The Marvel Cinematic Universe just got a whole lot bigger. And funnier.
We comic fans have waited a long time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to throw open its doors to the cosmos, a vast playground for many of its creations – and that’s not even counting the parallel and alternate dimensions.
Sure, the Thor movies showed how big those doors are, and The Avengers served up a large-scale alien invasion ... but what’s it really like, out there in the further reaches of the MCU?
The question has now been answered in a way that will not only have fans jumping with joy, but also get regular moviegoers (you know, the ones who roll their eyes while Marvel Comics fans go ballistic during the post-credits sequences) laughing, sliding to the edge of their seats, and wringing their hands in anguish along with everyone else.
That’s because Guardians Of The Galaxy is a terrific space opera that cuts across boundaries of fandom and non-fandom, with an appeal that transcends the galactic ... into the universal.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the Guardians of the Galaxy from the Nova Corps (who?) or the Kree (ditto?) ... the fact is, Marvel’s cosmic sagas and characters are somewhat niche.
They have a smaller following than their Earth-bound superhero counterparts, but one that is pretty loyal – and sharp enough to keep track of these sprawling tales.
On that score, then, the playing field is pretty level for most segments of the audience.
So just who are the Guardians, beyond the “bunch of A-holes” as they are referred to in the trailer?
A smart-mouthed outlaw named Peter Quill who calls himself Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-crazed psychopath Drax (Dave Bautista, a.k.a. WWE wrestler Batista), a talking raccoon named Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and a walking tree called Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) make up this merry band.
And it’s so much fun to watch how they come together as a “team” that I’m not saying any more on that score. Every single one’s a standout – no doubt, everyone will want a Rocket buddy after this – although Gamora’s part seems a tad underwritten compared to the rest.
The fun lies in seeing them accept one another, warts and all (and those are some mighty big warts); in catching the bits of each character’s backstory that pop up in the course of the movie; and – here’s where the fans get a treat – seeing some major elements of Marvel’s cosmic sagas brought to the screen.
From planet-destroying Celestials to the covetous Collector (Benicio del Toro), from the Kree empire to Xandar (a kind of goody-goody cosmopolitan society governed by Glenn Close and her range of threatening hairstyles), and the planetoid-sized space hulk known as Knowhere, there’s certainly no shortage of tidbits for those (niche) fans to devour.
But the real show of skill here is the deft manner in which director/co-writer James Gunn pulls off this ensemble tale, juggling attitudes, 1970s and 1980s hit songs, backstories, motivations, conspiracies, action, pathos and comedy in such a way that almost nothing comes up short.
(It’s pretty ingenious to tie not just displaced Earthling Peter Quill, but the audience as well, to these alien settings and spaced-out adventures through the use of familiar, and mostly beloved, music.)
The villainy is quite heavyweight too. Thanos, the mad Titan revealed to be the Big Bad in the mid-credits scene of The Avengers, is around even if he is barely on screen for a minute; but his brief appearance and fearfully whispered reputation leave us eagerly awaiting his (reported) turn in the spotlight in Avengers 3.
The central villain of Guardians is a Kree warrior named Ronan (Lee Pace), who is refusing to abide by his empire’s freshly minted peace treaty with the Xandarians.
Basically, he wants Xandar destroyed for alleged war crimes against his people, and when Star-Lord steals a mysterious orb from a derelict world, it is just the bargaining chip he needs to get Thanos to do the deed for him.
Needless to say, things anywhere in the MCU are never as straightforward as they seem initially, and complications arise, from the Guardians’ own internal troubles to outside interference by Quill’s on/off business associate Yondu (The Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker, who steals a few scenes of his own) and Ronan’s own dark ambitions.
With so much going on, it’s inevitable that some of it doesn’t quite add up. The finale seems to happen too abruptly, with the pieces and players being put in place as arbitarily as if Gunn was following the set-up instructions for a board game.
Anyway, just a minor gripe that can be overlooked when a movie is as exuberantly entertaining as this, a tribute to misfits everywhere and a madcap celebration of discovering that true sense of belonging.