Take a time-displaced reluctant spaceman. Add a green-skinned space babe with no sense of rhythm or romance. Then stir in a vengeful muscleman, a snarky rodent and a talking tree.
Just two months ago, Hollywood was hedging its bets on this one; not a few corners said that this could may as well be Marvel Studios’ first flop, being as this is based on rather unknown characters (at least, not as well-known as Spider-Man, X-Men or any of The Avengers). Now said bet-hedgers can be eating their words as Guardians Of The Galaxy has proven itself to be yet another feather in Marvel’s cap, saving yet another season of otherwise predictable crowd-pleasing toy-selling Summer Blockbusters™. Mixing old-school SF action-adventure with humor can be quite a tricky task, since excessive CGI has often been considered incongruous with comic timing.
It begins with a somber tone, however, with its late-80s flashback to Peter Quill‘s origin story (y’know, how his mom died and he gets abducted by a bunch of redneck aliens who wanted some exotic midnight snack-age). Fast forward to a grown-up Quill (Chris Pratt) who was in the process of seizing an ancient artifact of great power (and doing a salute to Tom Cruise’s living room scene in “Risky Business” along the way) when he gets stopped by Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Next thing he finds himself on the bad side not only of Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), who wants said artifact (which Quill says has an “Ark-Of-The-Covenant Maltese-Falcon-y vibe on it”) as part of his blueprint for galactic domination (cue villainous laugh here) but also for his longtime benefactor Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). What’s even worse is that Ronan himself is betraying his superior, who is no less than intergalactic tyrant Thanos (who has entrusted one of his adopted daughters under Ronan’s service).
Green-skinned space babe Gamora (Zoe Saldana, playing yet another hot alien), on the other hand, also wants the artifact as a means to get one over her half-sister as well as her adoptive father – again, Thanos. Raised to be a living weapon by Thanos, she finds it difficult to open up to Quill’s laid-back, idiosyncratic work ethic.
Their paths cross, conveniently, on Xandar – along with snarky rodent Rocket Raccoon and his talking-tree pal Groot (voices by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively). Next thing, they get thrown into some intergalactic prison, where they break out of with the assistance of yet another new ally, the vengeful muscleman Drax “The Destroyer” (Dave “Batista” Bautista) who wants to get to kick
Thanos’ Ronan’s ass.
They also stop at Knowhere, where Gamora has struck a deal with The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). It was there when they find out the significance of the artifact – well, let’s just say it ties in with one of the most iconic story arcs in the history of the Marvel Universe (let’s just say it involves a certain deadbeat-dad-cum-tyrant). It then becomes up to this ragtag team to ensure that Ronan, The Collector or even Yondu and his ravagers don’t get hold of that artifact – otherwise, entire planetary races can be wiped out at the drop of a hammer.
The story – as adapted by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn (based on characters created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan) – zips along at its merry pace; the characters and their conflicting motives supply a good deal of the comedy aspect. Performances are superb all-around, whether it is Pratt and Cooper bringing on dabs and dollops of snark with their portrayals, Bautista going all dead-pan or even Diesel conveying emotion with just three (or even four) words.
“I. AM. GROOT.”
I was impressed that distributor Disney allowed Gunn to let slip a number of profanities (particularly evident in the trailer, where Rhomann Dey dismissed “The Guardians” as just a “bunch of a-holes”) on the film; it is acknowledging that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been consistently raising the bar for big-screen adaptations of comic books as far back as the first two Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man films. Said same trailer also promised a half-naked Gamora, but that (along with a promised cameo by longtime Gunn confederate Nathan Fillon, who was going to play Nova the Human Rocket) would wind up on the cutting-room floor (but may turn up on the Blu-Ray edition!!!)
The action sequences are equally impressive, with Drax, Groot and Gamora getting to kick copious amounts of ass (good thing Bautista gets to use his wrestling/MMA skills to his advantage this time around). There is a scene where Star-Lord jets into space to rescue Gamora (whose pod just blew up); Quill lends his breathing mask to Gamora, allowing the audiences (including yours truly) to gasp and wonder how he’d survive in space’s freezing cold. Among the other guys, Ronan and Yondu are just as impressive; the former wields a sledgehammer that can have Thor’s beloved Mjölnir cower in shame, while the latter has an arrow that can be guided with laser precision with a whistle or two.
The music – primarily 70’s-era FM-rock chestnuts – serve its purpose in propelling the story; there is that feeling of groundedness provided by the mix-tapes prepared by Quill’s own deceased mother to console him. That – along with the ’80s-era tchotchkes scattered within the interior of Quill’s ship “Milano” – provide a welcome sense of warmth that is often missing from much pop-culture sci-fi renditions; a good yardstick for possible comparison would be Shinichiro Watanabe‘s seminal manga/anime Cowboy Bebop (Rocket = Spike Spiegel; Groot = Jet Black). Hearing Blue Swede’s version of “Hooked On A Feeling” somewhat reminded me of Reservoir Dogs so much, I was anticipating an ear-slicing or two at The Kyln.
Being a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, one can never escape that obligatory Stan Lee cameo (even when he has normally ruled out such appearances in films based on characters he did not create); check out the Xandarian wanna-be lothario who gets verbally targeted by a snooping Rocket and Groot. Of course, who can’t shake off that end-credits sequence where The Collector contemplates his failure at the wrecked remains of his trophy room – accompanied by Cosmo the space dog and – Howard The Duck!
This is the movie that Green Lantern should have been, indeed.
Hmmm…just how does Peter Quill’s Sony Walkman run on???