Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista
Directed by: James Gunn (“Super”)
Written by: James Gunn (“Super”) and Nicole Perlman (debut)
Never bet against Marvel Studios. Ever since Robert Downey Jr. suited up for “Iron Man” in 2008, the hits based on comic books have just kept coming. Even the most jaded cynic can honestly only call the studio’s worst output, namely “The Incredible Hulk” and “Iron Man 2,” merely disappointing, never outright bad. Hollywood hasn’t seen a streak like this since the golden age of Pixar (read: pre-“Cars”), and since they’re playing with the house’s money after smashes like “The Avengers,” apparently someone at Marvel and Disney decided now was the time to see just how far into the outer reaches of the comic book universe they could delve for a mainstream movie. The studio is going all in – because why the hell not? – on a quirky sci-fi comedy in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and the gamble pays off handsomely, for the most part.
After being abducted by aliens as a boy moments after his mother died of cancer, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) travels the galaxy, jamming out on a vintage Walkman while scrounging for treasures to steal to sell to the highest bidder. When he comes across an orb valued by Ronan (Lee Pace), an assassin named Gomora (Zoe Saldana) is sent to relieve Quill (AKA Star-Lord) of his prize. When the two clash on the planet Nova Prime, some opportunistic bounty hunters named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), who happen to be a raccoon and a tree, respectively, spot Quill and notice he has a bounty on his head offered by Quill’s partner/abductor Yondu (Michael Rooker). The duo complicates the interaction enough to land them all in prison where they meet up with Drax (Dave Bautista), a hyper-literal brute who has a grudge against both Ronan and Gomora. This is getting too complicated, so just know they need to overcome their differences in order to save the galaxy from some ultimate evil.
While Marvel may have a license to print money at this point, “Guardians” is by far their riskiest venture. This is a sci-fi movie first and foremost, filled with fantastical aliens, planets made from the guts of some space-faring creature, and guys with unironic epithets after their names like “the accuser” and “the destroyer.” Director James Gunn pulls everything together well, anchored by a winning, winking performance from Pratt, although the CGI Rocket and Groot nearly steal the show with their mix of humor and pathos. The real shame though is the boring, straight-faced villain and the warmed-over hunt for some cosmic MacGuffin. It’s as if the dark elf plot from “Thor: The Dark World” was just copied and pasted into the screenplay with only the names changed. Also somewhat disappointing is the obvious laying of groundwork for future installments. The intergalactic villain Thanos (voice of Josh Brolin), first glimpsed in “The Avengers” after the credits, gets some early screen time, only to disappear for the rest of the movie (and, one assumes, we’ll only see him in a series of cameos until “The Avengers 3” or something). Same for John C. Reilly as Corpsman Dey and Glenn Close as Nova Prime; big actors stuffed into tiny parts with truncated arcs, waiting for their turn in subsequent sequels. If superhero fatigue has set in and you can’t take anymore S.H.I.E.L.D. but still need your fix for good versus evil, “Guardians of the Galaxy” should be right up your alley.
(Again, since this is a Marvel movie, stay until the credits have ended for another scene, this time showing just how far down the rabbit hole of the Marvel universe – and bad ‘80s nostalgia – the company is willing to go.)