Movie review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' breaks the Marvel mold
Compared with Iron Man, Captain America and the other earthbound heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the maniacally entertaining "Guardians of the Galaxy" is definitely a wild child.
Director James Gunn ("Slither," "Super") tosses together a dizzying blend of superhero bravado, outer-space adventure and off-the-wall comedy that introduces the strangest and most enjoyable bunch of rogues ever to inhabit the same spaceship.
This being the Guardians' screen debut, Gunn and his co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman spend the first half getting the band together. In the lead is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a rakish thief from Earth who insists on being called "Star-Lord." There's Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the battle-hardened rebel daughter of the galaxy-destroying Thanos, and the vengeance-seeking Drax the Destroyer (wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista). And, finally, there is Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a cybernetically altered talking raccoon, and his bodyguard, the walking tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).
The story throws these five together in prison, Ã la "The Usual Suspects," to join forces to bust out and fight a common enemy: Ronan (Lee Pace), a planet-ravaging zealot who has a deal with Thanos to destroy the high-tech planet Xandar. Thanos' price is a mysterious orb, one whose power Ronan covets. The orb also happens to be something Quill just stole and is hiding from his pirate boss, Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker).
(The orb and Thanos, by the way, link "Guardians" to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thanos, a major Marvel baddie, appeared in a midcredit scene in "The Avengers." The orb brings the Guardians in contact with Taneleer Tivan, alias The Collector, a trader in rare objects. The Collector, played by Benicio Del Toro, first appeared in a midcredits scene in "Thor: The Dark World.")
The plot, though, takes a back seat to the oddball characters, each with a solid backstory. Quill projects himself as a confident hero, though his past is that of a scared child kidnapped from Earth. Gamora, trained to become a humanoid weapon, has turned against Thanos and her cyborg half-sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan of "Doctor Who"), Ronan's loyal lieutenant. Drax lost his family to one of Ronan's attacks, while Rocket and Groot share a familial bond that's funny and touching. (It's interesting that the characters with the most heart are the computer-generated ones.)
Gunn cut his teeth at the exploitation-movie factory Troma Films, and the rule he learned there you can get away with anything as long as it's funny is well-observed here. One smart move was casting Pratt, known for his comic roles in "Parks & Recreation" and "The LEGO Movie," as Quill, a rogue in the Han Solo mold but with more wisecracks. Another prime source of humor is the goofy soundtrack of '70s pop songs, from a mixtape that is Quill's only souvenir of his life on Earth, that provides ironic counterpoint to the action (for example, when Rocket shoots up the prison during their breakout, the accompanying music is Rupert Holmes' "Escape (The PiÃ±a Colada Song)").
Being an origin story, "Guardians of the Galaxy" sets things in motion nicely for a sequel (which is already in the works). That's great, because this ragtag crew is one you'll want to see in action again and again.
'Guardians of the Galaxy'
An outer-space adventure that is a weird, wonderful offshoot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 1.
Rating • PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.
Running time • 121 minutes.