By Shane M. Dallmann
Well, the latest Marvel summer blockbuster is here, and I’ve heard almost nothing but great things about it–people all over the place are having a grand old time and proclaiming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY one of the best ever. And… I’m very happy to see so many people enjoying themselves and I think it’s great that they’re being entertained so splendidly. Nor am I about to play killjoy here… don’t get me wrong–I DID enjoy the movie. Still, about it being the “next big thing” and that insurmountably awesome in my eyes? Well…
…in my eyes, what we have here is an enjoyable space adventure (not actually in the mold of Marvel’s “superhero” movies, comics-derived as it may be) which follows the STAR WARS pattern just as much as SW followed the serials of yore. New-fangled effects, a little modern “attitude,” the usual formula… I essentially saw it as a STAR WARS pastiche in which most of the heroes wanted to be Han Solo and one of them got pressured into being Luke Skywalker.
Everybody in the world seems to be seeing this one, so I’m going to skip the long, complicated setup of this particular galaxy, the rogues gallery and the mysterious “orb” that might as well be the one from THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. Everyone wants the orb and/or the would-be legendary interstellar outlaw “Starlord” (Chris Pratt as Peter Quill).
Let’s start with him. He’s great fun to watch, but director James Gunn goes for the heartstrings much too soon–the opening sequence with the dying mother made me wonder if I was in the right theatre for a spell and it sets up an even MORE mawkish moment in the finale. Call me coldhearted if you will–it’s just going to roll off my back. I can completely understand the effectiveness of pathos as a character’s sad origins are revealed, but right off the bat this movie put me in the wrong chair, as it were. And there are plenty of crying jags to come later, fear not…
Anyhow. Starlord wants to be Solo, but you know he has to be Luke in the end–from the beginning. Usurping the Solo role is Rocket (yes, the hybrid who resembles a raccoon). A little goes a long way with him, but he’s still very entertaining, and voice artist Bradley Cooper gets a heck of a lot more to do than does Vin Diesel, who seems to be there for the value of his name on the poster alone… virtually ANYBODY could have voiced Rocket’s plant/muscle Groot (once again, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Groot fails to entertain–I’m just saying that the Chewbacca character MADE a household name out of Peter Mayhew–this movie scarcely needs to “make” Vin Diesel?).
Zoe Saldana is looking good in green as Gamora… sorry, almost called her “Princess” due to her apparent alliance with the villains (led in this opening installment–seriously, did you think this was going to be anything but open-ended?–by Lee Pace as the black-robed Ronan …of COURSE he plays him to the hilt)–is she really looking to betray her masters and will she fall hard for the 80’s charms (and Walkman) of Starlord? Tune in next week…
Michael Rooker doesn’t appear as one of the team on the poster art, but he’s got a terrific role as “frenemy” Yondu, on-again-off-again partner of Starlord who wants to track him down for bounty and/or the orb, but who ALSO wants to be Han Solo.
Yet for my money (and with the 3-D surcharge, that’s saying a lot: for the record the conversion was pretty good, but the only 3-D moment that really made a difference for me involved Groot dealing with multiple adversaries during the climax), the movie was pretty much stolen by Dave Bautista as the muscle-bound “Drax the Destroyer.” His deadpan lack of irony or comprehension of metaphor provides some of the best laughs (“Why would I put my finger on his throat?”) and his first chance to actually get his hands on the villainous Ronan leads to some of the better drama in the film, as well.
Meanwhile, John C. Reilly gets some good amusing moments here and there, while Glenn Close and Benicio del Toro are largely wasted in glorified cameos (but you WILL want to stay for the post-credits gag and of that I’ll say nothing further).
Okay–aside from my impatience with “tearjerker” material, do you sense any real complaining coming from me? Don’t let the fact that I don’t personally raise it to the “pantheon” stop you from enjoying it. (Look, I’m the guy who looked for more than formula as far back as BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS–I’m the one who said “Why does it always have to be the normal-looking Earth kid? Why not let the lizard-man save the day and blow John-Boy Walton out of the stratosphere instead?”) GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a perfectly entertaining movie even if I DO recommend it for a matinee diversion above all.