The Guardians of the Galaxy

In The Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel expands its movie universe to include…well, the universe. Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt, is abducted from Earth when he is eight years old by a crew of ethically questionable scroungers. Twenty six years later he is a semi-independent operator, trying to find artifacts and sell them for profit. When he steals an orb from a decimated planet he finds himself in over his head.
The orb, which is one of the Infinity Stones, a series of McGuffins in the Marvel universe, is coveted by Ronan the Accuser, played by Lee Pace. Ronan is a fanatical Kree warlord who is out to “purify” every world in the galaxy that does not meet his expectations of piety. At the moment, he most upset with the planet Xandar, which appears to be home to a liberal polyglot culture, which apparently includes many humans. Presumably they or their ancestors were abducted like Peter. Ronan has promised to retrieve the orb for Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, in return for Xandar’s destruction.
To this end Ronan has dispatched Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, Thanos’ adopted daughter and a genetically enhanced and highly trained assassin. Thanos has lent Ronan his two daughters; the other one is Nebula, played by Karen Gillan. What Ronan doesn’t realize is that Gamora secretly hates Thanos and has been looking for a chance to betray him. The orb may be her opportunity. Ronan also puts a large bounty on Quill’s head which attracts the attentions of Rocket Raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, who are bounty hunter partners. Rocket is a genetically mutated raccoon who walks upright, talks and makes bombs and stuff. Groot is a giant tree that walks and can only say “I am Groot.”
All three catch up to Quill on Xandar and when they try to apprehend him, they are captured by the Nova Corps, Xandar’s police force. They are sent to jail where they meet Drax the Destroyer, played by Dave Bautista, whose family was killed by Ronan. He thinks of nothing but revenge. And thus the team is complete.
That may seem like a lot to set up but the exposition in the screenplay by director James Gunn and Nicole Perlman effortlessly incorporates this strange world into the plot, while cracking jokes and presenting some pretty good set pieces. The whole film is an entertaining romp, a comedy that actually works at two hours. There are also some touching moments too, like Drax’s realization that he doesn’t have the ability to kill Ronan with his bare hands, Quill remembering his mother and his desperate clinging to the mix tapes of 70’s pop music she made him before she died. Even Rocket has a drunken soliloquy about his odd origins and the downside of being unique in the universe. He doesn’t even know what a raccoon is.
This cast is terrific. Pratt plays the fast talking Quill perfectly. He is a man who still has some growing up to do and still misses his mother. Saldana is menacing as an assassin but shows her growing conscience as well. Bradley Cooper is a delight as Rocket’s voice. He captures the bravado and yet manages to show vulnerability too. I can’t imagine a talking raccoon being done any other way.
I have often voiced my appreciation for Marvel’s willingness to experiment with the tones of their live action movies. This year is the perfect example. They have gone from gloomy seriousness in Captain America: The Winter Soldier to The Guardians of the Galaxy which is basically a comedy. It is the most offbeat movie in the Marvel Universe, owing more to Star Wars than to The Avengers.
And it works brilliantly.


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August 2014
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