It would take a real curmudgeon to enumerate the ways in which “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the latest adaptation of a Marvel Comics series, is hackneyed in its dialogue, its plot, its characterization, its running gags. After all, how much depth can one reasonably expect from a summer comic book movie by director and co-writer James Gunn, who began his career writing scripts in the fast and cheap world of Troma films, and whose first major screenwriting credits include two Scooby-Doo movies and the 2004 version of “Dawn of the Dead”?
This is not the sort of science-fiction that illuminates or challenges. This is fast, mildly crude, 3-D, and full of spectacular alien landscapes and spaceships.
It’s an unlikely team of wisecracking antiheroes versus a coven of relentless, exotic heavies. It’s a bucket of popcorn and a large soda, and a couple of hours later you walk out of the theater with no memory of what you’ve just watched. It’s bliss, which is not really an endorsement. Nor is it a criticism. Odds are, if you are likely to buy a ticket to ‘Guardians’ – or are compelled to take some kids to see it – you know what you’re getting. You don’t need some dilettante telling you why you should feel bad about the meal you’ve chosen.
The film’s setup is this: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a half-human, half-alien earthling who was abducted from Missouri while still a boy and raised to be a thief and a rogue by his buccaneering abductors. He steals a mysterious orb the size of a croquet ball from a long-abandoned planet on the fringes of the galaxy, drawing the attention of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who is hellbent on using the orb’s contents to smite his enemies.
Quill, who also goes by the name Star-Lord, is thrown into league with Gamora (an assassin Ronan sends after him, played by Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (a bounty-hunter who tries to take Quill captive, voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (a treelike creature who is Rocket’s supremely valuable companion, voiced by Vin Diesel), and Drax the Destroyer (a vengeful bundle of muscles played by Dave Bautista). Civilization-saving high jinks ensue.
Appearances by John C. Reilly, Glenn Close and Benicio Del Toro in minor roles might tempt you to expect more from this movie. Don’t – this thing is two hours long, and you’ll hate yourself if you want more than it offers.
Nonetheless, a few curmudgeonly notes, beginning with length: A bit of fluff is fine, but two hours? Plenty might have been shed to keep things high-spirited.
Second, I am happy to abide a talking, upright-walking raccoon as a bounty hunter whose self-centeredness conceals a heart of gold. (I do wonder why, in a story that bestrides a galaxy full of bizarre creatures, Rocket should not have been something less terrestrial.) I cringe, however, at the insistence on a not fully explicated backstory about the painful genetic experiments that created so gifted and naughty a raccoon. Must all fictional characters these days be endowed with a traumatic past? Must everyone have suffered in order to be interesting?
That complaint is directed to the creators of the comic books, not to the filmmakers.
Third, where does Quill get batteries for his late-1980s-era Sony Walkman, his last souvenir of Earth and his long-dead mother, whose mix tapes justify the best part of the movie’s soundtrack?
Finally, the dialogue for Quill seems to have been written with Paul Rudd in mind: wisecracking and crass, hapless yet charming. Obligingly, Pratt offers himself up as a poor man’s Rudd, with upgraded muscle tone. The similarity to Rudd’s delivery and expressions is so uncanny as to bespeak influence if not outright imitation. Pratt is to Rudd as “Guardians” is to serious science-fiction: If you consider the comparison, you long for the real thing.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
Starring: Chris Pratt, Lee Pace, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper
Director: James Gunn
Running time: 122 minutes
The Lowdown: In outer space, an American pilot is the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan.