"Guardians of the Galaxy” (PG-13) is the 10th film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and also probably the silliest. The good news is that director James Gunn’s film is silly in all the right ways. It’s never insultingly silly like “Batman & Robin” or unknowingly silly like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Rather, “Guardians of the Galaxy” basks in its silliness and has a blast with its outlandish premise. Since the film never takes itself too seriously, the audience is ironically able to take it more seriously than most straight-faced science fiction epics. In a summer of dark, gritty blockbusters, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the life of the party.
Chris Pratt of “Parks and Recreation” is the perfect blend of goofball and unlikely action star as Peter Quill, a human who was abducted by a band of alien outlaws as a child. Now he roams the galaxy under the self-appointed title of Star-Lord, dodging space cops and looking for his next big score. Peter stumbles upon a powerful orb that will sell for 4 billion units. Before he can find a buyer, however, the military catches up to Peter and throws him in the slammer. There, Peter assembles a ragtag team of misfits to help him break out and hit it big.
Zoe Saldana goes from playing a sexy blue chick in “Avatar” to playing a sexy green chick as Gamora. A character such as this could have solely existed to provide eye candy like the women in Michael Bay’s productions, but Saldana gives this deadly assassin a heart of gold in her pursuit for redemption. Bradley Cooper does hilarious voiceover work as Rocket, a talking raccoon with an attitude, and Vin Diesel is in his sincere “Iron Giant” mode as Groot, a treelike creature with a limited vocabulary. Dave Bautista, meanwhile, undergoes one of the most fitting transitions from professional wrestler to actor as Drax the Destroyer, an alien seeking revenge for his family and taking everything literally.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a film that understands the best sci-fi and superhero pictures aren’t about visuals, although the effects and makeup here are first-rate. Movies like this are all about great characters, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” has more than enough to go around. Having an awesome soundtrack to back them up doesn’t hurt either. The banter between the five leads is always wonderful, making for one of the wittiest ensemble pieces of its kind since Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” and “Serenity.” Even if you took out all the space battles, these guys would still be just as interesting if they had a conversation in a room for two hours.
We also get some solid supporting work from Michael Rooker as Peter’s mentor of sorts, Glenn Close as the head of the Nova Corps, and John C. Reilly as a corpsman who believes Peter might be more than just a scruffy-looking nerf herder. The only one who comes up a little short is Lee Pace as Ronan, the villain who wants to use the orb to take over the universe. Pace at least supplies the character with an intimidating degree of menace, but he’s really no different than any of the other alien tyrants that just want power. Some of the introductions to these characters can also feel sudden with little buildup. This cast grows on you so quickly, though, that this is easy to overlook.
In the midst of all its silliness, “Guardians of the Galaxy” manages to be something more. It’s a picture about people, or aliens, that we care about and become emotionally invested in. The film even takes time for moments of legitimate drama that are surprisingly effective. Interestingly enough, this is the only comic book movie that comes to mind that puts an emphasis on a mother’s death as opposed to a father’s death.
With 10 films in the vault and more on the horizon, it might be easy to get sick of all these Marvel movies. Yet, the studio has really done a remarkable job of creating this shared cinematic universe while staying fresh, the only repetitive film in the lineup being “Thor: The Dark World.” With “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” Marvel continues to prove that it has plenty of mojo and variety to keep things interesting.
• Nick Spake is a graduate of Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past nine years, reviewing movies on his website, NickPicksFlicks.com.