It’s been a long time since science fiction was fun at the movies. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a mega-bleak dystopia as much as the next man, but it has been many-a-moon since a sci-fi movie has left me with a slap-happy smile the entire time I was watching it.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is that bundle of interplanetary glee that we have all been waiting for. Not only is it packed with the requisite “oohs” and “ahhs” of rampant, special-effects-laden action sequences, but it is also straight-up one of the funniest movies of the year.
Based on some D-list Marvel characters, which means they technically operate in the same universe as Captain America and Iron Man, the Guardians are essentially the anti-Avengers.
Playing off the “ragtag group of misfits rally together to save the day” trope, “Guardians” brings together a high-quality group of wise-cracking outlaws. It’s like watching a “Star Wars” movie filled with nothing but Han Solos.
Thrown together by happenstance, the guardians are led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a charming, half-human space bandit with a love of FM hits of the 70s and an ego just inflated enough to give himself the alias Star-Lord.
Quill is joined by a pair of aliens, the green-skinned, sultry assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and a literal-minded, vengeance-driven warrior named Drax (played by professional wrestler Dave Bautista).
The group is rounded out by two incredibly rendered digital characters, Rocket, an anthropomorphic, scene-stealing, endlessly-chatty raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper and his sidekick, Groot, a walking tree with some pretty nifty botanical abilities and whose vocal abilities are limited to the words “I am Groot.”
Groot is voiced by Vin Diesel who, when allowed to speak only three words at a time, just might have delivered the performance of his career.
The Guardians are facing off against a big, bad, galactic heavy Ronan (Lee Pace) bent on acquiring a super-weapon to destroy the cosmopolitan society of the Novas, who are led by the level-headed Nova Prime (Glenn Close).
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was directed and co-written by James Gunn, a St. Louis native best-known for the campy-fun horror flick “Slither.”
Gunn is clearly in his wheelhouse here as he, along with co-writer Nichole Perlman, came up with a razor-sharp script that wrings all the laughs the genre can muster while still taking it all just seriously enough that you actually care whether or not the characters are blasted into space dust.
Following a stretch of blockbusters that have been mostly underwhelming, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the unrivaled movie of the summer, not a sequel or brimming with (conventional) superheroes, it is the most unadulterated fun I have had in a movie theater in what has been, frankly, way too long.
This movie also marks a pretty savvy move from Marvel as it has remained “on brand” while simultaneously diversifying its portfolio beyond the standard smash-bam pathos of the flooded superhero-movie market.
If “Guardians” is a hit, it will not only be well-deserved, but it might also mark a sea-change from Hollywood blockbusters that take themselves way too seriously. As far as I’m concerned, that might be just as important as saving the universe from annihilation.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.