Monday, January 5, 2015

Guardians of the Galaxy Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
From Marvel, the studio that launched the epic franchises of “Iron Man,” “Thor,” “Captain America” and “Marvel’s The Avengers,” comes an unlikely new team—the “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The Marvel Cinematic Universe expands into the cosmos when brash space adventurer Peter Quill steals a coveted orb and becomes the object of a relentless bounty hunt. To evade his enemies, Quill forges an uneasy truce with Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon; Groot, a tree-like humanoid; the deadly assassin Gamora; and the revenge-driven Drax. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb, he must rally his ragtag band of misfits for a desperate battle that will decide the fate of the galaxy. Featuring amazing new characters and exclusive bonus features, this must-own blockbuster will have you hooked on a feeling… of pure adrenaline!

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
After their phenomenal run of their earlier phase one movies, Marvel took a risk by straying away from their usual playbook with Guardians of the Galaxy, a property that few knew existed. Although the general beats of the story are pretty formulaic (a ragtag group of outsiders must learn to work together for the greater good and end up becoming the family they previously lacked), the direction that James Gunn took the movie was totally unexpected and fun.
I remember sitting in Comic-Con's Hall H during the always excellent Marvel presentation when we first saw our first glimpse of the movie. To be honest, I think I might have groaned when it came on because I was hoping for something else because a movie about a talking raccoon and a walking tree didn't appeal to me. I don't think I was alone because most of the audience was hoping for a look at one of the more established properties too. That all changed however, once we saw the teaser for Guardians which looked like something totally new and exciting and I found myself standing up and clapping away with the rest of the dumbfounded Marvel devotees.
That promise of mischievous fun was fortunately carried over to the final movie which even expanded on it and added a strong sense of family which blended together to make one of the biggest movies of the year and one that families could enjoy together. It was gratifying to see Marvel's biggest risk earn an equal amount of acclaim and financial success. Not that Marvel was feeling that nervous about their prospects because they had already greenlighted a sequel to the film before the first one was even released.
One thing that I liked a lot about the film is how it plays with your expectations. Just when you think that the film is going to be a fun lark in space, it opens with the death of Peter Quill's mother in 1988 which sets the stage for the rest of the movie. Quill is unable to accept the fact that his mother is dying from cancer and escapes from reality by listening to his mother's custom playlist on cassette  on his Sony Walkman. Even in her last moments, Quill is unable to accept it and he flees the hospital only to be abducted outside by a spaceship.
The film jumps ahead twenty six years and the adult Quill (Chris Pratt) has become a cocky adventurer who calls himself "Star-Lord," a nickname that we later learned was given to him by his mother. Quill has come to a desolate planet in search of an orb within the ruins of an abandoned city. What Quill doesn't realize is that within the orb he's searching for is an infinity stone which will enable the possessor an incredible amount of power and that he isn't the only one looking for it. Soon some men who work for Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) attempt to capture the orb and Quill. Quill manages to escape them but also runs afoul of his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) who realizes that Quill was trying to get the orb for himself and he puts on a bounty on his head.
Now on the run from both Ronan and Yondu, Quill tries to sell the orb but is thwarted when the buyer realizes that Ronan is after it too. Undeterred, Quill leaves to try to sell it elsewhere but is jumped by Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who steals the orb on the orders of Ronan. What she doesn't realize is that there are other players too as Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and his tree partner Groot (Vin Diesel) are trying to capture Quill for the bounty that Yondu placed on him. When the group ends up fighting each other, they are all captured by the Nova Corps and sent to the Kyln, a space prison where they can serve their sentences together.
As Gamora is the adopted daughter of the mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), she isn't that popular in prison and an attempt on her life brings the core group who would later become the "Guardians" together. That includes Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronan earlier. They decide to break out of the prison and to follow Gamora's original plan to sell the orb for $4 billion to the Collector (Benicio del Toro) and split the money between them. To do that, they will need to escape the Kyln, travel to Knowhere to sell the orb, and stop an intergalactic war between Ronan and the Xandarians. Nothing that the Guardians of the Galaxy can't handle.
This film is a blast from start to finish and writer/director James Gunn nails the perfect tone for the movie throughout. While the plot can be a little convoluted, it still a breezy adventure that is perfectly cast. Although I wasn't really aware of Chris Pratt before seeing this, I was sold on him as soon as I saw the teaser at Comic-Con. His portrayal of Quill is incredible as he knew just how the character should be played as he saw Quill as a combination of Han Solo and Marty McFly. As he later said, "He had a hard time as a kid, and now he goes around space, making out with hot alien girls and just being a rogue and a bit of a jerk, and through teaming up with these guys, finds a higher purpose for himself."
The rest of the cast is equally good, with Saldana providing another strong performance, Cooper and Diesel bringing the Han and Chewie dynamic back, and Bautista proving that playing the straight man can be just as funny. And then you can add the great performances in the supporting roles that include John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Djimon Hounsou, Josh Brolin, and Peter Serafinowicz. While I do believe that the plot could have been less convoluted, that's kind of par for the course for origin stories. This blend of space opera, seventies rock and roll songs, humor, and action all perfectly mesh in a way that looks effortless. Which of course it wasn't but it's a credit to James Gunn that it still appears that way. Guardians of the Galaxy is a blast to watch and I can't wait to see what the next installment will bring!
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
While I can't say anything about the 3D transfer as I didn't get that, I can say that the 1080p 2D transfer looks gorgeous and James Gunn and Ben Davis' creative visual palette have been captured perfectly. I liked how they made every location have its own distinct look - from the monochromatic opening world to the darkness of the Kyln, and the vivid colors on display on Xandar. There's also a ton of various colored aliens throughout the movie and all of the colors just pop off the screen. The fleshtones look natural and the black levels are deep and dark. Detail is excellent throughout the movie and you might just catch some details that you missed in the theater.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
Guardians' DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is amazing which isn't that much of a surprise considering the previous stellar work done on earlier Marvel releases and Disney's overall track record in this area. I really can't say enough good things about this mix as it's incredible from start to finish. Every sound is distinct and accurate with the surround speakers really delivering a lively sonic dance around the living room. From Quill's rocket boots to the awesome crescendo of the Infinity Stone's power, this mix delivers on every count. The dialogue is crystal  clear and the music (both Tyler Bates score and the songs) all sound incredible and never overwhelm the rest of the mix. This is one of the best mixes I've heard in a long time!
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The extras for this release are good but the fact that they barely add up to a little more than forty minutes minus the commentary makes me think that there will be a "deluxe edition" with a lot more extras in the future. All of the extras are in high definition.
  • Audio Commentary - The very personable writer/director James Gunn delivers an engaging look at the movie with his candid commentary. He covers just about every beat of the film, from his script choices, the cast, the design from the ground up of the Marvel cosmic universe, and more. He also talks about the balancing act that he had to do to achieve the right tone for the movie and even shares in some of the easter eggs to be found in the movie that comic book lovers will appreciate. If you enjoyed the movie, then you should really take the time to listen to this great commentary.
  • Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn - This twenty-one minute look at the film is enjoyable and informative but it feels like an excerpt from a much longer documentary that we will most likely see down the road. The presentation of it is unique however as Gunn has been reproduced as an 8-bit character as he leads us from one topic to another. It kind of gets old after awhile but it's still cute. Gunn shares his goals for the film and also talks about the look of it with an emphasis on the worlds, costumes, weapons, ships, and aliens that populate his film. This is all good material but it's easy to see that this is but a part of a much larger featurette that will be included in a second release of this film. As annoying as that is, I did enjoy this behind the scenes look.
  • The Intergalactic Visual Effects - This seven minute featurete focusing on the film's visial effects is very short and feels more like the traditional EPK stuff than something more personal that Gunn would have done. We get some clips of the cast and crew and some footage of the effects but that's about it.
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes - There's four minutes of deleted scenes and none of them are that interesting except one that shows Gamora killing her crew once she decides to betray Ronan and Thanos. Another scene between Gamora and Nebula kind of fills in some of the blanks but it's nothing big. There is also optional commentary for each of these by Gunn.
  • Exclusive Look at Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron - I am very excited about the next Avengers movie so I'm happy that that short look granted by Joss Whedon and Kevin Feige has been included even if we've already seen pretty much all of this footage before.
  • Gag Reel - Here's four minutes of the cast fooling around which is fun but I really thought there'd be more than this. Maybe some was left out to keep it family friendly.
Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Guardians of the Galaxy is pure escapist fun that blends action, humor, and some pathos very well. It's a tricky high-wire balancing act to pull off but James Gunn does it with flying colors. Marvel should also be commended for taking a huge risk with this property and I'm glad that it has paid off for them. This Blu-ray offers some excellent video and audio quality but the extras could have been more extensive. All in all, this is a very easy Blu-ray to recommend for anyone who is looking for some fun adventure in another galaxy that is far far away.

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