"Whatever you do, don't pause for explanations!" That would appear to have been the interesting choice made when deciding to move forward with Guardians of the Galaxy. With this movie, Marvel and Disney are expanding their comic-book universe beyond the Avengers to an entirely new group of heroes (although they do exist in the same universe, the overlap is very slight as of this movie). And the entire thing takes place out in a part of the galaxy where planets are 20 minutes away from each other, people live on atmosphereless asteroids without spacesuits and still have conversations with each other, and planet-busting knicknacks are left lying around for anybody to find.
For the most part, none of this will be explained.
In this realm there is some kind of war going on. On one side are the Kree, led by a buff blue dude (Ronan, played by Lee Pace) with anger issues (actually the Kree seem to be composed entirely of the buff blue dude), who are looking to take out Nova Prime (or Xandar; I'm unclear on the difference between the planet name and the government entity) a blissful techno-Eden planet led by a well-coiffed Nova Prime (Glenn Close). This is such an Eden that apparently a beat cop (played by John C. Reilly) can just walk up to what appears to the prime minister of the galaxy and pass along a message. The Kree and Nova Prime really, really want to destroy each other.
For the most part, none of this will be explained. Also, the people on this planet come in a variety of non-blue colors.
In the middle of all of this, you have a collection of rogues. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a human who was abducted by aliens as a youth and now makes his living as a thief-for-hire. He likes to be called Star-Lord for reasons that aren't explained. Then you have Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She's green and works for Ronan (which makes sense, since Zoe Saldana used to be blue in another movie and another universe) but she's not happy in the situation. Then there is a generically modified and extremely sarcastic racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) named Rocket. Because: The Beatles. Rocket is buddied up with a tree emphatically named Groot (voiced, for no good reason, by Vin Diesel). Then there's a very angry man named Drax (former professional wrestler Dave Bautista doing a turn that would make Dwayne Johnson proud); he's red.
For the most part, none of these people will be explained. Even less explained will be other bit parts: a very-white exotica collector (Benicio del Toro), a blue—but apparently not Kree—gang leader with a well-trained poking stick (Michael Rooker), or a blue—but also not Kree and somewhat robotic—"sister" of Gamora named Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Josh Brolin stepping in to provide voice for the mysterious Thanos.
So, a comic book property hardly anybody has heard of. And the decision by writer/director James Gunn, in collaboration with Nicole Perlman, is to just barge on ahead and let the bodies fall where they may.
And it works. The tone of the movie is relentlessly sarcastic. Even while taking itself seriously, it is constantly making fun of itself. Chris Pratt has obvious comedy chops, and he blends it with the action beats in a way that reminds me of the surprise of Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard when he was still best known for Moonlighting.
Simply, the movie maintains a consistent level of fun and funny that makes it not really matter that it never gets around to explaining what is going on or why. Takling raccoon? Don't care that it doesn't make any sense, the effects are good enough that Rocket is a character in the movie and Bradley Cooper does a good job with the lines. Same with the tree with one line and the overly literal wrestler.
The only weakness in this regard are that while the dialogue humor is consistently funny, the action humor is sometimes out of sync with the serious violence being shown. Guardians of the Galaxy definitely continues the trend I mentioned with the last Captain America movie of collateral fatalities being presented with abandon and sometimes for laughs. This is not a good trend, to my thinking. So if your tolerance for more explicit (if still relatively bloodless) violence is low, that may overshadow your enjoyment of this movie. Also, some language issues (and a crude gesture featured in trailers) may make some parents question the age-appropriateness of the movie.
All in all, the abandonment of any real thematic heft (sure, the fate of the galaxy is at risk but as long as we're joking about things, does that really matter?) seen in recent Avengers-related movies makes for a pretty fun ride.
If nothing else, you watch in awe for what will be an epic movie in the future bringing the Avengers storyline together with Guardians fo the Galaxy and involving at least nine main heroes, as well as approximately 14,023 secondary heroes and three dozen villains.
PS: Apparently you should be sure to stay through the credits to watch a final reveal. Apparently it is supposed to be pretty big—at least to those familiar with the source material—but it wasn't attched to the early screening copies, so has not yet been seen by anybody.
- Guardians of the Galaxy is Walt Disney Pictures/Marvel Studios release.
- Wide theatrical release on Friday, August 1
- Directed by James Gunn
- Written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman
- Starring Christ Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Vin Diesel
- Running time: 121 minutes
- Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language
- Alex's rating: 9 out of 10