Yeah, Marvel got it right this year, after floundering in 2013, and as we await the ginormous 2015 rollout of “Avengers: Age of Ultron. Following closely on the heels of April’s dark “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, we get the loopy fun of “Guardians of the Galaxy”, a Marvel Universe entry that is wise in not taking itself too seriously. It was also a genius decision to employ the services of writer/director James Gunn, who is responsible for the crackling screenplay for Zack Snyder’s super “Dawn of the Dead” remake in 2004, as well as penning his own directorial debut with 2006’s horror/comedy/homage, “Slither”. Gunn is sharp, and exactly what Marvel needed to knock things out of the blockbuster sequel doldrums. It also may not have hurt to have screenwriter Nicole Perlman on board, the first credited female in Marvel’s canon. Good for them and good for her. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is smarmy, giddy—with just a touch of pathos up front—along with a whole bunch of explosions and battles, and the most atypical soundtrack for a space opera ever. It works on so many levels, that it’s not even a death knell when they run out of ideas in the 3rd act. And it contains my favorite of all the various post-credits appearances in this Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a completely unexpected cameo…and it is a gas! Just be certain to stay until every last credit rolls…it’s a fanboy delight.
The film opens in 1988, with the heart-rending death of young Peter Quill’s mom, from some sort of cancer. But just when you’ve decided that you’ve accidentally walked in to “Terms of Endearment II”, the boy runs out of the hospital…and is abducted by a spaceship! Zoom ahead 26 years to present day, and Peter is now “Star Lord”…a buff Indiana Jones/Han Solo hybrid, as played by the absolutely perfect Chris Pratt. We soon meet Gamora, interpreted by current franchise queen Zoe Saldana(Lt. Uhura in the “Star Trek” reboot series, and the Neytiri character in James Cameron’s “Avatar”…I mean, c’mon!)as the gorgeous, green-skinned alien orphan trained by arch-villain Thanos, and wrestler/MMA star Dave Bautista, as the vengeance-seeking, muscular brute, Drax the Destroyer. But things really get kicked up to the stratosphere, upon the arrival of Rocket the raccoon(voiced hilariously by Bradley Cooper of all people! He’s not just a pretty boy, after all!)and his walking, regenerating, tree-like partner Groot, who is voiced by Vin “Riddick” Diesel…and only capable of repeating the same three-word sentence over and over. They all team up to capture a dangerous, all-powerful “orb” of some sort(whatever), and along the way you’ll find Oscar nominees, Glenn Close, Djimon Nounsou and John C. Reilly in bit parts. And let’s not forget Academy Award-winner, Benicio del Toro as The Collector.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a treat in IMAX, and the 3D effects were far superior to what was offered by “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. Besides its colorful look and irreverent attitude, its selling point is its game and spirited cast…everyone in the principal roster fulfills their duties more than admirably. That being said…the film does eventually run out of steam and coast on auto-pilot. It starts hitting those sentimentality buttons hard in its last half hour too. And what else hangs in the balance…but another threatened and half-destroyed metropolis. At this stage, superheroes are going to run out of cities to save. The movie works up such a high level of hijinks and good will in its first two-thirds, that many will forgive it for becoming formulaic by the finale. But I can’t ignore that as soon as they ramp up the fights and explosions…it all gets a little generic. However, it’s the character work that saves it overall…and this cast nails it in a BIG way. What a good time August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” is. And when linked with May’s underrated “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, June’s marvelous “Edge of Tomorrow”, and July’s exceptional “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, it has been a damn good summer for fantasy/sci-fi epics…no matter what the collective box office receipts attempt to imply.