So, after hearing about it’s extremely successful opening weekend and reading more than a few rave reviews (while avoiding any and all spoilers), I finally broke down and saw Guardians of the Galaxy this week.
Without going into hyperbole, I had to admit that Guardians definitely lived up to the hype. It was an amazing action story, filled with well-developed and dynamic characters, a compelling plot, five-star special effects, and even a few outstanding performances that, even though I knew they were coming, still managed to leave me speechless.
With Chris Pratt, I basically knew what to expect, but knowing and seeing are completely different things. Clumsy, yet capable, and cunning in a slightly goofball sort of way, Pratt plays Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star Lord). Over the course of the film, Pratt/Quill shows himself to be that perfect mixture of leader, outlaw, goofball, and damaged child hiding in the shell of a man. It’s a combination I haven’t seen in a long time, not since Joss Whedon’s short-lived brainchild, Firefly, and has never been successfully recreated before now.
The next surprise came from Vin Diesel, who voiced Groot, the strange humanoid tree-being who’s vocabulary extends to a maximum of three words. While this did limit Diesel’s role in the film considerably, Groot as a whole (who I can only guess is a creation shared between Diesel and writers James Gunn and Nicole Perlman) managed the somehow make himself the most enigmatic and lovable character in the film. Difficult to understand, somewhat simple-minded, and determined to protect his friends, Groot shows that complexity can come from something other than a tragic backstory.
And of course, no review of this film could be complete without due complements to Zoe Saldana for playing the part of Gamora, the first strong, independent female character we’ve seen in a Marvel movie since Black Widow. Complete with her own history and motivations, she manages to show she is just as capable as any other character in the otherwise male-dominated film roster. While some have said that the writers at Marvel could have done more with her (and I agree they make a strong argument), her presence in the film did help the movie pass the fabled Bechdel Test, which for any mainstream comic book franchise is quite a feat. While this may not have been Saldana’s most memorable performance, I think it’s completely fair to say the film would not have had the same impact without her.
However, the biggest surprise for me was Lee Pace. While Pace has never been a one-note actor, I will always know him best for his work for the quirky and visually stunning series, Pushing Daisies. In it, Pace played the humble and slightly supernatural Ned. How he went from what has to be the most down-to-earth, quintessential nice guy to Ronan the Accuser in five years’ time is nothing short of astounding to me.
While it is true that this isn’t Pace’s first venture into darker characters, like his chilling portrayal of Thranduil in the last two Hobbit films (An Unexpected Journey and Desolation of Smaug), that makes his menacing presence in Guardians no less impressive. If anything, this makes me all the more curious to see what other cards Pace might have up his sleeve.
While Guardians of the Galaxy still rates as a close second in the hierarchy of recent Marvel movies (with first place going to Avengers), there’s no doubt it has a lot to offer. It showed that space epics can still have humor and not just drama. It proved that actors can still easily step out of old roles and surprise us. And above all else it taught that even a story featuring a smiling tree and a talking raccoon deserves to be taken seriously.