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Guardians of the Galaxy Review: Hooked on a Stellar Feeling

It doesn’t take long to figure that Guardians of the Galaxy is a different kind of film. The latest flavor in Marvel’s growing collection of blockbuster eye candy, Guardians walks in its cinematic playground with a kind of youthful rebellion and defiance. A green-skinned assassin, a tattooed maniac, a walking tree, and a trash-talking raccoon to boot, Marvel’s Guardians’ are the rejects, the losers in a schoolyard pick of Avengers and X-Men. Weird, wacky, and full of fun, director James Gunn’s guardians don’t miss a beat as one of the raucously entertaining comic-book adaptations to date.

The year is 1988 and a young orphan named Peter Quill is abducted by aliens one fateful night following his mother’s passing. Years later, he’s grown into the red vest of Chris Pratt’s galactic outlaw, the self-proclaimed “Star-Lord.” He’s just betrayed the alien miscreants that raised him, led by fearsome space-redneck Yondu (Michael Rooker), all in the hope of taking the mysterious orb he’s just stolen and cashing in on the bounty all for himself.

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His new find brings him into the orbit of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of fearsome galactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin), and bounty hunters Rocket (a raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (the tree, voiced by Vin Diesel). All four end up in jail, arrested by intergalactic police, the Nova Corps (led by Glenn Close and John C. Reilly), where they meet up with Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a vengeance-fueled killer with his eyes on Gamora. As unlikely as it seems, the bratty quintet may be the only thing that stands between the Orb and the genocidal fanatic Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), who hopes to use Quill’s orb to wipe out planets.

It’s all about as convoluted and nonsensical of a story at is seems. There are armloads for the film to set up, the least of which are our five heroes, there’s also second-tier villains Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Korath (Djimon Hounsou), and Benicio Del Toro’s bizarre and mysterious Collector. It doesn’t help that its plot awkwardly includes Thanos, who has no reason to be here other than that he’ll eventually be fighting the Avengers. The result combines a positively breathless pace that disguises two hours as one that’ll have you humming Michael Jackson’s I Want You Back for days.

Yet there’s something impossibly enlivening about it all. A spaghetti Western in the vein of Star Wars served up with Firefly, Guardians throws just about everything into its casserole and sees what absurdity comes out. Gunn would rather confuse you for ten minutes than bore you for one, and the action and comedy he crams onscreen crackles with so much energy you’d hardly notice its holes. We can thank Gunn and Nicole Perlman’s for the solid screenplay that, minus Thanos, keeps pace with the insanity it unleashes to the film’s fantastic soundtrack.

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If Guardians sets out on its own Star Wars, then Rocket and Groot, are its even kiddier Han Solo and Chewbacca. Groot makes for a multi-purpose pet dog of sorts, a gentle (or maybe iron) giant of bark and leaves, whose grunts and frequent utterance of his name bear an endearing playfulness. Rocket’s a motormouth with an itchy trigger finger with a hidden self-loathing, and a genuinely tender side amidst his own furry swagger. Together they make the funniest of the film’s duos and never fail to appear almost tangible thanks to the film’s impeccable CGI.

Chris Pratt takes the spotlight as Quill, a headstrong Luke Skywalker to Ronin’s attempt at Darth Vader or Thanos’ Emperor Palpatine, a little kid at heart with a destiny to discover, of which they’re plenty of tantalizing questions. And he soaks it in from the minute he steps onscreen to freestyle to the tune of Redbone’s Soul Train to when he challenges the bad guys to a dance-off. He’s not just an action man either, though he possesses that in spades, fighting even while lying down on a sidewalk. Maybe that’s why Guardians feels like it has a large heart for a Marvel picture.

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Ex-wrestler Dave Bautista is brilliantly cast as Drax, as is Zoe Saldana as Gamora. He’s furious and driven, but with a certain samurai-like nobility, and an unexpected hand in some of the jokes at hand like some kindergarten Kratos. Saldana’s often underused Gamora has a tougher time, but nails the character’s physicality even while missing something amidst Gamora’s daddy woes. At least the film makes sure to take it slow with its romantic intent, with Gamora and Quill choosing to grow any potential bond they share. If only the girls could seem to have as much fun as the boys for Gamora’s sake.

What credit doesn’t go to its main five can be owed to the effects. The film pops with action and an admirably colorful palette, with a spectacular air-bound battle by the film’s final act. Quill’s fight and an inner-city chase make for some actually eye-catching 3D for a change. Though the action gets a bit repetitive at times, its spectacle is generally satisfying, particularly a climactic set-piece that avoids the CGI-overload that’s tainted most movies of its genre.

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Ultimately it’s the finale’s familiarity that marginalizes the film’s full potential. By this point, someone needs to ban a tired superweapon plot devices and the millionth time we’ve seen some giant flying ship crashing into a city. Worse, the principal bad guy is a pushover. Pace has some presence as Ronan (who’s painted as a sort of religious maniac) but the character is only a little more interesting than the nonentity from Thor: The Dark World’s artificial generic dark elves. Thankfully it’s the heroes you’ll pay heed to, because there are again no real villains to laugh along to.

What annoyances persist hardly dent the package too much, though. Guardians is full of heart, albeit it with more holes, and certainly walks tall in spite of anything it falls short of. A gloriously weird work that never fails to please as an all-ages crowd-pleaser that never ceases to make you smile, whether Quill is making off with a man’s mechanical leg or the film asks you what an anthropomorphic raccoon is really doing with a machine gun. “Guardians Of The Galaxy Will Return,” the studio promises us, and for once, you’re actively looking forward to it.

7.5
Eye-popping

Good Things

  • Great sense of humor
  • Terrific casting
  • Fast-paced action

Bad Things

  • Muddled plot
  • Weak villains


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