We have not read the Guardians of the Galaxy comics, we don’t know anyone who’s read them, and we know next to nothing about them. And yet we caught the first screening of Guardians of the Galaxy on opening day because we have been primed to watch every Marvel movie, even if it is based on a relatively obscure series about space outlaws including a talking raccoon and a walking tree. Because the Marvel cinematic universe delivers.
The secret is to make movies that appeal to our inner child without equating childhood with stupidity. Even when the movies are so-so (Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 are our least favorite, not counting the Hulk movie with Edward Norton), they have enough charm to keep us interested. This approach has been so successful that the studio can not only gamble on a non-household quantity like Guardians, it can actually float the idea of resurrecting Howard the Duck.
Guardians of the Galaxy makes us happy. It’s brisk, loud, busy, and self-aware: it revels in the essential silliness of the material, and brings us all in on the joke. They’re laughing with us, not at us. Who are we laughing at? The people with sticks up their butts. Granted, we’re suckers for a movie where guys have arguments on the nature of metaphor.
Like its siblings, Guardians is loaded with pop culture references, including music from the 70s and 80s. When was the last time a movie contained hommages to Footloose, Cherry Bomb by The Runaways, and Benicio del Toro looking like wasted Eurodisco trash? And every space opera worth its dilithium crystals must have Moonage Daydream by David Bowie from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It makes us want to dust off our ancient Walkman. We know exactly how the hero feels when someone appropriates his mix tape and he declares, “That song belongs to me.”
The singing, dancing, joking, fighting star of Guardians is Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, the outlaw who calls himself Star-Lord. Chris Pratt deserves to be a big star because he gives the human race hope that inside every funny overweight schlub is a hot guy. The amazing thing about Pratt’s transformation is not that he could look like that, but that he could look like that and his looks would only be his second or third most appealing quality. His band of outlaws includes a green Zoe Saldana, a heavily tattooed Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel as the voice of the tree Groot, and Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket the raccoon. You know how a good performance can make us forget the actor playing the role? We forgot that he was a raccoon.
So Lee Pace’s Ronan isn’t particularly threatening, the great Glenn Close and John C. Reilly don’t have much to do, and the battle scenes are messy (Was the director auditioning for Star Wars?). Director James Gunn has made an amusing introduction that he can build on in subsequent movies. Guardians of the Galaxy lands at number five among our favorite Marvel movies, after Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (tie; CAWS is the better movie but we have so much affection for Avengers), Iron Man 3, and Iron Man. We’re watching it again. By the third time we suspect that it will be at number three.
Rating: (As if a review would stop you from watching Guardians of the Galaxy.) Highly recommended.