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Entertainment & Lifestyle

‘Guardians’ fun, even with weak plot

7/31/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

With a more original story, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” starring Chris Pratt and directed by James Gunn, could have been an absolute blast. As it is, the latest Marvel movie is good fun, thanks to a bunch of quirky characters and a killer soundtrack. It’s just that the plot feels like an afterthought.

Pratt plays Peter Quill, a fun-loving space rogue making a living stealing artifacts from dead civilizations. It’s not how Quill expected his life to turn out, but when you’re kidnapped from Earth in your childhood, you get by the best you can. His most treasured possession is a mix tape of ’70s rock hits, and he’ll pump out the tunes on his Walkman tape player as he goes about his business. Two things are immediately evident: The juxtaposition of songs like “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Cherry Bomb” with science-fiction action works wonderfully, and the music was so much better in the 1970s.

Pratt brings to the role the same amiable goofiness he gives his character Andy on “Parks and Recreation,” but with an added swagger. He is the Nick Swisher of the cosmos, full of “bro-tastic” enthusiasm that can rub a lot of people the wrong way.

One of Quill’s purloined prizes is a metallic orb that — this won’t come as a shock — is mysterious and can do nasty, nasty things. Others want it, including a beautiful alien named Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’ll try to kill Quill for the orb, though the two will later join forces and develop an attraction for each other. (None of that will probably come as a shock, either.)

Gamora has revenge on her mind, as does convict strongman Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), who’ll also join the team. They both have a deep hatred for a baddie named Ronan (Lee Pace), the last guy you’d want in possession of the orb.

Ronan, who carries a large hammer and apparently shops at the same clothing stores as Darth Vader, won’t go down as one of the more memorable Marvel villains. But this is not a movie that lives or dies with its bad guys, or even with its humanoids.

Your enjoyment of “Guardians” will be directly related to how you feel about a gun-toting, misanthropic, talking raccoon and a less talkative tree. Fortunately, the two digitally rendered characters are pretty enjoyable (the tree more than the raccoon) and nearly steal the movie. The raccoon, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, channeling Danny DeVito at his most caustic), is a bounty hunter with a sadistic side, and the tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), is his “houseplant/muscle.” The two enliven things when the movie is in danger of being dragged down by its lazy must-protect-the-orb plot.

Glenn Close and John C. Reilly are on hand as protectors of the Whoville-like planet Zandar. Also in the cast is Karen Gillan, best known for playing Amy Pond in “Doctor Who.” Gillan shaved her head for what turns out to be a fairly insignificant role, which makes you wonder if her best scenes, like her hair, were left on the cutting-room floor. If so, that would be a crime rivaling anything perpetrated by Ronan.

The movie, which opens tomorrow, Aug. 1, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and action, and for some language.

  (out of four)

 

Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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