Friday, August 1, 2014

'Hooked on a Feeling': Why 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Soars

James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel Studios’ most ambitious feature yet, marking the first time the Marvel Cinematic Universe has veered away from the core Avengers characters to tell an offbeat intergalactic yarn involving a talking raccoon, a sentient tree and The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb.” It’s also the most fun you’re going to have in a theater this summer.

Guardians begins in a familiar Earth setting back in 1988, where a young Peter Quill sits outside his dying mother’s hospital bed as he tries to tune out the rest of the world with a Sony Walkman — arguably the film’s most central MacGuffin. After his mother dies just a few moments later, Peter flees the hospital and is abducted by space pirates led by the morally ambiguous Yondu (Michael Rooker). Fast forward a few years and we meet Peter as a grown man (Chris Pratt), who has become an intergalactic treasure hunter who goes by the self-ascribed moniker “Star-Lord.” He’s in search of a mysterious orb we later learn houses one of the Infinity Stones, powerful items that grant their bearer incredible destructive powers.  Collect the whole set and get a free gauntlet while supplies last!

Anyhow, Peter’s quest for the orb soon aligns him with an odd assemblage of characters, including Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of the mad titan Thanos; Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a muscled warrior seeking to avenge his family; Rocket (Bradley Cooper), a quick-tempered, furry science experiment; and Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree creature with an extremely limited vocabulary. Once united, the rag-tag crew seeks to prevent the villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) from using the Infinity Stone for his own nefarious means.

This movie is goofy as hell, always embracing its own absurdity while somehow never crossing over into self-parody. Much of the fun throughout comes from the interaction between the incredibly strong ensemble cast — an impressive feat since two of the main characters are digital creations. Pratt’s Star-Lord is a swaggering, quick-witted Han Solo-type who clashes nicely with Saldana’s no-nonsense Gamora. Rocket and Groot will go down as one of modern cinema’s most memorable comedy parings, digital or otherwise, while Bautista’s surprisingly gets some of the movie’s biggest laughs as a naïve barbarian who just can’t wrap his head around metaphors.

There are visual thrills, sure, with harrowing space battles and elaborately staged shootouts. Yet, perhaps the best special effect in Guardians is its ability to be uproariously funny without being cynical or mean-spirited. In fact, this might even qualify as a “feel-good” movie. There, I said it.

Keen-eyed Marvel fans will notice plenty of Easter eggs throughout the film, including nods to the comic source material as well as previous Marvel Studios films. It goes without saying that you should stay through the end credits for what is, in my opinion, one of the best post-credits sequences of all time.

I’d love to be “that guy” and point out a few reasons why Guardians doesn’t live up to the hype, but I’m hard-pressed to recall any specific gripes about the film. It’s action-packed, it’s hilarious and it’s loaded with fan service while being inclusive of casual moviegoers. And yeah, I’m saying that about a movie starring a gun-toting raccoon. 

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