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'Guardians of the Galaxy' review: Romancing the Infinity Stone

Star-Lord on a mission for some booty.
Star-Lord on a mission for some booty.
Marvel Studios

Guardians of the galaxy


Directed by: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Dave Bautista, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, and Glenn Close

The Plot: Thin and convoluted, our plot involves a human kid (Pratt) swiped off of planet Earth in 1988, who later becomes a galactic mercenary known by the intimidating handle "Star-Lord." When he inadvertently heists the most dangerous substance in the known universe he triggers a galactic war that has been simmering for millennia. With the fate of the galaxy in his possession, and every alien faction - be it royal or criminal - hunting him down he has no alternative but to join up with some rough company. A cybernetic raccoon, (Cooper) his talking tree bodyguard, (Diesel) an alien barbarian, (Bautista) and a green-skinned warrior princess. (Saldana) Together, this curious quintet form the "Guardians of the Galaxy."

The Film: Remember when summer movies were fun? When the greedy studio barons weren't trying to pick the change in your pocket by strip-mining the fetish properties of your youth and replacing them with some computer-enhanced, phoned-in, genre product? (ahem... GI Joe) When the Bang-to-Buck ratio leaned heavily toward the Bang? Remember when Spielberg didn't need to choreograph an epic fist fight between Indiana Jones and the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark - he just let him draw his gun and plug the guy?

James Gunn does. In fact, James Gunn very much rekindles ye old Spielbergian spirit of the late 20th century.

In the riskiest play a company as large and successful as Marvel Studios can make, they hired the kid (he's 44) responsible for A-Grade splat-O-rama like Slither and Super, (two Slither alumni make appearances in GOTG) gave him 150 million dollars and the keys to one of the company's more obscure properties, and, from the looks of it, kept out of his business while he conducted theirs.

Indie filmmakers thrown into the roller-derby of summer blockbuster season can go one of two ways - they can knock it into the dirt (Marc Webb's post-500 Days of Summer Spider Man woes) or belt it to the moon. (George Lucas's 1977 seasonal genesis, Star Wars) Gunn takes to the task of getting a film crew and post production army all on the same page like an old vet.

Without question Guardians of the Galaxy is the best work Marvel's produced since The Avengers.

Which, since Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and (my favorite) Drax the Destroyer are the knock-kneed, six-toed, third-cousins of the Avengers - and their story is pretty much an addition to the events of Whedon's 2012 Marvel movie - is extremely fitting.

While I can't imagine a world where Rocket the raccoon and Tony Stark play racquetball at the New York Health and Racquet Club, Guardians of the Galaxy presupposes that it could happen. Personally, I would pay double the asking ticket price to see Robert Downey Jr. interact with Bradley Cooper's cybernetic raccoon. Any exchange between the two would be priceless.

If you were wondering what was going on on the other side of that porthole Iron Man got sucked into at the conclusion of The Avengers, or who or what that "Thanos" character was during the stinger - Guardians of the Galaxy will shed some light on those mysteries.

Just don't expect too much from the Guardians' origin story.

Once again in Marveldom we have two factions fighting over the most powerful substance in the universe. In this instance, a purple gem known as the "Infinity Stone." It's an element born of pure space opera. A Mega-McGuffin for our scruffy nerf herders to raise blasters and throw fists for. Much like the original Star Wars, what Guardians of the Galaxy's plot lacks in substance it more than makes up for in guff.

The Guardians themselves play things much faster and looser than their marvelous cousins back on Earth. Their first feature film features a prison riot, a jail break, bar fights, gambling, womanizing, tomb raiding, a few well placed middle fingers, and enough salty language to make Stan Lee blush underneath that pancake of make-up they slap on him for his cameo appearances.

Rocket, Quill, Groot, Gamora, and Drax make up a patchwork collective of buccaneer attitude and down-but-never-out heroism. The idea that these five malcontents could indeed "Guard" the entire "Galaxy" seems like a stretch, but seeing them reach for it is most of the fun of the movie.

Peter Quill's the kid most of the current, middle-aged, Marvel demographic can relate to. A geeky Major Tom, (yes, there's some David Bowie in the soundtrack) stepping through the door with his helmet on. Since his memories of Earth are all before 1988, Quill can still quote the movie Footloose from memory, and while he's running "scavenging" missions he's fond of listening to mix-tapes of 70's gold rock on his Sony Walkman. He's the perfect cinematic companion piece to a generation of boy-men who never left the world of Farrah Fawcett posters and Star Wars action figures behind them.

Chris Pratt's Star-Lord is the consummate 80's action figure - jet pack and twin blasters included - in near mint condition.

Where things get a bit muzzy is where things in Marvel-world usually get muzzy. The Kree villain Ronan is an amazing accomplishment aesthetically. In fact, as far as the art department is concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy is very reminiscent of the quality and creative panache you'd find in a Guillermo del Toro flick. Comic book villains rarely look as garish - or as striking - as Ronan does. But his motives are little more than: "I need the glowing power gem to destroy the universe."

It's a theme as old and saggy as James Bond's burlap incontinence bag.

There is some Marvel-babble about a continuing war between the Kree and the Xandarian protectors, The Nova Corp, and feel free to try and translate any and all of this muck if you feel it will make any real difference to your enjoyment of the film - it shouldn't. In the Guardians of the Galaxy mega-verse, bad guys are seemingly born bad. But then again maybe heroes are born that way too. The only difference between the two being the friends they make along the way.

The Verdict: Hunter Thompson said it better than anybody could: By the ticket. Take the ride. Guardians of the Galaxy is rowdy and original, and is, as luck would have it, an absolute blast to watch. One of the rare summer blockbusters that actually makes your popcorn TASTE better. Can't wait to see where these guys go to next.

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