Guardians of the Galaxy

Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 08/01/14 14:18:24

"You can’t go wrong with a talking raccoon."
5 stars (Awesome)

Like a lot of other offerings playing at multiplexes this summer, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ is in 3D and features a surplus of computer generated images. There are lots of elaborately made up characters and big explosions, but director James Gunn (‘Slither’) seems to have discovered that all of these things can be even more fun if the exotic fantasy creatures are convincingly human.

It’s fitting that “Guardians of the Galaxy” comes from the Marvel Universe because the script by Gunn and Nicole Perlman never loses track of what made Marvel’s household name characters like Wolverine, The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man so memorable.

Despite their imaginative appearances and superpowers, Marvel mastermind Stan Lee and his countless disciples always imbued their creations with real world neuroses.

At their best, Marvel adventures in any medium are more thrilling because the heroes battle their own insecurities as well as supervillains. For example, whenever Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man successfully confronts his own father issues and self-doubt, it makes the eventual defeat of the bad guys seem even more monumental.

In addition to remembering the most essential part of the Marvel formula, Gunn and Perlman also add a wicked humor to the mix that makes “Guardians of the Galaxy” far more nourishing than simple eye candy.

Another intriguing aspect of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is that the title comes from a derisive joke at the protagonists’ expense. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, “The Lego Movie”) is a gun toting desperado who imagines himself to be an intergalactic Billy the Kid.

Billy the Kidding might be more like it.

The earth-born Quill warns anyone who crosses his path that his nom de guerre is “Star Lord.” Actually, the only one in the galaxy who refers to him that way is Quill himself. Perhaps he would be taken seriously if he didn’t spend half his time dancing to the ancient Walkman his mother gave him before her death.

After obtaining a powerful talisman known as “The Orb,” Quill finds he can’t unload it because a genocidal maniac named Ronan (Lee Pace) wants the sphere, and no prospective buyer is willing to cross the gleefully homicidal maniac.

Worse, a genetically-modified Raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a walking tree dubbed Groot (Vin Diesel) want Quill for the sizable bounty on his head. One of Ronan’s most lethal associates Gamora (Zoe Saldana, playing yet another sexy but dangerous warrior) also wants the Orb. Actually, she’s trying to double cross her sadistic boss.

The quartet manage to get busted by the authorities, where they meet a muscular, tattooed Drax (David Bautista), who wants to avenge his wife and daughter by killing Ronan. The five know they can break out of the prison and that the detention center can’t keep The Orb out of Ronan’s hands for long. They reluctantly team up to stop Ronan from causing even more harm.

That’s pretty much it for the plot, and Gunn and Perlman are a little sketchy on what The Orb can actually do other than evil. They compensate for this gap by developing dozens of memorable and even endearing characters.

It’s hard to think of another action film that begins with a boy wrestling with the death of his mother from cancer, but by doing so Gunn makes Quill sympathetic even when his sizable ego gets in the way.

Similarly, the barely verbal Groot (his vocabulary is only slightly larger than Pikachu’s) is lovable because his heart is as soft as his bark is sturdy. His eyes are astonishingly expressive, and his ability to grow back quickly after being assaulted or mutilated make him invaluable for the mission. Because he’s both useful and likeable, think of Groot as the anti-Jar-Jar Binks.

Similarly, Rocket’s swagger covers up for the fact that he didn’t ask to become a guinea pig for sick experiments and feels lonely because he’s the only being of his kind. With scars all over his back, Rocket understandably feels bitter about not having more control of his destiny.

Having made a series of engaging characters, the inevitable mayhem and technical wizardry seem more inspiring because the spectacle comes with characters whose fates genuinely concern us. Because the Guardians are misfits, there’s something gratifying about watching them foil their slicker antagonists’ plans.

Yes, you can spot Stan Lee making yet another cameo in "Guardians of the Galaxy." More importantly, his spirit can be found in just about every frame.

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