Memorable plots – or heck, even coherent ones – have never been a priority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’re typically hung on some gobbledygook idea, a meaningless MacGuffin dressed up in a solemn-sounding name – the Aether! the Tesseract! – and this latest Marvel movie is no different. It’s literally about chasing a ball around the galaxy. (Sorry – make that “infinity stone.”) It’s so rudimentary, it’s genius.
The opening creaks, but once all the characters are introduced, Guardians of the Galaxy clicks into place. As the wisecracking space outlaw Peter “Starlord” Quill, Chris Pratt takes a page from two iconic Harrison Ford roles – Han Solo and Indiana Jones – and presses it lovingly into a fart joke book. Once Quill takes possession of the infinity stone, an ad-hoc gang comes together. There’s Gamora (Saldana), a green-skinned professional assassin; the vengeful Drax the Destroyer (Bautista); Rocket Raccoon, a mutant and mercenary (voiced by Cooper); and Groot, a sweet-tempered, sentient tree (voiced by Diesel). Groot and Rocket were crafted from motion-capture CGI and spot-on voice-work, but they never feel unreal. Overall, the effects work is outstanding – not least of which is the use of painterly backdrops (one calls to mind an architect’s rendering of midcentury Tomorrowland) – and the 3-D justifies itself with a stunning depth of field.
Guardians of the Galaxy is an outlier: a space opera in a largely earthbound movie cycle (excepting the occasional red-eye to another dimension in the Thor pictures), candy-colored and bopping where the other Marvel movies are muted and imposing, and the funniest one to date, without a doubt. James Gunn, who previously directed cult faves like Slither and Super (a noble failure) and co-wrote the script with Nicole Perlman, was an inspired choice to adapt these lesser-known, misfit, comic-book characters for the screen. His pledge to irreverence and his uplift of the everyman (not superman) with an earnest drive to do the right thing is just the kind of goosing the increasingly wearying Marvel movies need. You can have the Avengers’ supergroup of professional heroes and egos: I prefer the Guardians’ garage band – rowdy and rough-edged and a real family.
Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Benicio Del Toro, Glenn Close, Sean Gunn, Peter Serafinowicz