Release Date(s)2014 (December 9, 2014)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios (Walt Disney)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C+
Guardians of the Galaxy is ridiculous. Let me say it outright: There’s no way this film should work. First of all, it’s based on an obscure team of Marvel Comics characters that appeared sporadically in print in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, and was more popularly revived in 2008. Perhaps only ROM and Moon Knight are more unlikely choices around which to base a major film franchise. While the story here is equal parts Star Wars, Flash Gordon, and The Last Starfighter, two of its five central characters include a talking raccoon and a walking tree. The resulting cinematic spectacle is as garish and over the top as they come. Yet somehow, for all of its bluster and silliness, Guardians of the Galaxy is also incredibly charming, surprisingly good-spirited… and damned entertaining.
Much of the credit for this surely has to go to writer/director James Gunn, an alumnus of the Troma school of filmmaking (he wrote the script for Lloyd Kauffman’s Tromeo and Juliet). Credit is due to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and the film’s original writer, Nicole Perlman, as well. The trio has crafted a whip-smart script that’s full of humor and keeps its characters front and center, rather than letting them become mere window dressing for the film’s guns-blazing action. Praise must be given to the cast too (which includes Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, and others), each of whom fleshes out and humanizes their roles beautifully, enabling the viewer to genuinely care about and root for them. Also worthy of note here are the film’s score (packed with 60s and 70s pop/rock hits) and vibrant production design, which recalls Heavy Metal magazine and the films The Fifth Element and Chronicles of Riddick, yet remains quite unlike like anything that’s come before.
Guardians’ story begins on Earth in 1988. Just moments after young Peter Quill loses his mother to cancer, he’s abducted by aliens and whisked off into space. Three decades later, Peter (played by Pratt) is now a grown man out on his own and calling himself the “Star-Lord.” He’s a kind of planet-hopping Indiana Jones for hire, who retrieves valuable artifacts in anticipation of the big payday. But the latest object he’s recovered – a mysterious orb – is also being sought by multiple and very powerful alien forces, each of whom will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. Peter’s attempt to sell the orb soon lands him in jail, along with a misfit band of fellow mercenaries. These include the green assassin Gamora (Saldana), the lumbering berserker Drax (Bautista), and the aforementioned raccoon and tree – the gun-toting Rocket (Cooper) and the ‘plant of few words’ Groot (Diesel). Together, they escape incarceration and decide to work together for a time to their mutual financial advantage. But when they finally discover the orb’s true power, they must decide what means more to them: money or the fate of the galaxy. As is all too often the case with a film like this, the climax of Guardians of the Galaxy features a swarms of CG spaceships fighting swarms of other CG spaceships, but that’s okay. The ride up to that point has been so entertaining that you just won’t care, and there are more than enough great character moments in the midst of the battle to get you through all the digital blizzardry. By the way, be sure to watch closely for cameos by Stan Lee, Lloyd Kauffman, Cosmo the Spacedog (another Guardians comic book character), and Marvel’s infamous Howard the Duck.
As newly released on Blu-ray 3D Combo by Disney, not much more needs to be said about the picture and sound quality beyond the fact that the A/V presentation is terrific. The 2D 1080p video is richly detailed, and features fantastic color and contrast. The Blu-ray 3D experience (available on a separate disc in the package) is impressive too, if not quite at the level of the very best 3D presentations on the format. It features nice depth and dimensionality, and seldom feels gimmicky. Note that the 3D version shifts aspect ratios from 2.40 to 1.78, while the 2D maintains a constant 2.40 throughout. Whichever version you choose, English audio is available in 7.1 DTS-HD MA. There’s also an English 2.0 Descriptive Audio track, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in French and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English (for the Hearing Impaired), French, and Spanish. There are even subtitle options for the James Gunn audio commentary on the Blu-ray – a nice touch.
Beyond said commentary, the Blu-ray bonus features are unfortunately rather skimpy. The commentary is easily the best of the lot. Gunn seems like a down to Earth guy, who’s seriously enjoyed his work on this film, and has plenty of interest to say about it. (He sounds a little bit like Howard Stern too, which makes him easy to listen to for 82 minutes.) There’s also a quick trio of featurettes to take in here. Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn (20:56) is a director-led look behind the scenes at the making of the film, featuring interviews with many of the key cast and crew. It’s cute and worth your time. The Intergalactic Visual Effects for Guardians of the Galaxy (7:11) is also interesting, but doesn’t really go in-depth much. And the Exclusive Look at Marvel’s Age of Ultron (2:17) barely counts as an extra, but I suppose will be interesting to Avengers fans. Also available here is a quick batch of Deleted and Extended Scenes (with optional audio commentary – 4:22). There are a couple funny moments involving the guard who stole Peter’s Walkman, but otherwise there’s nothing here that’s really missed in the final edit. Finally, you get the requisite Gag Reel (3:54), DVD and digital copy versions of the film, and it’s worth noting that the Blu-ray menus play Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” on a loop.
If you buy the Blu-ray 3D Combo at Best Buy, you’ll get exclusive Steelbook packaging that looks like Peter’s “Awesome Mix” cassette tape. Meanwhile, Target has their own retail-exclusive version that offers an additional featurette called An In-Depth Look Into Creating the Galaxy!
Less a super-hero film and more a flashy 70s-throwback space opera, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is both surprise and delight. It’s far from groundbreaking cinema, but it’s full of the kind of heart and charm that used to define genre films like this, but that they’ve sadly lacked for quite some time. Whether you’re a lifelong comic book fan or a complete newcomer to these characters, Guardians is just great fun. It’s also perfect for kids of all ages, so grab the Blu-ray and gather the whole family in the home theater. Whatever you do, don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt