This is the story of how the Guardians of the Galaxy became a team. The story begins by introducing us to Peter Quill as a child. His mother dies. As she dies, he gets kidnapped by a group of space pirates who will reappear periodically throughout the story. They’re kind of like space trash and they kept threatening to eat him as a child. He is now understandably pissed off at them.
Look, the plot doesn’t matter. It’s a MacGuffin. This film is about the characters, the actors and the dialog. Oh, and the soundtrack.
Why This Film Worked
I really enjoyed this film. Why? Because this film was a ton of fun. It was a joy to watch, unlike so much else these days which feels like a chore. Its jokes were funny. Its scenes were clever and entertaining, even if the plot itself was generic. And the characters were likable and interesting and exactly the kind of characters you want to know more about. In fact, I was sorely tempted to buy some of the comics after the film ended... something I’ve never felt after other comic book films.
So how did this happen?
The answer, in a word, is writing. James Gunn and Nicole Perlman simply wrote the hell out of every scene. In most comic book movies, the scenes are just a construct to hit the required plot points as you watch the character arcs while you wait for the final fight scene. In other words, the “plot” is to see the characters go from slackers to heroes or losers to villains. The action points are just meant to highlight how they’ve changed. This film is different. In this film, the writers cared about each individual scene and they worked hard to make each scene stand on its own as entertainment. The result is that everything is memorable and fun.
But there’s one more piece coming. The bad guys come after him and he needs to escape. Rather than give a one-liner and escape or kick all their butts, we get this funny moment where he shows us how calm and cool and kick-ass he is. Then he tells them his criminal name is “Starlord.” You expect them to be impressed, he certainly does. But they aren’t. They’ve never heard of him, and the disappointed look on his face is priceless. Then he escapes, with the orb, in a way which foreshadows the ending.
Scene after scene is like this: surprising, funny and insightful. And each scene builds the movie through foreshadowing. This has become a lost art in Hollywood today.
The other characters are highly quotable too. I love this exchange between Rocket and another character named Drax, who is humorless. Rocket tells Quill that Drax’s people are entirely literal and do not understand metaphors: “Metaphors go over his head.” Drax responds, “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too good. I would catch it.” There is a brilliant exchange with Wreck-It Ralph too about the use of the word “asshole” in a communiqué. And again, so on.
All of these great lines, by the way, do an amazing job of telling you who these characters are and creating the relationships between them that make you want more. Add to this that the characters are an interesting mix – they’re not all the same character in different costumes as you typically get. The effects are decent. The fight scenes aren’t too long. And the soundtrack is fantastic. And what you get here is a really entertaining movie. This is perhaps the best entry in the superhero film category in a decade.