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Emotional elements enhance ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ despite conventions.

'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a fun 2-hour vacation in the theaters.
'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a fun 2-hour vacation in the theaters.
W. Kang / Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Rated PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language Dir: James Gunn.

This film is currently playing in theaters everywhere.

Based on a Marvel comic book, Guardians of the Galaxy stars Chris Pratt (The Lego Movie) as an outlaw named Peter Quill, also known as Star Lord, who leads a group of fugitives around the galaxy in his space ship, chased by the government, pirates, and a villainous warlord named Ronan the Accuser. The fugitives include a tree-like humanoid named Groot (Vin Diesel), genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper), female assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and vengeful warrior Drax (Dave Bautista). Quill also happens to be carrying a powerful magical orb that everyone wants, the type if fallen into the wrong hands, such as Ronan, the galaxy, and many who are in it, would be in grave danger.

Overall, I had fun watching this film. It is not without its faults, but for the most part, it has all the elements that make summer films a fun 2-hour vacation at the theater. It’s an all-out popcorn film, plenty of non-stop action, humor, eye-candy, and crowd-pleasing scenes.

The environments and visuals are particularly noteworthy here. For anyone who has studied concept art or has a deep appreciation of cinematic concept art, this film has all the colorful details and elements one could ever think up if one had an opportunity to put up everything one wanted. It’s a mishmash of a vast amount of space opera references. It’s somewhat akin to The Fifth Element, but less European. Given that the film is based on a comic (which usually borrows from many sources), one can’t really fault it, either. One might complain that this film lacks a certain consistent style. It’s certainly no Star Wars (as some have claimed), and I don’t mean the prequels, of course. To put it simply, this universe lacks the dust and rust. With its heavy reliance on shiny, pretty CG, its world doesn’t quite feel real or that believable.

Certain scenes in the film, such as the futuristic prison-break, while cool and action-packed they may be, are quite over-the-top, with tons of dizzying CG, and after a while, I found myself wondering what particular rules apply in this world. It’s that thing that all sci-fi and fantasy stories have to deal with—to establish believability, they must first establish concrete rules of its world, and then, be very careful not to step over the rules. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t step over its perceived rules too drastically, although certain characters like Groot, the man-tree, seem conveniently “unbreakable.” It’s a similar issue I had with Thor, I supposeyou were never quite sure what limits the characters had. I’m not saying it’s not cool—just that it’s akin to being cool for coolness sake.

Plot-wise, this film is as conventional as apple pie. There's a super-duper-powerful McGuffin / weapon / item that everyone wants, and the world would be in grave danger if a really, really bad guy got his hands on it. I admit I don’t exactly remember what the magic orb particularly did—like any other ring, artifact, or ancient staff, the bad guy who has it could use it to rule/destroy the world in some form or another, or, to put it simply, it's the usual plotline for a majority of summer action movies and all of Indian Jones films. Chases, action scenes, armies of bad guys, and explosions--it's all here. The action scenes are well-done—particularly, the fight scenes with Gamora. The flying space battles can get a bit overdone, though.

The best part of the film (and what saves it from becoming something like the Transformers movies) is the characters—they are fun, and memorable. Like The Avengers, the characters and the interactions between them make this film work. Chris Pratt is a lot of fun as the likeable Star Lord, not very heroic—bringing much of his self-effacing humor here (he was also great in The Lego Movie). Part of him reminds me of Lone Starr from Spaceballs. Bradley Cooper is excellent as the voice of the smart-mouthed Rocket, the genius, talking raccoon. Rocket has his own little sad backstory as well as the vengeful, hot-headed Drax (Dave Bautista), whose family was killed by Ronan. Groot is the gentle giant of the bunch—his personality reminds me a bit of Fezzik from Princess Bride. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the butt-kicking Marvel tough chick—an alien version of the Black Widow from The Avengers, if you will. This film has a good amount of heart, which many summer action films don’t quite hit right--it works well here. Peter Quill/Star Lord’s backstory, which involves the loss of his mother on the same day that he was abducted by space aliens, is dramatic and well-directed. The film's humor, which involves sight gags as well as funny and awkward dialogue, is helped by the chemistry and likability of these diverse cast of characters.

Despite the conventional plot and overuse of CG, Guardians of the Galaxy is a fun, enjoyable romp, with characters that stay with you for a while. Since all the characters are now established, one can hope the sequel will now try for a story that is a bit more daring, interesting, and a tad less conventional.