The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians of the Galaxy have always been among Marvel Comics' lesser-known characters, but I suspect that's about to change in a very big way. Whereas the company's movie division has heretofore kept its focus on instantly recognizable names like Captain America and Iron Man, it now steps outside the box it has constructed for itself to deliver a film that simultaneously feels Marvel-y and also wildly different from anything else they've done. Guardians of the Galaxy is, for that reason, one of the most ecstatically enjoyable movies of the year.

Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar adventurer who, as the story begins, steals a mysterious orb. He doesn't know that a ruthless villain named Ronan (Lee Pace) wants that orb and has plans to harvest its powers for evil purposes. After being sent to prison for his theft, Peter learns what the orb is capable of. He's forced to form an uneasy alliance with several other outcasts to keep the thing out of Ronan's hands. His new partners are a green woman named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), muscleman Drax (Dave Bautista), sarcastic, gun-toting raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and a massive tree creature called Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).

Guardians of the Galaxy has two secret weapons. The first is a coterie of offbeat characters you can't help but love. While most Marvel characters are complex and vulnerable, they also embody typical traits of bravery and heroism when they put on their costumes (or transform, or whatever). The Guardians, meanwhile, are misfits through and through. They screw up, they make bad choices, and they don't always get along. In spite of these shortcomings, they also have interesting backstories that explain their square-peg ways. Two of them, for instance, deal with grief issues. Being empathetic screw-ups makes each of the Guardians really compelling to follow, and identifiable, as well. That they eventually find themselves capable of rising to the occasion only makes them more appealing.

The other secret weapon is director/co-writer James Gunn. It is he who really makes Guardians of the Galaxy the treat it is. Gunn started his career working for low-budget schlock factory Troma, where he penned the screenplay for their Shakespeare “adaptation” Tromeo & Juliet. He then went on to write the two Scooby-Doo pictures for Warner Bros. before turning to directing. His first film, Slither, was an agreeably gross creature feature, while his second, the Rainn Wilson-starring Super, was a pitch-black spoof of superhero movies. Throughout his work, Gunn has shown a penchant for stinging, often wacky humor. He finds jokes where others would not, and specializes in generating a laugh where one is not expected. Those qualities are abundant in Guardians of the Galaxy. This is an extremely funny movie, in many ways even more a comedy than an action or sci-fi film. Gunn's comedic perspective puts a fresh spin on the more traditional story elements, like the good vs. evil idea and the we-gotta-work-together-to-accomplish-a-mission theme. Fans of the director's earlier works will delight in the way he injects his sensibility into an expensive Marvel blockbuster, while those unfamiliar with him will appreciate an original take.

The director has cast his film wisely, too. Chris Pratt, who's been doing killer work for years on NBC's Parks & Recreation, proves himself a capable leading man, investing Peter Quill with just the right amount of goofiness. He gives a star-making turn. Zoe Saldana is appropriately bad-ass, while Dave Bautista brings unexpected dimensions to the hulking Drax. Then there's Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, both of whom are here in voice only. Nonetheless, their work is incredibly vivid, turning Rocket and Groot into the characters most viewers will likely peg as their favorites. Cooper and Diesel do something akin to what Scarlett Johansson did in Her: they give full-bodied performances with only their vocal talents.

The only hitch in Guardians of the Galaxy is that the storytelling is occasionally a slight bit muddled; the orb isn't much more than a McGuffin, and a subplot involving Gamora's ties to Ronan could have used some further expansion. Those are not substantial flaws, though. By and large, Guardians of the Galaxy is a total treat – funny, exciting, filled with great effects, and containing a few welcome moments of emotion. This is the Marvel movie I can see myself watching again and again.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: If you plan on seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, by all means pay the extra few bucks for 3D. The effect is used in a very classy, substantive way that adds to the fun.

Guardians of the Galaxy is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language. The running time is 2 hours and 1 minute.

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