Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) **

If you only see one smart-alecky, sci-fi, action movie this year, it should be 2013's “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” Or you could just watch the movie “Serenity” again, or maybe “The Empire Strikes Back.” “Guardians of the Galaxy” shoots for the combination of heart, memorable characters, snappy dialogue, and irreverence that those films have, but it fails to pull it off.

Expectations were high for this one. It's the surprise hit of the summer, and most reviews I have seen are positive. Everyone seems to love Chris Pratt's performance, love the raccoon, love the tree thing, and think that this rag-tag bunch of reluctant heroes is the perfect antidote to the typical comic-book movie. I found the movie to be largely targeted at 13-year-olds, with lots of cuteness, way to much sentimentality, and so-so acting.

The sentimentality starts right away, with a young boy (the future Starlord) watching his mom die of cancer in a very over-wrought scene. Then the kid gets abducted by aliens, and the movie gets fun for a while. We meet the grown-up Starlord (Chris Pratt), a handsome rogue of a smuggler who likes to listen to his mom's old mix-tape on the Sony Walkman she gave him. He picks up some type of powerful orb from an abandoned planet, and immediately finds himself the subject of pursuit. The orb is coveted by a psychopathic terrorist named Ronan, who plans to trade it to a Titan named Thanos in exchange for destroying a planet. Ronan sends the green assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) after the orb, but it turns out she has plans to double-cross the terrorist. Meanwhile, Starlord's old partner, Yondu (Michael Rooker, playing the exact same Merle character he plays in “The Walking Dead”) puts out a bounty on him, which puts him in the sights of bounty-hunters Rocket (a genetically-modified, talking raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (a walking, talking tree whose only words are “I am Groot.”) Later, this motley crew meets Drax the Destroyer, a hunk of muscle played by professional wrestler Dave Bautista. These guys wind up teaming up to stop Ronan, of course.

There's no reason this setup couldn't be plenty of fun, and for 20 minutes or so it is. The misanthropic raccoon is hilarious, and Starlord shows some Han Solo-esque potential. Then the movie takes a sappy turn and never looks back. Where Han Solo was a reluctant hero and lover, Starlord signs on for both roles with little resistance. (In fairness, I suppose you could point out that the raccoon is really the Han Solo character, and Starlord is more like Luke Skywalker, but the plot still sucks.) Gamora, who was never really impressive as an assassin anyway, spends the rest of the film whining to her adopted sister to join her and “not let all those people die.” Even the raccoon turns sentimental. It seems the screenwriters got too lazy to create a plot in which the characters would have semi-credible motivations for teaming up, so they made “friendship” the motivation for guarding the galaxy.

Ironically, we went to this movie thinking I would love it, and my wife would just tolerate it. Turns out that while I was bored, she thought it was delightful. She liked the soft-hearted Groot and the lost-70's soundtrack, and she didn't think it was too sentimental at all. She isn't alone. This film is a massive hit, and my grumpy opinion is definitely in the minority. But hell, there were people who liked “Return of the Jedi” better than “The Empire Strikes Back,” too.

2 stars out of 5

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