Title: Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians Or The Avengers? In a fight? I'm pretty sure any team with Thor and the Hulk in it are odds-on favorites. The Guardians are more like the annoying kid brother. Or cousin Oliver.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Five Guido the killer pimps out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Misfit heroes team up to, uh, guard the galaxy.
Tagline: "When things get bad, they'll do their worst."
Better Tagline: "What's space opera, doc?"
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Abducted by space mercenaries as a boy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is all grown up and stealing mysterious spheres, inciting the ire of Kree warlord Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) before falling in with fellow scoundrels like the assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), vengeance-seeker Drax (Dave Bautista), and bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree of few words. Pursued by the aforementioned bad guy, as well as Quill's erstwhile employer Yondu (Michael Rooker), the group must prevent the mysterious sphere from falling into Ronan's -- and, by default -- Thanos' (Josh Brolin) hands.
"Critical" Analysis: I'm going to go out on a limb here, but Marvel seems to have this superhero movie thing down. Sure, there have been misfires (Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, the third entry in the X-Men, Blade, and Spider-Man franchises), but by and large their output since the turn of the century has been solid. In fact, two of the studio's most recent movies (2012's The Avengers and this year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier) rank among their very best.
Given that, it seemed a little odd when Marvel handed the reins of Guardians of the Galaxy -- a 3rd tier property, admittedly -- to Slither and Super director James Gunn, to say nothing of casting the lovable doofus from Parks and Recreation as the hero and Bradley Cooper as a raccoon with anger issues. One could be forgiven for welcoming the film's arrival with a Juggernaut-sized grain of skepticism.
I'd like to say I never doubted, being a Gunn fan since The Specials, but even I questioned whether the guy behind Tromeo & Juliet could pull it off. Happily, he's done more than that. Guardians of the Galaxy is easily one of the best superhero movies to date, Marvel or otherwise. More than that, it takes you back -- almost effortlessly -- to a time when you could lose yourself in another world without embarrassment.
Narratively, there's nothing groundbreaking here. The sphere/Infinity Gem is a MacGuffin, no doubt crucial to the overall, tentacular Marvel movie universe/Thanos plot, but serving little purpose here except to unite the team. The significance (or lack thereof) isn't lost on Quill, who compares it to the Maltese Falcon.
Setting GotG in various spectacular intergalactic locales (including the creepy Utopian Xandar and "Knowhere," a hive of scum and villainy situated in the head of a giant, deceased celestial being) accomplishes two things. First, Gunn was free to indulge his love of outre special effects, creating what is in many ways a feature length Star Wars cantina scene. Second, the movie escapes the ponderous EARTH IS DOOMED immediacy of The Avengers and is free to let its hair down a little. Thanks mostly to Pratt, Cooper, Diesel, and also (surprisingly) Bautista as the cripplingly literal Drax, Guardians is seriously hilarious. More so than any Marvel film thus far.
And yes, I realize a threat to *the galaxy* would also imperil Earth. NIMBY, etc etc.
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The obvious parallel here is Joss Whedon's Firefly, and there's much of the same spirit and space Western operatics on display (and also Nathan Fillion in a cameo, which I didn't catch the first time around because I'm apparently an idiot). Gunn brings in some heavy hitters for the guest roles as well, including Glenn Close as Nova Prime, leader of the Xandarians, and Benicio Del Toro as "The Collector," whose menagerie is the stuff DVD Easter eggs are made off.
But more than that, Guardians of the Galaxy is just ... *fun*. Certainly "brooding" has its place in superhero movies (The Winter Soldier was a '70s conspiracy thriller in sheep's spandex), but with the freedom afforded by the obscure source material, Gunn reminds us that blockbusters don't have to take themselves too seriously. From Peter "Star-Lord" Quill's copious movie references to the 1970s-heavy soundtrack (including a perfectly utilized "Cherry Bomb"), it's obvious everyone involved in this was having a blast the entire time. Except maybe for Cooper, but that's what happens when you work from home.
Attempts to relive your youthful cinematic enthusiasm almost always fail miserably (just ask anyone who hitched that particular pony to the Star Wars prequels or the latest Muppet movies), but Guardians of the Galaxy really does invoke that feeling of being a wide-eyed ten-year old falling in love with movies for the first time. It's a fantastically enjoyable experience. Hell, they even manage to develop a convincing character arc for a computer-generated, genetically modified raccoon. Go. This weekend.
Guardians of the Galaxy is in theaters today. Don't make me tell you twice.