More Star Wars than superheroes, Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel Studios’ riskiest and most important project since conquering the global box office.
Expanding the Marvel film universe quite literally, Guardians of the Galaxy is set in deep space, with Earth receiving a cameo appearance and The Avengers nowhere to be seen.
In their place are alien worlds and creatures, starship battles, and a ragtag group of anti-heroes who are anything but super.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Directed by James Gunn. Screenplay by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, based on the Marvel Comics characters by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
A Disney/Marvel release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and brief profanity.
Running time: 121 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★★
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker; voices of Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel.
Adapting the film from its Marvel comic’s namesake is writer-director James Gunn, a fanboy favorite for 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, who worked on the script with Nicole Perlman — the first woman to join Marvel Studios’ boys club of screenwriters.
As a summer tent-pole release, Guardians of the Galaxy is a huge career step for both, and they deliver a film not unlike Guardians’ titular team of misfits: odd, unsteady, and initially unsure of itself, but in the end persistence and perseverance win out.
Guardians of the Galaxy stars Chris Pratt as a space pirate named Peter Quill, who would prefer for everyone to call him “Star-Lord.”
As a boy, Peter was abducted from Earth by alien pirates, moments after watching his cancer-stricken mother die in a hospital bed. Decades later and light years from his home planet, his only connection to his mom is a mixed tape of her favorite pop songs from the 1970s and ’80s, and the portable cassette player he carries wherever he goes — an obsession that makes for a bizarre soundtrack and several hit-and-miss jokes — including a solo treasure-hunting mission to retrieve a metallic orb that can destroy the universe.
Peter doesn’t yet know of the orb’s unimaginable power — derived from an infinity stone inside — only that the ancient artifact is worth a lot of money to the person who hired him to find it, and later, that a despotic and vengeful alien named Ronan (Lee Pace) is equally determined to possess it.
Peter is a beefed-up Han Solo and Indiana Jones, a scoundrel who’s good with blasters, getting in and out of trouble, and making time with alien women. Even Peter’s recovery of the orb is an homage to Jones’ attempts to retrieve the golden idol in the classic sequence that opens Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But Pratt isn’t Harrison Ford, lacking the veteran actor’s charisma, jaunty delivery, and screen presence to carry a film.
Fortunately for Pratt, he doesn’t have to worry about the latter.
Like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy is a team affair, as four butt-kicking mercenaries join with Peter to protect the orb and save the universe — but only after nearly killing each other.
Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the green-skinned assassin of Marvel uber-villain Thanos, who double-crosses her master to fight Ronan. Drax (WWE’s Dave Bautista) is a hairless hulking humanoid who wants revenge against Ronan for killing his family.
Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) is a towering tree-like creature proficient in deadly combat and that communicates only in grunts of “I’m Groot.” And Groot’s accomplice, Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), is a genetically modified and ill-tempered raccoon who’s a master of weaponry and sarcasm.
The film also includes minor parts for Glenn Close and John C. Reilly as leaders of a world threatened by Ronan, Djimon Hounsou as Ronan’s top commander, and Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta, a paternal figure for Peter and leader of his former space pirate crew.
While initially uncertain what it wants to be, Guardians of the Galaxy gets better and more confident and focused as it moves along. Gamora and Peter develop sparks, Drax gets laughs, and sweet-natured Groot and gun-toting Rocket steal the movie.
Gunn and Perlman’s story is not unlike 1980’s sci-fi cult film Battle Beyond the Stars, Roger Corman’s Star Wars meets The Magnificent Seven knock-off — but with funnier lines, better actors, and much-improved effects.
And just to make certain moviegoers connect Guardians of the Galaxy with the Avengers films, Gunn and Perlman include appearances by Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), both of whom popped up in Marvel Studio’s end-credit teasers and have little more to do in this film. The infinity stone, which also featured heavily into the plot of 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, is yet another crossover.
Audiences might not always follow along with these and other geeky plot points and references in Guardians of the Galaxy, but Marvel Studio’s box-office rule isn’t in jeopardy.
While not all superhero films are created equal, this comic-book space adventure adaptation is just good enough.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.