Guardians of the Galaxy

In the minutes following the death of his mother from cancer, young Peter Quill (played as an adult by Chris Pratt) is abducted by an alien spaceship.  Peter was taken by a group of pirates called Ravagers that are led by Yondu (Michael Rooker).  Raised by Yondu, Peter is taught the ways of space pirating and grows into a strong, charming and ambitious young man.  Sent by Yondu to an abandoned planet, Peter acquires a shiny metallic orb held suspended by a force field.  Right after he gets the orb, a group of armed aliens led by Korath (Djimon Hounsou) demand Peter turn it over so they can deliver it to their boss Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).  Peter is able to escape with plans to double-cross Yondu and sell the orb.  Korath informs Ronan of Peter’s theft.  Ronan is summoned by his boss Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) to explain his failure.  Ronan tells Thanos he has sent Thanos’ daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a trained and modified assassin, to retrieve the orb.  Once Ronan delivers the orb, Thanos has promised to destroy the planet Xandar which has just signed a peace treaty with Ronan’s people, the Kree.  Ronan opposes the peace treaty and has a long-standing hatred of Xandar.  Gamora catches up with Peter on Xandar where he intends to sell the orb.  Their battle attracts the attention of a genetically and cybernetically modified raccoon-like creature named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his humanoid tree-like companion Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).  Rocket and Groot are bounty hunters and are after the price on Peter’s head put there by Yondu.  All four combatants are captured by the security force on Xandar called the Nova Corps.  Sent to a prison space station called the Kiln, Gamora and the others meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista).  Drax knows Gamora works with Ronan and intends on killing her.  Ronan killed Drax’s wife and child.  Peter convinces Drax not to kill Gamora as her presence will attract Ronan.  Drax seeks to kill Ronan and decides to let her live…for now.  Gamora tells Peter and Drax that she has betrayed Ronan and doesn’t intend to let him have the orb as it possess incredible power.  With the uneasy peace between the five prisoners, they plot an escape from the Kiln with the intention of making sure the orb doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” isn’t among Marvel’s top tier of characters.  In fact, the characters on which the movie is based were introduced in 1969 and appeared sporadically in established books until 1990 when they got their own publication.  It was cancelled in 1995.  The book, with new team members, came back in 2008 but was cancelled again in 2010 with the group making appearances in other books.  On the face of it, selecting these characters seems like a risky move.  Director and writer James Gunn, along with co-writer Nicole Perlman, and his team have managed to turn a misfit group of non-super powered characters who haven’t been all that popular in comics into one of the best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What makes “Guardians of the Galaxy” so good is a combination of characters, action, special effects, humor and heart.  The film’s recipe has just the right amount of each flavor.  We get a group of people who, despite their differences and initial hate for one another, manages to set all their conflicts aside and work together for the greater good.  There are scenes that will bring a tear to your eye one minute and not too much later, you’ll be laughing.  The visuals are spectacular with locations and space vistas that might take your breath away.  There are all kinds of alien creatures on display with skin tones that cover the rainbow.  According to the movie’s Wikipedia page, some of the more involved makeup applications took four hours.  Some of the preparations, especially the full eye contact lenses some actors had to wear, couldn’t have been very pleasant.  While there is a great deal of CGI and green screen projection used in the film, none of it is glaring and obvious.  The two primary computer generated characters, Rocket and Groot, are so seamlessly integrated into the frame you quickly just accept that they were really there on set.  While there was someone physically on set occupying the places of Rocket and Groot, you don’t get the feeling that you’re watching digital creations.  The entire production uses CGI in a way that it should be:  Showing us worlds and creatures completely alien to the audience; but still relatable.
The five main characters actually are fairly well defined and show some development over the course of the story.  When we meet Peter, he’s selfish just looking out for himself but learns to open up and sacrifice his safety and comfort for others.  Gamora, whom we learn was playing a part to fool Ronan, is cold, stand-offish and single-minded but learns she can open her heart to this group of misfits.  Drax is focused on his hate and revenge but learns he must work with others and finds he has a new family.  Rocket, the subject of cruel enhancement experiments, only looks out for himself and never trusts anyone but Groot until he finds he can trust Peter and the others.  Groot is the only innocent among the Guardians.  He is childlike from the outset.  While he can use his size, strength and abilities in violent ways, he’s only acting to protect his friends.  There is no darkness in Groot’s wooden soul.  For that reason, Groot comes closest to stealing the movie from the rest of the cast.  His sweet and kind face and vocabulary limited to “I am Groot” will burrow into your heart.  He performs random acts of kindness and expects nothing in return.  I want my own Groot but I’ll have to wait until 2017 when the second “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie opens.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” is rated PG-13 for some language and intense sci-fi action/violence.  There are numerous fights between various characters.  We see on character have some cybernetic components ripped off their body that causes them to die.  Groot uses his abilities to impale a group of Ronan’s soldiers and use them to beat other soldiers.  Groot also inserts tendrils up the nose of a prison inmate.  There are various explosions that appear to consume some characters.  A character appears to be crushed as his spaceship is damaged.  There is also the troubling sight of a bald-headed woman who is on her death bed with cancer and the reaction of her young son.  Foul language is scattered and not too severe.
From my perspective, “Guardians of the Galaxy” has nothing wrong with it.  It is touching, funny and exciting pretty much from the first scene to the last.  It is also a movie non-comic book fans will enjoy.  Sure, it might not be a bad idea to do a little research on Thanos as he will play a bigger role in later movies; but encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel comics and characters isn’t required.  If you’re already a fan of the MCU, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is required viewing as it adds to the knowledge base for what is to come.  Yes, there is a post-credits scene.  It isn’t the kind of blockbuster that followed “Captain America:  The First Avenger” but it may set up something for Phase 3 of the MCU.  For some it might not be a welcome addition to the roster of characters.  Others may find it whets the appetite for what’s to come.  What’s important is that you see all the film that precedes it because it is great.
“Guardians of the Galaxy” gets an enthusiastic five guitars.
Five new films bow on multiplex screens this week.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
The Hundred-Foot Journey—A story centered around an Indian family who moves to France and opens a restaurant across the street from a Michelin-starred French restaurant.
I Origins—I ORIGINS follows a molecular biologist whose study of the human eye points to evidence with far reaching implications about our scientific and spiritual beliefs.
Into the Storm—A group of high school students document the events and aftermath of a devastating tornado.
Step Up All In—After his friends give up and return to Miami, a guy finds a new dance crew for an upcoming contest.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—Paramount Pictures and Michael Bay reboot the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres or On Demand.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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