Guardians of the Galaxy
Rollicking sci-fi is way more fun than it has any right to be.
By Max Weiss. Posted on July 31, 2014, 12:29 pm
I’m about to bestow on Guardians of the Galaxy the greatest compliment I can give a sci-fi action film: I thought Joss Whedon wrote it.
Whedon, the genius behind my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Marvel hit The Avengers, has a few hallmarks to his work: They’re all extremely clever, pop-culturally savvy, steeped in geek culture (both as keen observer and enthusiastic participant), and they celebrate friendship and loyalty above all else. I don't want to undersell that clever thing. Joss Whedon TV shows make me laugh—a lot—while still hitting all those necessary action/sci-fi buttons. So congratulations James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, and co-writer (along with Nicole Perlman). You’re officially Whedonesque.
I’m not a comic book girl—shocker. But according to my research, the Guardians of the Galaxy are actual misfits of the Marvel world. Each of the characters—the cocky outlaw Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who has given himself the grandiose nickname “Star Lord”; the green-hued Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who was adopted by an evil warlord; the sarcastic and world-weary raccoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper); the kindly but simple tree-beast Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); and the bald, bulky, revenge-seeking Drax (Dave Bautista)—were castoffs, little known characters from some other comic book. Them coming together to fight for the Galaxy is a kind of genius. I mean, what could be more geek culture than actual rejects saving the world?
I realize that it’s ridiculous to say that Guardians of the Galaxy reminded me of Star Wars, since Star Wars is basically the source of all space sci-fi action films at this point (it’s a little like saying that wine reminds me of grapes). But the similarities were more in spirit than anything else. Pratt makes for an excellent Hans Solo type—winking and devil-may-care, but with a believable streak of integrity. (And kudos to the visionary who realized that if you give the adorable Pratt a little muscle tone, he’d be an excellent hipster action hero). His sidekicks all have distinct personalities and quirks—they’re every bit as wonderfully memorable as R2D2 and the Wookiee. The space they travel in is a free-wheeling, corrupt, gloriously chaotic place—where resourcefulness and a willingness to sell yourself to the highest bidder are necessary tools for survival.
Quill has an affecting back story: As a small boy, he was kidnapped from earth the day his mother died (sniff) and the only thing he has from her is a delightfully cheesy ’70s and ’80s mixtape called “Awesome Mix 1.” He likes to do goofy dances to this mix (sample song: “Hooked on a Feeling”) while extoling the virtues of Kevin Bacon in Footloose.
Most of the jokes here really land. Diesel’s Groot, for example, can only say one phrase: “I am Groot.” But he manages to say it in a variety of very funny ways. There is an amazing bit with a prosthetic leg that I won’t ruin here. As for the meathead Drax, he comes from a planet of people who don’t understand metaphor. “Jokes go over his head,” Quill explains. “Nothing can go over my head,” Drax responds. “I am too fast.” Heh.
There’s really something for everyone here—assuming you have even the slightest appetite for comedy sci-fi. Before I went to Guardians of the Galaxy, I tweeted: “I’d be really geeked about this film. If I were a 12 year old boy.” Well guess what? This grown-ass woman had an absolute blast.
Max Weiss is the managing editor of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.