Sunday, August 3, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

No clever opening lines, just pure fun!

The plot: After being abducted by the Ravagers, a group of outer space mercs led by Yondu (Michael Rooker), Earthling Pete Quill (Chris Pratt) has become a gun for hire known as Star-Lord (well to himself anyway). When hired to retrieve a mysterious orb, Quill finds himself in the middle of a conflict between the Nova Corps of the planet Xandar and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genocidal member of the Kree Empire. Quill also has a bounty on his head, which hunters Rocket, a genetically enhanced raccoon, and Groot, Rocket's "houseplant slash muscle" plan to collect on. Throw in Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a trained assassin and Drax (Dave Bautista), who seeks revenge against Ronan for the death of his family, and Quill suddenly has to save the galaxy from Ronan...since he is one of the idiots who lives in it and doesn't want to see it destroyed. But with Ronan growing stronger and an even deadlier force behind him it will take all of this team's wits, skills and a mixtape to just survive.

How is it: Can I be honest for a moment? It was a whole lot of fun! Balancing the epic scope of Star Wars with moments of comedy and offbeat touches, director/co-writer James Gunn brings Marvel's space heroes to the screen with enough flair and enthusiasm that most films (especially if they have the words "Spider-Man" or "Michael Bay") have to offer. From the touching opening on Earth with a young Quill then cutting to him dancing his way through the opening to the orb (in a clever homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark), Gunn is having fun and that rubs off on the film and the actors. Topping the list is Pratt, who brings a comic touch and charm that brings to mind late 70s/early 80s Harrison Ford. He is equally matched by the vocal performance of Bradley Cooper as Rocket, who captures the absurdity of being a raccoon with an attitude with enough humor to make it work, aided by good CGI that brings the character to life. Saldana, Bautista and Vin Diesel as Groot also score, bringing a nice dysfunctional side to this ragtag group. I also have to give a shout out to the always great Rooker as Yondu, who has his own quirks.

Gunn also handles the big action setpieces with skill, from the escape on the Klyn Prison to the final space battle without losing sight of the characters. The final battle does get a little messy and basically is nothing more than a redo of the Death Star battle from Star Wars but Gunn doesn't shy away from the action nor the comparison.

That's not to say Guardians is a perfect film. In fact is suffers a little from the same problems that most Marvel films seem to suffer from, namely a reliance on a vague Macguffin that everyone is running around after (instead of the Tesseract its the orb with its own interior secret). The villains are also not as well developed as the heroes, with Pace's Ronan just a revenge seeking baddie (even though he looks cool), Karen Gillian's Nebula developed little beyond her jealousy and hatred of fellow "sister" Gamora and Djimon Hounsou's Korath underused. There is also little for Glenn Close as the Nova Corps leader or Benecio Del Toro, reprising his cameo role from Thor: The Dark World as the Collector, to do other than just spout dialogue. At least John C. Reilly gets some good lines.

Even with those issues, Guardians of the Galaxy is still a fun, exciting time and probably the best movie I've seen all year. With clever humor, good performances and a rocking vibe, it's a blast that audiences and fans will enjoy. Plus stay behind for the closing credit tag, it's a hoot. Rating: **** out of 4.

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