Thursday, July 31, 2014

'Guardians:' Junk and proud of it

Another comic book of a movie from Marvel Studios
Guardians of the Galaxy, another Marvel Studios space adventure, seems to have been cobbled together from diverse genre elements in an effort to achieve a supreme level of silliness -- and that's one of its good points.

You have to give some kind of credit to a movie that asks us to develop affection for a talking tree that does little more than repeat its name: "I am Groot." Voice courtesy of Vin Diesel, who -- as it turns out -- may be better heard than seen.

Then there's Rocket, a talking raccoon (voice by Bradley Cooper) who fills the obligatory wise-ass niche.

2001, this ain't, but Guardians inoculates itself against serious criticism by adopting an ethos that goes something like this: Hey, we know this is crap, but we've gone through a lot of trouble to make the best crap possible.

If that's too pejorative, substitute the word "junk" and you're on your way.

To take the most generous view, it's fair to call Guardians a celebration of genre junk: The movie's director -- James Gunn -- also directed Slither, an unashamed and reasonably well-received B-movie from 2006. Guardians qualifies as a more expensive, but still unashamed leap into B-movie tropes.

Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill -- a.k.a. Star Lord -- a galactic scavenger who steals and re-sells his plunder.

The movie begins with a prologue explaining that Quill was born on Earth during the 1980s, but was abducted by aliens shortly after the death of his mother. The story then leaps ahead 26 years, locating itself in a mixed-species galaxy.

Familiar from TV's Parks and Recreation and from small roles in Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty, Pratt relaxes into a big screen lead as the mildly cynical hero who, in the end, takes his galactic responsibilities seriously and who clearly evokes memories of Star Wars' Han Solo.

The drama revolves around a stolen object called The Orb, a soft-ball sized gizmo with major destructive powers. Lots of folks want to get their hands on The Orb, including Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Ronan yearns to destroy the planet Xander, which is led by Nova Prime, Glenn Close with a platinum blonde hairdo that curlicues upward like something that plopped out of a Dairy Queen spigot.

Is it possible to care whether Ronan succeeds? Not really: The movie's fight against evil couldn't be more generic: The intention, one presumes, is to keep the characters engaging enough to sustain involvement.

Sometimes it works.

Zoe Saldana plays Gamora, a green-skinned alien who's also trying to take possession of The Orb, but who ultimately joins forces with Quill.

The other fledgling Guardians -- aside from Rocket and Groot -- include Drax (Dave Bautista), a heavily muscled hulk who comes from an alien race that has yet to master the concept of metaphors. No, really.

Then there's Yondu (Michael Rooker), the space pirate who abducted Quill and who since has become his ostensible boss.

Gunn manages a couple of tender moments between Quill and Gamora, but they amount to little more than flirtations. The movie's PG-13 rating derives from violence and language.

Guardians is one of those movies that blurs the line between violence and action. There's plenty of it, although none of it struck me as particularly exciting absent anything more than the most perfunctory of rooting interests.

Gunn has given the movie the kind of borderlne cheesy look that requires lots of effort: Like Star Wars, Guardians tries to capture some of the cheap-looking innocence of a bygone days -- albeit in hipper fashion.

Not your average comic book hero, Quill has a fondness for a mix tape that was given to him by his mother. Gunn uses '70s music from this tape throughout, adding an element that may be foreign to younger audiences who know as much about Walkmans as they do about typewriters.

Will there be another Guardians movie?

Is The Orb round? Is Gamora green? Is Marvel an apparently bottomless well of comic-book characters?

I think you know the answer.

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