Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy Movie ReviewWalt Disney Pictures
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.
Running time: 121 minutes.
Three stars out of four.

As I’m writing this review of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I have “Come and Get Your Love,” the bouncy 1974 pop tune by Redbone, stuck in my head. Actually, it’s been stuck in my head pretty much non-stop ever since I saw the movie earlier this week.

Chris Pratt’s character — a space scavenger who refers to himself as Star-Lord, although nobody else does — dances around and listens to the song on a decidedly low-tech Walkman while dressed in high-tech gear to search a cave for a mysterious object. The catchy chorus kicks in just as the title bursts across the screen in giant, vibrant yellow. It’s a joyous moment and an early indication of the irreverent, infectious vibe that makes “Guardians of the Galaxy” the cheekiest, wackiest blockbuster of the summer.

You don’t need to know anything about this Marvel property to enjoy it. The characters who make up this motley crew aren’t nearly as familiar as Iron Man or Captain America or the Hulk, but they’ve got a relatably flawed humanity to them — which is ironic, given that most of them aren’t even human in the first place. Director and co-writer James Gunn brings a giddiness and a wondrous, endless sense of why-the-hell-not? possibility that’s reminiscent of “Star Wars” — sorry, “Episode IV: A New Hope” — as well as some character similarities to match. But we’ll get to all that later.

Pratt stars as Peter Quill, an unflappably confident rogue and ladies’ man who bops from one job to the next, staying on his toes and staying out of trouble in a mixed-up future. As we see in the film’s dramatic start, he lost his mom to cancer when he was a kid and then promptly got sucked into space by a timely UFO. Now that he’s in his 30s, he’s a loner, a rebel — and his only tie to Earth is the mix tape of ’70s pop songs that serves as his own personal soundtrack to all his adventures. (And seriously, it’s an inspired combination of music, everything from The Runaways and David Bowie to 10cc and the Jackson 5. The choices are so not-obvious and they’re used so effectively, they’re a powerful part of the movie’s off-kilter charm.)

On his latest assignment, Quill takes possession of an orb whose value and power he can’t even begin to understand. (The moment in which he steals it is reminiscent of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which is fitting given Quill’s enthusiasm for pop culture.) But it also makes him a target. People and creatures of various species also want this shiny, silvery ball for themselves. They include the exotic killing machine Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who looks as striking in green here as she did in blue in “Avatar”), adopted daughter of the evil Thanos who’s now working for the evil Ronan (Lee Pace); a talking, gun-toting raccoon named Rocket (voiced hilariously by a raw and raucous Bradley Cooper in a genius bit of casting); and his sidekick, a sweetly lumbering tree named Groot, who can say exactly three words: “I am Groot.” The running bit is that he says them with a variety of inflections and only Rocket can understand him. It sounds pretty simple but it works every time. Vin Diesel “plays” the tree, if you will — a gnarled shape-shifter that calls to mind the beautiful and frightening creatures that so often populate Guillermo Del Toro’s films.

When the four are thrown in jail together, they reluctantly realize they must team up if they’re to survive; their escape, which Rocket masterminds, is a doozy of timing and teamwork. Also joining them is the beefy and tatted fellow prisoner Drax the Destroyer (wrestling star Dave Bautista), who has his own agenda and must make his own sacrifices for the greater good. The running bit with him is that he takes everything everyone says extremely literally. Metaphors and idioms baffle him, and this innocence gives him an unexpected childlike quality, despite his fearsome appearance.

Also in the mix are the bounty hunter who abducted and trained Quill (Michael Rooker); the police official who’s on the hunt for this ragtag team (an underused John C. Reilly); and the military leader Nova Prime (an elegant Glenn Close). Benicio Del Toro appears dashingly, fleetingly as The Collector, who explains what exactly this orb is capable of doing. Things can get a little crowded in the screenplay from Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Similarly, the massive chases and battle sequences — and the ensuing destruction they cause — feel a bit overstuffed, a bit overlong. (A blasphemous thought to suggest restraint in a such a sci-fi epic, I realize.)

“Guardians of the Galaxy” works best in its detail and dialogue, and in the ways these disparate characters feel each other out, learn to abandon their mistrust and come together as a team. They’ve all suffered loss. They’ve all been mistreated. And as corny as it sounds, they all find a true family where they least expected it. This development isn’t nearly as mawkish as it sounds; Gunn, whose previous films include the subversive superhero flick “Super,” finds just the right balance between zaniness and sentiment. He keeps things light even while infusing them with heart.

And much of that comes from the top, from the leadership of Pratt, who’s having a tremendous year. Between this and “The Lego Movie,” in which he provides the voice of generic construction worker Emmet, another unlikely hero, Pratt stars in the two most flat-out fun films of 2014. Charismatic as hell, he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously, and yet he’s totally in command when the moment calls for him to kick some ass. (He’s been to the gym since the last time you saw him with his shirt off, FYI.)

And if we can get back to that “Star Wars” comparison for a second: It’s not a perfect analogy, but this core foursome did remind me of those classic characters from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Quill’s got a lot of Han Solo in him but, as the group’s leader, he sort of functions as the Luke Skywalker figure. Gamora, the smart and rebellious daughter of aristocracy, is our de facto Princess Leia. Rocket is most assuredly Han Solo — globe-trotting, tough-talking and rough around the edges. And the hulking, well-intentioned Groot couldn’t be anyone but Chewbacca. There’s even a villain in a dark helmet (Ronan) who takes orders from the hologram vision of an even more established supervillian.

I can’t wait to find out what adventures they get into in their version of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

19 Comments on “Guardians of the Galaxy

  1.  by  Christy Lemire

    Thank you, nerds, for prevailing upon me with your knowledge of Xandarian military structure. Your attention to detail is noted and appreciated.

  2.  by  Rocket

    I love that you mentioned the title screen. The moment you see Star-Lord’s silhouette dancing under the logo, I was sunk down in my seat with a huge grin and gripping my popcorn. I haven’t had such a ‘fun’ movie-going experience in a while.

  3.  by  Joseph R. Jones

    This is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a while now.

    First and foremost, it’s a buddy movie. As such, it depends heavily on the chemistry between the characters. Fortunately, it totally works on that level.

    The dialog in particular stood out. I’m a huge fan of Sorkin and Tarantino style dialog– written the way you wish people talked. Delivered by the right actors, that kind of dialog is great. This is the opposite: The dialog in Guardians is how you would talk if you lived in that universe, and the writer (and actors) find humor in the imperfections of human interaction. Absolutely hilarious and brilliant. I would cite some examples, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say that there are third beats where there would normally be one liners, and they pay off.

    I’m also a fan of movies that have a rhythm to them– movies like “Get Shorty” or Pulp Fiction use a combination of soundtrack and editing to move the story forward, but it only works when it is planned from the beginning. Same here– the music is brought in and woven into the very fabric of the filmmaking, yet the way it’s introduced into the story works.

  4.  by  ram

    Rocket and Groots dialog is also reminiscent of C3P0 and R2D2. Good stuff

  5.  by  Rachel Cat

    I can’t believe you can’t wait the the next “installment” of this pathetic franchise. Are you 12? This film was an extremely sad commentary on our society today. Shame on you.

    •  by  Cliff

      “Who put the sticks up their butts?” – Gamora (probably to Rachel Cat)

    •  by  tinkbarb123

      I’ll engage, Cat. What parts of society were the “sad commentary?” The elements of pure kindness and generosity that was the embodiment of the character of Groot? The ideas of forgiveness and rehabilitation extended to those who have done wrong, but choose a better path? Cooperation, even with other with whom you may not share the same beliefs? Friendship–even in the unlikeliest of places? And how about some good old-fashioned trust, faith, hope, and love for good measure?
      I’m not sure what film you saw, Cat. And I’m sorry you didn’t see the simple good-over-evil happy ending. But I’d rather live in a society that makes films with these elements. And my 12 year old caught every one of them.

      •  by  Slim Pickens

        I concur. Great action Great story Great fun. This is what movies are supposed to be.

  6.  by  tinkbarb123

    My apologies. I read your name incorrectly, Rachel Cat. Above should say “Rachel” or “Ms. Cat.” Although, “Cat” does sound quite groovy.
    Cheers.

  7.  by  Jamie

    This movie is FUN – Marvel is really good at the fun factor, huh? None of that DC brooding for them!

  8.  by  Ted Anthony

    I dunno. I wanted to like this. And I liked it, in a eating-lots-of-kettle-cooked-potato-chips kind of way. It hit all the right notes: the “this group must somehow form a family” arc, the “Earth’s counterintuitive and rebellious youth prevails anywhere” arc, the “we are stronger because of our differences” arc. And certainly the actors made it come alive. But in the end, it felt pro forma to me. Sure, we need popcorn movies now and then, and this was a fine example of the genre, but somehow I wanted something a little bit less like an installment of a Flash Gordon serial with a dash of Gen-X sarcasm thrown in. Verdict: a pleasant but quiet “meh.”

    •  by  thebulky1

      Couldn’t agree more- the movie is fine but very forgettable.

  9.  by  Christy Lemire

    I totally figured you would have liked this movie more that that — just the irreverent vibe of it alone and the way it incorporates pop culture references.

    •  by  Ted Anthony

      It just felt like so many other things. If it was the only one of its kind, I think I would have liked it more. But it felt like a bunch of Legos snapped together — cool Legos for sure, but snapped together nonetheless.

  10.  by  scott ttocs

    I must say this movie has knocked off Raiders of the lost ark as my new favorite movie. I saw raiders in the 80’s. This film is just pure fun. I haven’t laughed at a marvel film
    As much as I did in this. Anyone who
    Doesn’t like this film is just nuts.
    For the infinity gauntlet is a comic.
    next Marvel movie Is Iron Man versus Thanos.

  11.  by  Dan

    Just saw the movie, and as a fan of the comic characters, I think that they hit pretty well on translating the guardians to the screen. They placed less emphasis on Drax’s true strength and Gamora’s abilities (she’s considered the “deadliest woman in the galaxy” in the comics), but it’s understandable given the context of the plot.

    That said, while I definitely enjoyed it, I have to agree that it was somewhat forgettable compared to the other Marvel flicks out there. I think a good reason for that, is due to the fact that they didn’t flesh out the universe or supporting cast. Hard for me to put into words, but still, an enjoyable movie that is by far the most family-friendly of any Marvel movie to date. We’ll see what they have in-store for us with the sequel!