[Screen It]


(2014) (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana) (PG-13)

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Sci-Fi: A thief forms an unlikely alliance with a group of extraterrestrial misfits as they must contend with various forces who want a powerful orb that's in their possession.
Peter Quill (CHRIS PRATT) is an Earthling who was abducted by Yondu Udonta (MICHAEL ROOKER) and his band of extraterrestrial thieves and smugglers as a boy. Now equipped with his own spaceship, he travels through space doing that same line of work. His latest job is to obtain a special orb from a decimated planet and he manages to best Korath (DJIMON HOUNSOU) and his goons in getting it, but then decides to keep it for himself to see what it's worth. That not only angers Yondu who vows revenge, but also the villainous Ronan (LEE PACE) who Korath works for and who wants to destroy a rival civilization run by Nova Prime (GLENN CLOSE).

Ronan, who detests having to answer to Thanos (voice of JOSH BROLIN), ends up sending that leader's assassin daughter, Gamora (ZOE SALDANA), to get the orb, much to the chagrin of her "adopted" sister, Nebula (KAREN GILLAN). But Gamora isn't the only one after Peter and the orb as bounty hunter and genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (voice of BRADLEY COOPER) and his tree-like humanoid partner, Groot (voice of VIN DIESEL), also want to capture the Earthling. All end up in prison where they meet the warrior Drax the Destroyer (DAVE BAUTISTA) who wants revenge on Ronan for earlier killing his family, and sees offing Gamora as the best solution. Peter talks him out of doing that, and those two along with Gamora, Rocket and Groot form an unlikely alliance of extraterrestrial misfits.

As they contend with the various parties who are after them, they try to figure out what's so special about the mysterious orb in their possession.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
The old saying goes that you only get one chance to make a first impression. For me and the new superhero movie "Guardians of the Galaxy," that was back months ago before some cold opening movie I had to attend (where no press screenings were provided before that other film opened). Somewhere in the 20 to 30 minutes of lame to bad looking films was a trailer for this flick and I my initial gut reaction was that it looked absolutely dreadful if not downright awful.

Granted, I wasn't a fan boy anxiously awaiting the release of the latest movie from the halls of Marvel Comics. After all, and despite being a comic book nerd back when I was a kid, I somehow completely missed the original version of the series when it ran back in the late 1960s. Not surprisingly, I wasn't even aware of the second incarnation that came out in 2008.

Having now seen the film along with subsequent previews, I can say that those ads still don't do the film justice. And thus those not familiar with the series and its eclectic collection of unlikely heroes -- that honestly include a talking raccoon and a large, tree-like humanoid whose dialogue is limited to three words, "I Am Groot" -- might not give it a second thought and could dismiss it as something definitely worth skipping.

All of which would be a shame considering that the film is nothing short of an infectiously fun, funny and highly entertaining blast to behold for most of its just a smidge over two hour runtime. And that's despite a quite somber and depressing opening sequence where a young boy won't take his mother's hand on her deathbed, sees her die, and then runs out of the hospital, only to fall victim to an extraterrestrial abduction.

Following the credits sequence, we then meet that character (played by Chris Pratt in a performance that makes his character feel like a cousin to Han Solo) years later in what initially appears will be a standard sci-fi action sequence, but then cleverly injects humor into the moment when that thief is amusingly dejected that his antagonist (Djimon Hounsou) has never heard of his "infamous" nickname, "Starlord."

He manages to escape with the object he came to steal, a small metallic orb that others want to get their grubby hands on. That includes his blue-skinned boss (Michael Rooker); the bounty hunters working for him -- that being the aforementioned raccoon (terrifically voiced by Bradley Cooper) and tree (Vin Diesel doing the vocal work featuring those three words); a power hungry villain (Lee Pace); and his assassin (Zoe Saldana) who isn't that loyal to him.

Plot-wise, the film isn't anything particularly noteworthy as that story is present just to keep things moving forward and thus allow for a number of fairly standard sci-fi based action sequences. And the lead villain isn't particularly interesting (which also holds true for his "boss" voiced by Josh Brolin), thus seemingly jeopardizing the usual notion that a hero is only as good (in terms of audience engagement and enjoyment) as the bad guy.

What makes the film so entertaining, though, is how that plot allows its hodgepodge of characters to be drawn, behave and interact with each other, all courtesy of writer/director James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman who put some quite clever and smart dialogue in their mouths. I don't want to spoil any of that with examples, but let's just say it starts off cute and then snowballs into something that keeps building on the joke, personalities and interactions to the point that you'll be hard-pressed not to find yourself with a big ol' goofy grin on your face from all of the silliness.

It does have something of a "Star Wars" vibe to it, but without the more serious aspects of finding one's place in the universe, etc. To be clear, this isn't played to be a parody or a dumb or straight-out goofy comedy, despite the presence of the talking raccoon and tree. And it's definitely not intending to be anything great in terms of Oscar worthiness or espousing profound thematic elements.

Instead, it's smartly designed to be a fun time at the movies and it clearly delivers that, and in spades. After all, how many sci-fi flicks have their heroes stop and dance to the sounds from their golden oldies cassette mix tape? This one does, and that's just one of the reasons why "Guardians of the Galaxy" is a blast to watch. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 21, 2014 / Posted August 1, 2014

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