By Jay Sizemore
When was the last time you watched a movie in a theater and for those two hours or so felt completely free from all worldly responsibility, your cell phone the farthest thing from your mind with all those nagging messages from work and social media, your car payment and the mortgage nothing but a distant dream that some other fool must be having, the larger issues of politics, war and climate-change nonexistent? When was the last time you felt free to revel in the power of imagination and the exuberance of childhood wonder that only some of the best science fiction adventures can conjure? Well, look no further than Guardians of the Galaxy.
Although it is yet another Marvel movie, this one brings one of the lesser known comic book teams to the forefront with such originality and flair that the advertisements never really seemed to do it justice, not knowing whether to market it as an action movie or a comedy. To be honest, the trailers for this film had me convinced it was going to be a terrible flop of mixed and mashed tones, much like The Lone Ranger was last year. It’s a good thing I watched it anyway, because my preconceived impressions of the film turned out to be entirely wrong. Not only does this movie carry an emotional weightiness through its centre, like some kind of metaphysical Tootsie roll in a movie version of a Tootsie pop, but it also manages to wield an air of light-hearted adventure-seeking fun; a welcome change of pace from the typical doom and gloom that most comic adaptations feel they need in order to be considered serious adult entertainment. This is as close as Marvel is ever going to get to capturing the whimsical spirit of the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises rolled into one.
Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill, who fills the role of Han Solo/Indiana Jones. For someone whose primary acting gig has been to play a goofball on the television series Parks and Recreation, Pratt’s performance here is bound to turn him into an immediate superstar. He owns it. His performance is only occasionally trumped by his CGI counterpart, Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. Movie technology has come a long way, considering that a CGI talking raccoon can so easily steal scenes from its human co-stars. One could easily imagine entire series of movies revolving around Rocket and his tree-friend Groot, a fellow CGI character voiced by the one and only Vin Diesel. I expect to see t-shirts with the words “I am Groot” emblazoned across multitudes of chests by this winter. These two characters are like a reckless Luke Skywalker/Boba Fett hybrid and a Chewbacca/R2-D2 character. Then there is Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who fills the role of Princess Leia, and Ronan, one of the most badass villains ever to grace a movie screen, who is of course this movie’s Darth Vader. Ronan is played with visceral precision by Lee Pace. The muscle-head Drax (Dave Bautista), the last of the rag-tag group of compatriots in this saga, doesn’t seem to have as obvious a character comparison, but I think of him as this movie’s Inigo Montoya.
Is there a plot that involves epic universal destruction that is imminent without the actions of our protagonists working against it? Of course! This is a Marvel movie after all. The difference is the tongue-in-cheek nature of it all, the movie’s ability to make life-or-death situations feel like you can laugh and roll with their punches, to make comic books fun again without making them silly. Full credit must be given to the writers and director, who had complete confidence in their ability to tell this story, and in their audience’s capacity for enjoying such an original take on the superhero genre. I tip my hat to you, James Gunn. Well done. Bring on the sequels.
Jay Sizemore is a film critic for the magazine.