“Guardians of the Galaxy” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Marvel Studios kicked off the summer blockbuster season (albeit a little early) with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so it’s only fitting that the Disney-owned studio closes the season with another powerhouse hit in Guardians of the Galaxy. Although Marvel has had an incredible track record with its film franchises over the past couple of years, there’s always a level of uncertainty when it comes to launching a new franchise, let alone one that isn’t as universally familiar (the Guardians of the Galaxy comic books aren’t as popular as X-Men or Spider-Man for example). Needless to say, expectations were running high leading up to the release of the film, but like all of its previous movies since Marvel began “Phase 1” (Iron Man was their first) this one is another box office smash.

Expertly helmed by director James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy is a rip-roaring action ride with equal parts humor and heart. The film follows a human-turned-space outlaw named “Star Lord” who teams up with a rag-tag group of aliens to save the galaxy. The movie’s plot borrows many elements from the sci-fi genre–specifically from other popular space movies like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Serenity, to name a few. Although this doesn’t sound like the most original premise out there, the movies that Guardians draws its inspiration from are some of the greatest out there and Gunn should be praised for not only bringing all the pieces together but for doing so in style.

A large reason the film works so well is the chemistry between the cast–especially between the Guardians. Parks & Recreation star Chris Pratt plays Star Lord (aka Peter Quill), and easily proves he’s more than ready to be Hollywood’s next big leading man. Tracking his career up to this point is nothing short of awe-inspiring–he went from a character-y supporting player in a TV comedy to supporting roles in solid movies like Zero Dark Thirty and Her, before finally landing leading feature roles like that in Delivery Man and The Lego Movie. Although everyone’s acting career is different, Pratt’s journey is a good example that people can get to the top through nothing more than hard work, patience, and talent. The casting of Pratt as the space outlaw is spot-on, and he readily embodies all the elements that Marvel looks for in its characters, i.e., leading men and ladies who are relatable and funny, while still being able to take charge. If you watch The Avengers and look at all the main characters you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Pratt’s live-action counterparts on the team are played by Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista. Saldana plays “Gamora”–an alien assassin who’s first hired to steal an artifact from Pratt’s Star Lord. Saldana is readily cornering the market on kickass, sci-fi female parts, having key roles in other major film franchises like Star Trek and Avatar. Before you think Saldana only does big budget genre films, it’s worthy to note that she’s done her fair share of work on indie films like The Words and puts in a great performance in the forthcoming film Infinitely Polar Bear opposite Mark Ruffalo, which made a huge splash at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. WWE wrestling superstar Bautista is a bold casting choice for the role of “Drax”, a wordsmith and notorious criminal that befriends Quill in jail. Marvel Studios isn’t really known for stunt casting its leads, so if you think Bautista is just hired background muscle here, you better check yourself. Bautista’s Drax is a well-developed, three-dimensional hero. Yes, he’s physically intimidating and has plenty of brute strength, but he’s like that for a reason, and has his own baggage and life trauma. Of course these character complexities would be nothing without a solid actor breathing life to the role, and wrestler-turned-actor Bautista will probably surprise people at how good of a thespian he really is!

The two other members of the Guardians are a bit more unique in that they are CGI-animated characters and are thus voiced by actors. The first of these two is “Rocket Raccoon”–a genetically-modified creature with a knack for gadgets and guns; he also happens to look like a raccoon although he admits to not even knowing what a raccoon is. Rocket is voiced by Bradley Cooper whose career has rocketed (no pun intended) after the critical success of the David O. Russell film Silver Linings Playbook. Rocket’s partner in crime is “Groot”, a sentient tree-like creature whose vocabulary only consists of the words “I am Groot”, specifically in that order. Groot is voiced by Vin Diesel and this role will probably be the most money he’s ever gotten for the amount of work. As previously mentioned, Groot only speaks three words, so Diesel’s voiceover session for the film probably just consisted of him saying his lines several different ways. This isn’t in any way to diminish Diesel’s performance here, and his take as the three-worded alien further validates the age-old acting adage that it doesn’t matter how many lines you have, it’s about how you deliver them. Groot’s dialogue, limited as it is, has a great variety to it and his responses are surprisingly appropriate for every situation.  The fact that Groot has easily become one of the biggest breakout characters from the film only further makes this role a win-win for the Fast & Furious star. Fun fact: Diesel and Bautista recently co-starred together in Diesel’s other movie franchise Riddick earlier this year.

Guardians aside, the film is naturally populated with a wide variety of characters–humanoid and otherwise. On the villain side, the film’s main antagonist is “Ronan”, a radical warrior of the Kree alien race. Lee Pace plays the antagonist, and brings a level of terror and formidability that is necessary for the part. Pace is definitely one of those actors who throws himself completely into every role, making him difficult to even recognize at times. This can be seen in a his recent work including The Hobbit trilogy, Lincoln, and AMC’s new hit series Halt & Catch Fire. The sheer plethora of high-profile projects that he’s been in and continues to be in attests to Pace’s talent. Rounding out Ronan’s cohorts are his right-hand woman “Nebula” (played by Karen Gillan), and lead henchman “Korath” (played by Djimon Honsou). Gillan has also been having a good year–she was the female lead of Oculus opposite Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites, and is also the lead of the new ABC series Selfie opposite John Cho. The ultra villain “Thanos” also makes his speaking debut in Guardians and is voiced by Josh Brolin–although that fact hasn’t really been advertised. Hint: Thanos was the menacing purple-skinned alien that was featured after the credits in The Avengers, and you can bet your marbles that this character is going to be around in future Marvel installments.

Filling out the extensive roster of characters in this universe are “Yondu”, Peter Quill’s outlaw “mentor”; “Corpsman Dey”, a loyal officer of the Nova Core, an intergalactic police force; “Nova Prime”, the leader of the Nova Core; and “The Collector”, a mysterious figure with extensive knowledge on all valuable and rare items in the galaxy. They are played by Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio Del Toro respectively. Not surprisingly, they all turn in solid performances as their characters considering their supporting player roles. Reilly adds his usual comedic touches throughout the story keeping the film’s tone in line with Marvel’s previous works. Rooker is excellent as Yondu, and the role fits The Walking Dead actor to a glove. Finally, Del Toro’s turn as The Collector is a lot of fun and he does a great job really delving into the character’s eccentricities. Similar to Thanos, The Collector was actually first introduced after the end credits in Thor: The Dark World, so you can definitely expect to see more of him as well.

Although Guardians of the Galaxy relies heavily on conventional themes of the genre, namely the concept of quirky group of characters coming together for fun space adventures, it does so with all the style, charm, and action one would expect from Marvel. With a sequel already announced, fans can look forward to more adventures from Star Lord and company. Fingers crossed they make an appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Extra viewing tip: Like all movies from Marvel Studios, you’ll want to watch to the end of the credits to get the full “experience”. All I’ll say is that you should do a quick internet search on “Howard the Duck.” Funny stuff.

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Kyle