When Marvel first announced that it was making Guardians of the Galaxy, my first thought was, “Who are they?” Then, upon learning that this was a superhero team of misfits consisting of a thief, a green-skinned assassin, a tattooed maniac, a racoon with a machine gun and a talking tree, I thought: “Is the director high?”
Guardians of the Galaxy is based on the Marvel comic that debuted in 1969 which introduced a team of superheros from the 31st Century. Until about the early ’90s, they were tucked away in some cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe before making another comeback in their current configuration of characters in 2008.
The movie opens in 1988, when a young boy named Peter Quill watches his mother die of cancer and runs out of the hospital in tears, backpack and old-school walkman in tow, where he is promptly abducted by aliens. The film then jumps forward to the present day to show the adult Peter (Chris Pratt) — a wise-cracking ne’er-do-well and thief trying desperately to get his outlaw nickname of ‘Star-Lord’ to take off — searching a deserted planet for a mysterious orb to bring back to a buyer on the planet Xandar, capital of the Nova Empire.
Quill soon realizes that this orb is a bigger deal than he thought, as the green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) steals it, attracting the attention of bounty hunters Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Naturally, they all get arrested by the intergalactic police force known as the Nova Corps (who include Glenn Close and John C. Reilly among their numbers) and are promptly thrown in prison where they encounter Drax (Dave Bautista). After the rag-tag team of heroes hustle their way out of jail, they find out they’re in for more than they planned and have to prevent the genocidal Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from destroying Xandar — and maybe the galaxy itself.
The fact that director James Gunn manages to keep the plot from not devolving into a campy disaster is something of a feat. You get the sense while watching the movie that this could have easily resembled Flash Gordon instead of Star Wars, but Gunn keeps the film’s sense of fun and adventure front and center. He also exhibits a sense of self-awareness, with winks and nods to the audience about the absurdity of this entire concept.
Gunn infuses this movie with some of the best science-fiction of the past four decades: there’re shades of Star Wars, Firefly and Farscape — all combined with a sunny, toe-tapping soundtrack that is seamlessly integrated into the movie.
Marvel has done it again, creating of the Summer’s best movies. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those fun, action-packed films that’ll keep a smile on your face for days afterward.