Guardians of the Galaxy introduces us to a widening view of the universe that is, in superficial terms, as immersive and exciting as any Star Wars or Star Trek movie. It offers us a system of planets that curiously function as a collective in the way a continent of countries on Earth does. At its center is Xandar, the planet-sized capital of the Nova Empire, and among the other planets is Morag, where our story (following a downbeat prologue) starts, a deserted wasteland that is the unexpected home of an artifact of, well, a vague kind of importance.
That isn't surprising, as the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe commonly revolve around MacGuffins of that same kind of vague consequence. The villain this time, Ronan the Accuser, a Kree fanatic, wants it in order to rule the galaxy, because of course he does. He's a pretty generic villain, played with a modicum of menace by Lee Pace (under a lot of makeup that is primarily two shades of blue), but it is a bit amusing how the screenplay by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn keeps undercutting his authority every time he is granted some form of it as an intimidating figure.
In other words, it seems the screenwriters put as much stock into him as it would be wise to do so on our part, which is to say not much at all. Ronan is a puppet of the intended big-bad mega-villain of the overall franchise, whom the heroes introduced in this film will fight alongside the more Earthbound group of avengers of the other movies. He is, in video-game terms, a temple boss - and, despite his role in the acquisition of the Very Important Thing, a pretty inconsequential one. He's a device to be used when the plot calls for a disruption of the main through line to reiterate the stakes for the audience.
The greater amount of the appeal is most definitely in the quintet of heroes, whose collective personality can be summed up as "sarcastic." One character calls them "a bunch of a-holes," and he's basically right. But, of course, they are likable even with that caveat. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who calls himself Star-Lord, is a Ravager, taken from Earth just after the loss of his mother to cancer as a boy. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the mega-villain's resentful daughter, sister to the equally resentful Nebula (Karen Gillan). Drax (Dave Bautista), an overly literal inmate in a space prison, wishes to find Ronan and destroy him. Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is a raccoon-turned-horrific-experiment and bounty hunter, whose personal security is provided by Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), a walking tree with a limited vocabulary.
Separately, they all basically take on the same personality, but it works in group form, especially considering they don't become particularly comfortable in each other's presence until the climax (a light-and-sound show that rather undermines the creative set-ups in some of the other action sequences). The performances, especially from Cooper and Diesel, are as appealing as the characters are, and the entire film offers a welcome sense of humor that offsets the sincerer engagement of the severe elements of Ronan's destructive plot. Guardians of the Galaxy is an enjoyable space opera, primed and ready for the eating of popcorn by its viewers.
Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bautista (Drax), Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser), Michael Rooker (Udontu), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), John C. Reilly (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.
Rated PG-13 (intense sci-fi violence/action, language).
Released on August 1, 2014.