‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ review: The biggest surprise of the year

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September 3, 2014 by Hope W.

The motley Guardians of the Galaxy

The motley Guardians of the Galaxy

As you might guess from the rave reviews and word-of-mouth spreading like wildfire over Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s space opera about a ragtag group of aliens plus one human is the massive surprise hit of the summer, and even gone on to be the highest-grossing movie of the year in the US, beating stalwart franchises like Transformers, X-Men and Spider-Man. (Though if you count worldwide box office, Transformers: Age of Extinction wins, because China. It was practically a Chinese movie.)

Going into the summer, who would have thought that would be the outcome? Consider the amount of star power in, say, X-Men: Days of Future Past, half of whom would make up an Oscar-baiting movie’s wet dream, including everybody’s BFF Jennifer Lawrence. The movie itself uniting *all* past and present X-Men, Avengers-style. The established fervent and large fanbase. The millions spent in the marketing blitz by 20th Century Fox, which kicked off last year when they secretly flew its entire A-list cast to Comic-Con in a bid to be the most talked about panel of the Con; and then this year for a week of non-stop premieres around the world, including one in Singapore.

And then consider the fact that the lead of Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t all that well known to mainstream moviegoers. That Guardians is Marvel’s newest comic book superhero group with no name recognition. That these antiheroes looked like a really weird bunch (the goth kids to The Avengers and X-Men’s jocks and cheerleaders?). And that all the media coverage leading up to its release date was whether this was Marvel’s riskiest venture, with heavy skepticism as to whether it would pay off.

How could everybody — and I bet it includes the people at Marvel themselves, even while they are patting each other on their backs — NOT be surprised by Guardians’ success? This underdog rose up and SMASHED it (like the Hulk). The film adaptation of a newbie comic book series outperformed a decades-old popular title, by the same publishing company no less!

Even better, most people’s favourite character(s) in Guardians are probably not the humans that we can visually relate to ourselves — it’s the prickly, foul-tempered raccoon and his friend the tree who only says three words. Even Drax the Destroyer was endearing in his obliviousness to irony, though for the first half of the movie he was just a vengeful, angry bull.

Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy

Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy

There’s a post going around Tumblr that sums up my feelings about Marvel’s track record in churning out hits where people didn’t think they would succeed.

DC: We can’t do a Wonder Woman movie, no one would watch it.
Marvel: YOU WILL CRY OVER THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A TREE AND A RACCOON AND YOU WILL LIKE IT

(Though it’s kind of a non-sequitur, since Marvel has yet to do a Black Widow movie themselves; but with the success of Lucy proving that people do turn up for female-centred, original action movies, it shouldn’t be long now.)

I’m puzzled though: Why bother getting Bradley Cooper to voice Rocket Raccoon if it’s not going to sound like him at all? I love Bradley Cooper, but his voice was unrecognisable here. Director James Gunn said in an interview (which I will quote once I remember where I read it) that of course Bradley doesn’t sound like Bradley, he sounds like Rocket! Annnd someone else who would have cost less *wouldn’t* have sounded like Rocket??? Though the star power is always good I guess, and Marvel can certainly afford it. Groot sounds a *leeeettle* bit like Vin Diesel, just lower and gruffer.

Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy

Rocket Raccoon and Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy

Honestly, I still don’t know why audiences embraced the movie so heartily. It is such an oddball misfits comedy and so different from the previous superhero movies in Marvel’s slate that when I watched it at a preview screening, I came out feeling unsure of how audiences would take to it once it releases in theatres. They are more space bandits who become accidental guardians of the galaxy, rather than actual superheroes. Guardians also had a higher quotient of comedy than Marvel’s other movies so far, partly aided by all the slow-mo (so much slow-mo!) giving it a really soap operatic feel. In fact, it most reminded me of Star Wars — which has also been described as a space opera, and whose influences can be seen all over the place — but wackier, and with better dialogue. But while audiences may like breaths of fresh air when they get tired of the staid action blockbuster, they don’t usually take to them *this* well.

For me, whilst I really enjoyed it, Guardians is too kooky to put among my favourite Marvel movies. I need time to get used to it. But Chris Pratt was awesome here, and I’m glad he was given an action role where his comedy chops were paramount to the character too. Peter Quill is like Tony Stark — reckless and snarky — but he’s funny because he’s *goofy*; while Tony Stark is witty because of his “hyperverbal vocabulary vomit” way of delivering zingers. (Which, by the way, is the best description I’ve ever heard of how Robert Downey Jr., or at least his characters, talk.)

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy

On a side note: what’s up with the Howard the Duck cameo at the very end? That was THE weirdest after-credits scenes that Marvel has ever done. (Also, until yesterday, I thought Howard the Duck was a Disney character.) And what happened to the other two (one?) Infinity Gems that Asgard entrusted to The Collector at the end of Thor: The Dark World?

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