At the age of nine, Peter Quill refused to take his mother's (Laura Haddock, "Captain America: The First Avenger") hand as she lay dying, then, horrified and grief stricken, ran from the hospital where he was kidnapped by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker, "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"), the leader of interstellar thieves the Ravagers. Twenty-six years later, Quill's (a very buff Chris Pratt, TV's 'Parks and Recreation') been commissioned to steal an orb unaware that Ronan (Lee Pace, AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire') will stop at nothing to get it for Thanos (an uncredited Josh Brolin) in order to destroy Xander, the planet Quill heads to with Ronan's ally Korath (Djimon Hounsou, "Gladiator") on his heels. Their public battle is joined by Thanos's adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana, "Star Trek," "Avatar") and mercenary raccoon Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) with his humanoid tree Groot (voice of Vin Diesel, "The Iron Giant"). Imprisoned, the quartet meet up with Drax (World Heavyweight and WWE Champion Dave Bautista, "Riddick"), bent on revenge against Ronan for the deaths of his wife and daughter. After a spectacular breakout, they become "The Guardians of the Galaxy."
Cowriter (with Nicole Perlman)/director James Gunn ("Slither," "Super") was clearly the man for the job adapting Marvel's first outright comedy, kin to the deliriously funny and affectionate "Star Trek" parody, "Galaxy Quest." For all its complex allegiances and betrayals, the war between the Krees and Xanders matters little here, a backdrop for this band of misfits to come together, a dysfunctional family whose amusing quirks grate on each other's nerves. As the underlying psychology for outward oddities is slowly revealed (leaving some questions for later sequels), shared tragedies tighten their bonds. Make no mistake, though, the heart warming aspects of the film are there to round out characters created to have fun with.
Before we know what he's up to, we're giggling at Peter Quill, bopping along with his Walkman to Redbone's 'Come And Get Your Love' before he sights the orb. His attempts to retain it in a crowded Xander plaza is a beautifully choreographed bit of slapstick action, the guardians at their best when plans aren't fully formed. We'll see this exhibited again, as Rocket wonders how he will procure some wiring he needs while Groot simply strolls over and pulls it from high above, an answer as unexpected yet obvious as Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman. (And while he's not a guardian, amidst all the clamor over the orb, Yondu's distracted by tsotchkes for his dashboard.)
Quill's not the brightest, but he's brave and his penchant for cheesy 70's pop tunes enlivens the film (we're also treated to Blue Swede's 'Hooked on a Feeling," the Runaways 'Cherry Bomb' and Elvin Bishop's 'Fooled Around and Fell in Love' along with Bowie, Ashford & Simpson and the Jackson 5). Gamora's trying to redeem herself by thwarting Thanos's plan while known as his most lethal warrior and Saldana, turning in her blue "Avatar" look for noxious green, is the film's 'straight man.' Rocket's quick with firearms and sarcasm and Bradley Cooper's wise guy vocal performance is a highlight as is his CGI incarnation. Groot only speaks three words ('I am Groot'), yet Diesel and his animators make him endearing (Groot's facial expression after taking out a string of bad guys is one of goofy self satisfaction). Drax is utterly intimidating in his single-mindedness and takes everything literally, Bautista's line readings deliciously dead pan (and, oddly, his stunt double in the film is Robert de Groot!). Other players include Glenn Close, lending prestige but little more as peace keeper Nova Prime, "Chicago's" John C. Reilly as the affable pro-Guardians Corpsman Dey, Benicio Del Toro ("Traffic," last seen in "Thor: The Dark World's" stinger) lending weirdness as a collector of all things space oriented and Karen Gillan ("Oculus") as Gamora's jealous, blue half sister Nebula. Watch for the ubiquitous Stan Lee cameo, Nathan Fillion as a 'Monstrous Inmate' and the voice of Rob Zombie as the Ravagers' Navigator.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" suffers slightly with a few dead spots, an obstacle with most series' starters, but for the most part, this thing just blasts off and rides high. The film's credit roll features a very clever parody of those solar dancing flowers. (The print shown at a press screening did not include a post credit stinger, but director James Gunn has confirmed one will be added when the film begins its general release.)
Robin did not see this film.
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