The best thing about James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” — the latest Marvel universe picture — is that it introduces a new universe and a new set of characters. And even though it’s inevitable that there will be a “Guardians/Avengers” crossover in the near future, this first installment remains an isolated affair. There are no cameos from other superheroes, and there aren’t even any mentions of Tony Stark or Bruce Banner in passing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to bring together multiple superheroes, but Marvel has treated the whole affair as a big-budget television show rather than a movie franchise.
Gunn’s movie feels more like “Star Wars” than a previous Marvel flick. It takes place in a galaxy far, far away (presumably), and the viewer is plopped down right into the middle of an intergalactic struggle between the Nova Corps and the evil Cree forces (essentially, the Rebel Forces vs. The Empire). From there, we’re exposed to an array of colorful alien characters from a variety of different worlds, with goofy names and elaborate costumes. And, of course, there are the Guardians themselves, the intergalactic misfits and outcasts who put aside their differences to fight the empire.
First up is the leader and sole human member, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Starlord, a laid-back outlaw who’s a cross between Andy Dwyer and Han Solo — though he’s basically Luke Skywalker.
Next, there’s Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a green-skinned alien orphan who’s the adopted daughter of the main baddie, Thanos. Then there’s Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a loud-mouthed, mutant raccoon that doesn’t take anything from no one, and Rocket’s trusty sidekick, Groot, (voiced by Vin Diesel), a mutant tree whose arch nemesis sadly isn’t an intergalactic lumberjack.
The only “Star Wars” characters not here are the droids C-3PO and R2-D2; in their place is Drax the Destroyer (WWE wrestler Dave Bautista), who’s essentially Dave Bautista painted blue, talking in pidgin English.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is probably the weirdest Marvel superhero movie to date. But as ridiculous as all of this may sound, it works heavily in ”Guardians” favor. The sheer bizarreness of the world and the characters kept my attention for the full two hours.
Granted, it can get messy and convoluted. Unlike “The Avengers,” we weren’t separately introduced to the Guardians; instead, Gunn just sort of pushes us into the lake.
The plot is the worst, most forgettable part of the movie. The central conflict involves getting a special orb that contains a special stone that can either save or destroy the universe.
The acting ranges from forgettable to hammy to flat-out terrible. Not surprisingly, the WWE wrestler gives the worst performance, but even seasoned actors like John C. Reilly or Glenn Close in minor roles — done up in goofy costumes and makeup — turn in really hammy performances, while Saldana is nearly forgettable as Gamora. Pratt is the only one who stands out, and even he tends to overact most of the time.
Tonally, the movie is extremely silly. There’s not much weight behind what happens. As silly as it is, I don’t think Gunn wants the viewer to take it entirely as a comedic work, and yet, the comedy overpowers all of the attempts at serious emotion. A side story involving Peter’s mom, who died of cancer when he was kid, fails to make any kind of an impression.
Overall, I think “Guardians Of the Galaxy” works well on a macro level but not so much on a micro level. I liked that Gunn throws us into a brand-new universe with its own mythology, without reference to other superheroes.
Narratively, however, the movie’s underwhelming. But I think that in future installments — assuming The Guardians stay in their own universe — if the world is further explored, the characters are better developed and the kiddie humor is toned down slightly, there could be another great or near-great Marvel movie, like “The Avengers.”
Even though I’ve lost interest in most of the Marvel cinematic universe I remain cautiously interested in what The Guardians might do next.