Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted by Joel Copling on August 1, 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy" is a film that works, not simply because of its disposition toward universe-building (or, in the case of the latest installment in Marvel's bid to take over the summer-movie event season, universe-expanding), but also because its gaggle of superheroes is such an odd one. It's a gamble in this day-and-age of complacency to place your audience's sympathies with an assassin, a vengeance-driven maniac, a sentient houseplant, and a pair of self-absorbed thieves. Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn's screenplay (based on a comic book series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning) does a good job of selling us the idea that these are the right guys to defend this enormous universe from the clutches of the latest villain to come off the production line of villains.

But more about these "heroes." The first of the pair of thieves is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, solidly establishing his Luke Skywalker/Indiana Jones influence), who calls himself Star-Lord and has made a living out of stealing impressive junk for various buyers; he has his demons, though, personified in an unopened letter from his mother and a mixtape of 1970s and '80s music. The other thief is the manic-depressive Rocket (voice of a terrific Bradley Cooper), an insane raccoon who wants to maim everyone in his vicinity; Groot (Vin Diesel charmingly voices him and mostly says, "I am Groot") is the houseplant and Rocket's bodyguard, blessed with regenerative powers. The maniac is Drax (Dave Bautista in an auspicious breakthrough performance), who misunderstands all metaphors and whose family was murdered personally by our main villain, for whom the assassin and fifth member of this ragtag team, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), worked before becoming disenfranchised with his cruelty.

It's a curious bunch, prone to unpredictability and selfishness, that is the driving force behind our investment in this particular premise, and indeed, they are more interesting than the villain: Ronan the Accuser (an unrecognizable Lee Pace) has extreme ambitions, even for a villain in a Marvel movie, that have to do with an Infinity Stone located in the latest piece of junk captured by Peter. It does something mostly nonsensical, but Ronan wants it for eternal power. He also wants to destroy Xandar, capital planet of the Nova galaxy, thus wiping out over its population of 12 billion inhabitants. It's up to these five criminals to stop him.

Mostly, though, here is a film whose motive is simple: to let loose with action sequences that have real fun and to capture a jubilant tone that never lets in corrosive self-seriousness. It's "Star Wars" meets "Indiana Jones," as many are currently saying, but it's not simply that reductive label, either. "Guardians of the Galaxy" has its own personality, tonal japery meshed with deep mythology that looks and feels like a real universe, even if that universe isn't really explored on a satisfactory level. It manages a few moments of effective drama, but Gunn and Perlman are working on other levels, ingratiating us to a universe that belongs a group of unusual heroes who must, as heroes do, tackle a villain that threatens what they must protect.

Film Information

Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Lee Pace (Ronan), Michael Rooker (Yondu Udonta), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), John C. Reilly (Corpsman Dey), Benicio Del Toro (The Collector), Glenn Close (Nova Prime).

Featuring the voices of Bradley Cooper (Rocket) and Vin Diesel (Groot).

Directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, based on the comic book by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi violence/action, language).

121 minutes.

Released on August 1, 2014.