Action Adventure

Out-of-this-World Blu-ray Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

December 9, 2014Ben MK

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Boldly going where no Marvel movie has gone before...

What a bunch of A-holes... That may seem like an odd way to begin a review, but then again, the Guardians of the Galaxy aren't your ordinary superhero team-up — in fact, they're about as unorthodox as you're likely to get. With a roster that includes a green-skinned assassin, a musclebound marauder, a smart-mouthed, gun-toting raccoon and a walking tree, Marvel's latest batch of big screen protagonists evokes a distinct antihero vibe. Which is perfectly fine, considering that the man behind the movie is none other than Slither and Super director James Gunn.


The Film When it was first announced in 2012, there was some skepticism about whether Gunn could pull off a box office hit with such an unconventional band of heroes. But happily, Gunn has not only quashed such concerns, he's pummeled them into submission by delivering a rip-roaring pic that, at times, channels the serialized, Saturday morning swagger of Star Wars and, at other times, is an edgy send-up of the sci-fi/superhero genre.

Based on the 2008 revamp of the 45-year-old Marvel Comics property, the film opens in 1988, with the abduction of nine-year-old Peter Quill from Earth by Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his band of space pirates, the Ravagers. From there, Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman waste little time, leaping ahead 26 years to the abandoned planet of Morag, where we watch Peter (Chris Pratt) liberate a mysterious orb (whose importance shall soon be made apparent) from its resting place amid the ruins of a cavernous temple. It’s a rollicking scene — made even more enjoyable by the classic rock soundtrack played through Peter's vintage walkman, a gimmick that Gunn uses to great effect throughout the film — that pays playful homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark, quickly establishing Peter as a rogue and a scoundrel cut from the same cloth as another iconic Harrison Ford role, Han Solo.

Soon we're off to the planet Xandar, where Peter crosses paths with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), his Flora Colossus partner, Groot (Vin Diesel), and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), each of whom are either out to claim the bounty on Peter's head (placed there by Yondu) or to retrieve the orb from his possession. A melee ensues, and they're all apprehended by the Nova Corps (think of them as the galactic police) and sent to the Kyln, an intergalactic prison. There, they meet the literal-minded brawler Drax (Dave Bautista) and stage a daring (and impromptu) prison break. However, it's not long before they find themselves fighting to keep the orb from falling into the clutches of the movie's big bad, Ronan the Accuser (a growling Lee Pace, clad in armor and warpaint), a Kree zealot whose insatiable thirst for power threatens the safety of the entire galaxy.

Pratt does an impeccable job of translating the comic timing he's honed on Parks and Recreation to his new gig as a buff action hero, and the rest of the cast follows suit, exuding just the right amount of charm to bring their oddball characters to life. Bautista (a former wrestler) gives his most endearing performance to date, as a muscle-man (and occasional comic relief) with a soft spot, while Saldana is at her usual best as an alien femme fatale who carries the extra burden of being the last of her species. Surprisingly, however, it's Rocket and Groot who end up being the heart of the team (and the film). Thanks to bleeding-edge visual effects and pitch-perfect voice work by Cooper and Diesel, the pair come across as authentic as any of the other characters and not merely visual gags.

But for all its zany characters (including Doctor Who's Karen Gillan as the bald, blue-skinned, cybernetically-enhanced assassin, Nebula) and head-spinning sci-fi plot points, what it ultimately boils down to is a fun time at the movies. Because while there's a definite pathos underlying the story and its characters, Guardians of the Galaxy isn't defined by it, which places it in stark contrast to the grim-n-gritty Captain America: The Winter Soldier (the "other Marvel movie" to have been released this year). Even The Avengers, which previously held the title of being the most tongue-in-cheek Marvel movie to date (thanks to writer/director Joss Whedon), pales in comparison.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and basically ever other Marvel movie before it, Guardians of the Galaxy debuts on Blu-ray with a flat-out stunner of an A/V presentation. Whether it's daylight scenes on Xandar or the darkened interiors aboard Ronan's ship, the Dark Aster, Disney's hi-def transfer reaches for the stars and excels on every conceivable level. With its insanely vibrant color palette — rich with hues of pink, purple, red, yellow, blue and green — the razor-sharp image is bursting with eye candy, from the individual hairs on Rocket to the intricately detailed cityscapes and environments; and to top it off, there's not a single image blemish or defect to be found. Equally praise-worthy is the audio experience, as the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack does an impeccable job immersing the viewer in the action. From the sounds of gunfire and rumbling spaceship thrusters to the uptempo songs by the likes of Redbone, Blue Swede and The Runaways, not to mention composer Tyler Bates' rousing orchestral score, it just doesn't get any better than this.

Special Features Disney's 2D Blu-ray release includes 39 minutes of HD bonus features (though fans looking for a 3D experience can opt for the separate 3D combo pack, which also bundles an iTunes digital copy of the film).

Kicking things off are a trio of featurettes: Guide To The Galaxy With James Gunn is a 21-minute look at the making of the film, specifically its visual aesthetic, makeup and effects, music and casting; The Intergalactic Visual Effects For Guardians Of The Galaxy is a 7-minute exploration of the CG VFX, specifically those used to create the characters of Rocket and Groot; and the 2-minute Exclusive Look At Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron is (just as it sounds) a brief look at the hotly anticipated upcoming film, including the story's new settings and characters. There are also 4 minutes of Deleted & Extended Scenes ("The Kyln Will Have To Do", "No, I'm The Stupid One", "Sisterly Love", "Dancing Guard" and "Fake Laugh", all with optional audio commentary by James Gunn) and a 4-minute Gag Reel.

Last but not certainly not least, there's also an informative and entertaining feature-length Audio Commentary With Director James Gunn, in which he shares factoids and anecdotes about the production, the cast and the music, pointing out cameo appearances, easter eggs and fleshing out the backstory for viewers.

The Bottom Line Blending epic space action with whip-smart quips and an anthemic soundtrack full of classic tunes from the '70s and '80s, Guardians of the Galaxy is the Marvel movie we never knew we wanted — but now that it's here, it's impossible to imagine living without it. After nine entries focusing on the same group of core characters, the film is exactly the kick in the pants the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs. And with flawless audio and video and a thoroughly entertaining batch of insightful extras, Disney's Blu-ray release is the perfect way to experience this turning point in the comic giant's big screen franchise. Without a doubt, it's a must-own title for any self-respecting Marvel fan.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on July 31st, 2014.

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