Not so long ago in a galaxy quite nearby…a young boy named Peter Quill was abducted by an UFO. 26 years later, in an alternate 2014 universe where spaceships, alien species, and intergalactic travel are seemingly commonplace yet iPods and MP3s are not, Peter has grown up into a rogue and if not quite a peasant slave, a minion to the space pirate Yondu, still listening to an 80’s mix on his cassette Walkman. The choice of music is as significant as in Quicksilver’s scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past, bringing a nostalgic homegrown feel to an otherwise CG heavy sci-fi flick; but GOG has this feeling going throughout the entire film, bringing just enough camp to keep the tone light and fun.
While the premise is of the typical unoriginal superhero kind, the execution is what makes GOG such a winning film, i.e. the irreverent dialogue, the Kevin Bacon references, the jokes on metaphor, and the one-way dance-off. And could anyone imagine Luke Skywalker calling Darth Vader a bitch?
GOG does seem like Star Wars in a parallel reality brought down a few notches from epic-ness and infused with R&B and pelvic gyrations. Continuing with the mystery father idea, Peter’s male parentage remains a question mark, and the master-apprentice relationship between Thanos and Ronan recalls Sidious and Vader; even Ronan’s cloak and head gear bears similarity to the Sith. Hopefully Ronan can return in some form or another as characters do in the Marvel universe. . . And while Peter Quill aka the Starlord is not exactly Luke Skywalker, his heroic antics and genuine humanity show him to be a true leader. But instead of a John Williams theme swelling up for the protagonists, even the truly heroic moments are brought down by the heroes themselves, as they stand together “like jackasses,” aptly stated by the perfectly-cast Bradley Cooper as Rocket.
The one innocent in this ragtag team of assassins, thieves, and criminals, is the Flora Colossus Groot, a plant humanoid from the Planet X. No slouch in any fight, Groot is nonetheless a gentle giant, calm and friendly and an absolute gentleman, showing the awesomely destructive, creative, and nurturing forces of Mother Nature in one fell swoop. Groot gives hope to even Rocket, the most cynical of cynics, a genetically modified and anthropomorphized raccoon, and keeps the wonder alive in his jaded compatriots by his kindness and many magical gifts.
All the Guardians are sympathetic, even if they are jackasses. Everyone has a sad story to tell that cuts through the camp and humor, real stories that audiences can emotionally connect and empathize with. Peter’s regret regarding his mother’s death, his inability to unwrap her last present to him, is all very real and human, as everyone has to live with the decisions they make, and some decisions simply cannot be undone. For Gamora and Rocket, the choices were made for them to become a certain way to perform a certain function, yet they too begin to choose differently when together with Peter, and even Drax’s justified need for vengeance changes quality as he begins to act for the greater good rather than just for his own. But it is Groot’s selflessness that ultimately bonds this band of misfits to become the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Unlike other superhero movies, GOG really gives good focus on fleshing out 3-dimensional characters and their relationships with each other. Included with the epic qualities like honor and evil are the smaller personality traits that make the Guardians annoying, petty, and awesome at the same time, because they need to get out of their own way first before they can become the heroes they should be, much like the story of our own lives. The American philosopher William James once wrote, “A great nation is not saved by wars, it is saved by acts without external picturesqueness.” And so it is with this film; while GOG’s action and fight sequences are exciting and on point, its real win is on the less picturesque scenes, when we’re right there with little Peter crying by his mother’s hospital bedside.