The day of the Toronto premiere, everyone was buzzing with talk about Guardians of the Galaxy. Some were calling it the best Marvel film to date. Others said it was this generation’s Star Wars. Part of me thinks I may have enjoyed the film even more without those expectations, because while I understand why those statements were made, I’m not sure I completely agree with them (Avengers still holds the top spot in my heart). However, though it didn’t resonate with me to that level, it is a fact that Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantastic, must-see film for many reasons.
Guardians of the Galaxy is an incredibly fun movie, but that doesn’t stop it from having some deeply touching, serious moments. That was something I certainly didn’t expect based on the trailers, which is actually another of GotG’s big wins: it didn’t give everything away beforehand. There are tons of surprises left for fans to discover as they watch. It’s so common today for trailers to include key plot points and twists in the films they’re trying to sell viewers on, that several people I know have sworn off watching them entirely. Iron Man 3 was a great movie but would have been even better if we only saw the armoury in action in the film instead of making an appearance in the trailer. GotG’s trailers did exactly what they should: got fans excited by showing the characters they love handled properly, and didn’t take itself too seriously. Two crucial things for an eclectic cast of characters like these self appointed Guardians of the Galaxy.
The film allowed each character to have their own authentically raw, emotional moment, and while it sometimes felt like GotG was trying a bit too hard to sell some of these scenes, for the most part they succeeded. Case in point: I shed tears several times. Sure, I’m a big softie, but they didn’t back away from tugging on your heartstrings throughout. Think Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Futurama: comedy shows that effortlessly throw you an emotional curveball— and it’s super effective! It’s a credit to director James Gunn, who co-wrote GotG with Nicole Perlman, that they were able to balance powerful moments like that with fast-paced action, tons of laughs, and a really great story of some of the universe’s biggest losers.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal every scene, even though every time Groot did something particularly strange, I couldn’t help but remember it was Vin Diesel romping around on screen. Bradley Cooper as Rocket was an inspired choice because he made a character whose catch phrase in the comics is “MURDERED!” someone you cared about, despite the undeniable fact that he’s kind of a jerk. A really funny one, but absolutely a jerk. That’s a character trait most of the Guardians share, Peter Quill especially, though he balances it with a good amount of charm. Sometimes it felt like Chris Pratt was just being himself on screen (especially during his first scene), which could have meant a sub-par performance but instead confirmed that, as of this film, Pratt is Quill, the same way Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man. Pratt’s performance was fantastic, making Quill the new Han-Solo-meets-surfer-Tony-Stark-BAMF who’s still working out the kinks of being cool under pressure. We get to watch Quill truly become Star-Lord, earning the name people scoff at throughout the film. He’s also the cause for some really hilarious moments that could have been “laugh at him” scenes that he took and owned, making sure we were laughing with him. He’s a dork who can take care of himself, and someone you can really root for.
Zoe Saldana as Gamora was another perfect casting choice: strength and ruthlessness embodied, with a honourable heart, despite having been trained to shy away from such sentiment. The sole woman in a sausage-fest team of “superheroes,” Gamora doesn’t hide or shy away from her gender, especially when she’s kicking the living hell out of someone. Drax was another pleasant surprise, with Dave Bautista taking home some of the biggest laughs of the film, again while balancing some truly great emotional performances. None of the main cast was ever just an archetype. They all felt like people— granted, even though some of them were trees, or raccoons.
Cast performances play a major role in why this film is so great, as do great action/combat scenes, balanced throughout a compelling story. But if I had to pinpoint the most important aspect of Guardians of the Galaxy, it would be the fact that it is a truly and completely unapologetic science fiction film. We are on Earth for only a fraction of the movie and beyond that, we’re exploring a big ol’ universe that humanity is a tiny, mostly overlooked segment of. Everyone else is obviously alien, and Peter Quill is our tether to Earth, making it easy to care for the character despite his shortcomings. Marvel could have played it safe and made a film that tested better with the average audience but instead went unabashedly nerdy. They used exposition to ground some moments but never talked down to the audience or approached the universe as a place full of wacky aliens and high-jinx. Which is why although GotG didn’t become my new Star Wars, it wouldn’t surprise me for a second to see kids today look at it that way.
Whether you’re 13 or 63, Guardians of the Galaxy is a must-see, and has something for everyone: especially if you have great taste in music.
My only complaint? That Marvel didn't hand out copies of Quill’s Awesome Mix at the end of the film. If you disagree with that after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, you don't know what awesome means.