“Guardians of the Galaxy” Defenseless
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
If director James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the latest action adventure to spring from Marvel Comics’s voluminous library, had to list its content in FDA style, the first ingredient, occupying fully 90 percent of the film, would read Special Effects. Then, in descending order by quantity, would be listed: Typical Rehashed Plot; Numerous Familiar Intergalactic Characters, synthetically modified; Entertainingly Anomalous Rock Tunes to get the oldsters tapping their toes; and 4 percent partially redeeming witticisms.
Adherents and fanatics of the Marvel Empire who’d doubtless skip Grandma’s funeral to attend Comic-Con, will see this modern effervescence in pilgrimage droves, mostly to be amused, but also to ensure that the adaptation from page to reel meets kosher standards. The rest of us, the Great Unwashed inescapably reminded by such fare that we are no longer the guardians of popular culture, must wonder what circumstance caused our presence in the theater where this contemporary calliope was spewing its steam.
Serving as the Lewis and Clark for others who share my beside the point status, I am here to report that, alas, a viewing of the colorful cacophony, which might have been a real boon back when we were dropping out and tuning in, has no Ponce De león effect. Gazing into the mirror the morning after straining my gray matter trying to assimilate all the places and characters in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” realm, there they still were…Mom and Dad. Ah, who wants to look like Errol Flynn in his prime anyway?
However, approaching the point of the review where I proclaim truth be told, it would take little stretch of the imagination to propose that this so-called cutting edge, sci-fi fantasy is merely a repurposed, space-aged version of “The Maltese Falcon” (1941). The protagonist, Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt, even alludes to the similarity when inquiring into the mysterious powers of the orb he has just stolen…that objet d’ obsession Hitchcock dubbed the McGuffin.
Yep, everyone from here to infinity is after it. While we’re not exactly sure what it does, the aggressive portion of the universe is counting on it facilitating world domination, while those on the idealistic side of the aisle hope it holds the secret of life. Of course Pete, our all-American drifter antihero, rebuffs any ambitions other than a quick buck, or unit, as money is now called. For reasons scatteringly outlined in the prologue, he is a cynic, beholden to no ethos or creed other than his survival. Think that’ll change?
Putting his iconoclastic stance in perspective, we are soon introduced to those multifarious life forms perhaps even more roguish than he. This includes four disparate sorts who, proving that politics makes strange bedfellows even in the Brave New World, will form the title alliance. Some join in for the possible fortune, others to settle a score.
Supplying the potential love interest, Zoe Saldana is Gamora, discontent adopted daughter of the supervillain, Thanos. She’s got a grudge. Seeking plunder, Rocket Raccoon, a genetically engineered curmudgeon described as a freelance criminal by those websites in the know, has loyalty only to his bodyguard/foil, Groot, who Joyce Kilmer would more or less agree is a tree. Rounding out our motley worthies is Drax, a Skull Murphy look-alike who, were he an Earthling, would probably wrestle professionally.
The Guardians travel the galaxy hither and thither, hesitant to relinquish their mutual mistrust. Either running toward or away from those evil powers that would vaporize them in a Neptunian minute, they make stops at locales and watering holes reminiscent of those imagined in “Star Wars” (1977). Along the way, director Gunn feeds us crumbs of lore and exposition in Hansel and Gretel fashion.
The metaphors run rampant as the curious quintet exchange barbs, bon mots and, in the unintentional pursuit of egalitarian comradery, verbalize every begrudging conciliation short of singing “Getting to Know You.” Too bad the wit that results from the gang’s incessantly sarcastic repartees is compromised by the same old, same old.
The example in movie history is obvious. The Westerns of the 1920s and ‘30’s were reconfigured into the detective/film noir movies of the 1940s and ‘50’s, and ultimately impressed into service for this genre. While this is all well and good for those who haven’t yet burned a few decades of storylines onto their hard drives, there just isn’t enough variation on the theme to pique the interest of more educated cinema palates.
Still, it behooves to note that my young emissary to the generation for whom this film was intended informs that his high priests have deemed the space opera a proper homage to its comic book source. A respectful tear in his eye, he evidently despaired that, in my distant and unperceiving world, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is just a derivative mass of special effects.
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Motion Pictures release directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and the voice of Bradley Cooper. Running time: 121 minutes