Guardians of the Galaxy

Hollywood saved it’s biggest summer blast for last.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is the most successful space western since the first “Star Wars” trilogy, an irreverent mix of mismatched characters, heavy-handed baddies and huge battle sequences spiced up with sharp one-liners and a healthy helping of attitude.

There are no pretensions here, no deep thoughts or shallow thoughts trying to look deep. There is a lot of Indiana Jones in the script, with some Avengers and even a hint of “Firefly,” but all this movie wants to do is have big fun. Which is exactly what it does.

Then again, what else can you do when one of your main characters is a walking tree who can only say three words — “I am Groot”? You’d better be having fun.

“Guardians” centers on Peter Quill (aka Star Lord), played by Chris Pratt, the “Parks and Recreation” star who also voiced one of this year’s top films, “The LEGO Movie.” Pratt is buff and handsome enough to pull off the heroic thing, but the film also takes full advantage of his comic chops.

When Quill was a little boy on Earth, a spaceship beamed him aboard just after his mother died. About all he had on him was his Sony Walkman (look it up, kids), which provides the wonderfully incongruous out-of-time soundtrack to the movie.

Twenty years later and Quill is a grown man, a space scavenger of sorts. When he comes upon the magical mumbo-jumbo ball (that’s not its technical name, but all movies like this have the basic equivalent, some item everybody wants), he suddenly find himself the center of a lot of attention.

That attention most immediately comes from two scoundrels, the aforementioned Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and his partner Rocket, a machine-gun wielding hyper-intelligent raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper). They are soon joined by the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a trained fighting machine sent by the evil Ronan (an excellent Lee Pace) to also capture the magical mumbo-jumbo ball.

Somehow this group all end up in jail together, where they meet the hulking Drax (Dave Bautista), who has sworn to kill Ronan, but opts instead to kill Gamora, until she confesses she was set to betray Ronan. At which point the gang begins melding into the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Directed and co-written (along with Nicole Perlman) by James Gunn (“Slither,” “Super”), “Guardians” can’t rely on the mass nostalgia for its characters that other Marvel Comics franchises have had built in. Baby boomers didn’t grow up with Groot, kids don’t have Rocket pajamas (they doubtlessly will now). But maybe that’s why the franchise seems so fresh — there are few preconceptions or audience expectations about these characters.

But a lot of credit has to go to Gunn, whose somewhat obscure previous films have always struck a precarious balance between dark humor and action. Here the humor isn’t as dark, the action isn’t as gory, and the balance doesn’t feel precarious.

Sure some of the battles become a blur — that’s the way of action extravaganzas these days. And the band of misfits concept goes back decades.

But none of those misfits was a talking tree or an armed raccoon. “Guardians of the Galaxy” has wit, energy and zaniness to spare. It will pop your corn and leave you hungry for more.


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