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High on believin’ that ‘Guardians’ is great!

Guardians of the galaxy

Rating:
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****1/2 out of five.

'Guardians of the Galaxy,' the latest Marvel Comics film.
Marvel/Disney

This movie was a risk. The Guardians of the Galaxy were relatively obscure B-list characters in Marvel Comics. Not to mention those comics were quirky and strange. So, did Marvel’s gamble pay off?

True Believers rejoice!

A ragtag band of misfit space outlaws join forces to keep a powerful artifact out of the hands of a tyrant—assuming they don’t kill each other first.

(SPOILER WARNING!)

The film’s greatest strength is its characters. Unlike some of the other team-based superhero films, there isn’t one character who overshadows the rest (like Wolverine in the X-Men franchise). Each of the five Guardians gets memorable lines, does cool stuff, and has their own story arc. Even Groot the living tree—who can only say, “I am Groot”—accomplishes this. All of these characters go through some more of redemption, though they still remain outlaws by the end. When Star-Lord asks his cohorts if they’d rather do “something good, something bad, or a bit of both?” they choose the latter. It’s an apt description of this team.

They also have a wonderful dynamic. At first they could hardly tolerate or understand each other, but as their adventure continues and the stakes get higher, they become friends. Their bond is almost familial. This is a credit to the actors. Chris Pratt is perfect as Star-Lord. Even Dave Bautista gives a surprisingly good performance as Drax the Destroyer. While Rocket Raccoon’s quasi-British accent from “Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3” will be missed, Bradley Cooper quickly makes the character his own.

A smart move Marvel made with their superhero films was grounding them in other genres. The Iron Man movies are techno-thrillers; the Captain America films are political thrillers. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a pulpy space opera. In fact, there are shades of “Flash Gordon,” “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and a heavy dose of “Firefly” throughout the film. But these are only influences, and the film asserts a distinct identity. Like the comics, it has quirky characters and an irreverent sense of humor. Also, as the trailers have showcased, it has an obsession with classic pop songs. How’s that? Star-Lord carries a tape recorder with such music on it, and he listens to it constantly. It was the last gift he received from his mother before she died when he was a kid.

While this has, by far, the most special effects of any Marvel movie (except possibly “The Avengers”), they are slave to the story. They serve to showcase the universe the Guardians live in or, as with Rocket Raccoon and Groot, bring characters to life. But it isn’t only CGI that’s used. Make-up is showcased throughout, as well. The most impressive is Bautista as Drax, who was painted a dark turquoise with red tattoo-like texturing.

This is a rare comic book film that will equally please fans and non-fans alike. There’s plenty of exciting action, instantly endearing characters, and a heartfelt story. But fans will be delighted to see a multitude of comic locations and characters throughout. Ronan the Accuser serves the primary villain, but he’s served by Nebula (played Karen Gillian from “Doctor Who,” and she manages to still be hot when shaved bald and painted blue). Thanos is name-dropped throughout, and then, surprisingly, makes an appearance! It wasn’t a voiceover or a shot of his back like in “The Avengers,” but a full-fledged appearance. The artifact Star-Lord recovers from a temple at the beginning turns out to be an Infinity Stone (an Infinity Gem to comic fans). Benicio del Toro returns as the Collector (and still looks like David Bowie). But most shocking of all—Howard the Duck makes a cameo! Yes, you read that right. He appears in the stinger. By that point, if audiences are willing to accept the existence of a walking, gun-toting raccoon, they’ll accept that. Or fans will yell in shock at the screen.

This is definitely in contention for one of Marvel’s best movies. Not bad for a bunch of “a-holes,” huh?