Release Date(s)2014 (October 1, 2019)
Studio(s)Marvel Studios (Walt Disney Studios)
- 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 flesh out and humanize 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 The 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 a 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 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 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.
The original Guardians was shot digitally in ARRIRAW at 2.8K using Arri Alexa XT Plus cameras with Panavision Primo, Cooke Xtal Express, and Angenieux Optimo anamorphic lenses. The film was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39 scope ratio (with some scenes finished in 1.90 for IMAX exhibition, but that variable aspect presentation is available only on Blu-ray 3D). It was then upsampled and graded for high dynamic range (HDR10 is available on this disc). The surprise here is how much detail is visible and how clean looking it is. Skin and metal texturing is crisp. The uptick from regular Blu-ray is modest naturally, but this is a very nice looking image. The HDR grade is moderately aggressive, with deep blacks and abundant bright highlights—explosions, weapons blasts, and glowing orbs all pop and gleam. Colors are vibrant and wonderfully varied. One could wish the 4K included the variable aspect ratio, but this is otherwise a pleasing image and a nice UHD upgrade.
As good as the picture is, however, the English Dolby Atmos mix here is absolutely fantastic. The soundstage is big, wide, and spacious. Clarity of dialogue, effects, and especially music is outstanding. You can hear this right up front; just listen to the sound of Peter DePoe’s crisp snare drums on Redbone’s Come and Get Your Love as Peter Quill steals the orb—each beat lingers in the air before decaying. Given this film’s abundant use of pop songs, musicality is important and this lossless mix delivers in spades. Effects panning and movement are natural and lively. The height channels engage often to lift and enclose the listening space. Spatial atmospheric cues abound from moment to moment. And the tonal quality of the mix is full and throaty, with muscular bass. This is a reference quality Atmos mix and one of the best of any catalog MCU film in 4K. Additional audio options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Quebec French in 5.1 Dolby Digital, and 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus in French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese. Optional subtitles include English for the Hearing Impaired, Quebec French, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, and Swedish.
The Ultra HD disc includes no extras, but the package adds the previous Blu-ray version of the film with the following (video features in HD):
- Audio Commentary with director James Gunn
- Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn (20:56)
- The Intergalactic Visual Effects for Guardians of the Galaxy (7:11)
- Exclusive Look at Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (2:17)
- Deleted & Extended Scenes (5 scenes with optional commentary – 4:22 in all)
- Gag Reel (3:54)
The audio commentary is outstanding. Gunn seems like a down to Earth guy, who seriously enjoyed his work on this film and has plenty to say about it. (He sounds a little like Howard Stern too, which makes him easy to listen to for 82 minutes.) Note that there are subtitles for the commentary if you need them. Beyond this, the Blu-ray features are unfortunately rather skimpy. Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn is a director-led look behind the scenes at the making of the film, featuring interviews with many of the cast and crew. The Visual Effects piece is interesting, but doesn’t go much in-depth. The Avengers: Age of Ultron preview barely counts as an extra. There are at least a couple of funny Deleted Scenes involving the guard who stole Peter’s Walkman, but otherwise there’s nothing that’s really missed in the final edit. Finally, you get the requisite Gag Reel and a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert. Sadly, the Blu-ray 3D version of this film is not included.
Less a superhero film and more a flashy 70s-throwback space opera, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy surprises and delights in equal measure. 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 a very nice Ultra HD upgrade, so if you’re 4K ready, don’t miss it.
- Bill Hunt