Guardians of the Galaxy is the summer blockbuster I’ve been waiting for for longer than I can remember.
The usual adjectives of effusive praise are appropriate: funny, clever, touching, and, of course, fun. While Marvel Studios has certainly found the formula for successful films, they’ve been progressively more and more serious and, worse, self-important. Guardians has the good sense to mock itself and its concept, which is likely due in large part to its star, Parks & Recreation‘s Chris Pratt, and writer/director James Gunn (Slither), and perhaps almost as large a part being that it’s relatively free of the Marvel Universe around which every other film it’s made snugly revolves. I doubt we’d see even Tony Stark using a space-rat as a make-believe microphone, especially in the first two minutes.
So Gunn and Pratt bring a delightfully refreshing sense of self deprecation to their film, Pratt playing the somewhat well-known Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, intergalactic swashbuckler. The promotional writeups describe him as a mix of Han Solo and Marty McFly, but I think Indiana Jones may be more appropriate, since they’re both adept at getting into and out of particularly sticky situations.
This time Star-Lord has snatched an orb of potentially unimaginable power, which puts him in the sights of nearly everyone across the galaxy, from assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to planetary ravager Ronan (Lee Pace) to Yondu (Michael Rooker), Star-Lord’s kind-of adopted father, to genetically modified raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his Ent-ian-ish pal Groot (Vin Diesel). After a three-way battle on the universal capital planet, the four are imprisoned and…blah, blah, blah. They team up, everyone tries to kill them, and so on.
The actual plot isn’t anything special, because this movie works on the dynamic of the group, who can do almost nothing but bicker with each other in argument after wonderful argument — regardless of species or stakes, everything creature in the galaxy can take time out to whine. And it works because they have a depth and breadth of character that I wouldn’t (whether rightly or wrongly) from your typical Marvel movie. While promotions focused on the novelty of a talking raccoon, Cooper elevates his role to something beyond a gimmick — a scene in which Rocket gets drunk and belligerent for being called a rodent is the kind of moment that was distinctly lacking in The Amazing Spiderman 2, which rushed forward with endless plot points that it never took an opportunity to enjoy its cast.
And in addition to exchanges are the little touches, Star-Lord and the Space Rat; Groot’s morbidly overenthusiastic approach to fighting; fifth member Drax’s (Dave Bautista) inability to comprehend metaphor and employ tact; Gamora’s constant rebuffing of Star-Lord’s advances; even the subtle running gag that Star-Lord is stuck in the ’80s (which, granted, makes sense) — and which, astonishingly, doesn’t really call attention to the references or treat them as independent jokes.
There’s not much more to say — this film delivers on pretty much every promise. The action is fun and innovative, the running time is just about right, and all that, but, most of all, Guardians of the Galaxy appreciates and celebrates its characters’ stupidities and incompetencies, which is a humanizing touch that’s been missing from summer blockbusters for a long, long time.