#2 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
This is the most purely fun movie Marvel has released. It’s also the most visually resplendent.
The story is pretty typical MacGuffin type stuff. There’s an orb that drives the plot. Everyone wants it for different reasons. It has power that comes into play late in the film. It’s an Infinity Stone and part of the larger mythology. That’s not the joy of the movie. It’s on that clothesline of a plot that James Gunn hung an array of entertaining characters who make the journey interesting, and it’s all told with such an enthusiastic style and painterly brush.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is our main hero, and he’s the first to get his hands on the MacGuffin, I mean orb. He makes an enemy of Ronan the Accuser in the process, as well as his former colleague/savior from cannibalism Yondu. He ends up on the planet Xandar where Gamora, the angry daughter of the big bad Thanos and soldier for Ronan is trying to betray them both by stealing the orb and getting it to the Collector. While trying to get the orb from Quill, Rocket the Raccoon and his tree guardian Groot try to kidnap Quill for a bounty and they all end up captured by the police, sent to space prison.
Up to this point, the movie is light and amusing, but it’s in the prison, where the four heroes meet Drax and have to work together to escape, that the movie begins to get really fun. The prison escape is witty, inventive, and delightful to simply watch (the movie really does look good from beginning to end). Peter’s insistence on reclaiming his Walkman, his most emotional connection to Earth and his deceased mother, is handled with the right tone of enjoyable romp mixed with attachment.
It’s in the second act that the movie falters just slightly. They meet the Collector and get an exposition dump that’s really just there to establish things for the MCU at large and not for the movie itself. In terms of the movie, the scene does bear some narrative importance (it’s here that we see what’s in the orb, an Infinity Stone, and what happens when it’s misused), but the majority of the sequence is really dedicated to world building for stuff outside of it. Rocket also has an emotional beat that feels a bit off to me. It makes sense that he might lash out while drunk and explain a bit of backstory, but it feels like it comes out of nowhere since it immediately follows a nice little scene where Peter and Gamora get to know each other a bit better.
From then on, though, the movie is sure footed and clearly successful. Ronan gets his hands on the Infinity Stone and proceeds with his stock bad guy plot #3 of trying to destroy a planet. Quill recruits the Ravagers under Yondu onto his side (with promises of riches) and they start a big, entertaining battle where the characters all get their moments to shine with banter and explosions. We get our big explosions and a final confrontation, and it’s all done with such a strong narrative hand that we can easily forgive the ending’s generic overall nature because the moments are so enjoyable.
Ronan, though, is probably the least interesting antagonist in all of Marvel. He’s as stock as stock can be, and I remember Malekith from Thor: The Dark World. There are moments where it feels like Ronan is supposed to be more than just yelling bad guy who yells, but they don’t develop anything. All we get is yelling bad guy who yells. I also wish there was more thematic depth to the film. For instance, the moment in the final seconds of the final battle where Gamora reaches out to Peter and Peter sees his mother feels thin. It’s just that Gamora uses the same words as his mother rather than anything else in the situation calling back to it.
One final note. I love the design of the film from beginning to end. The spaceships look great and unique enough against the typical spaceships we’ve seen in cinema before. My favorite of them all are the Xandar Nova defense ships. It seems like an odd choice, but the color pallete is perfect, and I ended up seeing this for the first time around the time that the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune got released, and it was screamingly obvious to me that there were similar influences. I looked it up, and yeah, the guy who did most of the designs for the aborted Dune adaptation designed the ships in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Aside from a couple of hiccups in the second act and a less than mediocre bad guy, this is such a wonderfully entertaining film.
Netflix Rating: 5/5
Quality Rating: 3.5/4
Originally published here.