With Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker. Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman. Directed by James Gunn. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. 121 minutes.
There have been some extremely entertaining movies based on comic book superheroes and a few have been outstanding. What they have in common though is that they go from being serious to being very serious. Sure, some feature occasional comic relief, but it only serves to remind us how dark and brooding the film is the rest of the time. Coming into GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY without having read the comics but being told it’s another entry in the “Marvel Universe,” it was hard to know what to expect.
It turns out to be the goofy and action-packed antidote to most of the summer’s blockbusters. After a tragic opening in which young Peter Quill witnesses the death of his mother only to be abducted by a UFO, we’re thrown into an adventure that owes as much to “Indiana Jones” and the TV series “Farscape” as to its source material. Peter (Chris Pratt) has become a sort of space rogue and has stolen a mysterious and valuable orb. Soon everyone is after both it and him, none more so than the evil Ronan (Lee Pace).
The plot is the least important part of the film. What the story is really about is how Peter (who bills himself “Star Lord”) turns a ragtag group of rivals into the heroic group of friends suggested by the title. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has been trained as a fighter by the even-more-evil Thanos (Josh Brolin), who is apparently the Big Baddie in the next “Avengers” movie. She’s been loaned to Ronan, but is pursuing her own agenda. Then there’s Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), a raccoon who speaks and likes to steal, and his pal Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), a living, walking tree whose conversation consists of “I am Groot.” After a stint in space prison, they are joined by Drax (Dave Bautista), who wants vengeance against Ronan for killing his family.
The movie has two things going for it. One is its terrific cast which includes everyone mentioned above plus notable bits by John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, and Michael Rooker. Rooker is standout, playing the leader of the gang that kidnapped Peter who likes reminding him about how the other aliens wanted to eat him.
The other thing going for it is the look of the film. Credit goes to everyone from cinematographer Ben Davis to production designer Charles Wood, to everyone else involved in creating the imaginative sets, costumes, and make-up effects. The aliens come in a wide range of colors, and such is the attention to detail that Gamora’s green skin is perfectly set off by the yellow prison outfit she has to wear at one point. The integration of the CGI generated characters of Rocky and Groot with the human actors is seamless. Groot, in particular, becomes so real in expression that he seems completely real. A mixture of motion capture work (as in the recent “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”) and computer wizardry, it raises the bar for this sort of work.
The bottom line is that “Guardian of the Galaxy” is fun. You don’t really have to be immersed in the Marvel Universe to get it (although there are plenty of references and in-jokes for the initiated), and as the group get over their problems and bond as friends and allies, we find ourselves joining in the celebrating as well. The film ends on a note that the Guardians will be back. There have been other films promising sequels that never came, but one suspects that isn’t going to be an issue here.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.