Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

What could have been the lone silly mistake in Marvel Studios' recent history instead proves to be the silliest big win. Guardians of the Galaxy assembles lesser-known and less conventionally heroic comic book characters than The Avengers. Its plot features an overabundance of laser blasters, spaceships, and extraterrestrial weirdos, ramping up the sci-fi spectacle at the risk of alienating more down-to-earth moviegoers. And its tone is considerably lighter; in this respect it is reminiscent of the comic book films of the 1990s which were not ashamed to splash the screen with color, fill the soundtrack fun tunes and load plenty of humor into the dialogue. Guardians has been compared by some critics to Star Wars, and this is a useful comparison given the likelihood that Marvel has launched yet another successful franchise.

While there are some fleeting references to the Avengers and their exploits, these are kept to a minimum so that James Gunn (in what is essentially his big screen directorial debut) and fellow screenwriter Nicole Perlman can introduce us to an all-new slate of characters. The unlikely space-faring team is led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, who, until now, has mostly been a TV star but will next be seen in 2015's Jurassic World). Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, is the only human in the group and frequently turns to a cassette tape of 1970s pop rock to help him remember his deceased mother and childhood back on Earth. His companions are Gamora, Groot, Rocket, and Drax (Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, and Dave Bautista, respectively). Each of them has an unsavory or tragic past, each has a less-than-stellar reputation in the galactic community, and each has (of course!) convenient abilities and/or skills that lend the group a fighting chance at defeating forces of evil--namely Ronan (Lee Pace) and Thanos (Josh Brolin, uncredited). The extensive cast also features Djimon Hounsou, Glenn Close, and John C. Riley in brief but key roles.

While the rest of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe films have succeeded with a self-serious apocalyptic vibe, this one swaps that for a winking anything goes attitude and some personal sensibilities. It's a fun thrill ride of a film that is often laugh-out-loud funny. It embraces its geeky cheesiness with just the right mix of sincerity and irreverence, so we can appreciate its computerized artistry (the special effects really are outstanding) and not get hung up on the crush of plot, plot, plot. Speaking of plot, the Guardians' chief task in this film is to acquire and protect something called an "infinity stone", keeping it out of the bad guys' hands and thereby saving entire worlds from utter destruction. Along the way, each member of the group is emphasized equally, a la Avengers, so that the themes of teamwork and trust and sacrifice might be heralded. That said, Rocket or Groot might be considered the most memorable creatures on the team; Rocket is a wise-cracking gun-toting raccoon; Groot, who is something like a tree, doesn't say much but has quite the smile.

Remember them all, because you'll see them again: a sequel is already on the calendar for 2017, and scenes involving The Collector (Benicio del Toro) confirm some significant crossover potential with the Avengers in other future Marvel films, several of which are already in production and dated as late as five years from now. It's all good, though, as long as they can keep making them this good.

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