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Thursday, July 31, 2014 12:01 am

Guardians: Star Wars for a new generation

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill/Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.


It’s been a dismal summer at the movies not only where the quality of films is concerned but also in regards to how much fun viewers have been having. Sure, 22 Jump Street was funny and X-Men: Days of Futures Past and Godzilla were satisfying spectacles but neither was lighthearted enough to leave a smile on my face. Fortunately, there’s an anecdote to this in the form of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, a film that shouldn’t work yet somehow does. It finds the proper balance between well-done sci-fi mayhem and self-effacing comedy to produce a crowd-pleasing entertainment that’s the very definition of what a summertime, popcorn movie should be.

While this is a Marvel Studios production, the superheroes at its center are not what you would call first-string characters of the order of Iron Man or Captain America. No, these are more like tier four oddballs, the sorts you focus on after the mainstays and their substitutes and then their substitutes have been exhausted. This works to the film’s advantage. These reluctant heroes carry little baggage or general awareness so they’ll seem fresh to the uninitiated. And while this movie is a part of the Marvel Studios film universe with its already planned sequels set on a collision course with Avengers 3, much of what happens here is self-contained and serves as the perfect jumping-on point for any of the uninitiated.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the film is that each of the five characters who make up this group is extremely likable. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt in a star-making turn), an overgrown adolescent who was kidnapped from Earth when a child and refers to himself by the self-aggrandizing title of “Star Lord,” is an intergalactic scavenger who looks for artifacts of interest to sell to the highest bidder. Think of him as the outer space version of Indiana Jones – and it’s hard not to. The scene where he makes his first acquisition is a loving homage to the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

His latest find – a metal orb that unknown to him contains an object of great power – brings him nothing but trouble. Nefarious bad guy Ronan (Lee Pace) wants it and sends one of his cohorts, the green-skinned living weapon Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to fetch it. However, she’s tripped up by bounty hunters Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper), a cynical gun-tooting, cigar-chomping genetically modified raccoon and Groot (voice by Vin Diesel), a kindhearted, walking tree who has uncanny, well, tree powers. They’re out for the bounty that’s been put on Quill’s head by his double-crossed mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker). When all four create chaos in the center of an idyllic city on the planet of Nova Prime, they end up in jail where they meet Drax (Dave Bautista), a fierce, literal-minded warrior who’s out to avenge the death of his wife and child who died at the hands of, you guessed it, Ronan.

These five realize they have a common interest – namely saving the universe and taking out Ronan – and embark on a mad mission to do just that. At its core, Guardians is a big, sprawling action movie and just when it threatens to spin wildly out of control, director James Gunn effectively reins things in with a dose of humor or humanity, which is the key to its success. On paper, it all sounds patently ridiculous and it is. But there’s a sense of unbridled fun and enthusiasm at play here that’s been absent from the screen since The Avengers and it’s no exaggeration to call this the Star Wars for the 21st century; it’s that much fun.

To be sure, Guardians contains the sort of special-effects-saturated action scenes that are part and parcel of films of this sort, yet they are done exceedingly well. Gunn keeps these sequences fluid, easy to follow and exciting. However, what makes the film work are the characters, each of them likable, well drawn and sympathetic, the antagonistic chemistry between them generating one belly laugh after another while each of their tragic backgrounds makes them easy to sympathize with. Across the board, the cast has their tongues firmly planted in cheek, playing up the irreverent tone Gunn fosters throughout. Though Ronan is rather opaque and the movie threatens to overstay its welcome, there’s no question that Guardians is a remarkably fun time and waiting to see them share the screen with the Avengers will be a long wait indeed. Seeing what the Hulk might make of Groot is a moment that can’t get here soon enough.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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