A plot that’s a blend of “Star Wars” and “The Avengers,” with a dash of “Indiana Jones.” A wisecracking, trigger-happy raccoon in a space suit. A gentle-hearted walking tree who can communicate using only one phrase. A soundtrack featuring hit songs from the ’70s. A sci-fi film that’s heavy on comedy, with numerous 1980s pop culture references.
Try to throw all these elements together in one movie, and logically, it shouldn’t work. And yet somehow, it does, and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” turns out to be delightfully quirky and original, and possibly the most fun movie to hit theaters this summer. Although the movie initially generated some speculation that it could be Marvel Studios’ first real flop, it exceeded expectations and actually came close to tying “Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s” $95 million opening earlier this year.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a departure from the films we’re used to seeing from Marvel, and is more of an old-fashioned space opera than a standard superhero film. The movie stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, a Han Solo-esque thief and smuggler who steals an artifact without realizing it actually contains a dangerously powerful energy source known as an “Infinity Stone.” Dark forces in the galaxy want to seize this power, and Quill finds himself teaming up with a ragtag band of roguish misfits in order to protect the stone: an alien assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana); a foul-mouthed, genetically engineered raccoon (Bradley Cooper); a walking tree-like creature who can only say “I am Groot” (Vin Diesel); and a warrior named Drax who is seeking vengeance for the death of his family (Dave Bautista).
While there are some comparisons that can be drawn between “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers” (the “orb” standing in for the Tesseract, the concept of a team of reluctant allies forced to work together for a higher cause), “Guardians” manages to find its own voice. The strength of the movie is the characters; while the Avengers are the polished rock stars of the Marvel universe, the Guardians are more like a scrappy garage band. They’re not heroic by nature, and most of them don’t see the need to look out for anyone but their own self.
Chris Pratt proves to be a strong lead as Peter Quill, giving the character an air of roguish charm and firing off a constant stream of wisecracks. Another stand-out is Bradley Cooper as Rocket. Admittedly, the concept of a talking, gun-toting raccoon seems far-fetched, but again, somehow it works. Rocket knows how to talk tough, making the other characters (and the audience) take him seriously. Groot — the sentient tree who is Rocket’s best friend — turns out to be a surprisingly enduring character, and Drax’s extreme literalness (he can’t process metaphors) provides some great comedic moments. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is mysterious and lethal, and is immune to Quill’s charms (though of course that doesn’t stop him from trying).
Another feature I liked about the film (and it’s a feature Marvel always seems to do well) is the way the script works in comedy without losing the story’s emotional weight. This film frequently uses humor to contrast more serious moments (there’s a great bit where Peter Quill challenges Lee Pace’s very serious, very Shakespearean villain Ronan the Accuser to a “dance off”), but the humor doesn’t take away from the movie’s heart. I also really liked the soundtrack; while it may seem odd to have ’70s pop songs playing in futuristic outer space, it helps to ground the movie and captures the spirit of Peter Quill’s character.
There are probably places where you could be picky in the movie. Ronan the Accuser is a fairly generic comic book villain; Karen Gillan’s Nebula is more of a secondary villain but actually is a stronger character and might have benefited from more screen time. However, overall this is one of the most fun movies I have seen so far this year, and it’s my favorite movie of the summer. I’m glad Marvel was willing to take a risk, and I’m already looking forward to the sequel.