film “The Iron Giant.” His character is able to draw laughs by responding to everything with, “I am Groot,” but repeats it with different intonations of his voice so that the phrase doesn’t become old.
Bradley Cooper provides brazenly funny voice work for Rocket. Almost everything that his character says is impossible not to laugh at, and his character effortlessly walks away with each of his scenes.
The five Guardians are equally memorable in their own distinct ways. Each of them is able to flourish in their moments of comedy and tension, and they all work exceedingly well together when on screen, and each of them has the potential to become fan favorites.
After seeing Benicio del Toro’s cameo as The Collector in the “Thor” sequel, I couldn’t wait to see what else he would do with the character in this film. He certainly has the showmanship needed for the role, however, he only gets a few minutes of screen time. He’s a strong actor, so I hope he’s given more scenes to work with in future installments.
Some villains in the MCU have certainly had more depth than others. Regarding Lee Pace’s performance as Ronan, he has formidable presence to pull off the character, but his role never really goes beyond wanting to find the orb and acting as a glorified henchman for Thanos. Although Loki acted as a puppet for Thanos in “The Avengers,” he had more dramatic weight to his character to back him up.
The screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, which is based on the comics by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, skillfully acquaints this new team of heroes to audiences and the MCU, with each of the Guardians’ introductory scenes giving viewers an idea of who these characters are, while also expanding other ideas of the MCU at the same time. Even with all of the action sequences built into the script, we still get plenty of moments that allow us to grow more familiar with these characters in the still-expanding list of participants in the MCU. Watching these five come together becomes every bit as fun as when we saw the Avengers come together for the first time two years ago.
One of the most unexpected aspects about the film is how the screenwriters involved Thanos in a bigger way than I anticipated. As the main villain of the entire MCU, he’s not just given a cameo that lasts a few seconds, but is given an actual scene with several lines of dialogue. Based on what I’ve seen so far of Josh Brolin as Thanos, I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the character when he returns in the third “Avengers” film.
This is one of the funniest big-budget blockbusters to come along in a while, with jokes and one-liners that actually land because they fit so well with the personalities of the characters. There are even some jokes in the movie that you wouldn’t expect to be in a Marvel film, but they work. Although the humor can become a bit much during the climactic final battle, it still works for a majority of the film.
Marvel Studios continues to surprise me with the adequacy of their choices for directors, just like Jon Favreau with the original “Iron Man,” Kenneth Branagh with the original “Thor,” Joe Johnston with “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and Anthony and Joe Russo for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Now, director Gunn can be added to that roster of successes, as he provides plenty of colorful cosmic visuals without ever letting them dilute the growth of the characters. Gunn embraces the offbeat nature of this mythology, seeing as he has previous experience in dealing with eccentric superheroes, as he wrote and directed the 2010 indie dark-comedy, “Super,” and he carries that interesting strangeness over to “Guardians.”
The Guardians of the Galaxy will not appear in “Age of Ultron,” so we won’t see them again until their own sequel gets released in July 2017. In the meantime, it would be a wise choice to get to know these five heroes and continue to immerse yourself in the abundance of stories that the MCU continues to offer.
Final grade: B+