4 out of 5
Directed by: James Gunn
It arrives with the requisite amount of Blockbuster bluster and the snark that the well-devised ad campaigns prior to release promised. More importantly: it arrives as a fully intact idea, and one that satisfies. In the wake of Edgar Wrightness, Marvel had come under more vocal fire for corralling their Cinematic U under a blanket of “house” decisions, stripping them of personality that didn’t match an editorial design. In part: sure. This is how the big publishers have to work in their comic worlds, and part of the success (and fun) of the Marvel movies “waves” has been the anticipation of seeing the pieces lock together, which probably wouldn’t be working as well without that design. But there’s still – to my viewerly eyes – plenty of room for artistic impression. And Guardians of the Galaxy is, absolutely, a James Gunn flick. As with ‘Slither’ and ‘Super,’ what’s done right in the flick far outweighs those overly simplistic moments, or covers for some plotting looseness – in the latter case, what boils down to another save-the-universe mission that’s somewhat sped through under the (correct) assumption that we don’t need to be handheld through Kree, Thanos, Ravagers, or Nova Corps; we know the cues by now to understand that Mr. glowering Ronan the Accuser (played with wonderful intensity by Lee Pace) is the baddie, and our quintuple of rogues are our heroes. Marvel was gambling by moving outside of the more accessible Earth-bound heroes to aliens in space, but that’s where the wisdom in bringing in Gunn becomes apparent: we actually want to spend just as much (or more) time with the characters than being impressed with special effects. That doesn’t mean Guardians skimps on space battles and slo-mo punches, but it’s amazingly grounded, and Gunn effectively uses the two hour runtime to actually convince us that these characters have a reason to fight, and fight together. As has been remarked upon more effectively in the IGN review, this grounding extends both emotionally and in a ‘meta’ direction, by starting us with Starlord’s loss of family and home before yanking us into the present day self-assured world(s) of the Guardians, and by the fun use of recognizable soundtrack jams and action tropes to mark the flick as something of an appreciation of the classic action movie format. Completing the pic, Ronan is an effective villain, believably nuts enough to bring out the massive destruction, the makeup and sets are truly astounding, and Tyler Bates’ score give us a nice edge that’s a tad more organic than the usual Summer movie fare. GotG isn’t as instantly impressive and balanced as the first Iron Man, but it’s one of the most assured Marvel pics to arrive yet, comfortable in throwing us in the deep end, and ready-made to be viewed several times through until it can straddle the line between blockbuster and cult flick.