Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014)

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and Dave Bautista
Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
Directed by James Gunn
Rated PG-13 - Violence, language
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Trailer

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a thief. Kidnapped from Earth at a young age, Peter, now calling himself "Star-Lord," has come to a long-abandoned world where he hopes to find a mysterious artifact he was hired to return to the planet Xandar.

He soon learns that this orb is wanted by other powers in the galaxy: specifically Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who has made a contract to find the orb for galactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin). Ronan sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to Xandar to intercept Peter and retrieve the orb from him, but the two are set upon by bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a genetically engineered raccoon, and Groot (Vin Diesel), a powerful sentient... tree.

Captured by the Nova Corps, a galactic police force, Peter, Gamora, Rocket and Groot are sent to the space prison known as the Kyln. There, they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) another inmate who has sworn vengeance against Ronan for killing his family. Together, this group of freaks, losers and misfits realizes they hold the key to stopping Ronan and Thanos' plans for galactic domination. They might hate each other, but if any of them are going to get out alive, they'll need each other.

And so will the rest of the galaxy.

As a big fan of "Slither," I was excited for this film from the minute it was announced that James Gunn would write and direct. After that, as the casting fell into place and the trailers started coming out... Well, I'm happy to report that "Guardians of the Galaxy" is just as fun as I'd hoped.

With a script full of goofball antics, heart and big action, Gunn has brought to live one of the weirder corners of the Marvel universe. For people who loved the kind of lived-in, chock-full-of-weird-aliens world of "Star Wars," "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a treat. Nearly every scene is packed with cool designs for sets and props and other items, as well as alien creatures and otherworldly vistas. Many of the films locations appear to be actual sets, as well, giving the whole film a very "real" feeling.

The cast is impressive. In his first big action role, Chris Pratt brings his wonderful comedy chops to a role that would fall flat with a lesser actor. Pratt does a fine job making Peter Quill a man finally learning how to give a damn about something in his life, but never neglects to have fun. It's plainly obvious he and the rest of the cast had a blast making this film; you can see and hear it in their performances.

Nearly every character in this film gets multiple laugh-out-loud moments, thanks to Gunn and Perlman's script. The big surprise in the cast here is Dave Bautista, who like Dwayne Johnson before him, has recently made the jump from wrestling to acting. Bautista not only manages to make Drax a formidable warrior, but he sells the man's pain... and gets some of the film's biggest laughs. The script constantly makes use of Drax's inability to understand metaphor, to raucous effect.

Special mention has to go to Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, who, even though they only voiced Rocket and Groot, have done fantastic jobs. Groot feels more like a supporting character while Rocket often steals the show. That Rocket doesn't end up being completely ridiculous (he is a talking raccoon in space, after all) is a minor miracle. But the script gives him some excellent moments, and Cooper and the film's animators do a bang-up job making sure we believe and care for Rocket.

And watching this cast interact is a joy.

If "Guardians of the Galaxy" has one problem it's that the film's villains are a little standard. Lee Pace does an excellent job as Ronan the Accuser, and he also looks great - the makeup and costuming to bring this character to life are fantastic. But the role mostly calls just for him to be menacing, and that's what he does. He does a good job at it, but there's little depth to Ronan.

Similarly, Karen Gillan of "Doctor Who" fame looks great as Gamora's sister Nebula, but other than some hints of sibling rivalry, there's not much there. She's clearly evil, but that's about all the depth she has, either.

For fans of the comics or fans who have been following these Marvel films from the beginning, there's a lot of intriguing stuff going on here, too. Thanos and his lackey the Other (Alexis Denisof) appear, this time with a larger role for Thanos than the brief post-credits cameo he had in "The Avengers." The nature of the Tesseract and the Aether (the MacGuffins from "The Avengers" and "Thor: The Dark World") are explained here, thanks to another wonderfully odd scene featuring Tivan the Collector (Benecio del Toro). We also get the first live-action looks at the Nova Corps that includes supporting roles for Glenn Close, John C. Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz, as well as the Kree Empire. It features none of the big names from the previous "Avengers" movies, and spends only minutes on planet Earth, but still manages to feel like part of that universe.

Marvel is two for two this year, with "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" both knocking it out of the park. August isn't usually the summer month known for great movies, but Marvel has bucked that trend here.

See Also
Iron Man 2
Thor
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Iron Man 3