Movie review

'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a summer sensation

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Folks want to know if a movie featuring a gun-toting raccoon and a bipedal tree can possibly be any good. The short answer is — yes!

“Guardians of the Galaxy,” director James Gunn’s cunning adaptation of an oft-canceled fourth tier Marvel Comics series that even fanboys aren’t too emotionally invested in, panders to the audience’s space opera-loving, comic book-reading, arrested development-suffering inner nerd with ruthless efficiency.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an interstellar adventurer in the Han Solo/Indiana Jones mold who goes by the moniker Star-Lord. It doesn’t take Quill long to find an orb of great power that is coveted by Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a Kree zealot devoted to the destruction of a rival world and Thanos, the baddest super villain in the Marvel universe.

'Guardians of the Galaxy' movie trailer

In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.

Quill, who only wants to sell the orb to the collector who commissioned him is attacked by Korath (Djimon Hounsou), a deadly bounty hunter who works for Ronan. Quill escapes Korath by fleeing in a starship highly reminiscent of the Millennium Falcon and makes his way to Xandar, the planet Ronan hates with a passion.

Once on Xandar, Quill is stalked by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the deadliest assassin in the galaxy who also happens to be Thanos’ adopted daughter. Gamora’s plan to grab the orb from Quill for her own purposes are frustrated by the interference of the mercenary duo Rocket, a raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and Groot, a humanoid-like tree voiced by Vin Diesel.

After a spirited battle in the streets, Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot are arrested by the Nova Corps and carted to a Xanadarian prison for disturbing the peace. Once in prison, the now reluctant allies meet Drax (Dave Bautista), a warrior brute consumed with a single-minded desire for vengeance against Ronan for murdering his wife and child.

The misfit quintet escapes and makes its way to a disreputable interstellar outpost that is actually the hollowed-out head of some ancient creature. It is there that they learn the true nature of the orb from Taneleer Tivan the Collector (Benicio Del Toro).

'Guardians of the Galaxy'

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper.

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

Suffice to say, all of the characters in this film find themselves working at cross purposes. It is only when the heroes begin to see the value of mutual self-sacrifice for the higher good of the universe that they begin to jell as a team.

There’s even a scene in which the beleaguered heroes draw strength from clutching and touching each other’s hands when things appear hopeless in their final battle with Ronan. I’m sure the writers of “Toy Story 3,” are looking forward to receiving royalty checks for the film’s “homage” to their famous trash incinerator scene.

Despite the collateral damage and loss of life in the film that has become the hallmark of summer blockbusters of late, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is very funny, even if it is excessively self-aware and full of enough narrative black holes to fly a starship through.

The film’s opening scene establishes the fact that Quill was kidnapped from Earth as a child mere minutes after his mother’s death in 1988. Because of his abrupt transition from this world, Quill’s frames of reference are permanently stuck in the ’80s, so actor Kevin Bacon’s name gets dropped a lot.

There’s even a sight gag in which Quill pantomimes one of Michael Jackson’s signature moves from his “Billy Jean” video which, of course, is inexplicable to friend and foe alike. It is also annoying to audiences because you realize that for two hours, all Mr. Pratt has been allowed to do is comedic schtick. It wears thin. Then again, no one will be getting Academy Award nominations for their acting in this film — not even Glenn Close or John C. Reilly as Nova Corps officers.

Anyone who was a teenager in the ’70s will feel the primal tug of a soundtrack that includes such incandescent ear candy as “O-O-H Child,” by the Five Stairsteps, “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop and “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone.

The pop music that snakes through this film is as compelling a character as the animated raccoon and walking tree that quickly assert themselves as the film’s biggest stars. It is a mixtape given to Peter Quill by his mother who was a teenager in the ’70s.

The music’s role is to provide cues to the emotional tone of every scene as if the audience was composed exclusively of mouth breathers incapable of being left alone with their own thoughts. The soundtrack is the most blatant example of the manipulation and shameless appeal to nostalgia that pretty much guarantees Marvel Studios has another billion dollar franchise on its hands.

The script by Mr. Gunn and Nicole Perlman isn’t particularly logical, but it is emotionally resonant enough to hold an audience’s attention for two hours. The screenplay isn’t dependent on decades of previous story arcs like other Marvel Studio films. This iteration of the Guardians isn’t anything like the classic Guardian characters those of us over 40 grew up with (and mostly ignored).

Before Ridley Scott cast an enormous shadow across the cinematic landscape with “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” most science fiction movies and novels looked and felt a lot like “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The starships look beautiful, colorful and well designed for the most part. You don’t see the pockmarked and dented hulls that became the rage after George Lucas scuffed up the Millennium Falcon.

In the wrong hands, “Guardians of the Galaxy” could have been a smirking disaster on the level of “Battlefield Earth” or “Howard the Duck.” Instead, it is a fantastic looking, surprisingly effective movie about the value of community — even one composed of squabbling misfits.

There was no post-credit scene at the critics’ screening, but there could be added scenes now that the run has officially begun, so stick around.

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