Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

It takes a real out of the box thinker like director James Gunn to really approach “Guardians of the Galaxy” with a fresh sense of vision that doesn’t make it feel like a stock space epic. Truly, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the most complete Marvel movie since “The Avengers.” It adopts the quirks and flash of the Marvel universe, while also introducing us to a group of complex and truly interesting rejects that become saviors of the universe thanks to colliding fates and unusual circumstances. Suffice it to say “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a near masterpiece, and one with an amazing soundtrack. Rather than sidestepping everything from the comic, director James Gunn embraces the fun of the diverse alien bunch, while also injecting his own demented dark comedy.

Peter Quill was abducted by aliens as a child, shortly after the death of his mother from Cancer. Years later, he was raised by the space pirate Yondu, to become a pirate in his own right, spending his days exploring wrecks and stealing prized artifacts for pay. When he aims to steal a mysterious orb from a ship wreck, he comes across the troops of the vicious Ronan the Accuser, who is anxious to grab the orb for his master Thanos. When Yondu learns of the theft, he sends hunters to find Peter, and take the orb. Meanwhile the intergalactic space force the Nova Corps are also on the hunt for the orb. When Ronan sends his assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to retrieve the orb from Peter, the situations becomes even more troublesome when he reveals himself to be cleverer than Gamora realizes. When two local bounty hunters the anthropomorphic genetically engineered Raccoon Rocket, and his large sentient plant friend Groot attempts to kidnap Peter for the bounty, the foursome are sent to a high facility prison, realizing the importance of the orb.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is very focused on depicting heroes that aren’t as dashing or even as aesthetically pleasing as people like the Avengers, and Gunn displays an unabashed love for the characters, including Rocket Raccoon who is almost like a furrier grumpier Han Solo. Under a less talented director, the presence of Rocket could have been a complete misfire, but Bradley Cooper’s spirited voice work, matched with the engrossing character transformation is compelling. Chris Pratt is given the task of helping to keep the film afloat with his depiction as the unusual space pirate Star Lord, and gives a fantastic performance, providing the character with real humanity. There are also great turns by Dave Batista, Zoe Saldana, and Vin Diesel as the plant creature Groot. Gunn also gets great mileage out of supporting performances by Karen Gillan, John C. Reilly, and Michael Rooker. What’s so interesting about “Guardians of the Galaxy” is that our group of adventurers is never quite valiant superheroes, and even when we leave them, they’re still just dirty, rotten scoundrels given a new sense of self-importance.

Director Gunn only has two hours to establish a group of rag tag mismatched anti-heroes, and he hits the ground running from minute one, and never falters, even in the midst of very pleasing action set pieces. What’s even more satisfying is that director Gunn has to lay the ground work for future story lines within the Marvel Cinematic universe, introducing a slew of minor characters that will achieve greater importance in the future, and yet “Guardians of the Galaxy” still feels very complete and filled with great substance. It may be just one part of a massive continuity, but it can still be taken in as a fantastic and sweeping space epic on its own. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a tough sell for fans accustomed to superhero epics that nevertheless is funny, action packed, and filled with a lot of humanity. It’s definitely one of the most entertaining movie going experiences I’ve had in 2014.