Irreverent, funny, action-packed and unworried about fan reaction due to the comic’s relatively little known status among its more renowned Marvel brethren, this movie kicks ass.
It looks like just about every creative decision Marvel made went right. But number one, surely, is the hiring of James Gunn to oversee this bad boy as director and co-writer (with Nicole Perlman). Somehow producer Kevin Feige knew the writer of the live-action “Scooby-Doo” and maker of the humorous horror flick “Slither” was his guy.
Gunn’s space opera bears little resemblance to Marvel’s usual super heroics but rather looks and acts like (okay, it borrows a good deal from) “Star Wars” — only with a better sense of humor.
“Guardians” never takes itself seriously yet does take seriously its rag-tag characters, visual oomph and jet-propelled story. There’s never a “down” moment, which might lead to slight audience fatigue, but the level of invention and humor makes it a smooth ride.
An effective prologue sets up the 1988 abduction from Earth of a young boy, Peter Quill. Twenty-six years later, he bangs around a galaxy far far away as a space bandit who likes to call himself “Star-Lord” (Chris Pratt). He serves the blue-skinned Yondu (Michael Rooker), a Fagan-like leader of a band of interstellar thieves known as Ravagers.
(That late ‘80s set-up also triggers a soundtrack of golden oldies as Quill endlessly listens to a mixed tape his late mother made for him.)
Zipping into what appears to be an abandoned, lifeless planet to retrieve a mysterious silver orb, Quill runs afoul of soldiers led by Korath (Djimon Hounsou). These mercenaries are also looking for this sphere under orders of the film’s extremely badass villain, Ronan (Lee Pace in Darth Vadar-like darkness).
Quill makes his escape with the mystery object but now has a target on his back. Story points and characters pop up with electrifying speed from here on, but the jest is that the fate of the galaxy is tied up in the orb. So Quill is forced into an uneasy alliance with a group of charmingly mismatched misfits.
These reluctant good guys — everyone’s criminal propensities happen to align with the need to save the galaxy — include a lithe, green-skinned martial artist/assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana); a bounty-hunter raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper); his arboreal sidekick Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); and the bulky, multi-tattooed Drax (Dave Bautista), obsessed with avenging his family’s death at Ronan’s merciless hands.
Created in 1969 as a team of heroes in the 31st century by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, the movie version of “Guardians of the Galaxy” has been reshaped by Gunn & Co. into something mirroring The Avengers only as a space epic with considerable scope, humor and action.
The screenplay makes frequent references to the by-now large canon of contemporary science-fiction movies, yet charts its own unique course through thoroughly realized worlds that bring in a host of characters who may or may not carry over into a second film.
These include a pawnbroker-like The Collector (Benicio Del Toro), with his interstellar collection of fauna and space relics for unnamed clients; the defenders of the targeted planet Xandar (John C. Reilly and Glenn Close); and blue-skinned Nebula (Karen Gillan), the deadly adoptive sister to Gamora.
Pratt is molded after Han Solo, a rambunctious, brazen youth who scoffs at adversary and laughs at his own death-defying adventures. Meanwhile Saldana, building up a nice sic-fi resumé with “Avatar” and “Star Trek,” once again makes a fine female warrior although her switching sides make her also an enigma.
The CGI and voice work by Cooper and Diesel (the latter repeating the same three words of dialogue, relying on intonation for effect) make Rocket and Groot a pair of scene-stealers among the “guardians.” Meanwhile Bautista creates a huge reservoir of empathy for his guilt and pain racked Drax.
None of which would mean much without the first-cabin special effects work performed on huge green-screen stages in the U.K. that fully realize Gunn’s vision. Cinematographer Ben Davis, designer Charles Wood and the editorial team of Fred Raskin, Craig Wood and Hughes Winborne create an eye-popping space fantasia to which most audiences will welcome a return visit.
Opens: August 1, 2014 (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Production company: Marvel Studios
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro
Director: James Gunn
Screenwriters: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman
Producer: Kevin Feige
Executive producers: Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Jeremy Latcham, Nik Korda, Stan Lee
Director of photography: Ben Davis
Production designer: Charles Wood
Music: Tyler Bates
Costume designer: Alexandra Byrne
Editors: Fred Raskin, Craig Wood, Hughes Winborne
PG-13 rating, 121 minutes