Chances are you probably never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before the Marvel/Disney movie promotion started drumming up. Now, you can't say people don't know who Marvel's newest superhero team is anymore, since their faces have been plastered pretty much everywhere for months now. Even so, there's still the prevailing thought that Marvel leaving the known universe for a little-known property about space battles and multicolored aliens is too out-there for mainstream audiences (apparently those people didn't watch "Thor: The Dark World"). But when every summer movie is looking more and more similar these days, "weird" and "different" can start to sound pretty good.
The film stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill (or "Star-Lord," as he'd prefer to be called), abducted from Earth as a boy and raised by interstellar thieves. But when he steals a mysterious orb that's wanted by an alien named Ronan (Lee Pace) who plans to use its power to destroy the galaxy, or at least a planet or two, Quill bands together with a green assassin (Zoe Saldana), a talking raccoon (Bradley Cooper), a giant tree creature named Groot (Vin Diesel), and an overly literal con named Drax the Destroyer (WWE star Dave Bautista). Like we said, weird.
So here's a handy guide to help you answer this summer's most pressing question: is "Guardians of the Galaxy" too strange for you to handle?
Do you like "Star Wars?"
OK, so that's probably a rhetorical question; pretty much everyone likes "Star Wars." But James Gunn's irreverent "Guardians of the Galaxy" owes a huge, extremely obvious debt to many of the tropes first set out by the iconic sci-fi franchise -- from Rocket Raccoon and Groot's Han and Chewbacca-like relationship to the freewheeling intergalactic action -- and that can't be a bad thing. So even if, unlike with the star-studded "Avengers," you've never heard of any of these guys before, many of the other elements are a lot more familiar than you'd think.
Can you buy Chris Pratt as an action hero?
For all the oddities on display in "Guardians" (and there's a lot of them), the weirdest part of all involves zero CGI and/or blue body paint: it's the beefcake shots of a shirtless Pratt, better known for his pratfalls on NBC's "Parks and Rec" than his abs. But it's the fact that Pratt's an unlikely leading man and an even more unlikely action hero that makes "Guardians" work. As a wisecracking, wannabe Han Solo type who slides across the hood of his spaceship like it's the General Lee, Quill would probably be relegated to comic relief in most other summer blockbusters, but ends up being the perfect ringleader for the ragtag team of heroes here. Gunn's movie may leave Earth and the real world behind after the first five minutes, but having Quill as the audience stand-in (and designated '80s pop culture repository) keeps the movie grounded. Well, somewhat grounded anyway. And even if you don't buy it, Hollywood clearly does: we'll be seeing Pratt square off against dinosaurs in "Jurassic World" next.
Are you a fan of the music of the '70s and '80s?
The "Guardians" soundtrack is practically the definition of mainstream, playing like somebody keeps switching over to your local classic rock station. Besides the fact that "Cherry Bomb" is a pretty cool song to set a cliché slow-motion walk to, Gunn makes sure the tunes factor into the character development (as one of Quill's sole connections to his mom) and even the plot. It's these little touches that show Gunn is just as concerned with how all the movie's various elements work together as a whole as with curating a catchy soundtrack. Not to mention, yeah, it's also pretty fun to watch Pratt two-stepping and singing into a feral alien lizard like it's a microphone.
Could you empathize with a talking raccoon?
Sure, nine times out of ten, you'd expect to see Bradley Cooper playing the charming lothario character as opposed to a cyborg raccoon/botched science experiment. But thanks to the offbeat casting choice, Rocket ends up being one of the biggest scene-stealers of the movie. Save for Saldana's Gamora, who gets a little shafted on the personality front, the rest of the Guardians are equally quirky, from the great stunt casting of Vin Diesel as Groot despite the character only having one line (repeated ad nauseam), to the pro wrestler Bautista as Drax, who's great at brawling, and not so great at understanding metaphors. But for all their idiosyncrasies, the movie still takes pains to make sure its protagonists are suitably three-dimensional, finding moments for Drax to mourn his wife and child, or Rocket to tug on your heartstrings about being called "vermin." The movie is little overly wary of sentimentality, quick to pull back with a sarcastic remark when things get emotional, but if they can get you feeling sorry for a CGI raccoon, it's a safe bet Marvel's risk-taking paid off.
Are you tired of summer blockbusters that take themselves too seriously?
Depending on your personal tolerance for irreverence, "Guardians" can veer a little too far into self-aware territory at times. But after all the doom and gloom in recent blockbusters, it's nice to see a movie just embrace its ridiculous premise rather than try to force it to become "gritty." Much like Joss Whedon mastered with "The Avengers," Gunn is a pro at knowing when to punctuate the obligatory action set pieces with bits of levity without sacrificing any of the thrills. And even though, like every Marvel movie since "Iron Man," "Guardians" is noticeably burdened with setting up story for more superhero sequels down the line, it's refreshing to see the movie actually finally acknowledge this never-ending stream of magical MacGuffins (otherwise known as the Infinity Stones) like Pratt's Quill does.
If nothing else, Gunn's quick to call out the movie's clichés, almost like a defense mechanism, whenever it's in danger of taking this whole superhero thing too seriously. And at times, that prevents "Guardians" from becoming truly great. But rather than try to mute the properties' inherent oddness, "Guardians" instead wears it like a badge of honour. And while, sure, it might not be for everyone, it's probably more "for" you than you might expect.
"Guardians of the Galaxy" is now playing in theatres.