Lighthearted ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ a Welcome Respite From Over-serious Action

by Eric Melin on August 1, 2014

in Reviews,Video Reviews

A slightly shorter version of this movie review appears at Lawrence.com. TV review coming from KCTV5 This Morning.

[Solid Rock Fist Up]

Marvel’s new film Guardians of the Galaxy may have its connections—however slight—to the cinematic superhero universe it has been building for years, but it’s not a superhero movie at all. It has way more in common with George Lucas’ original 1977 space opera Star Wars. It isn’t quite ridiculous enough to be a straight-up parody of Lucas’ film, but it’s so cheeky and self-aware that you’d be forgiven for thinking that.

Chris Pratt (from TV’s Parks and Recreation) plays Peter Quill, an everykid who is unexpectedly whisked away from his home planet of Earth to find himself cruising in a spaceship to faraway lands, in search of meaning and the truth about his father’s identity. But Quill (who calls himself Star Lord) is not just some ordinary Luke Skywalker clone. He’s also equal parts Han Solo—a cocksure intergalactic scavenger who squeaks out a living stealing valuable objects and selling them to the highest bidder to pay for his beloved spacecraft.

One such object he gets his hands on is an all-powerful orb that everyone else in the galaxy is apparently searching for too. The movie, co-written and directed by Troma graduate James Gunn, is so self-conscious of its familiar plot machinations that it calls out this MacGuffin with a jab from Quill, who says the orb gives off a “shiny suitcase, Ark of the Covenant, Maltese Falcon kind of vibe.”

But Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t just about one guy’s struggle to find his way in an uncaring universe. Along the way, he meets four other outcasts—a green-skinned orphan-turned-assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a tattooed musclehead who doesn’t understand metaphors named Drax the Destoyer (Dave Bautista), a kindhearted tree-person with a limited vocabulary named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the genetically-altered talking raccoon with a chip on his shoulder the size of Centauri IV.

The soundtrack to the film is as quirky as it’s post-modern take on the genre. 70s pop hits dot the film, introduced by Quill’s Walkman cassette player. Besides being an emotional connection to his past life on Earth, these cheery tunes provide an ironic juxtaposition to the seriousness of the typical life-and-death situations he and his compatriots often find themselves in, and frankly, are a welcome lighthearted change from the dismal action fare of late.

Sure, there’s a ton of expositional blather involving planets and interstellar races you’ve never heard of, and goofy quasi-generic sci-fi names like Yondu, Nebula, and Ronan. But there’s also a surprising undercurrent of investment in the characters, especially considering the insane amount of creatively designed CGI alien landscapes and sets that whizz by.

Quill’s outward bravado masks an inner sensitivity and insecurity that is shared by all of the misfits. Pratt plays it perfectly, and the script gives us just enough of his backstory to keep us grounded, while dropping clues to the others’ tough lives and their shared need for redemption.

Cooper and the digital artists that created Rocket also deserve huge props for filling their CGI raccoon with such verve and capacity for generating sympathy. The movie is too on-the-nose about it, but it is as much an ode to friendship as it is a rollicking action-adventure in space.

There’s plenty of action, of course, but it’s the heart and humor, delivered consistently throughout Guardians of the Galaxy, that make this tongue-in-cheek space opera the perfect fit for the 21st Century. Adults can get a kick out of how the movie tweaks the ever-so-familiar formula, while kids can marvel at the thrilling heroes’ journey and feel a little less alone in the world.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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