i had to go to the imdb to find their names look at that; commitment

SPOILER FREE REVIEW: "Guardians of the Galaxy"

Bit of advice: if you’re going to Vegas, take Kevin Feige with you. That guy knows how to play the odds.

When the first Iron Man film was announced, it was a bold, daring move. We didn’t quite know how it would pan out given how superhero movies had been done and received (in general) up to that point. Their choice of leading man wasn’t terribly reassuring. Brilliant but massively-troubled Robert Downey, Jr., freshly rehabbed, leading the way and banking on a somewhat lesser known character than classics like Spider-Man, Batman, etc. seemed a shaky foundation at best. But hey, it worked out greater than great, and so the MCU continued on its path of cinematic domination.

Avengers? Another gamble. Taking these huge characters that had been successful in their own films and throwing them into one big pot could have gone badly, too, especially considering the budget involved. However under the care of Father Joss, by the faith of St. Kevin and an incredible cast, seemingly more into camaraderie than ego, what resulted was one of the most successful films–ever.

It’s amazing that Marvel has proven itself time and again over the past six years, never truly missing, yet when Guardians of the Galaxy was announced many of us (I admit, me included) kind of shifted our eyes, gave sidelong glances and said, “Umm….” I mean, let’s be serious. It’s one thing to resurrect Robert Downey Jr.’s career by putting him in an iron suit and letting him RDJ all over the place, or nabbing an unknown but incredibly charismatic Aussie that is the physical epitome of the Thunder God and sticking him under the care of Sir Kenneth “Shakespeare’s Biggest Fan” Branagh. And Johnny Storm? Well, he was about the only good thing in the Fantastic Four series so it wasn’t a far stretch to believe that the most American boy-next-door/diamond-in-the-rough in recent years would be a perfect fit for the Star Spangled Man With a Plan. These were all leaps of faith but very calculated ones, each panning out beautifully.

But a space cowboy played by Chris Pratt with a freaking gun-slinging, sharp-tongued raccoon that rides atop a monosyllabic tree with a pro-wrestler cast as a gray-skinned, tattooed killer?  And it didn’t stop there. This James Gunn? Who the hell was he? About the only notable credit on his IMDb page was as a writer for the Scooby Doo movies, and we know how awesome those were. What the hell was with all the 80s earth references? It seemed cool but disjointed at best. Oh now Glenn Close is in it? WTF is with this movie??? And then we heard some of the soundtrack coming out, song by song. It seemed like someone had just started pulling shit out of a hat at that point. About the only thing, going in, that made sense in this assembly was Zoe Saldana because, well, we’ve already seen her as a blue alien and in space. Why not green this time?

BUT there was a strong undercurrent of genius in it, too, that many of us sensed. So you wondered—would this be the best gamble Marvel had made yet or had Kevin Feige finally lost his ever-loving mind?

To sum up, I have to steal a phrase:  flawless victory.

I love so many films, on so many different levels, that it’s a bit perplexing sometimes. I just love movies. Period. End of story. I love good movies, bad movies, corny movies, artsy movies, you name it. Every now and then I get the privilege of seeing one in the theater that digs a spot deep in my heart. Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Interview With the Vampire (don’t judge me!), the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit hexology (cause I know Battle of the Five Armies is going to be wicked cool), Harry Potter, Avengers, half of the X-Men films. Whenever these come up I have to wonder if there will ever be another film that manages to grab me like that. Luckily, the answer seems to always be “yes.”  

Guardians of the Galaxy dug its heels way in.

Why is this film so captivating? What is it about it that is causing moviegoers to simply gush over it? It’s tough to narrow it down. Casting, direction, music, effects, writing, cinematography, editing–you’ll be hard-pressed to find a weak link in any of these. All the usual suspects are perfectly executed. Humor is layered to the point where it’s almost overwhelming but never too much. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all funny and hilarity. From the get-go there are some really deeply moving, affecting and tragic moments that will break your heart. And unlike with Thor: The Dark World, we’re allowed the time to feel and mourn for these characters that are quickly becoming our newest friends. And just when you’ve run through the heartbreak, a sharp witticism breaks the tension (usually from the general direction of the raccoon, of course) and you’re back to having the best ride you’ve had all year. 

The humor is hilarious. The tragedy is heart-breaking. The action is thrilling. The music makes you want to get up and dance (or groove, whatever). Every ingredient makes you feel exactly what it’s supposed to, and it occurs to me how often this doesn’t pan out for so many films. It’s incredibly rare for a movie to hit every. single. mark.

So okay, Chris Pratt and company were obviously brilliant casting choices, but one element that has been (so far) underrated in my opinion is the performance of Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser. Let’s just pause for a minute to allow our minds to explode over this one. Lee Pace has been working this steady stream of important roles lately, most notably recently as elven King Thranduil in The Hobbit series. When you look at Lee Pace, as himself, he’s this incredibly pretty, crazy tall, unassuming guy from Oklahoma, but when he slips into character, whichever character it may be, he utterly sheds himself and becomes his role absolutely. It’s a really magical thing to watch. I haven’t seen everything he’s ever done, but what I have seen is pretty inspiring. Whether he’s a transgender nightclub performer, a sneering elf king with more than just one loose screw or an evil Kree with balls enough to talk smack to, arguably, the baddest bad guy in the Marvel universe, the guy can freaking act. He’s such a badass as Ronan. His typical prettiness is all but gone under all the makeup and costuming, but what sells it more than anything is that voice he can so effortlessly transform from just-some-guy to “Holy hellballs! That’s the best villain voice since James Earl Jones.”

And Ronan is evil, no question about it. One thing I have to commend Marvel on is their ability to make their villains really and truly bad. Loki is, of course, a whole other article. You might like the villain because they’re awesome, but rarely is it because you relate to them. Stane? Evil. Red Skull? Evil. Even in Avengers, Loki was pretty damned evil.  No sympathetic bad guys here, and before anyone even thinks of mentioning the Winter Soldier, I’d like to point out that he wasn’t actually a villain. Thank you.

Don’t discount Nebula either, terrifically brought to life by Karen Gillan. You can’t help but root for her in the dark parts of your mind. She’s the best villainess I’ve seen in a non-animated film in a long time. A perfectly strong female role without relying on sex, gender validation, or feminine wiles to get it done nor is she a quasi-villainess like Catwoman. She’s a fully-committed ass-kicker and that’s all she needs. Marvel is paving the way for women to finally get some gender equality onscreen, and it’s gorgeous to behold. As a woman and a mother of two girls who love these films as much as I do, I cannot express enough how much I adore the MCU for this. DC/Warner Bros. would do well to take note when putting Wonder Woman onscreen.

You cannot end a discussion about Guardians of the Galaxy without talking about the inclusion of late 20th century Earth nostalgia. I firmly believe that if you were born anywhere from about 1973-1980, this movie should be required viewing. There are references and nods that are specifically geared towards that very tight demographic. This film celebrates us late Gen Xers. Finally, there is a movie that shows us that we have our own pop culture to remember, too. We’ve had to sit through countless films wistfully celebrating the 60s from the Baby Boomers and how cool it was to be a teenager in the 70s and 80s from our predecessors. Well, now it’s our turn, bitches. Those of us who came of age in the 90s finally have our time in the sun, and it’s awesome that it’s in such a bloody amazing film as this.

The MCU seems committed to genuinely raising the bar for themselves first with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and now Guardians. It actually sort of eclipses Avengers in some ways. So if the formula stays true, count on Avengers: Age of Ultron to completely obliterate our minds.

Now, run, don’t walk, to see Guardians as soon as possible (preferably in 3D) so in a few years you can brag, “Yeah, I saw it–in the theater,” the way we used to lord that shit over people back in the day who had only seen the Star Wars trilogy on video. My fellow 80s kids know exactly what I mean. We were hipsters before it was cool.

And as with all Marvel films, please remain seated until the ride has come to a complete stop so you can get your mid-credit scene (which is one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie) and your end-credit scene.