Bright and personable as it is, Guardians of the Galaxy can’t help but feel like another product issued from the Marvel Studios assembly line.
Sure, the characters are not the same — they even have different names! — and only one of the team members is a confirmed member of the Earth-based human race. But for all the green skin and tattooes and animal skin involved, the characters are mix-and-match assemblages of the familiar Marvel personalities. They are defiantly, resolutely likable, darn it, and resolutely unselfish, kind-hearted, and good-humored.
They are the kind of heroes that kids imagine they’ll grow up to be some day. That is, if the kids confine their reading material to Marvel comic books, television shows, and movies.
The 10th installment of the ongoing Marvel Studios saga, Guardians of the Galaxy distinguishes itself in its setting, which, after an emotionally-affecting prologue, takes place entirely in a science-fiction universe. Humans make up only a small percentage of the population, which is pleasant to see, although, for all the different-colored skin and rampant body modifications, English — middle American dialect, please! — remains the predominant language.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, friendly and charming) is a bounty hunter who runs afoul of aliens while pursuing his latest treasure. The treasure is highly sought by fellow adventurers Gamora (Zoe Saldana, painted green) and the team of the feisty Rocket Raccoon (given a brisk, brusque old-school New York gangster accent by Bradley Cooper) and sentient tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, evidently for reasons that have more to do with promoting the movie than anything else). The foursome are sent to jail, where they soon befriend the vengeance-minded Drax (Dave Bautista, who sounds like a professional wrestler).
The film functions as an orgin story for the team, with primary emphasis on Peter Quill. They do things that we expect from modern superheroes –fight in quick-cut action scenes, exchange peppy banter, scowl aplenty, stick up reluctantly for one another — but little that we don’t expect from modern superheroes. It’s amusing enough as far as it goes, yet there’s nothing in the movie that’s authentically daring or different; instead, it’s more of the same from the Marvel dream factory.
Director James Gunn, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nicole Perlman, delivers an experience that is familiar, despite the very different settings. The harsher edges that were present in his previous directorial efforts (2006’s Slither and 2010’s Super) have been sanded down to meet the PG-13 rating requirement of Marvel films. Actors who have been distinctive in other roles sacrifice their individuality so as to bring to life one-dimensional comic book characters. Chief example: Karen Gillan as the “evil” Nebula, who is permitted but one expression and one tone of voice.
Guardians of the Galaxy is fine, if anonymous big-screen entertainment from a company that appears intent on a course that is slowly flattening. As long as the money keeps flowing, expect more of the same in the future from Marvel Studios.
The film opens wide throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, August 1.