Full spoilers ahead
Toward the end of "Guardians of the Galaxy", the movie's main villain Ronan is getting ready to unleash the power of the infinity stone he had been chasing the entire movie upon the planet Xandar.
It's the film's climax, the most dramatic moment, the one where everything hangs in the balance.
And how does Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star Lord, leader of the guardians of the galaxy group, handle this situation to save the lives of millions of people?
By throwing down a one-on-one dance-off challenge. Just him and Ronan.
That's the kind of brash, timely comedy that not only brings Marvel's newest addition to its cinematic universe "Guardians of the Galaxy" to life, but truly gives the film a unique feel and an endearing connection to the characters. And all with an awesome 1980s mix tape for a score to boot.
Marvel was on its 'A' game with "Guardians." It's got everything: well-timed comedy, glorious visuals throughout the galaxy, cool superpower effects, a compelling story that takes the Avengers saga to a whole new level, a lovable mix of characters - with a blend of intimate and hilarious interactions - and even compelling villains.
What made "The Avengers" stand above the rest to me was its ability to tie in the First Phase of movies and bring all those characters together and work so well. "Guardians" has plenty of these elements. Marvel eased the risk of introducing so many new characters in one movie by connecting the film with much of what's been established with the MCU.
Probably the most significant connection is the full reveal of Thanos, the evil character in the end-credit scene of "Avengers”. Now, he's out in the open as he works with Ronan to collect the infinity stones. Everything is getting more and more real, the arcing storyline more and more escalated.
But the guardian characters bring perfect balance. Director James Gunn played his cards right by not necessarily making this a pure origin story movie. The guardians all just happen to meet at the right place and right time (fancy that) to set up their journey together.
Quill, a young man who was abducted as a child after his mother died, is merely a scavenger of rare items (almost like a galactic version of Indiana Jones, only instead of a fedora, he wears a cool helmet with cloaking ability). He locates a mysterious orb on a cool-looking abandoned planet (perfect place to hide an all-powerful orb, right?). But others want the orb, too. Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (a raccoon that somehow survived several experiments that went terribly wrong on him, voiced by Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista) and a humanoid-type tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) all try to steal the orb from Quill, and they all end up getting caught and sent to prison.
What ensues the rest of the film is a bonding experience with this cast of misfits. They break out of prison together. They rip off others together. They even get caught up in galactic-sized evil schemes together. And when they need to band together the most, they go through touching moments, inspiring speeches and subsequent self-inflicting jokes that provide light-hearted laughter.
At one point, the guardians make their way to Knowhere, a secret planet made of the remnants of an old ancient god. This planet was one of the cooler locales we've seen in any of the Marvel movies yet. It seemed like an updated version of Mos Eisley Spaceport from "Star Wars." There were bar fights, cool alien cockfighting matches, weirdo-looking creatures and all kinds of other scum-and-villainy type things that brought life and interest to the film.
When it wasn't about the gorgeous backdrops, the ingenious weaponry or the constant tension of the chase, "Guardians" left its mark with its unbelievably witty dialogue. While the humor wasn't always clever, there was variety, including shtick, one-liners and everything in between. And it was made with great delivery that had punch, purpose and, of course, perfect timing. Seriously, there were too many zingers and one-liners to count.
For some (though admittedly I'm not one of them) watching Saldana play yet another rough-and-tough girl act is probably enthralling, and she just fits the bill when it comes to playing Gamora, a galactic princess who is in rebel mode most of the film. There's huge potential for further character development with her that I can't wait to see ("Guardians of the Galaxy 2" has been announced already).
But Rocket easily steals the show. Rocket ranges from bitterness and anger to awesomeness, grit and exuberant showmanship. While he's not the leader of the group, you certainly wouldn't mind if he was.
Groot was a bore with his lack of dialogue (he mainly only has three words he says, and always in the same order), but he has plenty of cool tricks up his sleeve. He dies during the film, but gets reborn as a cute little plant in a pot.
It was the perfect light-hearted ending to a film that captures everything great about the Marvel movies while adding its own flavor.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" is on a similar level to the first "Iron Man" for sheer humor, smart dialogue and a seamless introduction to a new group of characters, and it's close to the same level as "The Avengers" when it comes to bringing together every aspect of the film. It even reaches a "Star Wars" level when it reaches its final act as it balances several different battles going on at once, but with all of them interwoven. With "Guardians", Marvel continues to shine as it sets precedent after precedent and keeps following up the last movie with one that's just as good, if not better.
Post-credit scene analysis: During the movie, the guardians visit The Collector, who was at the end of Thor 2. The Collector, who has several extremely valuable relics from throughout the universe, has his storage facility halfway destroyed. At the end of the credits, we revisit The Collector as he lies in his smoking, destroyed room with total shock. He resorts to a drink and doesn't even stop a dog from slobbering all over his face. At this point, we hear a voice off-screen say "You just going to let him lick you?" The camera pans over, and it's none other than Howard the Duck! Howard (who actually can be spotted earlier in the film), was a character from an old 1980s Marvel movie, and it was terrible. Whether this scene means a remake or a reintroduction to the character remains to be seen, but odds are it will be a one-shot cameo put in mostly for comic affect. But who knows.