Monday, August 4, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

4 stars out of 5

By: Steven Johnston

Guardians of the Galaxy is the tenth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is unique among them because it is entirely of its own making. It features no characters previously depicted in any of the Marvel films unless you count Benicio del Toro’s bizarre “the Collector” or an even more bizarre character not seen on film since the 1980s who makes two brief appearances alongside the Collector.

Guardians tells the story of a rag tag band of not very super people brought together to prevent Ronan (Lee Pace), a villainous Kree fanatic, from destroying the planet Xandar using an infinity stone which is sought by the aforementioned Collector, Yondu the Ravager (Michael Rooker), Thanos (Josh Brolin), and finally the Nova Corp., personified by Academy Award Nominees Glen Close and John C. Rielly. P.S. That’s only the supporting cast.

The complex plot is chock full of characters, twists, turns, betrayals, surrenders, false surrenders and scams. It’s a wonder, and a testament to writer-director James Gunn, that the Guardians never leave their audience behind. Along the way, Guardians does a great job of building a crazy space-opera neon pop fantasy populated with unlikely locations, hideous beasts, beautiful alien temptresses, and arcane weapons – all of which Peter Quill aka Starlord (Chris Pratt) seems to be enjoying as much as the rest of us.

Quill, the only human, finds himself the de facto leader of the Guardians. He’s assisted by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the efficient warrior woman/adopted daughter of Thanos, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), a raccoon that has been genetically and cybernetically altered, Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket’s best friend and talking tree, and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a super strong, highly literal brute with a score to settle against Ronan and Thanos. They’re brought together when Quill steals the infinity stone which quickly gets them all thrown in jail where they squabble until they learn the value of teamwork and bust out in hopes of saving the galaxy.

Of course, the fact that the fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of these – well, Gamora herself describes them as, “The biggest idiots in the galaxy” - is to everyone in that galaxy’s great misfortune. Their loss is our gain, because we get to see a fast talking, quick paced, action-adventure space opera full of fine actors going with gusto into material that could have easily creaked to a halt under the weight of its own exposition. They joke, fight, drink, curse, dance, and groove on the best soundtrack any Marvel film has ever bestowed on us.

I especially appreciated Guardians for its tone. Any movie that features its heroes yawning and scratching their special areas on the slow motion walk to destiny, breaking out of prison to the strains of the Pina Colada song, and a character declaring, without irony, that their heroics make them all just like Kevin Bacon is a can’t miss in my book. We’re supposed to have fun at the movies – a lesson too often forgotten lately - and director James Gunn and his star Chris Pratt understand this.

If there’s a complaint to be made about the film, it’s that Guardians closes on a climax that seems a repeat of the climaxes of both Captain America films, Thor: The Dark World, and The Avengers. But, much like the exposition that gets succinctly disposed with, this complaint hardly matters. What does matter is the interesting CGI world, cheeky dialogue, funny little character moments, and the soundtrack (Awesome Mix Vol. 1). If there’s evidence that Marvel has perfected its house style and taught the audience how to watch their movies, it’s the fact that they’ve made a movie featuring characters you’ve never heard of protecting a planet you don’t live on, and it’s every bit as compelling as the previously seen Earthbound adventures featuring Marvel’s A-List properties.

Go see it. This is the movie we’ve all been waiting for, a mashup of the Avengers and the Bad News Bears which, if we’re lucky, is only a hint of the shape of things to come.

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