By: Scott Harvey, Columnist
It seems fitting that “Guardians: of the Galaxy” makes reference to “Howard the Duck” because, like that infamous 1986 film, “Guardians” is a Marvel movie that doesn’t really seem to fit into the Marvel canon. Recently, the comic-book giant has churned out one superhero movie after another. While most of these offerings, including this year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” have been enjoyable, it is also nice to see a departure from the norm, which is exactly what “Guardians of the Galaxy” is. Directed by James Gunn, whose credits include well received indies “Slither” and “Super,” “Guardians” is essentially a cross between a buddy comedy and a space opera.
Chris Pratt, from “Parks and Recreation” and “The Lego Movie,” plays Peter Quill, a roguish outlaw who finds himself hunted by a brutal despot called Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), when he encounters a mysterious orb that seems to hold some sort of powerful secret. After a public scuffle lands Peter in jail, he meets four unlikely comrades, who join him in his quest to save the world from Ronan’s wrath. First, there is Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) a fast talking bounty hunter who just happens to be a raccoon. Rocket’s sidekick is Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a giant, regenerative tree who is incapable of speaking any words other than “I am Groot” (I shudder to think about the size of Vin Diesel’s paycheck). There is also Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Ronan’s adopted daughter, and Drax (Dave Batista), who wants revenge against Ronan for killing his wife and daughter.
Unfortunately, “Guardians” is not the bullseye blockbuster that it could have been. For one, there are too many underwritten supporting characters with unclear motivations. Djimon Honsou, Josh Brolin, Glen Close, and the great John C. Reilly are all in the film, but when they all show up during the climax, I could not remember who they were or why I should care about them at all. Also, the movie is not as visually exciting as some of the other Marvel films. Too many scenes are shot in dark, grimy locations that never really seem to come alive. Furthermore, the movie does not really do anything to spice up its standard action climax.
Yet despite all of this, “Guardians of the Galaxy” kind of works. The five ensemble actors, Diesel included, bring their own unique charms to their particular roles. I particularly liked MMA fighter Batista, who proves himself a natural actor as the bruising, but unusually eloquent Drax. His character gets some of the movie’s best lines and, indeed, there are several laugh-out-loud moments in the film. Marvel head Stan Lee always makes the most of his cameo appearances and I got a kick out of the scene where Gamora admits that she does not like to dance, to which Peter replies “There’s a legend about people like you on my planet. It’s called ‘Footloose.’” Another of the film’s assets is its terrific soundtrack, which is filled with the kind of timeless 70s and 80s pop songs that immediately bring a smile to your face.
Overall, though “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the weaker of this year’s two Marvel films, there is still a great deal of fun to be had with it, and I think skeptics will find themselves pleasantly surprised.