Saturday, August 02, 2014

Minor Marvel Characters Make Major Movie Debut

Now playing at a multiplex near you:

(Dir. James Gunn, 2014)

The latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, is for sure one of the funniest movies of the year.

Sure, it’s a big action-packed sci-fi spectacle, but for me, it was all about the laughs. And there are a lot of them, many coming from one-liners spouted by the lead, Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, ZERO DARK THIRTY), who carries the movie like a reigning comedy champ.

Funnier still, is Pratt’s co-star, an animated raccoon named Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper, in maybe my favorite performance of his, who’s as much a master of weaponry as he is wisecracks, employing both in battle.

In this adaptation of a long running comic book series that I’ve been unaware of despite the fact it has been in existence since the year I was born (1969), Pratt plays Peter Quill, who we first meet as child in 1988 played by Wyatt Oleff witnessing his mother’s (Laura Haddock) death in the film’s opening moments. The young boy is abducted by aliens immediately afterwards, and we flash forward 26 years.

Pratt, identifying himself as a “junker,” flies around in his spaceship called “The Milano” scouring various planets for stuff to steal while listening to an old school tape compilation of ‘70s hits called “Awesome Mix. Vol. 1.”

From the dark, rocky terrain of a planet named Morag, Pratt obtains a mysterious orb (the movie’s McGuffin) which is sought for evil purposes by the villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who sends the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana, who was blue in AVATAR) to fetch it.

After Pratt tries unsuccessfully to sell the orb the much more stable planet Zander, Saldana steals it from him, but a couple of bounty hunters (the aforementioned raccoon, and a tree-like creature named Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel) get caught up in their chase/fight sequence mix.

The friction fraught foursome gets arrested by the Nova Corps, an intergalactic military/police force stationed on Zander, and run by Glenn Close as Nova Prime Irani Rael, with the always reliable John C. Reilly as one of her high-ranking officers.

From there, the thrown together team joined by Drax the Destroyer (WWE pro-wrestler 
Dave Bautista), who’s bent on taking revenge on Ronan to murdering his family, break out of imprisonment (in a hilarious chaotic set-piece to the tune of Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The PiƱa Colada Song),” and set about to keep the dangerously powerful orb away from the destructive devices of Ronan, and his boss Thanos (Josh Brolin), who you may remember from the stinger at the end of THE AVENGERS.

Also caught up in this crazy, uber colorful mayhem, is a blue-skinned Michael Rooker (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, The Walking Dead) as the leader of the Ravagers, a rag tag posse of alien ruffians also after the orb. Rooker’s gravel voiced scenery chewing makes you believe that extreme racist redneck stereotypes will no doubt flourish in the depths of space and other dimensions.

Now, it may seem silly redundant to say that this Phase 2 Marvel movie has a STAR WARS-ian swagger to it, as every summer sci-fi/comic book contender draws upon the blueprint of George Lucas’ original 1977 space opera, but with this particular entry with its motley crew onboard a hunk of junk spaceship traveling to seedy ports thing a-goin’ on, I can't help going there.

Also, it has more than one Han Solo figure present in the rogue smartass bravado of both Pratt and Cooper, leaving Diesel’s Groot to be our Chewbacca stand-in. There’s a great running gag involving how Groot can only say “I am Groot,” and how each time (with different Diesel inflections), Cooper’s character can understand what he’s really saying, a sort of Han and Chewie-ish situation.

Bautista's Drax being able to only take things literally (“Nothing goes over my head! My reflexes are too fast. I will seize it.”) is another highly amusing thread.
The big ass CGI- saturated battle sequences were a bit too visually cluttered for my tastes at times, but the sheer amount of fun I had with what director Gunn and his co-screenwriter Nicole Perlman kept hurtling at me and the audience made that not matter so much.

Just like Pratt’s coveted cassette compilation is called, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is an awesome mix. It takes nifty sideline superheroes, only known to hardcore comic fans, and makes major stars out of them (it's also certainly a star-making part for Pratt). But more importantly it made me a laugh a lot, while it proved once again that the Marvel formula - Stan Lee cameo included – has a lot of life left in it.

And, of course, stay for the traditional post-credits scene, which, I won’t spoil, but I will say that it hints at the resurrection of an infamous Marvel character apparently still trapped in a world he never made. That probably is a bit of a spoiler, sorry.

More later...

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