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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’: A giddy space oddity makes the summer sunnier

The most amazing thing about “Guardians of the Galaxy” isn’t the candy-colored visuals that pop, the endearing performances by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, the just-clever-enough use of cheesy-great 1970s classics such as Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love” and the Raspberries’ “Go All The Way,” or even the fact Glenn Close is in this movie, which is a little bit like seeing a nun at Lollapalooza.

Nope nope nope. The most amazing thing is by the final act of this journey, I actually cared about the wisecracking raccoon and the tree-creature with the extremely limited vocabulary.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a late summer treat — a mostly lighthearted and self-referential comic-book movie with loads of whiz-bang action, some laugh-out-loud moments and a couple of surprisingly beautiful and touching scenes as well. In a movie universe filled with menacing villains hell-bent on destroying humanity and deeply conflicted superheroes struggling to free themselves of their tragic backstories, this is a refreshing confection of entertainment.

Come on. Any time John Stamos and “Footloose” are referenced in a sci-fi movie, there’s hope.

Chris Pratt is best known for his terrific work as the semi-doughy, lovable puppy dog Andy Dwyer on “Parks & Recreation,” and he brings just a touch of that wide-eyed jokester persona to the role of Peter Quill, aka “Star Lord” — but there’s a lot more to the performance. Pratt is buff enough and tough enough to make a believable Han Solo-esque action star, suave enough to play a ladies’ man and sincere enough to pull off semi-heavy drama. (Granted, if the timelines meshed, Peter could join Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Peter Parker at a support group for Overcompensating Costumed Heroes and he wouldn’t be kicked out, but even his tragic past doesn’t seem nearly as traumatic as the rest of the guys’.)

Peter is kind of an interplanetary American Picker, a former Earthling who was plucked from our planet as a child, just as his mother was dying, and now zooms around the galaxy in search of treasure, all the while listening to the mix tape his mother made for him, which consists of 1970s songs she loved as a girl. (Hence the soundtrack featuring the aforementioned songs, as well as “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop.)

Peter seems like a goof (he gave himself the nickname “Star Lord”), but he’s a resourceful fighter and he’s got more than a few tricks up his sleeve. After Peter obtains a mysterious, sought-after orb — such an obvious MacGuffin that Peter compares it to the Maltese Falcon, among other famous movie totems — he soon learns pretty much everyone in the galaxy wants that sphere, including:

† A deeply cynical, highly intelligent, anthropomorphic raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his sidekick, a giant walking-talking tree named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).

† The green-hued assassin Gamora (kind of an unfortunate name). Zoe Saldana was blue in “Avatar” and now she’s green in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and one of my small negatives about this film is about the characters who are green and purple and pink. They don’t actually look as if their skin is green or purple or pink. They look as if they’re wearing makeup that took a very long time to apply.

† Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), a game hunter with a lethal, magic arrow and a long history with Peter.

† Most menacing of all, there’s Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), one of those growling-in-the-shadows intergalactic villains who just wants to destroy everything and everybody, and what’s it to you?

To the credit of director James Gunn and his team of co-writers, even if you know nothing of the “Guardians” universe and you get lost in the weeds with all the exposition about Kree and Thanos and Xandar, the mission of the movie remains clear throughout. We get to know and like this misfit band of anti-heroes that includes Peter, the raccoon and the tree, Gamora and a hulking brute named Drax (wrestler Dave Bautista, showing Dwayne Johnson-like potential), and we’re rooting for them to control the orb and save the innocent citizens and defeat evil incarnate and all that good stuff.

“Guardians” has a lot of fun with movie clichés such as the slow-motion team walk and the moment when it seems all is lost, and when the hero gives a rousing speech, and one by one, his weary and seemingly defeated sidekicks stand up and say, “I’m in.” Even the special effects, while impressive at times, seem to be in on the joke, if it’s possible for special effects to be in on a joke. At times I was half-expecting a crew to come out and adjust the green screen.

But that’s the fun of the film. It’s filled with a kind of giddy energy that leaps off the screen. It’s corny, it’s dopey, it’s sincere, it’s romantic, it’s thrilling and it leaves one anticipating the next adventure of these heroic goofballs.


Twitter: @richardroeper

[s3r star=3.5/4]