Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and some language
Written by James Gunn, Nicole Perlman and more
Directed by James Gunn
Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace and more
For those who have ever wondered what “Star Wars” would be like if Han Solo had been the main protagonist, the answer is “completely awesome.”
The latest entry into the Marvel movie empire, “Guardians of the Galaxy” has a scrappier, more outlaw vibe than “The Avengers” and other related movies. Their leader is a slightly goofier version of Han Solo - a comparison I mean entirely as a compliment - their Leia is a former assassin who beats the hero up on a semi-regular basis, and their Chewie is an sarcastic, angry, brilliant wonder of a raccoon who needs his own movie, stat. The closest thing they have to a Luke figure is an extremely violent guy who takes everything everyone says literally, and nearly everyone is surprisingly hilarious.
The movie follows Peter Quill, who was kidnapped from Earth as a child in an opening far more solemn than 90 percent of the rest of the movie. He grows up to be a criminal in the classic “sexy space thief” fashion, and like many such thieves runs into trouble when he’s hired to steal something that everyone seems to want. This is followed by fighting, some prison time, the inevitable escape, the desperate clinging to old mercenary impulses, and the reluctant discovery by all involved that they actually have a conscience.
Yes, it’s been done, but the last time it was done this well and this hilariously was the TV series “Firefly” more than a decade ago. Normally, we’re only given a rogue as an accent piece, designed to occasionally provide a bit of narrative relief from the serious, dignified heroics going on around him. For those of us who are fans of the type, it’s a rare, delightful treat to be given an entire array of different types of rogues to choose from.
There may be no classic heroes to provide much dignity, but these guys are clearly having too much fun to worry about that sort of thing. Writer-director James Gunn constantly punctures the story’s self importance when it seems in danger of inflating, using the characters’ personalities and the amusingly relevant use of several skewed ‘80s references to make the audience laugh without ever breaking the spell of the story.
Chris Pratt is great as Quill, bringing a goofy teddy-bear vibe to the character while still being entirely believable as a lady-killer and general troublemaker. Zoe Saldana makes Gamora strong without sacrificing her emotions, while Karen Gillan is creepy but surprisingly nuanced as her sister Nebula.
The real treat here, however, is Rocket Raccoon. I don’t know who to thank - he’s voiced by a totally unrecognizable Bradley Cooper, but the animators surely deserve their own round of applause - but what seemed like a joke in the trailers turned out to be the most heartbreaking, awesome, richly nuanced character in the movie. Yes, he’s hilarious, but he’s also an angry, smart, lonely soul who was forced into sentience against his will. The movie never forgets that,
If “Guardians” has one flaw, it’s that it doesn’t have the benefit of several individual lead-in movies the same way “Avengers” did. It’s got to do a lot of telling rather than showing to help us get to know the characters, and even then you’ll still long for individual one-shot stories (hint hint, Hollywood.)
Even if I never get them, however, I’ll happily ride with these rogues wherever they want to travel. Who needs Luke Skywalker, anyway?