One of the most memorable scenes in 2012’s Avengers is the moment when Hulk grabs Loki the Asgardian by the collar and smashes him into the floor, repeatedly, ending his villainous monologue before it had a chance to really get off the ground. The scene filled the audience with a giddy energy and subverted a classic superhero trope, which is exactly what Guardians of the Galaxy attempts to do, for two and a half hours. The result is not so much a space opera, as it is a space comedy, where the villain is so comically “mu-ha-ha-EVIL” and the characters’ backstories are so flimsy, the Guardians reaches Galaxy Quest levels of camp.
In the center of it is Peter Quill, played by Chris Pratt who has the same appeal of a kid caught in a giant sci-fi flavored candy store, free to kick ass, get the girl and show-off some white-boy dance moves that would make Vanilla Ice proud. Peter Quill is the Tony Stark-esque leader of the group and the only one to show any kind of progression, so at the end of his epic adventure you can say: “yeah, that guy, I know that guy”.
As the movie starts, Quill comes into the possession of “the orb”, an object whose power is surpassed only by its mystery. It can level planets but somehow fits neatly into a satchel.
Also wanting the orb is the villain Ronan (Lee Pace), a genocidal douchebag carrying a big hammer that acts and looks like Darth Maul’s cousin that got sent to boarding school and is very bitter about it. He sends the adopted daughter of Thanos, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), to retrieve the Orb, while at the same time a hefty bounty is placed on Quill’s head which bring Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) on his tracks: Rocket, a gun-toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid.
The four of them are apprehended by the galactic coppers called Nova Corps, which leads to the “Usual Suspects”-ish scene we saw in the trailers. The four meet powerhouse Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) in prison, he who should be able to pummel buildings and adversaries into the ground as a stand in for the Hulk.
Director James Gunn was tasked with not only introducing all these characters, but finding some kind of plot that would actually bring them together, shovel some space battles in there, make it part of the billions-worth Marvel Movie universe and somehow remain true to his own style. And James Gunn should be praised for this balancing act, because if nothing else, it is an entertaining movie. But it’s all very dry and sterile when Quill is not dancing and Rocket is not quipping.
Peppered throughout the movie are different moments of angsty exposition but a punchline or an 80’s pop anthem is always just around the corner to annul any kind of actual dramatic tension. Drax’s family was slaughtered and it was pretty sad… I guess. Gamora was raised by her father’s killer and it was pretty sad… I guess. You’re left to guessing because you never actually see what motivates these characters. It’s hard to take any of their plights seriously when they themselves seem incapable to do so. When people walk out of Guardians of the Galaxy and say that Rocket or Groot were their favorite characters, that is because the “humanoids” had so little to work with in terms of emoting. In the land of tension-less dramatic portrayals, the talking raccoon and the tree-guy are kings.
A superhero team is only as good as its slow-motion walk, and the Guardian’s runway walk shows us Quill looking determined, Drax looking confused, Gamora looking bored, Rocket scratching his testicles and Groot… just being Groot. Because aren’t we all Groot sometimes?
So Marvel Movie Universe heads into space and the result is movie that not only brings out your inner child, but makes your inner child slap your outer adult around a little bit screaming: “Why don’t they make movies like this any more?!”.
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace
Premieres on Friday, August 8.