Make no mistake about it, the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy are indeed all a part of the Marvel Universe. Nevertheless, unless you are a comic book fan, you have probably never heard of any of them. There is no Thor or Captain America or Spider-Man, not even in a cameo. Nope. Just a bunch of weird aliens of differing colors, physiques and origins coming from places all over what is referred to in turn as a quadrant or a galaxy or a universe. I couldn’t even tell you much, if any, of the background of some of the main characters. Doesn’t sound very promising does it? Ironically perhaps, these facts do not hurt the movie. Instead they make for an incredibly fun movie that had me thoroughly entertained.
What do I mean? Well, think back to Star Wars. After watching Episode IV in 1977, I knew almost nothing about Han Solo or Chewbacca from before the movie. We didn’t get flashbacks of a young Chewbacca back on his home planet (and don’t tell me the name of the planet … it wasn’t in the movie) and how he came to join up with Han. How does Han understand what he says? All those aliens in the cantina… where are they from? Why is the dude with the pig face so mad at Luke just for standing at the bar? The answer? Who cares?! It doesn’t matter right now. The creators of Guardians totally get this right and as a result avoid the typical pitfalls of a ‘first’ comic book movie.
The first movie in superhero franchises is almost always the origin story, and I’m so tired of it. When we reboot with a new actor we have to start the whole thing over again. We have a whole movie where we watch Peter get bitten and Uncle Ben gets shot or Bruce loses his parents and trains to be the ultimate instrument of justice or Kal rockets from his exploding homeworld and is raised to be a hero on a farm in Kansas. GotG does the important part of that before the opening credits and we are then thrown in knee deep into a big space mess and we can figure out the rest as we go and it totally works. How did the raccoon and walking tree become friends? Where did Yondu get that arrow thing? Answering these questions does not move the plot forward and so the movie’s creators simply leave them as part of the colorful universe that serves as a background for the story.
This movie has been getting a lot of comparison to Star Wars, and I think some of those comparisons are fair. There is a Chewbacca analog that is cute and cuddly while also incredibly dangerous. Only his partner can understand the meaning behind what he says. There is a ship captain that is scruffy, funny and in trouble with the wrong people. There is a beautiful female character that wants to stop the destruction of a planet. There is a character that is only a couple of feet high that is cute, non-human and has impeccable comic timing. There is a character that takes things very literally and so often misses the joke. The main characters come from diverse backgrounds and motivations but in the end they band together to fight a common cause. That doesn’t mean that they don’t fight or argue. In fact, many of the best parts of the movie come when these characters are at cross purposes, and I would say the banter surpasses even Star Wars for the number of laughs that it got from the audience.
The biggest area where this movie falls short of Star Wars is the villain. Darth Vader was a phenomenon. He came in as a force (sorry) of nature and was no one’s fool. Ronan the Accuser is the primary bad guy throughout this movie, but I just didn’t find him that interesting and certainly not particularly smart. Like many nearly omnipotent villains, his ultimate weakness is his own hubris and underestimation of the good guys. No matter though, by the time of the ultimate showdown, this movie had already won over the audience. We did briefly meet the big bad guy behind Ronan, and I am certain that we will see him again in the future (perhaps in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel set for release in July of 2017).
I am not the only one to compare this movie to Star Wars and some have even gone so far as to say it is the Star Wars for a new generation. I am not prepared to go that far, and I don’t think I ever will. Star Wars changed movies and our cultural landscape forever. GotG may set tons of records for ticket sales, but Star Wars and all its subsequent movies and books and TV shows and comic books and lunch boxes and lightsabers are spread throughout our society. “Use the Force, Luke” and “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and “That’s no moon” are well known Star Wars references, as is “Luke, I am your father” which was never actually said in the movie, but you get my point. In forty years, will people be quoting GotG? Time will tell, but I personally don’t see it going that far.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a thrilling movie from beginning to end. It gave me everything that I wanted from a summer sci-fi action blockbuster. Despite being a Marvel movie, it feels more like Star Wars then Spider-Man and will have you laughing more than you did during Avengers. If that sounds like the kind of movie you like, then I thoroughly recommend you see it before the summer ends which is all too soon.