Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guardians of The Galaxy

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper (v), Vin Diesel (v), directed by James Gunn (121 min.)

I knew from the outset I was going to have fun with Guardians of The Galaxy.  Something seemed just right from the opening credits, and the film that followed only solidified my initial reaction.  Guardians of The Galaxy is the most fun anyone could have at the movies this summer.  That may be faint praise with such a lackluster summer blockbuster season, but this movie would be a blast no matter what the situation.  It is an exercise in tonal perfection, often times hilarious, sometimes exciting, always engaging. 

The story is familiar, if only to make the wildly diverse characters and space opera adventure easy enough to follow.  A brief prologue shows our hero, Peter Quill, at the bedside of his dying mother.  This opening scene blindsides with an emotional punch as Quill's mother dies, he flees the hospital and is promptly scooped up by a spacecraft.  Fast forward twenty years and Peter Quill has become a "junker," an adventurous pawnbroker of sorts, or a low-end Indiana Jones.  He also likes to call himself Star-Lord, although nobody really jumps on board with his nickname.  Quill gets his hands on an orb, the Macguffin of the film which both the good guys and the bad guys want to get their hands on.  Turns out it is a planet-destroying weapon, but it doesn't matter much. 

Before long everyone is trying to get their hands on this orb for money or power, and the pursuit brings Quill together with a ragtag group of misfits with their own agendas.  Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a green-skinned daughter of the galactic villain Thanos, and she wants the orb to get vengeance on Thanos for killing her real family.  Bradley Cooper voices Rocket, a hot-headed racoon who has been genetically altered and embittered over the years.  Rocket's sidekick is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree that says only one phrase.  Then there is Drax, a slate-green brute with red designs on his skin.  Drax and his people do not grasp the concept of speaking in metaphors, which makes for some great comedy throughout.

This band of misfits team up to defeat Thanos' disciple, Ronan, played with booming bass by Lee Pace.  The plot is mechanical, merely a set up to deliver what turns out to be the funniest movie of the year in my estimation.  This is a star-making turn for Pratt as the cocksure Quill, a mix of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.  Cooper's Rocket brings the snark, Groot the lovability, and Drax the dim-witted target.  The quintet works in concert perfectly from one situation to the next, and the tone is always perfect.  There is humor all throughout, but the picture never feels campy or like a spoof.  And there are some rich cameos from John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio Del Toro, all of whom keep the film effervescent with their own comedic timing. 

The universe on display feels a bit like a cobbled together version of a dozen other space adventure films, which I feel is partly the idea.  The action isn't nearly as engaging as the story.  We get a prison break, a number of chase scenes, and a peaceful planet on the verge of destruction, none of which are particularly original.  The logistics of the plot aren't nearly as realized as the characters, which is a good thing if one has to suffer over the other.  Where the CGI and the story might suffer, the inventiveness of the creatures occupying this world is enough to get this film a makeup Oscar.  And on top of it all, the five central characters are all misfits in their own way, all have lost something in their past, adding weight to their budding friendships.

Guardians of The Galaxy is a wacky, wild entertainment.  The freshness of the characters without any predestined baggage makes the story a treat as it unfolds without expectation.  In yet another summer of mediocrity, here is one that would stand out in any hot season.