It's hard to know what to expect from a movie about abducted-by-aliens schlub-hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), bloodthirsty barbarian Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), talking raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper)...and oh yeah, talking tree Groot (Vin Diesel). Groot is the least weirdest thing about this gleefully absurd film, and it's thanks to the 70s soundtrack that it all gels together like a retro sci-fi album cover.
At a glance you might think that the emotional heart of the film would be Quill, who was abducted by aliens shortly after his mother died. But it isn't, because Quill's the least important character of "Guardians of the Galaxy." It's actually about friendship and family, despite the wildly varying differences between the unlikely heroes -- or if we're being honest, criminals. Everybody has a sad sack story that they bring with them, and they gradually come to realize that when the universe is at stake, being a self-absorbed violent psychopath will lead to a very short existence. What starts as a simple plot to sell an orb for profit turns into a galaxy-spanning threat as Kree radical Ronan (Lee Pace) gets hold of the Power Infinity Stone with the intent of destroying the Nova Corps home world of Xandar. And thus our ragtag band of misfits are forced together by circumstance and their own stupidity to finally stop surviving and start standing for something more important than themselves.
If that was all "Guardians" was about, it would be a fun film but merely a rehash of what's gone before, notably "Farscape" and "Star Wars." But Peter Gunn's style is indelibly stamped on it, using music against gonzo backdrops to make the movie a love-letter to 70s tunes. It's a joy to watch.
Every character spits out their sob story in paragraphs of dialogue, but the movie clicks along so jubilantly it's easy to swallow. This is how we learn each character's back story, which amounts to: "I had a messed up family life." When they all realize they have this in common, they start to form their own family -- even Groot, who manages to convey more with his only catchphrase "I am Groot" than Quill and Gamora put together.
Of all the characters, the centerpiece couple -- Quill as womanizing rogue, Gamora as damaged antihero -- are unfortunately the weakest. Pratt tap dances the line between being a doofus and a believable rogue but frequently stumbles into goofball territory. Zaldana plays her usual archetype of violent maniac in a tiny, sexy package, but her conversion to good guy status is the least believable of the bunch because we don't really feel her internal pain nearly as much as we see Quill's, or hear Drax's, or witness what was done to poor Rocket's body.
The movie's most poignant scene is not between the two aforementioned humanoids, but between Drax and Rocket. The two don't get along -- Drax calls Rocket a "thing" at some point -- so when they are both sitting together, overcome with sorrow at the loss of their families, Drax tentatively, cautiously, but gently strokes Rocket's head. The reaction from Rocket (I must emphasize, a CGI ANTHROPOMORPHIC RACCOON) feels incredibly real. In that single moment we capture Drax as the father he once was and Rocket as the damage soul he is. Gamora and Quill got nothing on these two.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" isn't perfect -- the friendship message is a subtle as a punch in the face -- but it's 100% dedicated to being fun. What more could you ask in a summer flick?
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