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The successor to ‘Star Wars’: Movie review of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy
Photo by Andrew Toth

Say what? Did I just utter the words Star Wars in comparison to a new film? I did! I loved Guardians of the Galaxy primarily because it reminded me of that feeling in 1977 when I first saw Star Wars on the silver screen. BTW, I know it is now called something like Star Wars: Episode 4, but I’m not going to call it that because I’m old school. When I first watched it, it was called Star Wars and it is going to remain Star Wars in my mind and therefore the rest of this review.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first Marvel Studio movie made based on one of its comic book franchises not known far beyond the comic book world. I think Marvel is saying they are in Stage 2 in their effort for cinematic domination. Guardians was a risky choice for a production budget of 170 million. Other lesser known titles have made the leap from page to screen with forgettable results. What Guardians has going for it is a ragtag group of outcasts who suddenly find themselves in a position that demands heroics. And beyond all of the Joseph Campbell qualities, it is also funny, much in the same way Star Wars was. The humor is used to define the characters instead of setting a plot around big laughs. Further the CGI is used to enhance the storyline and not be the thing that is the star of the movie – Transformers franchise, I’m looking at you.

The movie has heart as well, which the previews hinted at but the story really drives home. Speaking of which, let me just say that the trailers for this film sold it – they didn’t give away the story, they defined the characters, and they planted of the 70s music soundtrack in the audiences head which begged the question; why is a film set in outer space playing, Blue Swede’s version of Hooked on a Feeling? (Yes, the movie does answer that.) The previews sparked interest and let the momentum for the film build itself.

Back to the issue of heart, during the opening scene I thought I was watching a preview for a tear-jerker along the lines of The Fault in our Stars, but no. Heart is a theme that comes back and is nicely done. Just FYI, if you have any recent experiences with a love one being sick, or being sick yourself, prepare to bring some tissue…because sometimes popcorn salt gets into the eyes.

Chris Pratt has made the leap into the A list with his role of Peter Quill/Star Lord. As Quill he is handsome and self-effacing – a man who loves his mama and isn’t afraid to practice a little sleight of hand. Zoe Saldana is Gamora, a green assassin that immediately puts in mind the exotic dancing aliens in the original Star Trek series. I imagine Saldana is someone whose appearance at San Diego’s Comic Con requires two dozen bodyguards considering all of the impressive science fiction films she has starred in. Already a sequel for Galaxy is in the planning stages, which means that Saldana has major roles in several sci-fi franchises including Avatar and Star Trek. I don’t know her ranking in the Hollywood ecosystem, but I hope she is paid well.

Rounding out the cast is Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel. Cooper is the voice of Rocket who is a raccoon that has been altered as an experiment. Not since Puss-n-Boots in the Shrek series, has an animal based character delighted audiences as much. He is one trash talking raccoon that has no idea that he is based on an Earth critter. Rocket is the brains of the operation and gets the biggest laughs. Diesel is Groot the tree like individual that in the previews made audiences pause. All of the characters have heart but Groot is the one who wears it most on his sleeve…or branch if you prefer. Both Groot and Rocket are CGI inventions and show how far the growth of computer automotive characters have come since the days of Jar-Jar Binks. Did the mere mention of Jar Jar make you throw up a little in your mouth? Sorry.

Other recognizable faces in secondary roles (or roles meant to be built up in following sequels) are Michael Rooker, Karen Gillian, DiJmon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benico Del Toro. Lee Pace is the main villain and frankly his makeup makes him look like Vin Diesel which was a little confusing if you know Diesel is in the film but not what character he plays.

Guardians is an example of Hollywood making decisions. The material is both fresh and reminiscent of an early decade. The CGI enhances the story but doesn’t dominate it. Credit goes to director James Gunn for knowing that audiences enjoy actors in makeup (there is a reason why Face Off has been on for years) so it is important to use CGI only for characters who otherwise couldn’t be represented. I’m guessing he couldn’t find a talking raccoon who could act, but who knows, those clever creatures are taking over Germany.

I recommend seeing Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater. It is a nice late summer treat for a blockbuster season that has went bust after a promising start. Because it is so fun it has become an event movie which means it is the film everyone is talking about. Showing in all formats including 3D and Imax 3D, I kind of regret not seeing in in Imax 3D. It is a great film to see on a date, with friends, and with your kids. Overall for this viewer it captured the feeling of fun and adventure of a long time ago in a far, far away galaxy.

Happy viewing!