“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” — ½— Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, John C. Reilly, Michael Rooker, Glenn Close, Dave Bautista, Benicio Del Toro; PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language); in general release
“Guardians of the Galaxy” may be the most unique film to come out of the Marvel stable so far. If the oppressive weight of late summer has you down, this movie may be just the thing you need.
The Guardians are kind of a blue-collar, comic foil to The Avengers. Instead of the larger-than-live grandiosity of Thor and Iron Man, this rag-tag bunch of reluctant comrades is built out of the superhero equivalent of a junk drawer.
Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a green-skinned warrior with daddy issues. Dave Bautista plays Drax, a massive blue-and-red skinned hulk seeking revenge for his murdered family. Bradley Cooper voices Rocket, a CGI alien who just happens to resemble a raccoon and carries a massive chip on his shoulder as a result. And speaking of chips, Groot is a seven-foot creature who falls somewhere between Chewbacca and Treebeard the Ent on the alien spectrum. Groot is only capable of saying three words: “I am Groot.” The fact that Vin Diesel voices this character may be the best joke in the entire film.
The unofficial leader of the group is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a wise-cracking Han Solo type — if Han Solo flew around the galaxy listening to a 1970s top-40 mix on a Walkman while trying to convince everyone to call him Star-Lord. The only human in the group (or half-human at least), Quill was abducted by aliens as a child shortly after the death of his mother.
Strangely, “Guardians” is an origin story that doesn’t feel like an origin story. Unlike the Avengers' films, the entire story outside of Quill’s opening prologue is set in space. The plot is centered on a mysterious orb that is getting attention from all the wrong kinds of people. Quill grabs it first in the hopes of selling it off for a quick profit, but he quickly encounters other interested parties, including the other future Guardians, who aren’t eager to share in the profits.
When our heroes all meet, they are anything but a team. In fact, the band reluctantly gets together after they are all thrown in prison while chasing the orb.
The real bad guys connect “Guardians” to the greater Marvel universe and are an effective lead-in to next year’s “Avengers” sequel. A purple-faced warlord named Thanos is the main heavy, but for this film, a blue-faced baddie named Ronan (Lee Pace) handles all of his dirty work.
The action and effects are exciting and well-executed, but the element that truly defines “Guardians” is its humor. Robert Downey Jr. built Iron Man on snark, and Chris Hemsworth got Thor great laughs when he hung his hammer on a coat rack, but none of the Marvel franchises is as dedicated to getting the laughs quite like “Guardians.” There are definitely times when the jokes feel a bit too forced, but more often than not, “Guardians of the Galaxy” will make you laugh while it wows you.
This is a movie that is clearly having a lot of fun, and the good vibes should translate well to the people in the seats. Pratt is perfect as the comic leading man, as is the rest of his team. The supporting cast is also dotted with familiar faces like John C. Reilly and Glenn Close. (Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan are in there too, if you can recognize them through a bit of alien makeup.)
But even if the cast isn’t familiar, a soundtrack sampling everything from Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” to the Runaway’s “Cherry Bomb” to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” will make this outer space adventure feel a bit more like home.
The primary risk of “Guardians” is that, unlike the other Marvel films so far, no one outside of comic book culture knows the characters. But in spite of the lack of familiarity, director James Gunn does a great job of getting the audience on board, and iti doesn’t feel like he’s peppering the audience with in-jokes that the non-geeks are missing.
In fact, you could actually see this movie as an opportunity, at least if you’re one of the many moviegoers who are tired of sequels and prequels and reboots and such. For most people, “Guardians” will be a brand-new experience, and a welcome one at that.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is rated PG-13 for action, sci-fi violence and some language.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. More of his work is at woundedmosquito.com.