Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel (voice), Bradley Cooper (voice), Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Laura Haddock, Sean Gunn, Peter Serafinowicz
Written by: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, based on a comic book by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Directed by: James Gunn
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
Running Time: 121
Date: 07/31/2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Less Than Heroes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After a summer of slick, seamless superhero, monster, and robot blockbusters, there's certainly something to be said for a movie that feels reckless and messy.

Guardians of the Galaxy springs from an irreverent Marvel comic book with an attitude, and James Gunn is the perfect director for it.

Gunn previously directed the most off-kilter superhero movie yet, the hugely misunderstood Super (2011), which explored the release of primal fears and desires with the donning of costumes and masks.

Guardians of the Galaxy isn't dark so much as it is flat-out funny. It feels a bit like the first Star Wars movie, crossed with Mystery Men or Galaxy Quest.

It disregards many rules, and it also falls off balance and runs into some dead spots. But like anything that was crafted out of love and enthusiasm, these dead spots are only part of its personality.

One of our finest actors right now, Chris Pratt takes on the lead role of Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord. Pratt is an "ordinary guy," capable of great depth and soul in Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty, but also hilarious in Delivery Man, Her, and The Lego Movie.

Most superheroes are cast according to chiseled looks and sculpted muscles, but Pratt is the most charismatic, personable superhero since Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man.

The rest of his squad comes together with great chemistry. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned, "living weapon" Gamora, Bradley Cooper provides the voice of the runty mutant raccoon Rocket, Vin Diesel lends his guttural voice to a walking tree called Groot, and wrestler Dave Bautista is musclebound alien Drax, who takes everything literally.

Quill is a human, abducted from earth as a child and grown into a cosmic thief who grooves to a mix tape of 1970s pop hits while stealing a valuable sphere. Everyone wants to get their mitts on this object, which contains a great power. When it falls into the hands of the bad guy, a renegade Kree called Ronan (Lee Pace), our five band together to save the universe, and hopefully get paid.

The bad guys are the movie's weakest link. Gunn relies on serious, wordy dialogue to explain the war between two alien races, the Kree and the Skrulls (a staple of the Marvel comic book universe), as well as the plot mechanics behind the sphere.

It's a stretch to ask anyone to care about these sequences in such a carefree movie, but happily the movie eventually plows right through them like a careening spaceship through a shopping mall.

Note: my original rating of 3 stars has been upgraded to 3-1/2 stars after a second viewing.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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