Guardians of the Galaxy is fun. That's all you really need to know about it. As far as summer blockbusters go (especially in August) it's just a ton of fun to behold, even if it's not a perfect film. It has a few moments that make you wonder, but at the very least it's willing to have some fun with the audience and with itself. For those looking for a deep engrossing kind of movie, you won't find it with Guardians of the Galaxy. There are a few things that can stand out as being particularly annoying, but we'll get to that later.
Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill. A guy who, in 1988 was taken from Earth on the day his mother died and has roamed the galaxy ever since. He often goes under the alias Star Lord (whom no one has ever really "heard of"). Someone has hired Peter to seek out what is known as an Infinity Stone. When he comes across it (in a set up that feels eerily similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark) he is attacked by soldiers. Barely escaping he manages to take the Infinity Stone to Xander where he hopes to sell it for a large profit. But it turns out things are bigger than that. A guy named Ronan wants the stone for his boss, Thanos, and to nullify a peace treaty with Xander (by destroying it). Meanwhile, Star Lord has a bounty on his head. And in what amounts to a lot of good fun he is chased by Rocket Raccoon and Groot (who want his bounty) as well as Gamora, adopted daughter of Thanos who is seeking the Infinity Stone. Things don't end well and they all wind up in Prison where they meet Drax, who has his own score to settle with Ronan. Together these five have to learn to sort out their differences and work together when they realize just what the Infinity Stone is and hopefully save the galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy lifts quite a bit from other movies. Everything about it is oddly familiar. Most notably it takes a lot of cues from such things as The Avengers (boy does it ever), Star Wars and Firefly just to name a few things. At least it's fun. Chris Pratt makes for a very charming protagonist and the rest of the cast and characters are great. The most charming among them being quite possibly Groot and Rocket. All told, Guardians of the Galaxy is going to be a fun ride while it lasts because the movie doesn't take itself quite as seriously as you'd expect it to. By that I mean, the characters themselves are willing to poke fun at some of the aspects of the movie as well. This makes for some fun one liners and a movie you'll probably quote with friends for a while. The action and the fun keep going because the movie is also well paced.
The only thing about all this that just feels strange is that while the characters are great... what really makes them great and charming are their one liners, their smart assery and their ability to really call out anything as strange or out of place. They make quips and tell jokes throughout much of the experience... and then suddenly at the end everything gets serious in an instant and all touchy and such. This isn't exactly bad, but for a movie that spends so much time poking fun at itself and having fun with the audience (including several "winks"--that is to say, moments when characters look at the camera as though to see if the audience is also having fun) it's kind of strange that there's a sudden shift where everything is suddenly so serious and trying to be heartwarming.
All of this is fun and exciting stuff. It is most certainly a movie I'd tell everyone to go see and enjoy. Most of the characters get by on sheer charisma. All that being said, the only thing that makes Guardians of the Galaxy hard to digest is that within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe it feels like a movie Marvel is just "putting on the pile." And by that I mean it shares so many similarities with other Marvel movies that we can now safely say Marvel is just making formulaic movies at this point that are getting by on likeable characters, witty dialog, amazing visuals and good fun. And while I'm all for this... Marvel IS beginning to suffer in the storytelling department. In part because Guardians of the Galaxy follows this formula set by Marvel so well that not only is it a predictable movie (although "predictable" defines Marvel, they've never made an unpredictable movie) but you can pretty much tell WHEN the actual moment takes place. It feels like there's always a macguffin the bad guys are seeking that they get a hold of and use (that also has immense power), there's always a hero (or heroes) who have to reconcile differences with someone else (or each other). In the case of Guardians of the Galaxy it's almost retelling The Avengers with a couple of Star Wars twists.
Put simply, Guardians of the Galaxy, like so many Marvel movies, isn't willing to take a lot of risks with its storytelling or characters. Sure it's fun and entertaining and will totally keep an audience enraptured... but it's now come to the point where I rarely (if ever) worry for characters or even think much about the villains. Case in point, the main antagonist of Guardians of the Galaxy is Ronan and while he's not a bad villain he's definitely not one that leaves a lasting impression. A lot of villains leave their mark in some way or really establish themselves, but Ronan sort of doesn't. He's a guy who, for some reason, has no problem standing up to Thanos but can be distracted by the main character... dancing. It's unfair to compare Ronan to say... The Joker. However in movies that are more "fun" for instance, Ronan doesn't make the same impression that Loki does. He's a step up from all the boring villains that the Iron Man trilogy has thrown at us but it's becoming more and more clear that Ronan is really just a place holder until we get to a much bigger villain. That villain, I'm assuming, being Thanos.
Yet what really holds Guardians of the Galaxy back from being perfect is the same thing that is starting to hold a lot of Marvel movies back. Guardians of the Galaxy has the bonus of telling a complete story. Beginning, middle and end. It's not a movie that is specifically there to set something up (such as Iron Man 2 or The Amazing Spider-Man 2--which isn't from Marvel studios but is definitely taking a page out of their playbook) but it's kind of disappointing that with all this, "Marvel Cinematic Universe," lore that Guardians of the Galaxy will, at some point, be unable to stand up on its own. The movie has a beginning, middle and end and it's own self contained story, which is very nice. But with leaving certain things intentionally open (Thanos appears for what amounts to pretty much just a cameo and is then gone from the movie) it feels like Guardians of the Galaxy is there to establish another link in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at times more so than to actually tell a story. And while this grand plan of Marvel's is really good, it is getting kind of boring to see each and every movie come out having a main purpose of just establishing connections. While some have been really good (Captain America: The Winter Solider) others have allowed themselves to be totally forgettable (Iron Man 2) simply because they're not doing anything more than getting us to "the big picture," but without much character development to go with it.
Guardians of the Galaxy doesn't quite do this. What I do fear, however, is that the sequel will. The movie is great on its own, but now you've got an audience that isn't looking for a story... but rather parts of a whole story. I was hoping that Guardians would break the mold that a lot of comic book movies are falling into now. The movie begins by breaking the mold but ultimately ends by reverting back to tried and true ideas that are so common place in Marvel's Cinematic Universe that we're still left waiting for a game changer.
That sounds a bit more harsh than I want it to. The reality is that Guardians of the Galaxy is a really good movie. It's funny, charming and witty. It's got a great cast of characters and a great visual aesthetic. It combines the best of great movies (The Avengers, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark) and creates rich universe. What it doesn't do is push the envelope and that's not nearly as bad as it sounds. If you're looking for great fun, Guardians of the Galaxy is it.