Written by: James Gunn & Nicole Perlman
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker
Families forged through shared experiences can legitimately earn their place as equals to those created through bloodlines. Stories making this argument always have a special place in my heart because not everyone gets the opportunity to live with a supportive family and should not be restricted to build bonds with those who share a similar DNA. This idea along with inspired visuals and gut-busting comedy allows Guardians of the Galaxy to reign supreme over everything else produced by Marvel Studios.
After barely escaping death in search of a sought-after orb, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) has trouble finding a buyer and gets himself into a sticky situation where other assassins and bounty hunters try to get in his way. When he and a group of misfits all get sent to an intergalactic prison, they form a bond in order to enrich themselves at the cost of fighting a larger enemy.
The unbridled success of Guardians of the Galaxy feels like a miracle because it shows a studio putting faith in the power of storytelling. Sure, this film falls within the larger cinematic universe put together by Marvel, but in the early days, it was the first to trot out these unknown characters with no connection to the established crew down on Earth. It took the story of this universe out into space and even included a talking tree and raccoon. Seemingly an impossible feat to bring in a larger mainstream audience who had just formed bonds with more realistic characters, now this film asks to expand. Representing the purest style of storytelling of all the Marvel output, this just works supremely well.
Starting out with a singing Star-Lord making his way through a dangerous planet, Guardians of the Galaxy sets to create a world not introduced previously in this series of films and an unfamiliar face to boot in major tentpole filmmaking. From jamming to some older tunes and the comedy within a delusion of grandeur, a level of personality shown right from the beginning indicating something refreshing will be in store for audiences who vibe with the story and the rest of the feature sought to prove this idea to such a blossoming degree.
Binding together this film’s incredible success comes from the balance of its hilarious comedy and genuine emotional explorations of the traumas these characters come to the table with. This idea of abuse receives further thought in the sequel, but this first film lays out all of the comedy and introduces this galaxy of characters with such ease. Each of these actors nail all of their lines with such peculiarity further enriching these characters to be more than throwaway additions to Star-Lord’s story throughout. Their characterizations work to such a wondrous degree that I grew a personal connection with more of them within an ensemble film than the other Avengers getting their own stories. So many hilarious lines could be stated right from the top of my head because of their long-lasting quality. From Drax (Dave Bautista) not understanding sarcasm and taking everything said in jest literally to Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) being a prickly team member simply for the fun of it. Even the walking tree who has one three-word line delivers them in such hilarious ways because of how it bounces off the other characters.
Much of this comes from the comics but also the mind of James Gunn, who allows this feature to be a watershed moment in his career. Generally, I hold the belief that filmmakers should be given the control to tell their visions without much studio meddling as it usually yields better results, but James Gunn becomes the interesting case of this going the other way. His previous works in Slither and Super certainly were not my cup of tea and they both got to a point where it got overly gross and unhinged in a negative way. His turn in working with Marvel Studios has seemingly allowed him to be kept under some restraints, which in turn has created his greatest works. His weirdness still certainly sticks out in this film, no doubt, but it does not overwhelm everything to the point of harming the narrative. Gunn’s personality shines and while this story follows a specific formula in superhero storytelling, the nourishment given to these characters, what they have gone through, and then will do together allows for this family of misfits to shine in the best of ways.
Soaring in every aspect of its production, Guardians of the Galaxy hits all of the right notes in both its soundtrack and filmmaking. The visuals look stunning in putting all of the other previous films in this series to shame and the makeup work on each of these characters looks phenomenal, despite the number of hours these actors had to endure in order to make it look presentable. It finds the perfect balance of causing tears to fall from my eyes both from the comedy but also the heartfelt moments where these characters bare their souls in further becoming more vulnerable with each other. As cliche as it may be to say, but they build a family here for all of its warts and growing pains. These filmmakers managed to take these largely unknown characters and instantly make them the most captivating ones within their entire series of films. A true testament of what greatness can be achieved when a weird director can combine with a large soulless studio to make something beautiful both on the inside and out.