We said they were crazy. We said that it could never happen. Yet here we are two years later and a movie based on the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s cosmic D-list heroes, exists. So how did Marvel, at the height of their success, take one daring step further and deliver a movie where a talking raccoon and tree seem right at home?

Simple: milk the Marvel formula for all it’s worth and make the film as fluffy as possible. Some audiences clearly dig that; this is a case from the other side that sees all the so-called “fun” as misplaced priority if done wrong.

After Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a space-junk scrounger from Earth calling himself Star Lord, comes into possession of a magical MacGuffin orb, he’s the most popular guy in the galaxy. Mainly because everyone wants to forcefully take it off his hands, most of all the alien religious fanatic Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace). To escape prison — eventually keep the orb from evildoers — Quill teams up with a band of misfits, consisting of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a hated assassin desperate to escape her master; Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel), misfit bounty hunters; and Drax (Dave Bautista), a revenge-driven psychopath. Together they become… you know.

I like fun. No really, I do. That’s what Guardians of the Galaxy sets out to be, for which it largely succeeds. Everything you’ve come to expect from Marvel is here — crazy superhero action, snarky one-liners, stunning production values and end-credit zingers. The world of GOTG is solidly established (in what doesn’t completely feel like a flurry of exposition) and finds a nice visual blend between many sci-fi space epics, while singling itself out from it’s peers with it’s sheer Marvel attitude.

Pratt has enough natural charisma to be believable, both in the comedy and drama sectors, while Saldana gets to be at least a little bit more than “action girl”. Cooper and Diesel steal the show more than once, thanks to their vocal performance and some playful animation work, respectively. And Dave Bautista, well, he’s trying, so I guess that helps.

Pace, meanwhile, does his best mean-mugging and lands somewhere between Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 in Marvel’s one-dimensional villains spectrum. But he sure looks cool.

There was a feeling way back in the beginning of this whole saga that a Guardians of the Galaxy movie would be too foreign and off-putting for regular audiences to enjoy. Looking at it now, it’s clear this is as familiar a movie as Marvel will ever make, story-wise. Not only is the MacGuffin set-up a time-worn, rote plot, it’s one we’ve seen in Marvel movies more than enough times already. It’s not so much that it’s a story that doesn’t work (clearly it does), but it’s an obvious compromise to make the movie more widely appealing.

That might just be the heart of why this movie is so frustrating: it’s consistently compromised to make it as accessible as it possibly could be.

And all that might have been ok if they didn’t decide to throw the picture’s intelligence out the window too.

James Gunn’s script –and subsequent directing — holds blame. Humor is a staple of all Marvel movies and it’s normally in good taste. Here, the dialogue and quips are nothing short of grating, relying more on profanity than anything (the kids will love it!). High school improv shows are the closest parallel to use in describing the movie’s juvenile exchanges (Exhibit A: The “I have a plan” scene) and even then, a high schooler might have come up with better lines. It’s all part of the movie’s “too cool for school” tone that comes off as more annoying than clever; more tiresome than invigorating.

Unfortunately that also translates over to the film’s soundtrack, hand picked by Gunn, that almost prides itself in how much attention it can siphon away from the movie. Sorry, but Joan Jett and Blue Swede have no place in this space epic, no matter how much reasoning they give it. Even if the tunes are supposed to keep us grounded in humanity, it never comes off as anything more than a producer’s half-cocked plan to sell more mp3s because “PEOPLE KNOW AND LIKE THESE SONGS.”

Furthermore, the less said about the film’s embarrassing dance numbers, the better.

Each lame joke and misplaced song choice brings the movie down a notch, but every stellar action piece, performance tick or sudden emotional moment brings things back up, making for a roller coaster experience of mixed emotions. It’s another case of moments making and breaking the movie.

By the time the underwhelming post-credits stinger wraps, Guardians does end up on top, evening itself out to be a weightless, mostly entertaining summer popcorn flick that should float most people’s boats. But Marvel’s best it is not, though they’ll obviously keep telling you that. With the basic concept sold, here’s hoping that Gunn and the Marvel team straighten their priorities for next time, leave the mix tape at home and shoot for the stars a bit more.


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