Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s 1988 and Peter Quill is listening with his Sony Walkman to an “Awesome” 70s mix tape his dying mother made for him. He is captured and taken aboard a spaceship. Fast forward to 2014 and Peter is Star-Lord, an intergalactic thief who proudly wears his Walkman on his hip as if it were, say, a bullwhip.

To translate for anyone under 21, this comic-based adventure is pitched at your parents’ generation, which grew up on Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Footloose,foamy orange headphones, cassette tapes, and something known as LPs. At the same time, for all its 70s and 80s nostalgia, the film is hooked on the feeling of 21st-century irony, taking the Marvel superhero universe and playing it against many action-adventure expectations. 

To summarize the plot: there’s a mysterious thing that everyone wants because this thing is 1) worth a lot and 2) can destroy the universe. Adventurers and collectors want it, as do one-dimensional villains dressed in capes and desiring interplanetary dominance and/or destruction. While these wooden villains may have been an ironic joke I didn’t quite catch, Peter and his associates are engaging misfits, who join to save both the galaxy and this film from predictable fight scenes and laser-beam shootouts.  

Among the Guardians, there is first of all Peter, a slick but goofy thief, nicely portrayed by Chris Pratt, who is best known for his work in “Parks and Recreation”and recently as the lead voice role in The LEGO Movie. Thanks to Pratt’s comic skills, Peter resembles an amalgamation of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, minus a few how-to-be-cool lessons. Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) cannot understand a metaphor or a joke, causing literal mayhem. Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is a genetically modified raccoon, with amazing technical skills, a quick trigger finger, and a rude tongue. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) acts as Rocket’s “muscle” thanks to his tree-like form and ability to branch out. Finally, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a deadly, green alien with a true heart, and is not to be confused (or is she?) with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the deadly, blue alien with a true heart in Avatar.

Director James Gunn ironically plays on various genres in constructing this summer blockbuster. For example, as he listens to his Walkman, Peter dances and sings his way on an abandoned planet as if he were in a musical or trying out for American Idol. Look as well for sci-fi variations on the prison break, the encounter with unscrupulous pirates, and especially the formation of a team of soldiers, where the whole is greater than its parts.

In the screening I attended, the audience laughed loudly at the film’s many one-liners. I found the jokes to be a bit too calculated and even fairly callous at times, as in a scene where a prosthetic leg is appropriated. For all the hype about the film, I had expected something cleverer, in line with The LEGO Movie. The moments of musical and visual nostalgia will warm a baby boomer’s heart, but not with the same bitter sweetness J.J. Abrams achieved in Super 8. The portrayal of outer space is underwhelming when compared to past and present sci-fi films. However, the digital renderings of Groot and Rocket are both credible and engaging, thanks as well to the voice work of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.

I saw this movie after spending a day driving and listening to news reports about fighting in Ukraine and Gaza, the Ebola virus spreading across West Africa, economic distress at home and abroad, and a host of other problems that made me turn the dial in search of a pop music station. I couldn’t help wondering, once again: do blockbusters always play on our desire to avoid our troubles by offering a script where we know the heroes—even if they are fairly silly—will save the day? Spoiler excuse: blame me for outlining the plot’s outcome, but I’d like to draw your attention to the film’s title. As a piece of summer escapism, Guardians of the Galaxy clearly meets expectations.

My brother saw the movie with me, and I asked him what he thought was the movie’s point. With no hesitation he answered: “To get us ready for the sequel.” Indeed, stayed tuned for another Guardians of the Galaxy, duein few summers. (Marvel)

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for some language.

About the Author

Otto Selles teaches French at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., and attends Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.