The Guardians of the Galaxy is a Marvel-superhero production directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman. The film follows Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), an earthling that was “beamed up” by a spaceship some twenty years prior. Quill, who in outer space goes by the name “Star-Lord,” finds himself at the center of a dangerous bounty hunt after stealing an orb that the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace) wants to procure. In order to evade the stalk (and ultimately save the entire galaxy due to the orb’s true potential), Star-Lord must befriend a band of intergalactic misfits: the warrior princess Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the revenge-centric, “Hulk”-like Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), the derisive-tongued raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Rocket’s sidekick Groot (voiced and motion-captured by Vin Diesel), a tender walking tree
Most superhero movies are the same. Obviously the plots differ somewhat and the characters are not the same, but generally speaking, they all follow the same mold: a dramatic story of how the superhero came to be, coupled with an action-packed/dramatic unraveling of the plot. There is always some sad music and some overwhelming thespian-like dramatics. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy has some of those elements, too; but it is how this film breaks the traditional mold to carve out new ground in the superhero genre that makes its inclusion on this year-end list worthy.
How does this Marvel production stand alone at the top in a genre that has seen box-office giants like Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers produced by the very same production studio? Well, it is a culmination of multiple things. First, the film’s opening sequence (like that of most superhero movies), lays the foundation for the background of the story in a far superior manner to most films of this variety. The back-story for most of Marvel’s popular superheroes is only depicted because of its necessity—those films do not seem to take seriously the opportunity that they have to establish a character’s background story in a way that will evoke true, meaningful empathy from the viewers. I could not care less about how Thor’s story begins because its filmmakers did not beckon any emotion from me. This film changes that by giving viewers a more serious-toned set of circumstances that could be a quality scene in an Oscar-nominated drama.
Second, despite the seriousness of the opening scene, it quickly turns comedic. And I do not mean “comedic” in the slap-sticky way that most superhero movies try to throw it around at random times to keep the tone on a more even keel. Instead, Guardians of the Galaxy is snappy with its humor—it is streamlined by the writers in a way that allows the movie to take on a positive, amusing tone throughout its duration like you might expect out of a critically acclaimed “comedy.” Needless to say, the dialogue is galactically represented by just the kind of wit that makes a film great.
Third, the movie’s musical component is of much better quality than that of other superhero films (hell, even other movies in general). Not only did it contain a notable original score, it boasted an even better musical soundtrack. It features a wealth of great songs from the late-60s, 70s, and 80s (such as “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 and “Moonage Daydream” by David Bowie), and director James Gunn was quoted by IGN as saying that the music plays a culturally significant role in the story’s progression: “It’s striking the balance throughout the whole movie, through something that is very unique, but also something that is easily accessible to people at the same time. The music and the Earth stuff is one of those touchstones that we have to remind us that, yeah, [Quill] is a real person from planet Earth who’s just like you and me. Except that he’s in this big outer space adventure.” The soundtrack went on to claim the number-one spot on four separate Billboard charts (200, Top Soundtracks, Top Rock Albums, Top Digital Albums), and it even garnered a Grammy nomination. This unique sound took the film to great heights.
Finally, the casting choices were about as good as it gets. But not only were the casting decisions made superbly, but the actual actors backed up an action-filled, hilarity-packed movie with more dynamism than the likes of Chris Evans as Captain America or Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. The band of Avengers were obviously picked out individually for their own solo films, but the Marvel producers intended to eventually combine forces for an adaptation of the Avengers series—I say this because they do not gel with one another well whatsoever in those films. And I refer not to the characters but instead to the actors. I enjoy those movies (somewhat), but after each of them, I always feel like Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Hemsworth are, by themselves, carrying the story because the rest of them do not make me care about their respective roles. In Guardians, I bought into every single character and his or her individual plight, and the actors’ chemistry on screen is what made the movie dazzle.
The much-in-demand Chris Pratt is a riot in his starring role, and his past work in exceptional comedies (TV and silver screen) prepared him well for this memorable performance. Zoe Saldana fits into this out-of-this-world world much smoother than Scarlett Johansson does in the Avengers series. She is more believable as a superhero, and her marvelous role as the sole female of the gang is deserved of much acclaim. Dave Bautista, as Drax, does not have to rely on CGI to appear massive on the screen (like Ruffalo as the Hulk)—he services his character well by being physically stacked (thanks to plenty of time in the weight-room, I presume), and this key feature makes the menacing character of Drax the Destroyer so larger-than-life. Vin Diesel did a noteworthy job with the motion-capture of the walking tree Groot, and this non-human character is one of the film’s most remarkable—I still walk around saying, “I am Groot.” The best performance of all, though, is that given by three-time Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper. The CGI creation of Rocket is marvelous in its own right, but the voice-acting performance that Cooper delivers is incredible. Obviously he is a big star in other movies, and Cooper taps into his ever-growing acting chops as the loud-mouthed Rocket to portray the sarcastic, but vulnerable nature of the group’s shortest/smallest member. Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.
Guardians of the Galaxy trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d96cjJhvlMA
Academy Award nominations for Guardians of the Galaxy:
Best Visual Effects (Stephane Ceretti, Nicolas Aithadi, Jonathan Fawkner and Paul Corbould)
Best Makeup and Hairstyling (Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou and David White)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:
- Gone Girl
- The Lego Movie