“Guardians of the Galaxy” is silly but satisfying...and a timely blockbuster
I hope that J.J. Abrams took notes during “THE Guardians of the Galaxy”. Here is a film that is remarkably formulaic (rag-tag band of misfits come together to find the McGuffin and save the galaxy through self discovery and teamwork) but wins over the audience through genuine charm and spectacular visuals.
It’s not a homerun for Marvel in terms of the re-imagined, brooding seriousness of traditionally campy characters that has become commonplace since “Batman Begins” (or 1989’s “Batman”, for that matter). It relies on humor and absurdity to engage the audience, bringing the comic aspect back to comic book fare.
The best part about “The Guardians of the Galaxy” is that it’s not a superhero movie. Yes, it’s based on a comic book series—one that hasn’t been especially popular, likely due to its nontraditional setting and story—but comic books are simply a medium. Like film, comics can express a wide range of subject matter and broach a variety of subjects. The Guardians may inhabit the same universe as The Avengers, but they occupy the realm of space fantasy, standing alongside characters like Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless rather than Spider-man or the Incredible Hulk. “The Guardians of the Galaxy” is the blockbuster Hollywood has been desperate for in this summer of boring, recycled movie tropes. We may have seen this story before, but it’s fresh enough to be more than just enjoyable. It’s the first film I’ve seen in a long time that I wouldn’t mind watching again.
The film opens on a child listening to headphones in a hospital. His mother is dying from some wasting disease, and the boy is understandably upset. The inevitable happens and the child flees the hospital in tears. He is immediately abducted by an alien spacecraft. This is all the audience needs in terms of an origin story. Why waste time on needless exposition when the loss of a close family member is such a universal experience? We know what the boy is feeling and we understand its importance.
Flash forward 26 years. The boy has grown into a man named Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a roguish con man narcissistic enough to give himself a nickname, although “Star-Lord” hasn’t quite caught on the way he’d hoped. He’s stealing an orb of some kind, the kind that houses an ancient destructive power that’s very well known in the Marvel Universe and is related to the other two ancient destructive powers found in “Captain America” and “Thor”. The orb is also pursued by a blue humanoid known as Ronan, working for another bluish humanoid known as Thanos. They are clearly the bad guys because they look scary and give long speeches in deep voices. Soon, a group of aliens (including a foul-mouthed cybernetic raccoon and a talking plant) form a team tasked with saving a world from destruction.
Marvel is known for making movies with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. “The Guardians of the Galaxy” is no different. Peter Quill is self aware enough to say the all-important orb has “has a Raiders of the Lost Ark/Maltese Falcon vibe” and most of the jokes revolve around how ridiculous many of the situations are. Quite a bit of the humor in the film can be attributed to the talent and quick wit of Chris Pratt, known for his improvisational enhancement of scenes on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”. But the voice acting in the film is top-notch as well. Rocket Raccoon is voiced by Bradley Cooper, a talented actor in his own right. Against all odds, his voice work is able to lend more gravity and empathy to a CGI raccoon with a penchant for heavy weaponry than you would think possible.
“The Guardians of the Galaxy” is not a film for heavy emotional weight, but it’s surprising how certain moments are able to sneak up on the audience. The film is more comedy than not, but what little characterization there is doesn’t come across as forced—a testament to the cast as well as the writing staff.
There are certain film moments in my childhood that will never leave me. I remember being amazed by “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” on my eighth birthday. I remember the awe of “Jurassic Park” when I was 11. I watched “The Guardians of the Galaxy” with my five-year-old son and witnessed the birth of his own moment. It may not be the best film, it may not be an award winner, but for a generation it may be a defining film. In fact, “The Guardians of the Galaxy” might be my son’s “Star Wars.” I might even be OK with that.