“Guardians of the Galaxy” is about lost souls. That is a weird way to describe Marvel’s latest excuse to print money, but I didn’t leave the multiplex feeling amped or geeked or other caffeinated adjectives. I felt hopeful, touched. This is the blockbuster of comfort, instead of sense-obliterating weapon or moody thinkpiece.
And, yes, you’ll have a good time.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” unites a quintet of galactic misfits whose diverse, self-centered goals hinge on an orb that looks like a headliner on grandma’s mantel. But the mysterious contents inside will destroy everyone if it gets in the wrong hands, a predicament that reluctantly forces this motley crew to become altruists.
Peter Quill or Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is a thief and a womanizer, Han Solo if he boasted about his sexual conquests. Green-tinged beauty Gamora (Zoe Saldana) was made into a killing machine. Cohorts Rocket and Groot—a foul-mouthed, gun-toting raccoon and a massive, upright collection of roots voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively—are bounty hunters. And Drax (Dave Bautista) is a muscled ball of vengeance who takes everything literally.
George Lucas, before he became a destructive and obsessive tinkerer, knew that action meant nothing if the heroes were placeholders. The same principle is in effect here. Director James Gunn and his co-writer Nicole Perlman work at an advantage: the Guardians of the Galaxy don’t come with the expectations associated with Batman or Spider-Man. They expertly fold the characters’ backstories into the narrative. Look at Rocket’s drunken tirade, when he describes the pain of being genetically engineered. These characters are defined by woe. Peter, who was abducted by a spacecraft, grew up an orphan. He listens to his dead mother’s mix tape religiously and yells at prison guard for taking his song when Quill’s Walkman is repossessed.
Thankfully, Gunn can multi-task. His 2011 overlooked masterpiece “Super” was a superhero movie that was both a human redemption drama and a broad comedy.
He can put heart and soul into a corporate product while entertaining us. When the exposition lifts, Gunn gives us the noise and fury our summer ids require. You’re never bored. And if you don’t dig the emotional maturity, then you’ll love the movie’s prankster spirit, where Drax’s gesture of friendship is to call Gamora “this green whore,” or Quill defending and explaining a plan that’s only “12 percent” complete. “I’m going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy,” Gamora says at one point.
But they’re our idiots. “We’re all losers,” Quill says, stressing what they’ve lost, before their last big push. Gunn reminds us that it’s OK to get help as long as you pull your weight. Superhero movies frequently celebrate the individual, even if they’re not flying solo. (Wolverine, anyone?) “Guardians of the Galaxy” celebrates the group and, by extension, us. We’re involved before the title splashes onto the screen. Quill crosses the desolate terrain, enters a foreboding chamber, escapes his techno future mask—and dances around to Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love.”
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