All Right, I Suppose

Guardians is okay but it could’ve been much better

by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

guardians

movie-guardiansGuardians of the Galaxy
Galaxy, Southland
3 out of 5

The space opera has been a popular subgenre since the smashing success of the original Star Wars, which hit screens in 1977. The formula has been pretty much the same since: roguish heroes, feisty, sexy princesses and megalomaniac villains with chips on their shoulders (see Flash Gordon, Krull and roughly a gerbillion others).

Most of the Star Wars “clones” (See what I did there? Ha!) were crap, but many of them gained camp value over the ensuing decades — and a few even inspired remarkable reboots (like the remake of Battlestar Galactica: seriously, who saw that coming?).

As yet another homage, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t bad: it’s fun, funny and the best production money can buy.

The problem is that it aspires to be so much more, but comes up short.

Guardians is based on a little-known Marvel comic and, although some leeway has to be given to the introductory film of what the studio clearly hopes will become a franchise, an inordinate amount of time is spent establishing the clichéd band of misfits who figure prominently in the action. Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is an earthling who was kidnapped as a child and raised as a burglar; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the adoptive daughter of Thanos and a skilled assassin; Drax (WWF’s Dave Bautista) is a criminal who’s confused by figures of speech; and the two mercenaries, Rocket Raccoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively), are, well, a scheming raccoon and a friendly tree.

Each character has endured major family trauma, which makes them both standoffish and yet susceptible to loyalty and kindness.

The “gang of good guys” aspect of the film is strong, if somewhat run-of-the-mill, but the problems begin with the villain — and the McGuffin that brings everyone together. Star Lord and Gamora are in hot pursuit of an orb of enormous power, but so is Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies), a zealot Kree leader who plans to use it to wipe out the planet Xandar (a stand-in for earth).

A melee ensues, with the would-be Guardians ending up in a co-ed prison. Serious grudges have developed, but the ragtag group agrees to put their differences aside, at least until they can find and sell the orb. This is easier said than done, because the ruthless outlaw Ronan, Quill’s former comrade, and a sketchy dude named the Collector (Benicio del Toro) also want it.

Director James Gunn (who until Guardians had only crafted marginally entertaining B-movies like Slither and Super) gives the film an offbeat tone — but if you don’t share his sense of humour (which I mostly don’t), it’s just not that funny. Pratt seems like he’d be perfect for almost any other Gunn movie, but he isn’t the right fit for Star-Lord: his bumbling persona just doesn’t make us believe he could be a hyper-competent thief. Zoe Saldana is given little to do and by the end, Gamora is as much as a cipher as she was in the beginning.

But the fringe characters help Guardians shine. Superb voice work by Cooper and Diesel (who gets a lot of mileage out of repeating “I am Groot” over and over) put the CGI creatures way ahead of their human peers. (Rocket’s overpowering anger is well-established and Groot is endearing to a fault.) The most pleasant surprise is Bautista, whose deadpan delivery knocks it out of the park every time. Yes, really.

Guardians of the Galaxy could have used more of that, and a lot less winking at the camera.

2014-08-07