Compared to the mainstream Marvel Universe, the five characters who make up the Guardians of the Galaxy are relatively unknown. Sure, a hardcore comic book fan may be familiar with Drax, Gamora, Groot, Rocket and Star-Lord, but for the casual movie goer, these might as well be brand-new characters. As a result, "Guardians of the Galaxy" essentially starts with a clean slate. Sure, it's set in the same Marvel Universe as the other films, but it happens millions of miles away in outer space, where all bets are off.
Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, (Chris Pratt) ends up as the unofficial leader of this band of outlaws, but it wasn't because he planned it that way. Quill was abducted by aliens as a child and had to learn how to survive in the outer reaches of the galaxy. The only human around, he is a ladies' man and a hustler who's always looking for his next score. Always a bit out of place, what Quill really wants is a place to belong.
The group initially comes together because Quill attempts to cut a fellow hustler out of a deal and ends up with a price on his head. Well, that and the fact that Ronan (Lee Pace) also wants the artifact Quill stole. A religious fanatic with an army and a massive war ship at his disposal, Ronan is feared throughout the system.
Because the group was forced together out of necessity, there are a few bumps along the way as they learn to work together. It is in these interpersonal conversations where the film really shines. For the most part, the dialogue is sharp and witty, but screenwriter James Gunn doesn't shy away from dramatic depth when the scene calls for it. A perfect example is the reveal of Rocket's (Bradley Cooper) past. Yes, he's a fast-talking raccoon with a penchant for big guns, but he's also got quite a bit of baggage, which makes the character feel fleshed out rather than just a CGI marvel.
Speaking of CGI, Vin Diesel steals the show as the voice of Groot. A sentient tree who can only speak three words, Groot manages to bring a childlike innocence to the whole adventure. He's Rocket's best friend and protector, but he also seems to genuinely care about others. Even though Groot has a limited vocabulary, Diesel makes the most of his inflections to convey a depth of emotion.
We first see Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after she ambushes Quill. An adopted daughter of Thanos, Gamora is a feared assassin who recently rebelled and decided to atone for her sins. The only problem with that plan is her victims aren't quite so forgiving. Gamora is a fighter in more ways than one, and despite her past, she is the moral center of the group.
Drax (Dave Bautista) is a convict with a single-minded purpose: He wants to kill Ronan because Ronan killed his family. Drax is extremely literal (his race doesn't "get" metaphors) and focused in his quest. This allows for some choice moments of humor but also introduces one of the movie's more humbling moments. Vengeance can be a powerful force, but it can also be a self-destructive force.
Five separate characters make up the main cast, and after you take into account the villains and fairly extensive supporting cast, it would've been easy for "Guardians of the Galaxy" to lose focus. The film smartly avoids doing so, always keeping the plot moving forward.
Visually, "Guardians of the Galaxy" stands out, with set design and special effects that are head and shoulders above what has come before. Aliens appear in all shapes and colors, space battles happen with ferocious intensity, and Benicio Del Toro's Collector (last seen in the teaser at the end of "Thor: The Dark World") has his base of operations in Knowhere, a desiccated head of a celestial being that has become a mining town as it floats through space.
Although "Guardians of the Galaxy" was filmed in 2-D, it was done with an eye to 3-D, and the conversion doesn't disappoint. The film is bright and vibrant in 3-D, with a sharp "though the window" effect that holds throughout. Seeing it in 3-D adds a true sense of depth to the experience and is recommended.
Humor runs the gamut from witty one-liners to physical humor, Marvel Easter eggs and low-brow references. Yes, there's even a cum joke in there, but it doesn't come across as crass due to the way the dialogue flows. It's safe for the younger set because the adult humor will likely fly over their heads, but there is still plenty to keep the kids entertained.
In the end, what really makes "Guardians of the Galaxy" work is that it's not constrained by any preconceived notions. Even though it occurs in the Marvel Universe, watching "Guardians of the Galaxy" felt like exploring something new, sort of like the first time people saw "Star Wars" on the big screen. Yes, "Guardians of the Galaxy" is that good. It not only raises the bar for the upcoming Marvel films, but it has also set the bar for "Star Wars: Episode VII." J.J. Abrams has his work cut out for him if he wants to top this.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 121 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX 3-D.
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