Summer blockbusters haven’t been much fun this year. Sure, we’ve had giant robots, action galore and some edge of our seat moments, but from the xenophobia of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” to the daddy issues and nuclear nightmares of “Godzilla” the season’s tent pole movies have been a bit gloomy.
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” the new Marvel adventure, is a tonic for the troops. An old-fashioned space opera, it’s a wild ride and the most pure fun blockbuster since the first “Iron Man” movie.
Chris Pratt is Peter Quill, a cosmic Indiana Jones style adventurer. After stealing a mysterious metal orb that containing an “infinity chip,” he becomes the target of Ronan (Lee Pace in full-on wrestling bad guy mode), an intergalactic Genghis Khan with ambitions to destroy his mortal enemies, the Xandarians. To avoid capture Quill forms an uneasy alliance with a genetically engineered raccoon and bounty hunter Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), a plant-based humanoid, the deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and a revenge hungry warrior named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). As the chip’s power becomes obvious, the band of misfits slowly bond, becoming the Guardians of the Galaxy as they battle to keep the orb from Ronan.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” has a playful tone. From Pratt’s signature line, “Peter Quill, people call me Star-Lord,” to a soundtrack stuffed with 70s era pop music—like “Hooked On A Feeling” by Blue Swede and Rupert Holmes’s “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”—and actors in blue-headed alien masks, the movie feels like a throwback to old-school action-adventure.
It’s filled with one-liners, sight gags and funny moments that play off the more standard blockbuster-style action and battle scenes. Pratt has an offhand delivery that recalls Harrison Ford in Han Solo mode, Cooper does wisecracks like a skilled Catskills comic and (ALMOST A SPOILER) there’s Baby Groot to up the cute factor. They supply the light moments, but despite Cooper’s presence, this isn’t “The Hangover” in space, it’s an all out action movie with a blithe spirit.
On the downside, origin stories require set up and “Guardians of the Galaxy” has loads of backstory. There are characters with funny names, warring cultures and treaties to be enforced and broken. The exposition gets in the way of the story sometimes, but only occasionally. Director James Gunn doles out the information with spoonfuls of humor and action to keep things interesting.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is clearly expected to be the beginning of a franchise. Near the end of the film Star-Lord says, “What shall we do now? Something good? Something bad? Bit of both?” and while that kind of presumptuous writing usually annoys me, in this case I wouldn’t mind seeing what they get up to next time.