If any movie appears to have been made to directly appeal to attendees of Comic Con and hit every geek demographic (of which I am a part of), it’s this one. This isn’t a slam against Guardians of the Galaxy, nor the suggestion that audiences who (like many characters in this movie) haven’t heard of Star Lord won’t enjoy this as much as graphic novel enthusiasts.
For those like myself who are unfamiliar with the comic book its based on, Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, an outer space pilot. He finds himself the leader of a seemingly unworkable group of “losers” who form an unlikely and yet unbeatable team. In addition to Quill, who prefers the self-imposed nickname “Star Lord,” there’s the green-skinned and deadly Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the mighty strong but literal minded Drax (Dave Bautista), a tree-like creature named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and a talking raccoon with an itchy trigger finger named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). These “guardians” take on an intergalactic threat named Ronan (played by Lee Pace) and struggle to keep their pride and self-absorbed tendencies in check.
It gives its audience a lot of what it wants and much of it is familiar: the fight choreography draws on familiar poses, busy outer space dogfights and a family dynamic to the characters we’ve seen before in The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars and Star Trek. The overly busy story isn’t as engaging as the core will-they-or-won’t-they-get-along predicament of the five main characters and Ronan is yet another uninteresting villain who sports a scepter, an English accent and a lot of anger.
What makes this very long movie a fun diversion for audiences is writer/director James Gunn’s emphasis on heart and humor. While it doesn’t have the intended impact overall, Gunn ambitiously bookends the story with a cancer subplot that provides Star Lord with heavy emotional baggage. As much as the vivid, non-stop and gorgeous CGI effects enhance the film, the quirky, oddly adorable characters are what stayed with me.
Pratt winningly plays a Han Solo/Seth Rogen mash-up, though Saldana has done this sort of thing too many times now. Far better is WWE wrestler Bautista, who amusingly plays “dumb” and makes it seem noble. Groot and especially Rocket are convincing, funny and dynamic effects achievements that wouldn’t soar without the great vocal work of the actors. Diesel finds clever inflections on three lines of dialogue, while Cooper is hilarious, though his New York accent comes and goes.
For all the big scenes and wall-to-wall spectacle, it’s the little moments that make this work. My favorite scene is when Rocket, who’s in a period of grieving, is comforted by an unlikely companion. I give credit to Gunn, who clearly understands a jewel of a character moment like that is as important as all the explosions. The frequent juxtaposition of grand sci-fi imagery and 1970s pop tunes is another solid touch, adding a delightfully anachronistic soundtrack to what could otherwise have been orchestral pomp.
To end this on a truly comic book-geeky note, I’ll state that I was taken aback by the inevitable final scene after the end credits. The surprise came not from the content of the scene, but how it re-introduces a famous comic book character who’s been absent from movies since 1986. The character in question has always been my favorite comic book figure.
I don’t know whether his appearance is a joke or a genuine suggestion by Marvel Studios that he’s returning in his own vehicle. The rendering of the character (whose name I won’t give away) included an ill-considered accent and a somewhat clunky appearance but the intriguing possibility that he might work in a 21st century movie. Geeks rejoice!