“Make Mine Marvel.” It’s not just for comics anymore.
After losing his mother as a child and being kidnapped by aliens on the same day, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) knows a little something about loss. He also knows a little something about gain, too, being an intergalactic thief who calls himself “Star-Lord.” When a particular caper goes south, he runs afoul of an assassin (Zoe Saldana) trying to make off with his score. She might have gotten away with it, too, if not for a couple of meddling bounty hunters in the form of a gentically-enhanced raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a humanoid tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) who also manage to get everyone nabbed by the Nova Corps space police force. With the help of an inmate named Drax (Dave Bautista), they band together to escape prison, but our less-than-merry misfits quickly discover that someone far worse is coming after them…several someones, actually.
While set in the Marvel universe of comicdom, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t the biggest untapped property in the stable, but as they did launching Iron Man, it was ready-made to fill a niche; it feels like equal parts “Farscape,” “Firefly,” and the few family-friendly parts of Pitch Black (Vin Diesel much?) while putting an original spin on it. No matter how much this film stacked the deck, however, there was still a chance that Guardians wouldn’t fly, and that would have been the first real chink in Marvel’s box office armor (as of this date, this doesn’t appear to be an issue). Like all of the previous Marvel films, this franchise launch introduces as many hooks as it does links with its existing properties, and it all just keeps getting better.
Speaking of Vin, the character of Groot easily steals the show, speaking volumes in just three words and a few grunts; of course, fans who know of Diesel’s work in the underrated animated flick The Iron Giant already knew he was perfect for this. Chris Pratt is impossible to dislike as Quill while wrestler/actor Dave Bautista does the noble warrior well. Something of a disappointment was both Zoe Saldana as Gamora and Karen Gillan as Nebula; in what ended up being mostly a guys club movie, most of what we got to see these two deadly women do was already in the trailers, and there certainly wasn’t enough of Karen Gillan. Fortunately, Gamora delivers one of the film’s best lines in response to Quill’s opportunistic advances…aaaaaand we’re back to the “love interest” bit. Can we please get another Avatar going so Saldana can start kicking ass again?
In what continues to baffle the folks at DC’s comic-to-film franchise branch offices, everything Marvel brings to the screen seems poised to add to both their comics-based universe and to Scrooge McDuck’s money bin. In spite of a few recent and very public spats about direction (just ask Edgar Wright about Ant-Man), the bottom line is the bottom line: when it comes to making money in theaters, Marvel seems to have mastered the magic formula-one racer and a rabid fan base to fuel it with. Can Marvel do any wrong at the box office? Not yet, it seems, and here’s hoping it keeps getting better.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)