Up until this point, comic book movies have focused on characters that have either proven popular across the board or those with such a history that a movie about them makes sense. That all changes with the arrival of Guardians of the Galaxy, an outer space-set saga that almost defies description.
Based on a hit-and-miss Marvel Comics series, the core of Guardians is Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), a human who was kidnapped from Earth as a boy for unknown reasons. He’s established himself in the universe as a rogue-for-hire, using his considerable charm and stash of gadgets to complete underhanded tasks.
Guardians of the Galaxy is a welcome respite from the normal decline we see in movies released in August.
His latest job has him making off with an orb with mysterious powers that’s desired by almost everyone he runs across, most notably the evil Ronan (Lee Pace). Through a series of unplanned events, Star-Lord finds himself aligned with four other alien beings: the green Gamora (Zoe Saldana); the muscle-bound and tattooed Drax (Dave Bautista); Rocket, a talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper); and tree creature Groot (Vin Diesel).
As if you couldn’t already tell, the film announces itself as a departure from other Marvel movies with an almost constant lighthearted tone. Aside from the general strangeness of the characters and visuals, snarkiness and sarcasm are littered throughout the dialogue, most notably by Star-Lord and Rocket.
The film also departs from other Marvel movies in that it has an emotional through-line with Star-Lord’s connection to his mother. He was torn away from her at the worst possible moment, and the story uses a mix-tape she made for him to remind us that there’s more to Star-Lord than meets the eye.
The story has parallels with Star Wars, with Star-Lord filling in for Luke Skywalker, Gamora as Princess Leia, Rocket and Groot as Han Solo and Chewbecca, and Drax as, well, the comparisons stop there. Star-Lord is a hero almost by default rather than design; neither he nor those he ends up trying to save would necessarily choose him as a leader.
The only real misstep of the film is the number of side stories and people jammed in. Aside from the main quintet, there are at least three other significant groups director/co-writer James Gunn asks us to care about, something that spreads the film a bit too thin.
However, because our protagonists have such fun together, it’s easy to forgive a bit of excess in other areas. Pratt, as anyone who watches Parks and Recreation knows, has the comedic part of acting down pat, but he uses his newly buff body to convincingly portray an action hero too.
Saldana matches him step-for-step, and with this, Star Trek and Avatar, she’s proven herself as the go-to female for sci-fi movies. Both Cooper, who uses a vaguely New York accent, and Diesel are hilarious in their voiceover roles, and Bautista, a WWE wrestler now dabbling in acting, steals his fair share of scenes.
Although Guardians of the Galaxy can’t claim to being the best film of the summer, it’s a welcome respite from the normal decline we see in movies released in August — and a definite improvement in the quality of Marvel movies overall.