A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Wait—wrong franchise. Still, Marvel Studios is hoping for Star Wars-like success with the release on Friday of its latest offering, the action/comedy space epic Guardians of the Galaxy.
The film is based on a comic-book series that doesn’t have a lot of name recognition amongst the general public. Of course, it wasn’t long ago that Iron Man and Thor were regarded as “second-tier” Marvel superheroes—and look how they turned out.
Still, when you’ve got a band of ne’er-do-well heroes that includes a rifle-slinging raccoon and a talking tree, you’re reaching way outside the box for characters that are trying to score big with the target demographic. So here’s a breakdown of the members of the Guardians—a hearty band that Marvel hopes will be household names by the end of the summer.
Peter Quill/Star-Lord: Not to be xenophobic or anti-raccoon or anything, but let’s start our roundup with the group’s lone human being. Peter Quill was abducted from Earth as an 8-year-old in the 1980s (wait until you hear the awesome classic rock mix tape he carries around with him!) and was raised by a group of interstellar outlaws. Now, Quill has grown up to become “a rogue and a bit of a jerk,” according to actor Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation), “a mix of Han Solo and (Back to the Future’s) Marty McFly.” Now, though, his escapades have led him to find a purpose in life: fighting against a menace that threatens the existence of the entire galaxy.
Gamora: Beautiful green alien women have been a proud tradition in science fiction since the days of Captain James T. Kirk, but none of those other-worldly vixens have ever come deadlier than Guardian’s professional assassin Gamora. Played by sci-fi veteran Zoe Saldana (who was blue in Avatar, and her normal human hue in the recent Star Trek re-boot movies), Gamora is the former personal assassin of uber-bad guy Thanos, and is now looking to make up for her past evil ways. It took between four and five hours a day to apply the make-up that transformed Saldana into the lethal Gamora, but she’s not going to get any sympathy from the guy who played…
Drax the Destroyer: In the comic books, enemies of Thanos take the spirit of a human whose family was killed by the villain, place that spirit into a powerful new body, and send him on a mission of vengeance. The movie may tweak Drax’s origin, but his film incarnation is just as brawny and menacing. To play Drax, Marvel Studios reached into the world of professional wrestling and hired Dave Bautista, a six-time WWE champion and the longest-reigning champion in WWE history. Bautista also spent hours each day in the make-up chair becoming Drax the Destroyer, the grey, scar-laden warrior who promises to live up to his nickname on screen.
Rocket Raccoon: Imagine a movie in which Oscar-nominated hunk Bradley Cooper stars as a member of your ensemble—and you never get to see Cooper’s famous face. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Cooper, who proved the might of his comedy chops in the Hangover films, supplies the voice of Rocket, the genetically-engineered raccoon with a smart mouth, a bad attitude, and a love for great big sci-fi rifles. Cooper describes Rocket as “the sort of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas guy,” prone to generating a laugh one minute, and then finding himself in the middle of a firefight the next. Filmmakers studied the activities of actual raccoons to create Rocket, although the character’s physical performance was provided through motion-capture technology (with director James Gunn in the motion-capture suit). Rocket is a breakout character in the Guardians comics, often finding himself in adventures in his own solo titles.
Groot: OK, so it didn’t get weird enough for you with the sentient raccoon? The final member of the Guardians of the Galaxy is Rocket’s buddy Groot, a walking, talking tree. In the comics, Groot has a number of powers and abilities, including tremendous strength, as well as the ability to change his size and shape. And while he has great intelligence, what he doesn’t have is a wide vocabulary. The only words ever to come out of his mouth are “I am Groot!” In the film, those words are supplied by actor Vin Diesel, also provided the motion-capture performance for the tree-being. But according to director Gunn, Diesel’s presentation was anything but wooden. Gunn said that each “I am Groot!” was perfectly nuanced to express exactly what the character was thinking and conveying in each particular moment. Look for Diesel’s Groot to log a uniquely memorable performance in the film.
Will Guardians of the Galaxy fly? Marvel sure hopes so, and judging by the way the movie’s trailers have lit a collective fire under Internet fanboys and girls, the studio may have another smash-hit franchise to go along with its stable of superheroes. Producer Kevin Feige has even hinted that the Guardians running into the Avengers on a movie screen near you isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Rocket Raccoon getting his paws on Iron Man-style weaponry? Gamora and the Hulk joining in a chorus of “It’s Not Easy Being Green”? Mind blown.