I really liked The Avengers, but there’s something inherently a bit dry about a group of self-important goody-goody characters. It’s the problem of Superman and Captain America (and yes, I know that Superman isn’t one of the Avengers. And never shall DC and Marvel overlap at the cineplex, alas). In fact, the only character who was any sort of relief from the tone was Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr), but his was a more abusive wit coming from a place of ego and hubris. Tedious, really, and Stark is my least favorite character in the entire Avengers squad.
Enter the far more goofy, satirical Guardians of the Galaxy. Imagine a cross between The Avengers and, ohhhh, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Then add world-class visual effects and a ton of sly references to other films, cinematic and cultural history and memes, and you’ve got a film that’s a surprisingly good time at the cineplex!
The story focuses on Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) who is abducted from Earth as a tween immediately following the death of his mother. The kidnappers are a group of space pirates called Ravagers, led by the slightly crazy Yondu (Michael Rooker). Zoom forward and Quill has snuck onto an alien world to acquire a sphere-shaped alien artifact that contains the Infinity Gem. He steals it in a scene that’s a delightful homage to Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in the blockbuster Raiders of the Lost Ark, just to find out that everyone wants this thing, including the evil Ronan (Lee Pace) and his loyal servant and violent henchman Korath (Djimon Hounsou).
Quill flies his Millennium Falcon-inspired spaceship to Xandar and tries to pawn it off, but is attacked by the lethal Gamora (Zoe Saldana), trying to steal the sphere for her boss, Korath. Meanwhile, the genetically-engineered raccoon Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and the strange, monosyllabic humanoid tree Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) are also trying to grab the sphere for the bounty: they’re mercenaries.
It falls apart as they’re all so busy fighting each other they don’t notice the local constabulary show up. Busted. All four of them end up on a grim prison planet, where they meet the imposing Drax (Dave Bautista), a killer with the proverbial heart of gold. If you can find it, that is, and that’s not too easy, especially for the perpetually wise-cracking Quill, who also goes by his heroic name of Starlord.
That’s the setup for the film, and it’s just tremendous fun. What’s even better is that it’s really beautifully produced too, so the visual effects, the sets, the aliens, the space battles, it’s all top notch work, at the level of the best of cinematic sci-fi, and yes, it’s pretty darn cool in 3D too.
I think that The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy would be a great double feature, actually, and I’d play them in that order, because if you watched them with Guardians first, you’d realize how dull the Avengers themselves are when compared to the silly, larger than life Guardians. In The Avengers, each hero takes for granted that they’re famous and beloved, but as hilariously happens more than once in Guardians, Quill introduces himself as Starlord just to have the other people look blank: they have no idea who Starlord is. None of the Guardians are the slightest bit famous.
Stan Lee has the dictum, as shared in the Spider-man stories, that “with great power comes great responsibility”, but it’s the intersection of power, responsibility, maturity and destiny that makes for interesting characters. Peter Parker, for example, is the most interesting when he’s wrestling with his secret identity and responsibilities as Spider-man, and similarly Quill has a mythic identity he’s built up in his mind, Starlord. But is he really a hero at all, or just a smartass human in an alien galaxy?
Guardians of the Galaxy is an origin story and a lively one at that. I prefer origin stories, actually, because it’s the Heroes Journey come to life. Even the first Iron Man is never as enjoyable as the first thirty minutes where Stark’s ingenuity is what helps him invent the iron man suit and break free from his captors.
We’ll see a sequel. There’s no question. Guardians is going to do really well in the cinema, and deservedly so. I know I want to go see it again, if just to enjoy all the corny jokes and sight gags again. Go see it, on a nice big screen, and enjoy!