Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Twenty-six years after being abducted from Earth by a wild group of space pirates, Peter Quill is seen by some, most notably himself, as one of the galaxy’s most skilled thieves. After stealing a mysterious orb from the planet Morag, Quill becomes one of the galaxy’s most wanted men, both by the pirates he double-crossed and by Ronan, the evil Kree leader who desperately covets this valuable sphere. Fearing the unimaginable destruction Ronan could wreak if he ever came into possession of this mystical orb, Quill teams up with a ragtag bunch of galactic oddballs with the misguided idea that they are the ones chosen to save the galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy has a vast world of dense jargon that I found, being a neophyte, to be increasingly challenging to decipher and absorb. Planets, galactic populations, and creatures, all with their own kooky sci-fi names, bombard the viewer right from the start. Adding to my personal disorientation was director James Gunn’s choice to offer very little exposition, instead, relying on the viewers’ familiarity with this world’s backstory. Unfortunately, I found myself in a constant game of catch-up while trying to figure out who is who and where they all fit in. Alien civilizations are at war with one another with no explanation as to why. It’s quite clear that everyone is terrified of this evil Ronan, yet later we discover the true overseer is supervillian Thanos (played by an uncredited Josh Brolin), but there’s no real clarification as to who he is or what his involvement is in this war. These unanswered questions may have been common knowledge for Guardians enthusiasts, but I found them to be frustrating distractions that kept me from truly engaging in the story.
Luckily, the heart of the film is the hod gepodge team of extraterrestrial outsiders and freakish creations that make up the Guardians of the Galaxy. Led by what appears to be a breakout performance from Chris Pratt, who plays the brash, overconfident leader Peter Quill, these eccentric misfits helped mitigate some of my frustrations with the film’s narrative. Pratt’s cocky, tongue-in-cheek delivery offers much of the film’s silly humor. While not all of his jokes quite hit the mark, overall, Pratt handily embodies this audacious space orphan. As for the rest of our band of miscreants, Zoe Saldana continues to make excellent choices in her film roles, as her portrayal of the slinky, florescent green assassin Gamora is yet another highlight on her growing resume. I also enjoyed Dave Bautista’s portrait of the superhuman Drax, whose literal interpretations of everything said to him are amusingly droll. But it is Vin Diesel’s lovable treelike humanoid, Groot, who winds up stealing the show. Groot’s entire vocabulary consists of repeating the phrase, “I am Groot.” It is left up to Rocket, a genetically mutated raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper, to translate for us what each “I am Groot” means. Cooper’s voice-over performance has a Napoleonic fervor to it, as Rocket’s unresolved issues about his freakish existence flair up whenever others react negatively to him. Combined, these two mutant creatures make quite the formidable team, but it is Groot’s amiable personality that truly shines, as he has already become an iconic movie character, complete with his very own catch phrase.
On the subject of iconic sci-fi films, I recently watched a documentary entitled Jodorowsky’s Dune, a film I hope to review sometime next week. Jodorowsky’s Dune is about an epic science fiction project from the 1970’s that was so ambitious, no studio would pay to have it made. Despite its terminal shelving, the documentary goes into great detail explaining how the film’s elaborate pre-production notes and artwork wound up influencing so many famous sci-fi creations over the last thirty years. I bring this up because much of Guardians’ visually arresting depictions of deep space, elaborate set pieces, and resplendent costumes reminded me of those discussed in Jodorowsky’s Dune. The vast array of characters in Guardians is an eye-popping, atypical bunch that are on par with some of Luc Bessson’s indelible creations in The Fifth Element. At times, however, the startlingly elaborate makeup teeters precariously on the edge of farce. I distinctly remember repeatedly being stunned by the peculiarities of the film’s diverse alien populations. I may be wrong, but I fear that future film fans may look back upon their creations in snickering amusement.
Guardians has an avid built-in fan base, and from everything I’ve read, they are absolutely giddy about this cinematic brainchild from the relatively unknown director whose resume is…light. I’ve even read some who compare this film to a 21st century Star Wars: A New Hope. I’m happy so many aficionados are excited about what Marvel Studios and James Gunn were able to create. Having no real connection to the source material, I’m judging Guardians of the Galaxy on the merits I saw on screen, and on those merits, I saw a fun, visually kaleidoscopic Avengers knock-off that tries so hard to be charmingly irreverent that the humor begins to wear thin at times. The truly successful superhero films not only pander to their devotees, but also invite a relative novice like myself into their singular world. Unfortunately, I never got past the visitor stage with Guardians. Story characters and situations were referenced as if everyone had the same background knowledge, leaving me constantly one step behind. Guardians of the Galaxy is a visual smorgasbord whose charming performances outshine the overall product.-JL