Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) co-written and directed by James Gunn

On the day eight-year old Peter Quill's mom dies, he's abducted by aliens. Double bummer! Jump forward about twenty years and the boy has grown into a scavenging outlaw. At least he'd like to think he's a badass. His latest retrieval is from an abandoned temple on an abandoned planet. It's a small orb that a lot of other people in the galaxy are interested in. As he goes into the temple, he turns on his Sony Walkman (an old one that plays cassette tapes) and grooves his way through the ruins, kicking and squashing small rat creatures that try to attack him. He even grabs one and uses it as a pretend microphone. Just as he recovers the orb, one of the interested parties shows up and tries to take it from him. He leads a merry chase away and eventually escapes. When he gets to the pawn broker, he discovers he's gotten into a lot more than he bargained for.

The movie follows a standard plot line--an all-powerful McGuffin (the orb) must be kept out of the hands of evildoers who will use it for nefarious purposes. A misfit group of low- to mid-level criminals band together to keep the orb out of reach. They all have different motivations and are mistrustful of each other at first. They grow closer and more trustful and even become friends by the end of the show. It seems like the movie should be just another run-of-the-mill comic book action movie.

The movie really shines in two ways. First, the sense of humor is great. It isn't dark or brooding or cynical. It's based (1) on the silliness of people taking themselves too seriously and (2) on not communicating in the clearest way, leading to funny consequences and (3) on the sort of cultural references that most of the characters in the movie just don't get because they are not from Earth. The movie has lots of laughs in it.

Second, the main heroes are very likeable characters. Peter Quill has a fairly dramatic childhood trauma, but unlike other comic book characters (I'm looking at you, most recent Batman and Superman films), it hasn't made him an angry, brooding, self-doubting hero. Instead, he's embraced his new life with a wry sense of humor and honesty, even if he does have an over-inflated view of himself. He's more adept at talking his way out of a situation than shooting his way out, though he can do the later if he needs to. He's a well-written character well played by Chris Pratt. The other main characters are just as well written and realized (including the CGI raccoon and sentient tree).

Guardians of the Galaxy is a big, fun summer action comedy.

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