8.9

Guardians of the Galaxy

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<i>Guardians of the Galaxy</i>

It’s an experience practically every movie-goer has had—a trailer comes out. The movie it’s promoting looks fantastic! Anticipation builds. Friends are excitedly told. Depending on your movie-going preferences, news and details about the upcoming film are rigorously hunted or eschewed. Then the film comes out … and it’s pure suck on a stick. (And really, even if it just “meh,” the letdown feels the same.) What happened to the film the trailer(s) promised? Why, oh why did I let the combination of a few cool-looking scenes paired and a great song fool me into thinking this movie would actually be good?!

Why? Because once in a blue, E.T.-silhouetted moon, a film comes along that delivers exactly what its trailers promise.

Because Guardians of the Galaxy, that’s why.

Marvel’s rambunctious entry into the space opera genre—and the cornerstone of its “Cosmic Marvel” roster of characters and storylines—so perfectly embodies what the preceding months of hype and hope foretold that even its weak points (and it has its share) feel almost like unavoidable imperfections—broken eggs for a pretty satisfying omelet.

When Guardians was added to Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) lineup, much was made of how risky a move it was—the first of the MCU properties that didn’t feature a major Marvel character. Surprise, surprise, when you make the most enjoyable space opera romp since The Fifth Element, name recognition just doesn’t matter.

Director (and co-writer) James Gunn has taken the somewhat obscure team (obscure to non-comic book fans, at least) and kept the source material’s tone, attitude and bombastic settings intact. As the self-named Star-Lord, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) presents viewers with a pretty irresistible amalgam of Han Solo, Mal Reynolds and Captain Kirk. (Pratt owns this role.) The scene-stealing duo of Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) also provides the latest reminder of how convincing mo-cap-aided CGI has become. (Within moments after being introduced to them, I was yearning for a Rocket and Groot buddy picture.) Frankly, it’s hard to compete with Quill, Rocket and Groot, but Drax (Dave Bautista) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) don’t need to shine as brightly—unlike The Avengers, one doesn’t get the sense each team member’s time center stage is being meticulously measured. (One other important thing to note about Groot—he is Groot.)

As for the plot—a rag-tag band of misfits unites to save a bunch of people (and maybe the universe). Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) bring plenty of menace, the Collector’s (Benicio Del Toro) cluttered IKEA showroom of the future, plenty of easter eggs. (For readers wanting more—go see the movie.)

Not everything fits together perfectly—there’s a mining pod sequence that felt like it was put there for the video game tie-in, and at times the “Let me tell you about me!” exposition strikes one more as an effort to allay studio exec nerves than to meet actual audience needs. (And I’m still deciding what I think of John C. Reilly’s deadpan and Xandar as a whole.) But unlike the holes riddling Star Trek Into Darkness, the quibbles barely persist past their initial formation—there’s simply too much else to appreciate.

Gunn may lack the pedigree Joss Whedon brought to The Avengers, but he’s going to need to come to terms with sudden weight gain—he’s about to be transformed into an 800 lb. gorilla by Guardians.

Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman; Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning (comic book)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro
Release Date: Aug. 1, 2014

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