Review: ‘Guardians’ combines action with wry wit in comic romp

The much-hyped “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie hit theaters Aug. 1 (or July 31 if one counts the advanced screenings). Based on an obscure 1969 Marvel comic, the movie features a clichéd band of misfits, like a lot of recent comic-inspired movies — who come together to save the eponymous galaxy.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax, left, Gamora, Star-Lord, Groot and Rocket.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, Drax, left, Gamora, Star-Lord, Groot and Rocket.

If the cliché remark sounds like a criticism, it isn’t. This ragtag group each finds a way to twist the stock characters so that they seem fresh. And when they fall back on stereotype, the cast seems well aware of it and play it to the hilt. What separates “Guardians” from the standard comic fare is the self-knowing wit. This is a movie that works hard for its audience, but all with a wink that says, “We know what we are, but isn’t this fun.”

And it is great fun. Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill (or “Star-Lord” as he prefers to be known — shame no one else knows). Quill is a great turn on the Han Solo cliché. Pratt is a lovable, smart-aleck rogue who realizes the expedience of the group working together. The rest of the crew are equally as fun. The stereotypical “cute” furry sidekick, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), turns out to be a bad tempered raccoon, who is friends with Groot (a CGI Vin Diesel), with a walking tree. Drax (excellently played by Dave Bautista) is the angry Hulk figure. He is driven by grief at the loss of his family, and delightfully unaware of the subtleties of language. Finally, Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a beautiful green assassin with a twist.

Quill was abducted from Earth as a young teen. This gives rise to some great set pieces involving miscommunication, as he throws metaphors and idioms around that no one else quite understands. The audience understands him, though, and that makes the gags all the richer, while emphasizing Quill’s outsider status.

Director and co-writer James Gunn does a great job of keeping the pace going. The special effects are big and loud. The CGI is excellent and the story — well, it’s a comic book, for crying out loud. What do you want, “Hamlet”? But it has a great villain in Lee Pace’s Ronan, ably assisted by Nebula (Karen Gillan from “Doctor Who,” here shorn of her trademark red locks). John C. Riley and Glenn Close make appearances, as well as comic turns from Benecio Del Toro and Michael Rooker, Merle from “The Walking Dead.”

But the strength of the movie is the interplay between the “Guardians.” Pratt leads this merry band through one caper after another, and if there is an ensemble having more fun, I have yet to see it. The first Star Trek movie was a sci-fi film and it sucked. The franchise kicked into gear, with “The Wrath of Khan,” when the writers realized that we just want to see Kirk and Spock and Bones et al, bickering and facing danger together. “Guardians” avoids that trap.

For all its wiz-bang effects, this is a simple movie about a group of misfits who come to find that together they are more than they are alone. That’s another cliché, but it works.

 “Guardians of the Galaxy” is rated PG-13.

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