“Guardians of the Galaxy” brings much-needed fun to a weak movie summer

Alex Williams

It hasn’t been a great summer for big movies, with plenty of mediocre-to-terrible fare clogging the multiplex. Though “Planet of the Apes” and “Edge of Tomorrow” provided select bright spots, “Guardians of the Galaxy” comes along at the tail end of the summer movie season to liven things up in a big way. It’s enormously fun, juggling a fantastic ensemble of characters, and co-writer/director James Gunn acquaints himself beautifully with the Marvel cinematic palette, producing an easy highlight of a dreary summer.

The film opens on an unexpectedly sad note, as young Peter Quill watches his mother’s last minutes on Earth and is immediately whisked away to space. Years later, he’s better known as Starlord and played by an unusually muscly Chris Pratt. After Quill steals the sort of ancient, powerful MacGuffin that most Marvel movies thrive on, he finds himself thrown into a high-security space prison along with a handful of
his pursuers.

Among these pursuers are bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), a talking, machine gun-wielding raccoon and a monosyllabic tree that functions as the Han Solo and Chewbacca of the motley crew and help to cement the unabashed weirdness of this particular franchise. Rounding out the ensemble are Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a lackey of generic but intimidating villain, Ronan the Accuser, (Lee Pace) who is sent to retrieve Quill’s MacGuffin, and Drax (Dave Bautista), a permanent resident of the prison who has a personal thirst for revenge on Ronan.

Once the gang teams up to break out of the high-security space prison, they end up making up the best ensemble cast of any Marvel film to date, and the real appeal of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is how every scene is up for grabs, letting every actor get at least one great moment in the spotlight. Saldana gets to be appropriately badass, and Pratt has an enormously charming wounded puppy demeanor, but the biggest showstoppers are Rocket, Groot and the hilariously deadpan Bautista.

Centering many of the film’s most emotional and funniest moments around Rocket and Groot, its least human characters, is a bold gambit by Gunn, who has never worked on a film of this scale before. His last film, “Super,” was an incredibly barbed take on the superhero film, but he proves just as adept at a straightforward take on the genre. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is propulsive and entertaining, full of memorable lines of dialogue and sharp comedic timing. The film’s action beats are roundly exciting, and though the film concludes with the stock Marvel finale — a giant object falling from the sky and destroying a city while our heroes fight around it — it’s got a strong enough handle on the characters that the fight carries more weight than your typical destruction-heavy climax.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” has its share of problems — namely the weak villain and its tendency to fall into the cliches of other superhero films — but when it’s letting the central cast bounce off each other, it’s absolutely sublime. James Gunn brings an absurd amount of fun to the proceedings, and his sharp jokes and perfect cast make “Guardians of the Galaxy” a stand-out of a weak summer and one of the best Marvel films to date.