Synopsis: 26 years after being abducted from earth, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) comes into possession of an artifact so valuable and dangerous that soon the entire galaxy is on his tail. In order to keep the item from falling into the hands of the villainous Ronan (Lee Pace), Quill joins forces with a ragtag group of misfits, including a talking raccoon and a sentient tree, and together they take on the impossible task of saving the universe.
What I Liked: I could probably just type a big "EVERYTHING!" and be done with it, but where's the fun in that? Guardians is a massive departure, both in tone and subject matter, from the rest of the Marvel universe and while I'm a huge fan of said universe, this movie felt like that first cool evening at the end of a burning hot summer. While Guardians does tend to follow the standard blockbuster blueprint in terms of narrative structure, it's got this wild, undeniably fun spirit that guides the ship through the most exciting route a movie could hope to take while still staying on the requisite path. It is fresh, it is energetic, and it is confident, with that last part standing out as perhaps the most important. James Gunn (Slither, Super) totally embraces the film's spirit and infuses it with a certain hipness that made it undeniably endearing to me. Guardians is not just funny but legitimately hilarious and while the jokes aren't always particularly witty, neither are they low and they fly fast and free. For that matter, the film as a whole moves at a much more rapid pace than any of the previous Marvel entries, a quality I quite enjoyed. It is also undoubtedly the edgiest film in this universe and I think Gunn succeeds in adding a layer of grit and grime to his film without making it altogether dark, which is no small task (just ask anyone invested in the DC universe).
Guardians also succeeds in bringing forth characters that are truly likable because of who they are rather than what they represent. That's one of the big knocks on the Marvel films: their lack of strong, relatable characters that stand on their own merits. Tony Stark/Iron Man is great but in truth, that's where the list ends. We like Captain America because of what he stands for. We like Bruce Banner because he transforms into a monster. We like Hawkeye because...I'm just kidding, no one really likes Hawkeye. The point is, the majority of the Marvel movies are carried by their themes, their exciting action sequences, and a group of likable actors who carry their sometimes-lackluster characters through with charisma. But with Guardians, you get a whole handful of characters that you can't help but love. This is partly due to the cast, all of whom are excellent. Chris Pratt is a star, you guys, and as a day one fan of Parks and Recreation, I couldn't be happier for him. Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, and most surprisingly, former WWE star Dave Bautista are all great as well.
But the characters themselves are so much more enjoyable and exciting than just about anything else that exists in the Marvel universe, due in no small part to the fact that they all have actual personalities. Both Rocket Raccoon (Cooper) and Groot (Diesel), created out of thin air through the magic of CGI, have more personality than just about any other character in this series of films. That's an impressive feat. And I can't ever recall a film that featured magnetic chemistry between two CGI characters but darned if Guardians doesn't hit that mark square on the head.
What I Didn't Like: There are two chief complaints regarding Guardians. One, as mentioned previously, it follows the Marvel road map with little deviation. This is a small issue in my mind as I don't particularly dislike the pre-established safety that this road provides but with a movie as unique as this one is within the Marvel universe, it would've been nice to see it strike out on its own from a narrative standpoint. Second and much more importantly, Guardians lacks a compelling villain. This is a big problem within the Marvel universe. They've thrown all manner of bad guys at us and while some have worked marginally well (Loki in Avengers, Red Skull in Captain America), none have come close to matching up with their heroic counterparts. Guardians is chock full of villains and semi-villains, most notably Ronan, but none of them seem to truly matter. This entire franchise is building to an eventual battle between The Avengers (and compatriots) and Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) but so far it's a bunch of smoke and mirrors and if it fails to pay off, this whole thing is slightly diminished. Here's hoping this issue gets remedied sooner rather than later.
Conclusion: Small issues aside, Guardians of the Galaxy is the comic book movie the genre desperately needed. It's an absolute blast, the sci-fi elements are strong, and did I mention the soundtrack is spectacular? If The Avengers is the best of the Marvel movies (which is now debatable in my opinion), Guardians is by far the coolest and quite possibly the most memorable when it's all said and done.
Grade: A+ (Rated PG-13 for language and violence)